River picnic

River picnic

The other night while out looking for suitable places to set my trailcam, I discovered this beautiful stretch of river out in the bush. The next day we decided to go on a picnic there and my brother and his girlfriend joined us. It amazes me that even within a short distance from my house I can still find new places I haven’t seen yet. We had a small fire on the bank and cooked bacon on sticks, and both the kids and dog had the chance to swim a bit –  a welcome respite from the 30 degree centigrade plus heat.

It was a bit of a gypsy holiday but it goes to show that you don’t need to spend lots of money, nor have lots of equipment, to have a fun day out. Judging by the tracks lining the river bank, I wouldn’t like to be there at night though….

Open Air Vestmarka tent review

Open Air Vestmarka tent review

I bought this OpenAir Vestmarka tent in Jysk as a storage/baggage tent just to keep food and rucksacks etc in when we go camping. It was cheap at 15 Euros and has a rating of 450mm waterproofing.

When I got back to the house I put it up just to see what it was like. It was a scorching hot day and I thought the kids could play in it and maybe I’d sleep out in it that night. It only has 4 tent pegs which was worrying and there is no way of fully sealing the front flap, only the mosquito net, meaning it is useless for storing bags as anyone can see inside it.

Within an hour a huge storm appeared – we often get these in the Carpathians. Hurricane winds and lashing rain, lightning and thunder. As usual, the storm passed within another hour or so and I went out to check the tent. The inside was like a swimming pool but at least it hadn’t blown away. Utterly useless. The waterproof rating is a joke.

As a play tent it’s fine but I can understand why it was only 15 Euros. It definitely won’t be coming on any expeditions with me.

Adventurous visitors

Adventurous visitors

I’ve just had three friends visit, one old and two new, John, Pete and Tilly, for a long weekend. They drove here from North Wales, which is an exhausting two-day drive each way. Because they were only here for a few days, we tried to pack as much in as possible. We visited the UNESCO town of Bardejov, and the Andy Warhol museum in the remote town of Medzilaborce. We visited the Valley of Death and the the Soviet Memorial in Svidnik. We also headed over the border into to Poland to Magursky National Park, which is home to a bear population. Best of all, we did a long hike carrying unfeasibly heavy packs up a logging trail into the hills, where we camped in the dense Carpathian forest. Luckily, the evening was dry so we could sit around a campfire, but we woke to heavy rain and drenched equipment, which we then had to pack and lug down a now very muddy logging trail back to the house. Thankfully, there were no visits from bears.

We rounded the trip off with a campfire in the garden where we cooked wild boar goulash. A few hours earlier, we’d seen a couple of boars running across the hill at the back of the house.

I really enjoyed myself and I hope they did too.

Hammock camping in forest

Hammock camping in forest

Last night I tried hammock camping for the first time. My friend Steve had given me a decent tarp which I hadn’t used yet and, along with a cheap Thai mosquito hammock, I set up for another night out. Setting up took longer than expected, about 2 hours, but I think it will be much quicker next time. Once again it took a long time to get a fire going because of the damp and I used many different types of wild kindling in my various attempts. I finally succeeded using some dead bindweed.

Hammock camping is totally different to my usual swag shelter style and it was good to get off the ground. It did induce, however,  a feeling of both claustrophobia and vertigo. The hammock was much shorter than I’d expected. Listed at 7’1″, once strung I barely fit in with my 6’1″ length  – there was certainly no room for a bag.

It wasn’t a very successful first camp and I learned several valuable lessons from it. Unlike tents, you can’t bring loads of stuff in with you (bottle, camera, machete, knife, pouches, etc) because it all ends up u dear neath you and you spend most of the night trying to rearrange things to make yourself comfortable.  Also, you can’t use a bivi bag inside the hammock as there just isn’t enough room to manoeuvre.  Once you’ve messed up the zip on your sleeping bag inside the bivi bag you won’t be able to fix it and that leads to a cold, uncomfortable night.

With a bit of practice I’m sure I’ll find the right way to do things.  It does feel good to be high above the slugs, ticks and rodents. I plan to use this a lot more in the future.

Solo deep forest sleep – out during the rut

Solo deep forest sleep – out during the rut

Yesterday evening, while suffering from flu, I got the urge to try sleeping out in the forest during the Red deer stags’ rutting period. I hadn’t done it during this period before because I’ve had problems in the woods with hormonal enraged stags during this time in the past. But the noise of multiples of the giant beasts braying and roaring throughout the forest just seemed really appealing to experience first hand, alone, and in their space.

By the time I’d decided to go, there wasn’t much daylight left and my kit list was a hurried affair. I took a green garden tarp and some bungees to make a low slung swag shelter – 3 sided,  with roof, back and floor, and front exposed to the fire. I brought an army bivi bag to sleep in, a kettle and some water for coffee.

The walk up the hillside and then through the forest to my intended campsite above a join in  two ravines took longer than expected as I was ill. I arrived drenched in sweat and had just enough daylight to put up the shelter. Then it came to firelighting time. I’d forgotten to bring paper or cotton wool so resorted to birch bark outer. That went up no problem but the kindling around was drenched and as the forest got darker and darker I couldn’t venture off looking for drier stuff, or grass, etc. During this time the forest came alive, with large beasts crashing around and the occasional stag braying. I was so focused on peeling birch a short ways from my camp with help from my head torch,  that a large growl nearby awoke me rudely. It took over an hour to get the fire lit using a cigarette lighter and I experienced dread throughout that time at the prospect of not having a fire through the night.

The importance of a fire can’t be underestimated. For cooking, for companionship,  for safety. I collected enough dead fall to keep it going until dawn and my mood improved massively. I could begin to enjoy the various screams, grunts, barks and calls, and the sound of branches snapping under hoof out in the darkness.

I slept until 3 am and then the forest just seemed to erupt. As it didn’t start getting light until 5.30, that was a very long 2 hours and I made sure the flames of the fire were visible to any curious 4 legged passerby.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it reminded me of the old saying that the best part of having an adventure is coming safely home… Thankfully, Veles had his dominions on short rein last night.