After the May Day bank holiday I had a week off work with no concrete plans beyond the idea of going away for a spot of paddling and photography with some wild camping thrown in. In the weeks building up, plans and counter-plans were made, but boiled down eventually to the north-west Highlands, Glen Affric, Derwent Water or the Norfolk Broads.
As my week off arrived, it was clear that the weather wasn’t going to play ball in Scotland, and although it was set very fair in Norfolk for the week, I don’t know the area well enough to wild camp, and didn’t really want to be tied to a ‘proper’ site. So Derwent Water it was to be. This lake is one of my favourites in the Lake District, but it is really a bit on the small side to spend more than a couple of days exploring. Even then, you can be pretty leisurely about things and still cover some ground twice. My plan was to drive up for two days mid-week with a wild camp on St Herbert’s Island, returning late afternoon on the second day.
My weather window arrived. I drove north behind a clearing cold front, and arrived in Keswick to find light winds, forecast to drop, with cotton wool clouds in a clean blue sky. Visibility was excellent and it looked good for my trip. Parking in Kettlewell carpark around midday, I met a very helpful National Trust warden who didn’t blink when I told him I was planning on parking overnight, but did tell me his colleagues would be around ‘sometime after 9am’ to check tickets, so I would be well advised to buy one before then. This didn’t sound like a bad deal, as I was hoping to be up for sunrise anyway and off the island before the lake traffic got started.
Kettlewell is a great launch point. The portage is all of ten metres if you park at the lakeside edge of the carpark, and there is a handy beach to set off from. This was all to the good, as even though I hadn’t packed too many luxuries, the camping and camera gear combined still necessitated a few trips to and from the car. With everything stowed and secure, I pushed the outlander clear of the shallows and was away.
The wind was brisker here than in town, blowing back up the lake towards Keswick. Mindful of my planned evening stop on St Herbert’s Island, and having explored the northern end of the lake on a previous visit, I decided to go upwind first, and headed passed the landing jetty by the Mary Mount Hotel and over to the mouth of the Upper Derwent river. The shallow waters and small islets gave shelter from the wind, and there were quite a few water birds around.
I pushed on upwind and upstream, passing the intriguingly named Canon Dub by the Lodore Hotel.
I turned around just beyond the footbridge, and drifted back downstream, pausing first by a sand martin colony in the banks of the river. I amused myself trying to get an image of a flying sand martin from the boat, and to my great surprise actually managed it! And without falling in as I twisted around tracking the birds with the camera held to my eye! This image is very cropped in admittedly, but I’m still pretty pleased to have got the bird in the frame and in focus.
By the bend in the river I indulged in a bit more acrobat photography, this time standing in the boat to get my eyes level with the reed tops over the marshes while I made some images of a stand of weather-beaten trees that have caught my eye on every visit to this end of the lake. Finally, from a canoe, I was able to get the viewpoint I wanted.
Back on the open water of the lake, I skirted across Great Bay, staying clear of the small nature reserve there, before reaching Myrtle Bay. This is a delightful spot whether you reach it on foot or by canoe.
The headland was crowned by a magnificent scots pine, below which was a handy bench for tired walkers to admire the view.
I was equally taken by the quality of light on the woods though, and spent a while making images of the reflected trees by the water’s edge.
Moving north along the bank, I circumnavigated Otter Island in Abbot’s Bay, sadly marked private, then paddled by the jetty in Brandlehow Bay and on through Withesike Bay. The woods extended right to the water here, and I enjoyed the views northward to Carl Side, Skiddaw and Little Man. Hunger began to make itself felt, but I was reluctant to go ashore just yet, so I drifted for a while, eating my sandwiches and watching the world go by.
When I reached Derwent Bay, I decided to head over to St Herbert’s Island and check out possible campsites while it was still early enough to move on if needed. The island was deserted, but I was a bit disappointed to find a few fire pits and a few cans and the like. Down at the south end I found an apparently washed up touring kayak, above the water and dry, but missing its hatches. Returning to my boat at the far end, I found I had been joined by the sailing school from Nichol’s End. I told the instructor there about the kayak, and he said he would salvage it the following day.
Quite pleased I hadn’t set up camp yet, I left the island to the group for a while, and explored the Scarf Stones, barely above water today, and the neighbouring Rampsholme Island. This was heavily populated by nesting geese and other birds, so I contented myself with paddling round it, making some images of the birdlife as I went. Barnacle geese were the main tenants, and watched me carefully as I slid by.
I could see now that the sailors had left, so I headed back to St Herbert’s, landing on the shingle spit at the north end. My chosen campsite was just into the woods from here, with a clear view across the water to the outfall of the lake. Again, it was only a few metres to carry my kit, and I soon had my home fo rthe night set up, and a lamb hotpot, cooked earlier in the week and frozen, warming up. I tried out a new toy, a platypus gravity-fed water filter system, which performed admirably. Very simple to use, it gave me all the water I needed within minutes, and packed away to a small package with almost no weight to it. My luxuries came out – a table to cook on, and a petrol lantern for the later evening.
Well fed, and with a freshly made mug of tea in hand, I set up my camera to enjoy the sunset, and was treated to a brief but intense display of colour over the flanks of Catbells and Causey Pike.
Having forgotten my book, I settled down to sleep, but my neighbours the barnacle geese had other ideas, setting up a raucous chorus that prevented any hope of dozing off. Re-emerging from the tent, I decided to take advantage of the still water conditions, and headed off for a trip round Derwent Island. Nothing else was moving on the water now, and even the barnacle geese were falling silent as I glided over the darkened waters. I followed the guide of my petrol lantern back to the island, indian strokes not raising a ripple.
All quiet now, I went to bed again, only to be disturbed by two Hercules aircraft flying low down the valley. They woke the geese up as well, so it was a while before I got back to sleep, to be woken in the predawn by a pair of redshanks piping vociferously far to close to my tent. Who needs an alarm to get up for sunrise?
Continued in Part 2