Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Daddy-Daughter Wild Camp: Summer Solstice Microadventure

"The longest day of the year" - that always sounds dramatic doesn't it. Is it also a little sad? Almost as if the year is saying, "You've got less sunshine from here on, sunshine, make the most of it!" Last year on the longest day I was making the most of it, I think so anyway. I was walking down a river in Wales - read about that adventure here. This year I had originally considered walking Hadrian's Wall around the solstice weekend but had changed those plans to do something I could include the family in - the end result was a plan to go camping with my daughter. Excellent.  
A month or so back Alistair Humphreys (if you haven't heard of Mr Humphreys you should check him out, I find his approach to encouraging people to 'live adventurously' both motivational and realistic) issued a challenge to #goniceplacesdonicethings over the summer solstice weekend; specifically encouraging people who struggle to fit 'adventure' into their life to get outside and do something attainable. Oh, and there were prizes too, you know, added motivation. In any event, any uncertainty there may have been that we would get out that weekend vanished. The fervent and hopeful weather forecast watch began and the specific plans started to materialise.  
The final resolution on location came when my old colleagues up in the Peak District informed me they were having a BBQ that evening and invited me to come along. We would drive up to the Peak District, drop in to the BBQ to see some old friends and then find a secluded, quiet spot for 'little wild guy' to experience her first wild camp*. She wasn't quite ready for the full bivvy bag only experience (which is a shame as the weather would have been perfect for it and I love my bivvy bag!!) so we took my small hiking tent along instead.
Suitably stocked with snacks, sweets and a large thermos flask of hot chocolate we parked Rhino (the family adventure wagon) below Mam Tor and walked up to Hollins Cross before turning right and heading for Lose Hill at the eastern end of the Great Ridge while the sun set on our left over the Kinder Plateau. To be honest, this was a greater distance than I had remembered from previous visits and the littler legs of the party were starting to lag before we reached the spot we were aiming for, but reach it we did. 
We tucked in to a modest supper of crackers, cheese, salami, M&M's and hot chocolate before putting the tent up in what was by then - about 10:15pm - fast falling light. Little wild guy was out like a light seconds after snuggling into her sleeping bag giving me a chance to do a bit of reading - "The Kindess of Strangers": watch this space for a Best Books entry soon - as the light blue darkened to navy and filled with stars, and the warm glow receeded from a significant chunk to a sliver along the north-western horizon. 

After a good nights sleep we did it all again, in reverse. The tent, the meal, the walk, the car - getting home mid morning on another beautiful sunny day filled with plans and chores. Little guy had slept well. "More comfortably than in her own bed" were the words she used. Our wildcamp had been a success then! It certainly was for me anyway - I had slept well too, enjoying the occasional awakening providing opportunities to glance up and out of the tent door (we may not have been in bivvy bags but I left the tent door open as a compromise) and see the stars, then the first hint of dawn, then a pre-sunrise glare girding it's loins behind scattered cloud before eventually full morning and daylight was upon us once again. This may have been the first daddy-daughter wildcamp but it won't be the last. And the littlest wild guy, my son, was extremely jealous of big sisters adventures and is desperate for one of his own ... Oh, alright then, if you insist son...


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

The Best Books: Canoeing the Congo

I've finally finished another book - it takes me ages these days. I used to go through books by the shelf load but real life is busy and by the time children and full time job and other commitments come along ... reading time is sparse and frequently cut short by sleep! 


I came across this book by accident, I'm pretty sure it was a suggestion from Amazon when purchasing a couple of 'adventure books' from my long, very long wish list. But I committed that cardinal sin - judging a book by it's cover - and decided that this was a book I needed to read. 

It ticked several boxes for me straight off the bat: 1) I bought a canoe, sorry - kayak, earlier this year as a new tool in the adventure tool kit and 2) I've always loved the idea of source to sea river journeys whether by land following the river or on the river, and 3) Africa calls my name - I need to visit one day. 

I completed my first source to sea trip last year, almost exactly a year ago in fact, and it was a journey I had been thinking about since I was a little boy! It only took me 20 odd years to realise the plan. It was much smaller than the Congo and didn't go exactly to plan anyway, but was a great journey and learning experience none the less. My source to sea journey was following the Ystwyth river in mid Wales - you can read about it here. It will not be the last source-to-sea journey I do, that is for sure. 

But the book! Well it does what it says on the tin... or cover. It recounts the journey of Phil Harwood down the full length of the river Congo by canoe - the bits he could traverse without being obliterated by raging, white water anyway. Geography has always fascinated me and the Congo is a river I had certainly heard of, but could not have told you anything about the river, with the possible exception of fact that it flowed through the country of the same name.  I now know a lot more, but this book is a lot more than a geography lesson.

This certainly isn't one of those natural history books which waxes lyrical and poetic about the 'personal journey' or anything like that. It is more a diary of what by any standards is a blooming exciting and even terrifying journey. Crocodiles, Hippos, occasionally angry and threatening locals, biblical rapids, literally uncharted territory AND setting off to do it on his lonesome. Phil may not be the most gifted or flowery author but he is clearly a pretty brave chap. 

Of course the trip is not all danger and isolation. It also illustrates the diversity of the world we inhabit and that there are good people everywhere. And it is a cultural and sociological insight into just how easy I and others like me have had it; a relatively wealthy up-bringing in a peaceful, European nation. I like to think that I am a little more aware than some of the scale of the privileges I have been blessed with. I lived in South America and the Caribbean for a few years and while there was witness to unquestionable and genuine poverty, but one thing which wasn't present even in those poor nations was the aftermath of decades of war and civil unrest which are still making their presence felt even years later. 

Has it lessened my desire to visit Africa? No. Has it opened my eyes to what the realities of travelling in that continent may hold? Yes, I would say it has. Will I be disappearing off to canoe the Congo myself anytime soon? No, for starters my wife wouldn't let me! 

Which brings me on to the final point which this book highlighted for me - that long, solo canoe journeys and water travel in general are not to be taken lightly. I better get training then!

To anyone for whom adventure, travel, far flung places, the splendour of the natural world or the diversity of human culture and experience holds any interest, this book is worth the time to read, even if like me your reading time is short and precious!