Been a while! The last week has seen all sorts of action…the coracle/ canoe trip to the coast has been the highlight and was, like most unplanned journeys, full of surprises! I have also taken on the daunting task of keeping my landlords animals alive- 6 cats, 6 chickens, 1 huge pig and a little pony. Chickens, as we all know, lay eggs (but what came first?), this has meant a new introduction to the diet and I get about 3 eggs a day for the next 3 weeks! Omelettes, scrambled eggs…pickled eggs?
This post is all about the boat trip. I was fortunate enough to have the company and photographic genius of the Hungry cyclist on this escapade, most of the photos here are his- and very good they are too!
The coracle took about 4 days to build, cover with canvas and then paint with 4 coats of bitumen paint…when the day came to test her she ticked all the boxes and passed with flying colours: Frank (or Francine- vessels must be female…) floated well, was a tad unstable- imagine taking to the water in a giant soup bowl! One thing was clear on her first outing: Francine would go nowhere fast.
With 3 days to complete the trip, Tom and I decided to take 2 canoes and use Francine as a trailer for all our gear, and then on wider stretches I would have a paddle in the coracle.
As with most unchartered territory, especially rivers, a blue line on the map only shows weirs and bridges with little or no mention of other obstacles. Trees, overhanging branches the odd cow carcass and shallow runs are not ideal for paddling and towing fragile coracles…the upper reaches were riddled with plenty of inconvenient “things”. This meant unloading gear dragging, coracles and canoes up the riverbank and back in downstream…fine once in a while but to get a few in one stretch wasn’t very amusing.
The best thing about travelling through these quiet unseen stretches is getting a feeling you are somewhere else. Himalayan Balsam, Japanese knotweed and bamboo all woven with the jungalistic tangle of hop vines can give you a sense of paddling down the Mekong rather than Sussex- the steep banks give no indication as to where you are.
For the Hunter-gatherer, the time of year was spot on, lining the banks were all manner of wild goodies on offer. Fat, juicy blackberries were at arms length, sometimes closer, the brambles getting revenge for greedy feasting, both Tom and I had close encounters with thorns and by the end of the 3 days, arms and legs looked as though we had been mauled by a bag of angry cats.
Despite minor injuries, we had some good finds: not more than an hour into the trip I saw the orange smudge of a Chicken of the woods perched up in an oak tree. Further down stream we heard gunshots, the farmer was out decoying for pigeons, all we had to do was pluck the shot birds from the river as we drifted past! What luck!
Near the South Downs we swapped rivers and headed west from the Medway to the Cuckmere, which came out by the greatest of British seascapes- the Seven Sisters.
The first night we were woken at 5am by 3 hours of heavy downpour: hammocks, ponchos and sleeping bags all felt the force. Thankfully, by 10am, it was a beautiful day, wet things became dry and frowns were turned upside down. The second night was much more like it: we found a field by the river and after explaining our mission to the local farmer, he was happy for us to bed down for the night as long as we didn’t mind sharing the field with some moo-moos.
That evening we went for a forage for some greenery, pigeon breasts with a delightfully piquant sorrel sauce and chicken of the woods fried up with some veggies I had brought from the patch. That evening we wound up the wireless, had a few flagons of mead and drifted off promptly after the rigours of the day.
On day three we struck out for the coast, unfortunately the tides weren’t on our side… the going was good for the first few hours and then we noticed that when we weren’t paddling we began to drift upstream, that, coupled with a stiff headwind, drained the power from the arms faster than you could say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.
Mind you, it wasn’t so bad stopping along the way to fill our boots with handfuls of Samphire and Sea beet. The journey ended in the afternoon at a watering hole called the Golden Galleon, a stones throw from the coast. The tide was rushing upstream at a ludicrous rate, each stroke pretty much kept us in one place! A great shame, but on the upside we nursed our aches and pains from 3 days of paddling Sussex with a few pints of Harveys- what a journey!
The coracle had taken a beating- a few small gashes from shallow rocks that had remained unseen to the naked eye, filled Francine’s belly with an inch or two of brackish water. She now rests under the treehouse after being lovingly patched up for her next adventure.
A fantastic three days of new sights and sounds, good company and laborious paddling left me exhausted and longing for a return to the trees. The bed in the treehouse never felt soooooo good and that evening I slept for a good 12 hours.
Could I recommend building a vessel and paddling down the nearest river? Most certainly! For step-by-step plans to make a coracle from a trip to the local DIY store, click here, and for inspiration on how to make one using natural materials visit Richard J. Taylor’s (my coracle guru- thanks!) corner of the net.
Back in the branches, I will be focusing on turning the wild larder into something special for the next 2 months- bring on the Fruits & Fungi!
For more photos of the trip visit the Hungry Cyclists Flickr page.