Tag Archives: Canoeing

Canoeing and Wild Camping

To celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary this year Rob and I left the kids with the grandparents and embarked on a canoe expedition course to learn the necessary skills to head off on our own adventures. In that week we fell in love with canoeing and on our return invested in two canoes and the various paraphernalia required such as life jackets, dry bags and so on. The kids have been desperate to get out on the water with us but I’m in the final stages of dissertation writing for my MSc and with weather and tide considerations a couple of weeks passed before we had a chance. That chance came last weekend and we went for it, full bore!

We could have fit way more stuff but this is all we needed for the five of us overnight

We could have fit way more stuff but this is all we needed for the five of us overnight

We set off just before high tide going up stream with the flow which made for easy initial paddling. Although as we rounded a corner the wind caught us and with only my 8 year old in the front of mine we were much lighter than I had anticipated and we kept getting turned. Even with the camping kit there wasn’t a lot of weight in the canoe and it was very much in the middle (kit) and back (me)… first lesson learned in terms of kit positioning.

drifting paddling

Eventually after spinning in the water for a while and even walking along a stretch of shore until we were past the bend in the river that was catching the wind, we were back on route and arrived at our camping spot.

tide going out drying sicks high tide

Traffic on the river was busy around high tide and we didn’t want to draw too much attention so we didn’t set up the tarp until much later but we set about collecting and processing firewood. We lit the fire with a flint and steel using tinder we found around us and the kids played in the water before the tide went too far out. Rob strung them up a simple rope swing which proved fun for hours (and also caused irritating “my turn” arguments!!)

processing wood

Boys processing wood for a fire

rope swing water fun summer fun whittling

Dinner was a basic chicken curry and here I learned another lesson… when taking curry powder in a pot seal the pot in bag or decent container… the curry powder spilt in one of the dry sacks and covered EVERYTHING! I salvaged enough for dinner and sucked up the lesson. We had taken about 10 litres of water with us but actually on such a hot day and with cooking dinner and washing up this was only just enough. On our course we had learned about finding water on an expedition, filtering and sterilising but the river we were on is largely salt water so that wasn’t an option. There was a stream feeding into the river nearby that we could have got water from had we been desperate and next time we’ll take a suitable filtration system in case we need it.

cooking dinner

Cooking dinner on the fire


Curry with a view

After dinner and some bird watching we set up the tarp and as the sun set we got the kids to bed and us shortly after… we had to be up at 5am to catch the outgoing tide back home or we would be stranded until mid-afternoon!

bird watching setting up tarp camp sleepign babies

The early start was brilliant, we had the camp packed down and ready to set off in half an hour and we made sure that we left no trace that we had been there… an important principle we are pressing hard on the children!

early morning

Up and ready to set off at 5.30am

The trip back was effortless on a mirror still river drifting with the tide. Of course at 5.30am we were the only human life on the river but it was teeming with bird life and the beauty of a canoe is that you can silently drift along without disturbing them.

morning shot misty morning one of me still waters

We were back at the car by 7am and heading home for a big old breakfast and a nap.

heading home for breakfast

heading home for some breakfast

Lessons learned the hard way


We hired a canoe (well in fact we exchanged canoe hire for some knowledge and experience!) and we set off up a creek… I’m not telling you which one… it was against the tide and seriously hard work! There is a lot of mud in Cornwall along the river banks and therefore not that many places to moor up. We’re talking 4 foot deep river mud in places and it’s dangerous to get stuck in it. So, in the end we found a little stream trickling down to the creek from the woods, disembarked and carried the canoe up the hard stream bed, sliding it along the soft mud where we could.

On reaching the bank we found a nice hard spot, off loaded the kit and set about collecting fire wood and tinder. Now the theory for collecting firewood in very damp conditions is to collect dead standing wood. That is bits of trees which have died a while ago but are still attached to the tree or have got caught and therefore not fallen on the ground. This wood may be damp on the outside if it’s been raining (apparently sometimes it doesn’t rain!) but inside it should be dry and seasoned ready for burning. You can chop it up to get kindling from the dry inside and it’s meant to be a reliable way of getting a fire going in wet UK conditions.

Amazingly (for this part of Cornwall) we also stumbled across a mature silver birch tree… the treasure chest of fire lighting materials. Silver birch drop lots of matchstick thin, dark brown twigs all over the floor beneath them and collecting them is easy and satisfying. These twigs contain lots of the fabulous fire starting oils that make the silver birch the firelighter’s best friend and in theory will catch light easily even when wet.


Birch twigs usually make for easy fire building even in wet conditions

So, as you can imagine, we were feeling pretty darn confident when it came to actually lighting the fire… less than twenty minutes of preparation had given us plenty of kindling of various sizes and a nice stack of firewood which had never touched the damp ground. Rob had got a snazzy little tinder box for his birthday that morning so he wanted to use that with a fire flash to light the fire… given that we frequently use much more challenging methods, such as a flint and steel, just to light the fire in the sitting room of an evening it didn’t even occur to us that this would prove to be a challenge!

And boy was it a challenge! The tinder went up fine… but the birch twigs, kindling and all the wood we had collected was so sodden all the way through that it simply steamed until the pathetic embers snuffed out.

We got there in the end, hand picking the driest finest twigs, removing out bark from wet twigs to expose the dry slivers of inner heart. Rob hiked up the hill to find standing dead wood from higher and therefore dryer ground and from the edge of the wood where the wind will have dried it out better. We split this down and meticulously carved off damp bark and outer layers. Everything was just so WET!

Finally we had a fire and eventually it produced some heat. We cooked lunch, had a cup of tea and discussed the challenges and alternative solutions. We reflected on how helpful a folding bow saw would have been (and have since purchased one!). We watched the tide reach its lowest point and start to return. Eventually we packed up, hauled the canoe back down to the water’s edge and put very little effort into drifting on the tide home.