100 Mile Canoe Camping Journey down the river Wye. Wild Bushcraft Trip.

Canoe Camping the full navigable length of the river Wye.
From Glasbury to Chepstow, just over one hundred miles. 

The river passes through villages, towns, farm land, wild gorges and ancient forest.
I planned to travel solo and camp in remote spots catering for all my needs myself. 
I estimated I could cover twenty miles per day so the trip would last five days and four nights.
There were a handful of practice run day trips with friends which were invaluable for checking the canoe and canoe kit. I learned a lot and carried out some much needed maintenance.

A Coleman Ram-X 15 foot 
Canadian/ Open Canoe

The canoe is a twenty eight year old boat which was a gift I received when we moved close to the river. 
 The boat first had to be repaired to strengthen the hull at either end.

For the full article on the canoe repair project.

The River Wye

Self planned and organised trip of a lifetime!
The journey was solo and fully independent of any support or local amenities.

It all took careful consideration. Laying my kit out on a bed helped me get a good overview.
I was then able to draft a full kit list which evolved over a few days planning.

I divided the kit list into six categories.
Canoe Items - Camping Equipment - Cooking Equipment - 
Food - Clothes - Personal Belongings.

My luggage consisted of a water tight barrel, two five litre buckets with clip on lids, a cool box and a series of dry bags and kit bags. Using colour coding in my kit list helped me distinguish the packing order, considering ease of access and what level of water resistance was required for each item of kit.

The barrel, for example contained my clothes, electronics, sleeping kit and first aid pack.

The dry bags were used for general camping kit, toiletries and some repair items like duct tape etc. 

The buckets with clip on lids and the cool box were used for food items and cooking equipment.

The remainder of the gear was packed in kit bags which were wrapped in a cover and supported raised off the deck of the boat by the placement of two aluminium rucksack frames. 

The kit list is available by request as a PDF document
I can go into a lot of detail about the kit used and may well cover different aspects of it in other articles in the future, or by demand. You can email me any time.

Independant Canoe Camping means Food Too!
I'm keen on home cooked organic food so was very grateful when my partner Anna suggested making a batch of her famous chicken bone broth soup. Made with the finest local ingredients including some from my own vegetable garden it was simmered all day.

Anna jarred, or "canned" the broth just like you would do with a jam. It's not the ideal method for long term storage, for that one would use a pressure cooker. My trip was only four nights, so between the jarring and being kept cool and out of the sun we were confident it would work well. I was also going to be heating the broth up to a slow boil when cooking it with noodles or rice.

All my food fitted nicely in the buckets, cool box and a tupperware. It was a great feeling to know exactly what I was eating over the next few days. 
I was feeling totally in control of my own (immediate!) destiny.

I planned to source wild water along the route.
I started with a full one litre stainless steel bottle and a ten liter plastic container. I would only need to find a source twice or three times maximum.
I use a variety of water filtration and purification techniques depending on the situation.
I was carrying my full water kit with me. 

Not for the boat! That thing can take nearly four hundred kilograms!
Was I carrying more equipment, clothes and food than I needed though?
More than I needed? Yes, perhaps... 
More than I wanted for comfort and "just in case..?" No, I don't think so.

There was food left at the end that I didn't eat, but that is better than being hungry.
There were clothes left at the end that I hadn't worn but that is better than having capsized and being wet and cold.
There was a tent that I didn't use...
There was a spare paddle that I didn't use but that's better than "being up a creek without a..."
There was a padlock and chain that I didn't use because I didn't have to leave the boat.
There was more superfluous kit like the mosquito net and boat repair equipment, but I think the same applies.

Is there anything that I wish I had taken and didn't..? A nail brush.

That's the beauty of solo canoe trips without any portage. There's plenty of room for kit!
If this were a bicycle touring trip, or backpacking then of course the approach would be very different!

It was great to get out on the water but rather daunting knowing how many miles I had to cover.
I departed Glasbury around midday.

My first night I set up a little camp between two willow trees with my tarp and my hammock.

I popped open a jar of the chicken bone broth and started simmering it with a nest of dry noodles.


I was able to enjoy my own private beach and eat dinner as the light faded. 
This was what it was all about. The excitement at finding this ideal spot for the first night was great. 
I felt really good about the trip.
On my plate you can see the little contact lense cases that I used to carry salt, pepper and chilli flakes.

After dark I lit my fire, climbed into my hammock and fell asleep staring at the flames.
I awoke in the night to hear a reasonably sized mammal of some description rummaging around underneath me. I keep a tidy camp with everything stowed away as it should be so I was not worried that the animal was up to no good and I just lay there and listened. I assume it was some kind of vole. That's why I have buckets with clip on lids.

I was awake at sunrise and on the water swiftly after a breakfast of fruit, nuts and coffee.
It got hot quickly, the sun was strong.

Amazingly I found a boat drifting aimlessly down the river! At first I thought that I had some good luck and it's just the kind of boat I'm on the look out for! However, I did the right thing and phoned the number written on the hull in permanent marker. It belonged to a nice woman from a local campsite. She was very grateful for the call and arranged to meet me at the next town. I towed that canoe for a few miles! It certainly made maneuvering a bit tricky but I got the hang of it.

Later that day a storm rolled in.
Below you can see how the boat is packed for all weather.
The grey cover was ideal for holding all my dry bags and kit bags together placed on top of the aluminium frames which are just visible on the left hand side.

The storm bought lightening with it
The rains came. Hard

I got off the water and tied the boat under some trees.
I erected my tarp to create some shelter and started to prepare a full cooked breakfast for lunch.
What would you do?
The rains continued but by the time I had done the washing up, checked my maps and faffed with my kit the rain was passing. The sky was brightening and I was able to set off again.

What a perfectly timed lunch stop!

The storm had left a high humidity and the day was really warming up again. This meant there was a heavy mist sitting on the cold water for the next few hours. It was very atmospheric.

Once the sun came out again I was able to start to dry out my kit. I even opened the barrel just to vent any moisture from the damp evening and my sleeping kit. Although the contents of the barrel were dry I thought this was good practice.


For the rest of the day I shifted kit around and opened various bags to allow things to air.
You can even see my socks draped over the centre thwart!

That night I managed to find a spot where I could sleep in my hammock almost hanging over the water. The ground was so un-level that I was able to cook my dinner from my hammock!

It was total chance but right behind my camp was an amazing natural spring where I was able to fill my water container.
I warmed some spring water on my stove to have a hot wash. 
I carry a collapsible rubber washing up bowl that is perfect for this. 
I went to bed feeling amazing
It was a magical place and my dreams were vivid that night.

Again, I was up at sunrise and off.

For my third night I found an amazing

It was sheltered and quiet with it's own perfect river beach.
The island was alive with nature including this incredible mushroom log.
Miraculously there wasn't duck poo everywhere either!

. Someone told me to always camp high above the water level in case it rapidly rises in the night but I couldn't resist having my own island. My bed was probably less than a meter above the river level but I felt fine about it, despite the storm of the previous day! 

The beauty of minimal camping like this is that if water were to start flowing over into my sleeping bag in the middle of the night it wouldn't take long for me to chuck everything in the boat and find a higher place to put up my hammock.

This was the first time on this trip that I had been able to sleep on the ground, everywhere else had been uneven and muddy. Although I sleep well in a hammock it is my preference to be on the ground so I was looking forward to this.

I had the perfect sunset looking out over my 
Private Island River Beach

My camp was set back from the waters edge on the slightly higher ground and hidden from the view of the footpath on the bank.

I had some time to play around with some camp craft. I made sure my wood for the evening was sawn and stacked conveniently and a good fire pit which I could close the following morning for minimal disruption to the ground, although it was clear this island floods periodically because there was debris deposited around so any trace would surely be washed away periodically.

The morning on my island was one of the nicest of my trip. I had a lazy start, safe in the knowledge that I wouldn't be moved on by a land owner or a fisherman. I was camped out of sight and was keeping a low profile.
I felt like I was in my own little world.
I had another hot wash and a full cooked breakfast.
I cleaned some of my kit before loading my boat for another day afloat.


I found keeping things clean, tidy and packed away properly made the whole experience easier.
I take a pride in caring for my kit and the boat.
I was spending so many hours a day in the boat it helped my morale and pride to keep things ship shape.
A sponge used for mopping out and cleaning the boat was brilliant to have along. A stiff brush for scrubbing shoes, sandals (feet!) and kit was invaluable.
Rivers are muddy places.

Once I got settled in the boat I would carry out some house keeping. It's amazing how the mud and water mix to create a real mess and before you know it the boat could become a real hovel if you didn't keep on top of it. I enjoyed sitting there paddling away in a dry clean rig.

It would be different on a trip with lots of stops and starts, where you're hopping in and out the boat but on long distance canoe journeys it makes a lot of sense.

My dashboard where I did everything on the boat from map reading to eating became an important space, it was in my field of vision all day.
I got to know it intimately over the thirty or so hours of paddling that I put in. 

In this picture below you can see how multi functional the space becomes, I was having my lunch whilst making the odd corrective paddle stroke keeping me flowing down the river. I could cover half a mile over a sandwich!

Once I reached my hometown which is over halfway on the trip I thought it would be poetic to collect some water from the brook that runs down our valley and into the Wye. It's a forest village with no massively polluting industry or agricultural land so the brook flows fast, clear and cold.
Ideal for running through my filter and using for the next couple of days.

As I jumped out the canoe I decided for the first time not to put my sandals on. They were dry and ready for the evening and the weather was warm. 

As I waddled back down the ice cold brook I very distinctly stood on some glass!

I felt it pierce the ball of my foot and penetrate deeply. It was a horrible feeling.
It didn't hurt at first because the ice cold water had numbed my feet.

I hobbled over to a step where I assessed the situation.
The incision was narrow but deep. It was bleeding heavily.
I felt utterly gutted, I felt like a fool for not putting on my sandals!
I was angry that it happened in my village!

Had the spirit of the brook taken my blood in turn for the water that I thought it was freely giving?

My options were spinning around in my head. Was this the end of the trip!? Could I go on? It would be so easy to phone my girlfriend, she'd be down here in ten minutes, full of love and support. We could load up the car, lift the boat out the water and I'd be home before I knew what happened!
I must admit, I was on the verge of tears. The pain, the stupid mistake, the embarrassment, the failure.

The whole time I was going through this I was holding pressure on my elevated foot to try and stem the bleeding. It worked. I was then able to clean the area thoroughly and inspect the injury.
The cut was short, clean and almost surgical.
The iodine disinfectant stung like nothing else does!

I composed myself and continued to dress my foot. Some Steristrips, a series of waterproof plasters then all protected by a bandage. It felt good, secure.
I decided not to phone my girlfriend and instead put on shoes and socks.

I had thirty miles and one more night to go.
At least I wasn't pedaling! I could do it sitting down! 
Keep it clean, keep it dry.

My foot would still hurt at home so I decided I might as well keep going and be doing what I love

I was hobbling around so that night I slept on the shingle right next to my boat.
I didn't have to unload anything, no carrying of kit, no tarp just a bivvy bag on the floor.
I even cooked on the boat.

Upon waking the following morning I felt great. I was so happy that I had decided to keep going. 
The river was beautiful, the wildlife was out in force and I felt very alive.

It was my last day. I had twenty miles to go.
I knew I'd be home that night.

As the day progressed a strong wind developed in my favour.
I rigged up an umbrella to the centre thwart with some bungee cords.
It worked as a fantastic sail
I used my paddle as a rudder and was able to get some great speeds.
At some points it was the fastest I had travelled in days! 
Cheating? Nah...

By lunchtime I had arrived at the point of no return at Brockweir Bridge, seven miles short of the one hundred to Chepstow. The last landing point before the finish line.
From here the river is tidal until where it joins the Severn estuary.
The departure time from Brockweir Bridge is critical. If you leave at the wrong time it can be impossible to land at Chepstow, the final destination. There are high tidal mudflats that will prevent you from reaching the jetty. The mud is dangerous and it's possible to get stuck.
If you miss the jetty there is a second chance as you get swept out to the estuary and stay left hoping that the wind or the currents don't have other plans. You can tuck yourself around the headland and paddle a short way back up the Severn to land at an old concrete ferry terminal that was used before the Severn bridges were constructed. This however is a risky business paddling solo, full of kit, with an injured foot.

When I planned the trip I had a good idea that my arrival at Brockweir Bridge would not coincide with the perfect tide so I had decided to leave it to fate. I would check and confirm the details upon arrival and stay one more night out if need be. It turned out that the next tidal window was 8am the following morning, almost twenty hours to wait! I hadn't anticipated the banks of this stretch of the river being so muddy either and I wasn't as mobile on my feet as I would have liked so I made the hard decision to call it a day and finish here. 
For now!

These decisions are hard to make but when safety is at stake it's important to know when to call it.

Ninety three miles from Glasbury.

Returning home that night was a powerful experience. I felt a whole mix of emotions. I had a huge sense of achievement and felt very deeply connected to my landscape.
My girlfriend's face was the most beautiful I had ever seen, she looked like an angel.
The straight lines and clean smooth surfaces inside our house were very pronounced.

Everything looked so beautiful
The world was radiant

I still had the remaining seven miles to do! It was just sitting on my mind over the next few days. 
I read more information, I looked at more maps, I made more plans.
My friend Johnny was keen to do some camping in the Forest of Dean and had enjoyed canoeing for an afternoon with me before so we decided to do the last leg together.

Instead of setting off from Brockweir Bridge and completing the seven mile trip in a morning we decided to start back at Symonds Yat to create a twenty two mile trip with an overnight stop.
Johnny and I got on the water around lunchtime.

We didn't travel far that day, instead we spent time wandering in the forest.
The canoe was tied up hidden in a bush down by the river and we had all our kit on our backs.
In total contrast to my massive expedition this was a lightweight trip with an emphasis on bushcraft

We found an amazing cave where we decided we would sleep.
Having returned from sourcing some great wild water we decided to practice some friction fire techniques.
Johnny made a bow and drill set from materials gathered from around us.

We persevered trying to create an ember for over an hour
A good dust pile was building up under the hearth of the drill, we were getting plenty of smoke and the dust was blackening but we just couldn't get an ember. I don't know why. It's something that we've both achieved before but I think Johnny is more experienced than me.
My experience with friction fire is mostly using a flint stone and steel striker.

Johnny had collected some King Alfred Cake fungus and some soft seed heads of some description.
This combination made a great tinder bundle which I lit with a ferrocerium steel striker once we gave up on the bow and drill.
We were sitting around a blazing fire in no time.

For starters we had red peppers and onion skewer kebabs drizzled in pesto and a pinch of salt roasted directly over the flames on hazel sticks.

The main course was a lamb chop each, again cooked on skewers over the coals.
We both had vivid dreams that night staring at the flames light flickering across the rock face.

In the morning we were up at sunrise to cook some eggs, cracked directly into some hollowed out potatoes and placed in the coals.

It was a great idea Johnny! 
Totally delicious with a pinch of salt

We had about twenty miles to cover to Chepstow
To finish something I had started

Our critical departure time from Brockweir Bridge was at 1pm to get us safely down to Chepstow.
This was at the thirteen mile mark so we had to leave early.

Something I learned about canoe miles is that it's not important to paddle hard, or drive the canoe fast. What's important is to put in the hours and paddle gently, constantly.
Have lunch drifting. Take breaks when the river speeds up, saving your energy for the long still stretches. Slowly does it, just putting in the hours. Navigating the flow of the river, letting gravity do the work.
Get in the flow

Unfortunately we hit a fierce head wind as soon as we turned the corner at the beginning of the Monmouth straight. It was relentless and at some points had us barely travelling forward at all. We reached Brockeird Bridge at 1pm, no proper time for the planned lunch stop.
It was now or never and the wind was solid. 
I could see the weather front moving in from the south, the sky darkening and that wind... It was another hard decision but I had to do the right thing. Considering not just my safety but also Johnny who has very little canoe experience and would totally be in my hands.
We were tired from the wind and it just wasn't right to continue.
I called it off and we finished there.

So, at the time of writing this article despite canoeing ninety three miles solo on my trip and around forty or fifty in preparation with other friends and thirteen with Johnny, I am still yet to complete the last seven mile stretch to Chepstow.
Watch this space...

Canadian Canoe Repair. A new lease of life for an old Boat.

Coleman Ram-X 15 Foot Canadian Canoe Repairs

This canoe is almost thirty years old and with a bit of work it now has many more miles to give.

It's latest owners realised that it wasn't getting the use it deserved.
It's been stores for years in the car park of some apartments in London.
The boat was very kindly given to me to patch up and use in the knowledge that the previous owners are going to be visiting and getting good use of it here where I live close to the river Wye. 

Below is a great picture from graffiti covered Hackney where the boat began it's journey to the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley.

Once it was back safely at the Handmade Matt yard a full inspection was carried out.
On the whole she was solid but was in poor shape. The gunnels weren't straight and the boat wasn't symmetrical. Ten minutes with a heavy rubber mallet sorted that out!

Some worrying looking repairs had been made to both ends of the canoe. The fiberglass was delaminating and coming away from the hull and the repairs were failing at both ends.

After I removed the old failing repairs I was pleased to find that the hull itself had no holes. The repairs had been made in time to stop any further wear. The hull material was worn so thin it was soft but at least still unbroken. You can see below the minor deformation at the thin spot after I had removed the old patches.

After doing some research I discovered that the Ram-X boats are made from Cross-linked polyethylene, commonly abbreviated PEX or XLPE. It's a strong and durable plastic but it is very hard to find resins and adhesives that will bond to it properly which is why these fiberglass repairs have eventually failed.

There are specialist adhesives and epoxy's that claim to be able to solve the problems of PEX repairs but people seem to have mixed results with them. It's also possible to weld/ melt the plastic together with new plastic but this can be fiddly. 

I manages to find a video on YouTube where a guy was melting strips of poly-woven tarpaulin into a PEX hull using a scraper or blade heated red hot with a blow torch. It was just normal cheap tarpaulin. After some experimentation I found this to be the best solution. I used about a square meter of tarpaulin for each end of the boat layering up the repair over and over, melting strip after strip resulting in a thick, solid covering which appears to be very robust.

The beauty of this repair method is that it can be replicated on the river bank in emergencies by carrying small sections of tarp and using a camping cooker or even a fire to heat a blade and weld any unexpected damage.

One of the end covers to the buoyancy foam under the end decks was missing. I managed to make a new one by cutting up a green plastic barrel and riveting it in place.

A lot of the bolts that hold the gunnels on were loose, some needed replacing. The lifting handles needed tightening and straightening with a visit from the rubber mallet.

The aluminium frame that gives shape to the pliable hull needed some adjustment too, some of the uprights under the seats and thwart were no longer verticle and the centre bracket needed to be shimmed out with some old inner tube rubber to hold tight.

There was a good selection of paddles requiring only a small amount of maintenance.
The wooden ones are very heavy weighing in at 1600 grams. In comparison the aluminum ones are more like 750 grams and are still considered heavy by some. The wooden ones have become decorative items above the fireplace at home.

One of the aluminum paddles was kinked and had to have a steel tubular insert hammered down the shaft to push out the kink and re-enforce the paddle. I used a section of old curtain pole which fitted perfectly to the inside diameter. The other paddle had heavy white aluminum oxide deposits all over it which powdered off and marked hands and clothing. It was cleaned off with a wire brush and then sand paper. Both aluminum paddles then received a new black electrical insulation tape grip.

After a maiden test voyage and a few more day trips for practice I embarked on a five day one hundred mile paddle down the entire navigable length of the river Wye. 
The repairs held out the whole way and the boat performed perfectly.
 It was an unsupported solo journey. I carried everything on board that I needed to stay comfortable, fed and watered for the entire trip. 

To read the full article about the canoe camping trip