Nov 03

September Canal Camp

Canoe loaded – Photo by Nigel Ayers

Here in the the UK, particularly England, there are very few possibilities to wild-camp and I use the term loosely; throw in a canoe and they are almost non-existent.  In most areas it is illegal to simply pitch-up where you wish, unless of course you operate a “suck it and see” approach. Wilderness does not exist in our tiny over-crowded country, certainly not the kind of wilderness one associates with canoe-camping. Reduced to picking and choosing places accessible by river or canal and a few miles from any civilisation is as much as we can hope for to give us our little wilderness fix!  And this is often the case if I want a little time under the stars without all the paraphernalia, noise and over-crowdedness associated with camping at a commercial site.

A desire to “wild-camp” , to take the canoe, tent, sleeping-bag and firebox, got a grip of me at the beginning of September as it often does at most times, and plans were made for a little trip along one of my favourite stretches of canal, the Caldon and together with friend and fellow canoeist Alex a couple of days of camping, with a little paddling, and much “chewing the fat” around the camp-fire was to be certainly worth the risk of possibly upsetting anyone!

We have often used this area before and always have parked in the same place, but this time it was not to be. Arriving at the parking space I was greeted by the car park commandant telling me that we were no longer allowed to park. Cutting a long story short I said goodbye and left!! Phone calls were rapidly made to track down Alex. Finally meeting up we sped off to Cheddleston to approach our chosen site from another angle. After clearing things with the ever so nice and accommodating landlord of the Boat Inn, along with the promise of exchanging a few groats for food and drink, agreement was made to leave the cars in the safety of his car-park for the duration of our stay.  

Canoes were launched and loaded and on our way we were! Usually the paddle takes about 45 minutes to get to get to our chosen lock-side camp, but that was from the other way, straight forward and no other locks to portage. This time however was to take a little longer with one lock to portage. Christened by Alex and to be known from this day forward as “Stinky Lock Portage” because of the sewage treatment works hidden just out of sight by some tall hedges, but believe me you definitely know it’s there!

Below “Stinky Lock Portage” – Photo by Nigel Ayers

After arriving at the lock we set about pitching camp and soon claiming the land as home for a couple of days. Everything set up it was soon time for a brew before getting some food sorted. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was already approaching late afternoon. Coming away on trips like this gives me the chance to play. I love the idea of having a fire lit and cooking on it and the the firebox allows me to do this without need for an open fire, which I might add is also frowned upon! But raised off the ground and in the confines of the firebox it is a joy that any outdoors person should experience at some time, and presents little problem with scorched ground or the need to dig pits.

Fire-box raised of the ground eliminates scorching. – Photo by Nigel Ayers

My tea. – Photo by Nigel Ayers

Fat reserves suitably replenished and with the light fading fast, we gathered ourselves around the fire to share a tipple or two or three, and chat and discuss at length a rich diversification of topics along with a few laughs.

Compact and bijou, home for a couple of nights – Photo by Nigel Ayers

The following morning dawned bright and misty, and the first order of the day; making a brew. Walking around with my cuppa in hand everywhere was wet through from the mist, including my trouser legs which did their best to soak as much water as possible and resembled two large lengths of litmus paper. Strange I thought, as they’re supposed to be quick drying, yeah right,  they’re also the quickest to get soaked through! Apart from wet trousers, the mist also helped reveal loads of cobwebs, so I busied myself before breakfast taking photos of these magnificent structures.

The only web access we had. – Photo by Nigel Ayers

Breakfast for me this morning was a simple fried egg and bacon “banjo” (sandwich) suitably washed down with another mug of hot sweet tea, although I think I might have over-cooked the bacon a bit. Note to self; must pay more attention when cooking on a fire!

Minimalist breakfast with over-done bacon. – Photo by Nigel Ayers

It’s amazing where the time goes, mid-morning already! So it’s back in the canoes for a paddle back to the pub to check if everything is fine with the cars….Should say…So it’s back in the canoes for a paddle back to the pub for lunch! Well we hadn’t intended to but once there it was opening time and the temptation of the menu got the better of us, plus parting with cash for food would go a long way to bolster relations with the landlord!

Cheddleston in Staffordshire – Photo by Nigel Ayers

A paddle back to camp and the lock followed lunch. This part of the canal is very quiet and we have no problem leaving the camp with tents pitched, even with the passage of narrowboats through the lock, the camp is left alone! In fact we have had no trouble over the years even when the British Waterways bloke comes around to clear the sluice in the mornings, we get a cheery hello!

Approaching camp from Cheddleston – Photo by Nigel Ayers

The afternoon was warm and sunny, and while Alex opted for a paddle to the Black Lion, scene of the no parking restrictions the previous day, I decided to do a bit of bird-watching having heard and seen a fair few buzzards. I found myself a spot and got some great views of these once scarce birds of prey through the binoculars, and neck ache too I might add!

It started to turn quite chilly in the evening, so after a night-cap or two and a bit more chin-wag, an earlier night was called for and Alex turned in leaving me perched on my stool having my last smoke of the day before I too called it a night!

The last day started chilly, but the sun was shining for our striking camp. In no particular rush to do so of course, and there must be an order to things, so I put water on for a brew, coffee or tea I cannot start the day without one! We slowly packed up our kit, and with all trips big or small, wild or not so wild, I always feel a sense of sadness that another one is nearly over, it had been a wonderful couple days, with great weather and, great company as always. I had managed to do a little cooking on the fire box which I had set out to do, I had not used or even taken a single gas canister!

Early morning brew. – Photo by Nigel Ayers

As things were gradually loaded into the canoes I found myself a suitably stick and paid a little attention to the area we had occupied by raking the flat grass back up, thirty minutes after we had left you would have had little idea that we had been there at all!

Adventures are what you make of them!


For more photos from the trip visit the September Canal Camp album. here.


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  1. Peter Patenaude

    Nice trip Nige.
    If you ever find yourself wanting more Wilderness- take time to come and canoe in Maine.

  2. Nige Ayers

    Thanks Pete. It would be nice to one day experience some real wilderness! ;)


  3. William Biddulph

    Yep OML is a great site, no traffic noise or smells and the only way to it is by canoe, that is unless you are very fit and can carry a good load, by the way Nige thats not a loaded Canoe, lol. also dissapointed you didnt bother to pay your respects to my OLD Friend. you must remember its his friends that allow you to dispence with your Gas cannisters, if you know what I mean. as always enjoy reading about your trips to one of my favourite camp sites,
    Happy Paddling. Bill AKA ( Canalvoyageur )

  4. Paul Hoy

    Despite the relative lack of wilderness, it sounds like the trip was enjoyed – after all, I wonder if part of the wilderness experience is defined by how we experience our surroundings and does not necessarily depend on our surroundings. Of course, one can only go so far with this. Plus, I am spoiled when it comes to wilderness and canoe tripping, living in Ontario, Canada.

  5. wild2012

    Looks like you had a lot of fun, Nige. Just getting away from it all and camping out for a couple of days is enough to get away from the daily grind. And remember, if you want to experience a bit more wilderness – where wild camping IS legal – come north to Scotland.

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