Norfolk Wild Canoe Camping

5 – 7th August 2011

After paddling over 80km from Marlow to Chelsea in two days the previous weekend I was looking forward to what was meant to be a relatively relaxed paddle along the River Bure in Norfolk in good company and good weather.  Well… we I guess two out of three ain’t bad I suppose…

Whilst CKC focuses on sea kayaking and touring we don’t get very many opportunities to do open boating (given we don’t have any of our own).  So on the general principle that we should run an open canoeing trip at least once a year we were on the lookout for self-guided options.  We decided to book a self-guided open canoe camping trip through The Canoe Man after seeing them at The Outdoors Show in January.   

We rendezvoused at The Goat Inn in Skeyton ready to be met to be taken to the “get in” at Aylsham.    There were eleven of us in total – including a few “firsts” for some people.  It was Katie’s first CKC trip of the year, Pia and Bunny’s first CKC trip ever!, and also Pia’s first ever time in an open boat (it’s not big in Denmark apparently).

Most of us had camped over the previous night at The Goat Inn – and due to a communications cock-up on the part of The Canoe Man we had to stay in tipi’s as there was not enough room to pitch our own tents – which initially we were quite pleased about (i.e. no faff with tents, etc) until it started raining.  Yep it turns out that the tipi’s were not very water tight and as we weren’t warned about this some people and kit got a bit wet during the night…  

Saturday morning started out pretty miserable and we were all a bit concerned that it was going to set in all day.   After a bit of faff the boats were loaded, people deciding who their tandem partners would be (tandem open boats are not called “divorce boats” for nothing…), and a short briefing we were off with the weather improving each hour!   Did I mention that Bunny was paddling solo – yep as ever he wanted a challenge (he would however be regretting it by the end of the day). 

Did I also mention that this was supposed to be a relaxed paddle?   Well the first days paddle was meant to be around 15km (or thereabouts) to the wild campsite.  The second day we could decide how long or short we wanted the paddle.   With this in mind we progressed along the river figuring we could have a chilled lunch stop at the pub at Coltishall.   As we progressed and tackled each portage with ever growing frustration (including having to deal with a rather irate home owner in Buxton Mill who had an issue with us getting out where the briefing sheets told us to) it became apparent that something was wrong…  This was on top of the fact that Toons was repeatedly moaning that this was the “worst trip ever!”

Still there was a bit of a comedy moment as we were putting back into the water below Buxton Mill – being the cheeky chappy that Gieve is he wanted to do a short seal launch – “no, no, no!” pleaded Pia – “yes, yes, yes” Gieve said.   The next thing we heard was a scream, a splash and Stu laughing his head off as the boat had in fact turned over and Gieve and Pia had taken a plunge along with all their kit!  

We paddled on and it wasn’t until we got to Coltishall around 5pm (or thereabouts) absolutely starving and Toons and I looked at the sheets we noticed that there were distances along the bottom…  It turns out that The Canoe Man had messed up yet again!   We were meant to actually start the trip at Buxton Mill not Aylsham!  Consequently we’d already done 16km and still had another 11km to go!   Therein lies a lesson for me – do not necessarily trust everything a provider says – do your own due-diligence as well! 

Still no real dramas and with a quiet determination we paddled on as fast we could in an attempt to get to the wild campsite before dark.   The group split Jac and I, Kate and Stu, Gieve and Pia and Bunny found ourselves at the front and Toons, John, Katie and Miranda had dropped behind quite a way.   As we reached Wroxham to phone The Canoe Man for some directions to the wild campsite – we heard mass grunting which then broke into songs as Toons and Katie had rafted alongside John and Miranda to create a “Ca-ta-noe”.   By this time I should perhaps mention that Bunny was lagging too – finally we had found something that had broken him! 

Pulling into Wroxham Broad we eventually found the wild camp location, pulled the boats up, pitched the tents, chatted around the disposable BBQ we had bought with us, and settled in for the night – yep we were absolutely knackered!   We had paddled the best part of 27km and had tackled 4 portages.  

The group awoke to a fabulous day and had a very slow start to breaking camp and getting away – much to Bunny’s frustration.   A decision was made to go for the shorter paddle and had a nice and relaxed 6km paddle in the sun to The Swan Inn at Horning including a stop along the way for a “99” from an “ice cream boat” (!?!) and various attempts by some to ride the wake of the Sunday day-trippers.  

Although there were some cock up’s the trip ultimately went well and The Canoe Man’s equipment and team on the ground were excellent.   At the end of the day everyone had a great time (helped by what turned out to be amazing weather) and we will definitely be doing another self-guided canoe camping trip next year – suggestions on location anyone?  


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