Would you ever go on a trip with a bunch of strangers, knowing only your meeting point and what you needed to take for the trip, but not knowing what you would actually be doing? Well, this basically how my September and Summer ended.
Being the designated photographer for the trip with Secret Adventures, I did know a little more than the others going as I needed to plan camera equipment etc.. but this weekend in Devon was still full of surprises. I packed up my backpack on the Friday with my tent, swimming costume and other recommended essentials and jumped on the train to Totnes, Devon.
Madoc picked me up and introduced me to some of the people I would be spending the next couple of days with and off we went in the car to the meeting place – a campsite a few miles away. Most people were coming from the London area, so wouldn’t be arriving until pretty late, after they had finished work for the day.
We pitched up our tents and decided to go for a walk and get a feel for the area, whilst we waited for the others to arrive. There was a lovely moment on the walk when we saw a deer standing looking at us at the end of the field, before it bounced into the trees. We lit a fire in the evening, cooked some sausages and chatted as other people slowly started to arrive in the dark and join in. The stars were incredible that night, it was so dark there was barely any light pollution at all and the milky way was clearly visible. Something I rarely get to see where I live in Kent.
When we awoke the next morning, we had breakfast in front of the fire and starting packing up, ready to go to our next destination and find out what we would be doing for the day.
We drove, following Madoc through winding country roads to a car park by a river. It was here it became clear that we would be leaving the cars behind and canoeing down the river. Several two person Canadian canoes were waiting for us at the rivers edge, so we packed our backpacks into watertight containers and then set off down the river.
After canoeing for a hour or so, we moored up at a bank and unloaded some things for a tea break by the river. With us we had our canoe instructor Nick and a bushcraft expert Hannah.
In order to have our tea-break we were going to have to learn how to start a fire using firesteels and different materials such as fungus, twigs, grasses and fluff.
We divided up into teams and had a go ourselves at starting a fire and using the Storm Kettle to boil the water. After some ginger cake and tea we packed everything away and got back in our canoes to head further down the river.
After another hour we came to a river bank where we stopped to drop off all of our camping equipment before continuing on. After a little while we moored up again and walked to a cafe near the river harbour and had some lunch in the sun.
Then it was back to the canoes again for another couple of hours, paddling back to camp for the night to pitch up and prepare dinner.
After collecting some firewood in the nearby forest, we started a fire and began to prepare dinner. This consisted of a delicious chorizo and chickpea stew and various salads – my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of campfire cooking!
As night drew in and we were all happily fed, we played a few games in the field and then embarked on a pitch black nature walk through the forest, where Hannah used an owl whistle to encourage the birds to sound.
I could barely see Roman in front of me, despite his 6 foot 7 frame! It was so dark, we had to feel carefully for each step, trying not to make a sound – or fall down the bank into the river.
We heard the cries of herons and other river birds who were nesting in the trees and the faint sound of owls in the distance. In the pitch black it was really spooky but magical and exciting at the same time.
Eventually we returned and bedded down for the night in our tents. It was getting cold and it was obvious that mist and fog were beginning to roll in along the water. I got up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and could see nothing but the tiny watery droplets of mist in front of my face, lit up by my headtorch.
Some of us had decided to get up before sunrise so we could go for another nature walk in the woods at dawn, in the hope of finding some wildlife. It was pitch black still when I got up and dressed and headed over to the fire. A couple of us decided to try and light the fire using our new bushcraft skills, by blowing on the embers from the night before. Amazingly, despite the damp it came to life, ready to warm up by when we returned.
We headed into the forest and split up in order to sit in silence in various places in the woods and see what we could find. The mist creating a mystical atmosphere as the sun started to rise.
We heard some interesting birdcalls and met up after to talk about what we’d heard. Then we made our way back to camp for breakfast and tea to warm us up.
When we got back to camp, we decided that actually this would be a great time for a dip in the river, which was still so shrouded by mist that you couldn’t see the trees on the other side or where the water ended and sky began.
Before I got in myself, there was this beautiful moment where a swan flew past in the mist. I am in love with this photograph.
Eventually I got in myself, which was a great experience for me after building up my confidence for swimming earlier in the year with lessons. It was freezing, muddy and I cringed quite a lot as I felt the silt between my toes, but the atmosphere in the water in the mist was incredible – and it certainly was refreshing!
Now we truly needed to warm up by the fire and eat some warming breakfast. First breakfast was fruits and muesli, second breakfast was egg sandwiches.
After breakfast Hannah taught us how to make jewellery from reeds and twigs. The mist was beginning to lift now and you could see the trees on the other side of the river again. We played a couple of games and Hannah showed us some edible plants that could be found in the field. Afterwards we packed up and then it was back in the canoes for an hour or two before we moored up again and walked to a local pub for a goodbye lunch.
This is what a weekend well spent looks like. Can you believe that all of this happened in less than 48 hours? It was a wonderful weekend, one where strangers felt like friends – the memories of which will keep my heart warm throughout the winter.