Thursday, 14 February 2013

Clan of the Burger Burners Pocklington Paddle

Well, what can I say, we tried but failed to get the hammocks out and play in the woods last weekend.  So, to salvage the weekend passes so graciously granted by our better halves, an impromptue paddle on the canal was arranged.

With Joel and I being the boat owners and Rich hovering on the edge of boat ownership, we met at the usual spot at Melbourne.  The arm of the canal had a reasonable covering of ice, but the main canal was clear.  So we started on a clear bright windless day with a little ice breaking before we set off towards the river.

I'd suggested we try to get a little further than we'd done in the past, several times now we'd had a gentle paddle down to Gardham Lock and brewed up and eaten there.  I wanted to go down further as it has been ages since I'd gone beyond this lock.  With Joel and Rich in agreement, a comfy pace was set and Gardham was soon reached.  Under normal water levels, the pound beyond the lock is much lower than the one we'd entered on.  This trip though, with the river still in flood in places, this second pound was only a little lower than the first and made it easy to re-launch the canoes.

Once back on the water, we were in uncharted territory for my fellow paddlers and the flood waters covering the Ings made it like paddling on a lake with the only tufts of reeds, grasses and the odd bit of fencing to show the route of the canal.  We passed Hagg Bridge and were once again out into a large body of water.  In a tree, normally on the canal bank, Rich spotted a Kingfisher, sadly it was off before he could get the DSLR from the dry bag.  We watched it's low flight over the water and delighted in the flashes of electric blue it gave off as it flew into the distance.  We saw it several times more, but never as close again.

We'd all brought small stoves with us to make our picnic lunches, but after my trip with Joel and Chris, where Chris started cooking bannock over I fire while I'd simply tucked into some sarnes and a flask,I felt I had to make more effort this time, to which end I'd brought my little firebowl to enable me to cook over a fire.  I suggested we stop to gather some fuel for this as we could see plenty of driftwood on the bank resting in a tide mark left as the flood waters receded.  On landing, and I guess we shouldn't have been surprised, we discovered this wood far too wet to be of use, but going further up the bank to a line of hedges we gathered plenty of dry fuel for our needs, in and under the hedge.

During our attempts to gather fuel along the tide mark you couldn't help noticing numerous shells of Swan Mussels and other freshwater snails.  Rich picked up a Ramshorn type snail shell that must have been nearly two inches across and I found a shell that looked like a winkle but which again was about the two inch tall mark.  We discussed the merits of these shell fish as potential food, under certain circumstances you understand, but having seen a piece on Ray Mears British Wildlife series, and his explanation of the great age and the fact that the mussels are filter feeders, eating the many years worth of heavy metals from industrial and agricultural run-off might not be a good thing.

Back in the boats and onwards once more, we quickly came across an obsticle, a swing bridge that the floodwaters prevented us from passing underneath and without a key to open the bridge meant we had to portage round it.  Unfortunately, space to do this was limited, and while Joel went first with little difficulty, when Rich and I lifted my boat over the track, my feet slipped in the tractor ruts and I ended up flat on my back in the mud!  Now, my companions did express concern over my well-being but I'd hoped, at least for a score of five or more for my attempted backwards somersalt!  They didn't even offer me a point, there's no pleasing some eh!

A little further on, a second swing bridge came into view.  This time though we were able to avoid the portage nonsense as the floodwaters had made the swingbridge into a little island of its own and we simply paddled round it.  On we paddled, enjoying very much the bright sunshine and lack of wind.  Large groups of swans and geese shared the water with us, plus numerous other birds that could be seen further off over the flooded fields.  I'm sorry to say that while I can name some birds, I'm by no means an ornithologist and so can't share the names of the species which we joined on the water that day.

A pressing matter now presented itself, our empty stomachs and finding a suitable spot to stop and feed ourselves.  The trouble being, the closer we got to the river, the more flooded the land became.  We were contemplating the bank of a ditch which follows the coarse of the canal and stood two or three feet out of the water, when I spotted a thin post sticking out of the water in Joel's path.  I called a warning to him and as he replied to say 'thanks he'd seen it' he ran onto a similar post just underwater and stuck wobbling for a few moments before sliding gracefully off to one side of the post.  A heart racing moments for Joel for certain, while Rich and I were both pleased he'd remained dry, as neither of us had cameras ready to capture that 'You've been framed' moment anyway. :)

We were coming to another area with a few houses about and didn't want to be lighting a fire within shouting distance, but just then we noticed the lock at Cottingwith ahead.  This was completely surrounded by floodwater and offered us a place to picnic without being pestered.

Onto dryish land by the lock, we collected together the things needed to cook and picnic.  We'd arranged beforehand for Rich to bring his flint and steel kit for me to try with the amadou I'd made, but as it happened, Joel beat him to it and I used Joel's kit for my first attempt.  So, with my amadou placed on top of the flint, a few strikes hand a small glowing spot in the amadou, success!  In fact, I felt it was much easier than using my ferro rod, certainly much more satisfying.  With the glowing amadou placed in the already prepared tinder bundle, a little coaxing and I had flame.  Into the firepit and feed the flames with kindling and my little cooking fire was under way.  Joel fired up his cat litter fueled woodgas stove and Rich opted for gas this time.  As part of my attempt to be less rambler stylee picnicer, I had a couple of sausages on sticks and tried my smallish griddle to cook some bannock style bread and a burger.  General yarning ensued while food was cooked and consumed and very pleasant it all was too!

As pleasant as it all was, packing away had to be done, and other than quite a lot of footprints, we left nothing behind as we once more followed the 'leave no trace' practice.  Back in the boats and Joel came with me to allow Rich a chance to paddle his Apache.  As a first timer Rich did very well, while he adopted the 'Roving Dog' paddling style, he had plenty of space in which to rove about in.  He managed a passable J-stroke too, though he did fall back on the Gryff Rhys-Jones technique after a while, but who can blame him.  The J-stroke does feel very uncomfortable until the wrists become accustombed to it.

Not long after negotiating the portage around the swing bridge for the second time, we spotted a barn owl in a tree to our right.  As we closed on it, it flew off, but stayed fairly close to us working the dry areas around us for small creatures.  While it was now late afternoon it was still bright and sunny and seemed at odds with the idea of owls being nighttime birds.  Shortly after this a large flock of Lapwings were seen, I can't remember the last time I've seen them in such numbers, another pleasant thing to see.

Rich paddled Joel's Apache all the way to Gardham Lock where we changed back again.  As always, the return journey seemed to be over much quicker than the outward leg and it seemed like no time at all before we turned back into the Melbourne Arm and made our way back through the ice to the get-out and the cars.

With boats strapped to roof bars we said our goodbyes.  This trip clearly made a big impression on Rich as I had a text from him a few days later saying how he was trying to work out how he was going to tell his wife that he'd placed an order for an Apache!  I believe the negotiations went well and don't involve Rich sleeping in the shed!  Nice one Rich!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Teacher training, a good excuse for a picnic!

It should have been the first day back to school for the boys, but looking at their school calendar it was listed as being a  teacher training day.  Quite why they need an extra day after a week of no kids I don't get, but there you go!

What to do though, a look out of the window and as it wasn't torrential rain we thought a picnic might be nice.  We'd take the kit to cook burgers etc at Gardham Lock and paddle there in the canoe.  The first time we'd have managed it this year with Ali being so ill.  So a gathering of food and kit and off we went.

The overcast weather meant that we had plenty of space to park, though I do get a little wound up by the number of people who use the area to empty their dogs!  I must move on quickly before I go into full rant mode.  With Jus Chillin on the water and everyone comfy we set off.

We had a nice breeze to help us along, and while overcast the paddling was very pleasant.  The flowers are in bloom nicely now with Flag Iris and Water Lilies in abundance.  We heard a Cuckoo again in roughly the same place that we heard it two years ago, which was also the last time we heard it.  We don't seem to get them at home now.  We also passed a Horse Chestnut late in bloom, but with dark pink, almost red blossom which was nice.

It's only a few miles to the lock where we have our picnics, but we had rumbly tummies by the time we arrived.

With Jus Chillin tied up to the landing stage for the bigger boats, we crossed over the lock by the swing bridge that spans the lock and must have caused problems for the occasional unwary pleasure boater.  The water level of the downstream pound was very high, it must have been up by six feet or so.  Back in B.C. (before children) or W.I.H.H. (When I Had Hair) we used to climb down this lock after dropping the canoe down on lines at bow and stern.

We set up our picnic area with tarp and brolly to keep the rain away and Ali got a brew on and some nibbles out while I gathered some firewood to burn some burgers with.

While I foraged some firewood I spotted some Hemlock, so a 'we don't touch these, boys', talk followed.  It's lovely countryside here, with proper meadows.

Fuel gathered, fire lit, a cuppa and those snacks while waiting for the fire to burn to embers and then on with the burgers.

Ali heated hot dogs on the Dr Zarkov Stove as I finished off the burgers.  A hearty picnic followed with more drinks all round and then Ali took the boys off to play Pooh Sticks under the bridge over the spillway between upper and lower pounds.  I started to tidy things away which turned into a group effort as the rest of the family tired of Pooh Sticks and returned to help.  With everything packed away a look back to check we'd left nothing and other than the compressed grass and had observed a 'leave no trace' policy.

Back to the landing stage for a quick photo before everyone piled in.

Charlie was great and asked to paddle bow with Mum taking his place to sit with Will, he paddled hard all the way back, which was really nice, as he often paddles well, but usually takes numerous breaks.  Anyone who's taken children of any age will be familiar with the next picture.  Will was chuffed with the patterns he could make in the water.

It'll be a little while before he's paddling like Charlie, but he's on the way.

With Ali as passenger, she could spend more time looking about and pointing out the wildlife to the boys, it also meant she could mess about with my camera and test it's supposed waterproofness.

As usual, we arrived back at the car all too quickly, but all agreed it had been better than a school day.

Till next time then.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Dad's chill out

It's been a long time since that March evening when Alison was taken to hospital and our little world turned upside down.  She's making much better progress now, so when Kev phoned last Friday as he made his way back from a particularly fruitless meeting in Aberdeen to say he needed to spend a night under the stars, I was very pleased when Ali said she could cope with looking after the boys by herself for a night.

So, for the first time we launched the boats from the back of Kev's work.  We need to sort out a better way down, but it was otherwise very good with secure parking away from the prying eye's of the local Ned's.  We set off about 1900hrs and took a gentle pace downstream.  Having a good yarn and enjoying the scenery.  Much to our surprise, about fifty yards ahead of us I could see something break the surface of the river, could it be I thought?  As it moved about more and played on the surface it became clear that yes, it was an Otter.  The first I've ever seen in the wild.  Chuffed to bits doesn't cover it.  If it poured with rain from this moment onwards I'd have still had a great time.

Kev looking comfy in his yak.

We figured that we ought to start gathering some firewood, or it might be a somewhat bleak evening under the tarp.  With plenty of fuel available I started to fill Jus Chillin with some good dry wood, standard fair on these little trips really, especially after the river has been in flood.

We explore the back of a couple of islands near to where we'll camp to get the last few bits of fuel required  and found a nice little sun trap.

Only a few hundred yard to our camping spot, a little trouble for Kev to exit his yak, but nothing insurmountable.

The canoe out and on it's side with the tarp over the top to provide our simple shelter, this was home for the night.  This image showing Kev still snoring in the morning.

With Kev's kit on the left and mine on the right, you can see who's more geared to stealthy nights out and who's a member of the mountain rescue team.

A leisurely pack away in the morning and back to our better halves.

Our batteries recharged and in better frames of mind.  Though I am looking forward to being able to do this with Ali again.  Soon I hope!

Cheers Kev!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Wharram Percy Walk

Not quite the morning I'd hoped for when thinking of taking a wander over to Wharram Percy, the deserted medieval village not far from here.  The fog was pretty thick, so it was dank and cold as I made my way to my walk.

The spot you start the walk down to the village has this information board to give an overview of where you're going.

The route down is part of the Wolds Way.  A walk I must have a go at sometime as it passes through some lovely countryside.  I recently spoke to a fella in the village about this and he confessed to having got a little too enthusiastic and completed it in twenty two hours!  It's just shy of seventy miles, so he was fair motoring!

I was much more leisurely.

When not too far from the village I came across these deer prints.  I must get down to the local chemists to see if they sell plaster of paris to get Charlie making casts of the local faunas tracks.

Looking towards two of the restored cottages, these were used by the archaeologists when the dig here was in full swing.  The outline in the foreground shows the plan of an excavated building.  It looks quite big until you realise you would have shared it with cows etc.

This shows the village fish pond which would have provided a good source of protein for a Friday.

A couple of bracket fungi and some Lichen.  I've just re-read H.G. Wells 'War of the Worlds' and this lichen made me think of the red weed the martian's brought with them.

The church of St Martins looking very fallorn in the misty morning light, it remained in use for quite a while after the last tenants had been evicted, the dates on the headstones are as late as the early 19th century.

As you can imagine, this place causes a fair amount of reflection and I couldn't help wonder what the village I live in will look like in a few centuries.  With the inevitable changes the planet will undergo as fuel becomes a rarer and more expensive resource, will the rural landscape change as as a result of folks moving closer to transport networks.  Who knows, our cottage was built shortly after Charles II gained the throne.  If only the walls could talk!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Overnight bivy for Charlie and Jack

Charlie had asked that we might get his friend Jack out for a paddle and to camp again, so we had a good think about how this might be done.  The answer to make this an interesting adventure for a couple of seven year olds would also overcome the problem of Jack's dad not driving.

The cunning plan was this.  Charlie and I would head down to the riverside field we've camped in a few times by car with canoe and camping kit.  Jack and his dad would arrive by train at the nearest town while Charlie and I would paddle up stream to meet them at the slipway just out of town.  Jack would have to find the slipway using a series of photographic clues Charlie had pieced together and added to some written instructions.  The last of these being the image of the paddles and buoyancy aids Jack and his dad would be using for our trip back to our camp.

The plan was going well and Charlie and I making good progress towards the slip when the train carrying Jack and his dad passed us with still a couple of miles to go.  An extra effort was made, but warp factor nine isn't easy to maintain in a canoe for long and not wanting to put Charlie off at all I allowed him to rest and snooze low down in the canoe out of the wind.  We arrived at the slip with me in some need of a drink!  Still, a picnic had been planned here and a chance to let the boys run around and expend some energy before making them sit fairly still in the canoe for the trip back.

Despite the wind freshening, the trip back was lovely with bright sunshine.  We passed a couple of anglers, but otherwise had the river to ourselves.  The river is quite overgrown in places with the willows reaching from both banks to try and meet in the middle.

For those who haven't seen our canoe before, here's a shot of it where we got out.

Arriving back at the field I'd planned to camp in the Plastic Palace (aka the stealth tent) was put up and made ready to sleep under.

Next job was to get some food on the go while the boys had a good explore of the area.  A simple fair of burgers and snorkers in buns, so, while not perhaps the healthiest, everyone tucked in well.  Toasted marshmallows and ghost stories for pudding as the boys sat around the fire in the dark.

We allowed Jack and Charlie to have quite a late night, which went down well, they were clearly shattered though and were soon asleep.  Time for James and I to crack a bottle of wine and sit yarning and prodding the fire and watching the stars.

Morning was slightly overcast, and the boys spent their time entertaining themselves with sticks and molehills, playing in the riverbank and doing imortant seven year old stuff.

Here they are, two kids, some sticks and mud and vivid imaginations.

A breakfast of scambled eggs and fried bacon in Fajitas filled up any spaces left in tummies and set us up for the day.  Not that we'd be here for much longer as James and Jack had to catch the train to get back to York for lunch.

A shot of the camp before clearing up to head back home.

It was a tight fit getting us all with our gear in the car, but all too soon we were back at the station and saying our goodbyes.

Charlie has already asked if we can do it again.

Soon Charlie, soon!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

A local wander

The weather on Friday morning wasn't too appealing when I thought of going for a walk, but after lunch things improved and became a very sunny day.  So much so that going for a wander up to the site of the old castle which overlooks the village to stretch the legs and get some fresh air into Will and I seemed the thing to do.

Just outside of the village is the orchard I rent so we called in there to see how the girls were doing.  I'm pleased to say they were very active with good amounts of pollen going in the hives which shows the queen is actively laying eggs.

On down the track with much splashing in puddles as befits a four year old and his dad.  The muddy track often has evidence of some of our less common animals and sure enough I spotted these badger tracks.

Both my boys now take an interest in the tracks in the mud here, though dog, tractor and horse being the most usual.

This is the place we were heading for.  The site of an old wooden castle/fort, burnt to the ground over a lovers tiff and according to local legend has tunnels filled with gold and jewels, or perhaps that was a tale told by the farmers wife to keep her children from under her feet.

We poddled along and the track starts to run alongside a less tended hedge, site of some good blackthorn trees which yield decent quantities of sloes.  The little buds on the blackthorn are just showing signs of breaking, so I expect it'll not be long before there's a mass of white blossom.  Honeysuckle is also showing it first sets of leaves and the hawthorn is also showing signs of moving.

One of my favourite things at this time of year is to see the male and female hazel flowers.

The bright scarlet, while tiny, is such a lovely splash of colour.

A little further on from the hazel I spotted some cones on the ground, some showing signs of squirrles feeding.  Here's a couple to give a before and after shot.

Here's something that I struggle with, it could be chervil, otherwise known as Anthriscus sylvestris, but at this stage I'm uncertain and have no intention of risking eating it as it's part of the carrot family and for all I know it could be part of the Dropwort cousins or similar.

At the steepest part of the climb up the hill we passed a large sycamore, the sunlight on the bark was quite pleasing so here it is for you to enjoy too.

We made our way up through the trees in true explorer style, occasionally slipping and sliding as we made our way past the bluebells poking through the leaf-litter.  Finally reaching the summit, all of a few hundred feet, but still an achievement when you're four.

We had a good look around and talked about coming back another day, I suggested a picnic, but Will was straight in there with can we camp here!  Sounds good to me, but we'll have to run that one past the farmer.

Looking back towards home we tried to spot our house, but it's hidden by the pub, so while we couldn't see it we knew where it was.

As nice as it was there, I knew we couldn't stay long as Will's little legs don't cover ground very quickly and we had to get back to meet his big brother from school.  We did spot these roe deer tracks on the way back.

All in all a very nice walk, rounded off with a nice mug of hot chocolate a piece at home.  Definitately take the brew kit next time.  That camping idea might have some milage too, I'm sure we could find some suitable trees to swing from.

Thanks for looking!