“Nige. Are you still going? I’ll be there for about 11.00am!” The Facebook message read at half past eleven on a Thursday night in April. I had shelved the original plan to be out canoeing and camping for this particular weekend sometime ago. Other things planned would mean only make one night of it, and having previously cancelled my planned day off also meant I would not get there before 6.30 the Friday evening.
Having to leave work on Friday evening at 5.30, drive 20 something miles to Froghall in Staffs, paddle about 4 miles to the lock, pitch-up, have a brew and chat till late, wake up early hopefully to a beautiful sunrise, and paddle back to the car to be home in time for Sunday dinner. Sounds like a recipe for a microadventure to me!
If I was going to do this then simplicity was going to be the key. No tent, just a bivi-bag, a sleeping bag, a sleeping-mat, a cooker to make a brew, a paddle, a BA, and a canoe was all I was really going to need. Sleeping under the lean-to canoe would afford me a decent view of dawn and the sunrise…Hopefully!
The sun was already going down as I hastily loaded and launched the boat at Froghall Wharf. The canal was beautifully peaceful in the setting sunlight. But I couldn’t dawdle, I had to try and get to the pitch before dark, and this rate it was going to be a tough call. A portage around a lock put a little dent in my progress. By the time I re-launched above the lock I was sweating buckets!
In the ever fading sunlight the canal took on a serene beauty, but for all its lovelyness in my rushed paddling state I was not really taking it in much, and having not eaten since lunchtime, I was also bloomin’ famished! My stomach, thinking my throat had been cut started protesting, filling the air with a rumbling noise that threatened to drown out the evening bird song.
The real beauty about this stretch of canal is the ideally located pub the Black Lion. Just as my stomach made another audible bid for sustenance, the pub came into view. The debate whether to stop or carry on was answered by the arrival of my friends Alick and Sean. Brilliant timing to say the least! Alick had already enjoyed most of the day on the canal and sean and his lovely wife Anne had taken the opportunity to pop down for a bite to eat.
A huge pork and stuffing roll with salad a side order of chips and a pint (I was actually beaten by the chips) was enough to satisfy my complaining stomach and set me up for the rest of the paddle. Chatting and catching up with Anne and Sean made for a really enjoyable couple of hours, and it was nice to sit and relax knowing that time was no longer an issue. But soon they bid farewell leaving Alick and myself to continue on to our destination…in the dark!
Paddling in the dark turns to a peaceful affair. Moments of talk followed by equally quiet moments. Occasionally flicking the headtorch on just to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks. All of a sudden, “what the f…?” I shouted. Then franticly back paddling to miss a very large fallen tree spanning at least half the width of the river…Phew, that was close!
About forty minutes after leaving the pub we arrive at our pitch. Alick already set up after being there most of the day. All that was left was for me to set up my minimalist camp. Which did not take long at all. I do like this no nonsense approach!
The next few hours over a couple of beers we talked of old paddling exploits and discussed future adventures to be had. A little discussion about the in’s and out’s, the positives and the negatives of canoe internet forums brought about some yawning and the rubbing of eyes so time for bed me thinks. Probably just as well!
I slept reasonably well considering! The centre yoke of the canoe did not allow me enough room really! Next time maybe a simple tarp set up over the boat will be the answer. But I woke fairly re-freshed at the un-godly time of 5.30am. Too early for sunrise and still a little dark I did what any self-respecting lover of the outdoors would do, I put the kettle on! No sooner was I sat enjoying my early morning coffee it started to rain, and continued to rain well into the daylight hours. I tried to fashion a shelter out of the tarp I always carry, only to get soaked and fail miserably in the proscess, so I went for a walk instead. The beautiful sunrise experience I was hoping for had been cancelled!
Alick eventually popped his head out of his tent some time later, and while he busied himself with breakfast, I packed away my stuff ready for the paddle back to car. Leaving his tent pitched Alick joined me for the paddle back to Froghall. No sooner had we got underway it stopped raining and the sun came out, typical! my cameras however had succumbed to the damp and consequently photographs and video footage suffered from this moment on on, so sorry for the poor quality!
A gloriously warm paddle in the early morning sunshine helped dry out damp clothing and lifted spirits somewhat. But soon we were back at Froghall. The canoe safely secured on the car and kit stashed it was time to bid farewell to Alick who was staying for the rest of the weekend and for me to head home. Sunday dinner was to be ready for about 1.00pm. I walked through the door at just after mid day. My first real microadventure was at an end!
Until the next time!