If Rock Pond was my favourite venue for a dip, and it was, then this was my favourite paddling trip. We took the usual motley flotilla of canoes, paddle boards and a kayak across Stoney Creek Pond, and then down Ampersand Brook to its confluence with the Raquette River.
I didn’t take any photos until we reached the Raquette, despite the fact that I thought the Ampersand Brook and its surrounds were absolutely stunning. I think perhaps I was concentrating on following the bewildering meanders of the Ampersand and not getting lost down one of the many side channels.
Once we’d landed, I had a wander around the banks and took lots of photos. We stopped for quite some time, had a swim, drank a few cool beers and did a bit of fishing, I think a few tiddlers were even successfully landed (but not by me – I was very good at catching weed).
There seemed to be a couple of camp grounds by the river here, with the usual small ‘outhouse’ toilets, but in this case with this covered platform in addition.
We did see a handful of other paddlers – actually I think we may have seen the same small group twice – but it was very quiet and peaceful. It felt much further on the way back, although I don’t think it was actually very far at all, in either direction!
This handsome frog was sheltering under the paddle boards by the shore of the pond the next morning. I thought it might be an American Bullfrog, but they’re huge, up to 8 inches I’ve read. I think this is the very similar, but smaller, Green Frog. The dorsolateral ridges running from the head down the sides of the torso are a distinguishing feature apparently.
I think that this is a male, because the ear – the tympanic membrane – is larger than the gorgeous golden eye.
TBH and I needed another shortish outing because of our plans for the afternoon.
So we took to the water again.
Here’s the pond…
We were staying on the north side of the southern most bulb – we canoed northwards, past a beaver lodge, under the bridge, which required a bit of care, up beyond the little island almost to the northern extremity of the pond.
We were heading for this little beach. The lake bed here was firm and sandy – perfect for swimming. By the boathouse the lake has a deep layer of very soft silt, which makes getting out for a swim a bit awkward, without a paddle board.
The trees to W’s right are growing on the small island, where there was a Bald Eagle nest. Prof A challenged us to swim to the island and, I think, was a bit surprised when B and I accepted the challenge. It wasn’t all that far, maybe a 500m round trip, at a guess. The island is private, so we didn’t quite go the whole way. We didn’t see any eagles, but we had a good view of the nest.
Once back, I had a bit of a wander. Close by there was a picnic table and a fire-pit – I think this was one of the campgrounds which seem to be scattered around the area – they can be rented at relatively low cost I believe.
There were dragonflies and damselflies of various sizes and colours about. I took numerous blurred photos of a mating pair of damselflies, the male was a lovely combination of royal blue and mauve. I failed too with an orange dragonfly and an electric blue damselfly similar to those I see close to home.
I chased this dragonfly along the edge of the lake, but at least I got some relatively sharp shots. I’m reasonably confident with my identification, although online descriptions say that the markings on the body are ‘orange triangles’, whereas to me they look like red hearts.
Which reminds me of a blogger I once knew who found heart-shapes everywhere.
I was fascinated too by the plants and fungi under the trees. Although they were all unfamiliar, I was trying to figure out their place in the ecosystem by analogy with the things I see around home. For example…
This plant with its single layer of large leaves and what must have been a single central flower put me in mind of our own Herb Paris.
Time was marching on, and I turned to go back along the fringe of the lake to the boats when I was startled by this monster…
In retrospect, it perhaps wasn’t quite as big as it seemed, but it was still, by some distance, the biggest spider I’ve seen in the wild. Feisty too: it kept waving two of its legs at me in a very aggressive fashion, or, at least, it seemed that way.
I think it’s a Striped Fishing Spider, Dolomedes Scriptus. There’s a very similar species, the Dark Fishing Spider, Dolomedes Tenebrosus, but although this spider looks dark, I think that may be more to do with the fact that it was in the shade.
Fishing Spiders don’t use a nest for hunting, but the female carries her eggs around in a silken sac before building a nest for her brood when they hatch. That probably explains the aggression. This nest was pretty big. They are also one of the species of spider which practice sexual cannibalism, with the female devouring the male after mating.
I gather that, as the name suggests, Fishing Spiders can hunt in or under the water, eating tadpoles, small fish and insects which live in the water or on the surface. They also hunt in the woods surrounding the lake however.
Talking of hunting…
…this damselfly has fallen prey to this fly, which is not too dissimilar from the one in my previous post. During the damselfly’s death throes the pair of them landed on my hat.
The reason we needed a short outing, was that TBH and I had a long drive in prospect. Our daughter A was also in the States, working as a Camp Counsellor at a Summer Camp in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. A was keen to see her uncle, aunt and cousins whilst she was stateside. She could get a 24 hour pass and somehow TBH had convinced herself that West Stockbridge was about an hour-and-half’s drive from where we were staying. When we looked it up again, our app was giving three-and-a-half hours. Each way. And that was before the many wrong turns we took. It was a long day.
This was the only photo I took in West Stockbridge. The following day, when we had to repeat the long journey to take A back, TBH and I had a wander around the wonderful Turnpark sculpture park, which was closed, but not locked-up. It was fantastic and I really should have taken lots of photos. Next time!
Whilst we were shouting at the satnav, Prof A took the boys bouldering. Or perhaps that was the next day, maybe they were shopping for a new toy. Or playing with that toy?
After a longs day’s driving, and with more mammoth drives in prospect, we were after a chilled day of catching up and getting in some swimming. It was cooler than it had been in New York, but still plenty warm enough.
We took a canoe, a kayak and a small flotilla of paddle boards across the pond from the north side and into the stream which heads off to the south-east – to be honest I can’t remember whether it was flowing into or out of the pond.
Prof A thought that the dam had probably been destroyed by canoeists who wanted to get their boats through.
Our nephews were keen to show their cousins this local venue for a bit of jumping in.
Although the area around us was heavily vegetated, I had the impression that it was probably pretty wet.
The canoe here was mine and TBH’s favoured mode of transport. I loved paddling it. Very restful. During our stay I tried to perfect my J-stroke, but without much success.
I found what I think was another Fowler’s Toad near to the house.
As you might imagine, with lots of trees and water, this is a great environment for the kind of nasty critters which like to bite. I gather that they can make early summer pretty unbearable. We wore lots of repellent, and still got bitten, but it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it might be.
These beetles were plentiful on the plants growing on the fringes of the lawn around the house. By coincidence, I’ve been reading about them since I came back from the US:
“Japanese beetle, a rather attractive copper and emerald-green scarab beetle…spend most of the year as grubs underground eating grass roots. The adults live for just a few weeks but nibble the leaves and petals of many ornamental plants, and also have a particular taste for vine leaves.”
‘The Garden Jungle’ Dave Goulson
The latter appetite has led to authorities in California organising a mass eradication programme where homeowners can see their gardens regularly and forcibly sprayed with a cocktail of pesticides. Apparently, one of the pesticides used has a half-life, in the soil, of up to 924 days, so that with annual applications the pesticide will accumulate in gardens. Nature has no chance.
Later, we took a short drive to have a swim at Ampersand Beach….
This was a spot we visited several times. It was great for a swim, although the lake bed shelved very shallowly so that you had to wade a long, long way out to get to the point where the water was deep enough. Ampersand Beach is on Middle Saranac Lake. More about the Saranac lakes in a later post.
You may have noticed that the map above shows an Ampersand Brook (of which more later), there’s also an Ampersand Mountain locally (of which more later), and an Ampersand Lake, which allegedly looks like the ampersand symbol, but which has no public access, so we didn’t visit that.
Even later still, this large toad was sat on the stone step by the back door of the house. It has a pale dorsal line, which I think makes it an American toad, although, if it was, I think it was a relatively large specimen.
Just occasionally, after very heavy rain, the fields behind our house can flood. It’s a rare occurrence, but the downpours towards the end of November brought the most extreme flooding we’ve seen in our time here…
This is what it looked like on the Thursday morning. On the Wednesday evening I’d driven through water which, I suspect, I would have baulked at in daylight. After I took this photo, we struggled to commute into Lancaster, having to turn back twice where roads were closed.
Of course, every cloud has it’s proverbial silver lining. Where I saw flooding, the DBs saw an opportunity. On the Wednesday night they’d already been out together for a ‘paddle’, or more accurately, a wade, in the temporary lake. On the Thursday they decided to go one better.
And paddle a kayak in the field.
It was windy, and pretty cold, so we didn’t stay out for long, but it was an unusual experience, to say the least.
After Silver Sapling we had one night at home, but didn’t unpack the trailer, because we were straight off again the following day, this time to Waterside House on the shore of Ullswater, once again with our friends Beaver B and G and their family.
On the first day, after we’d pitched the tent, we inflated the canoes and spent the remainder of the day enjoying the lake.
The following day we took a short stroll into Pooley Bridge.
It wasn’t far, but there was plenty of entertainment along the way.
Pooley Bridge is not a huge place, but TBH and G wanted to fully explore all of the shopping opportunities it had to offer. Fortunately, the sun came out and those of us who wee not so interested in tat could settle down on a bench and watch the world go by.
Browsing concluded and ice-creams consumed, we moved on for an ascent of Dunmallard Hill. This was Little S’s brainwave; seeing it from the campsite, he’d announced his intention to climb it. The kids also selected the route, a frontal assault which turned out to be ridiculously steep and which I think some party members will remember for all the wrong reasons, having not enjoyed it at all. To add insult to injury, there are no views from the top because of the trees.
Fortunately, there are other routes from the top, one of which we used for our descent, finding opportunities for feats of derring-do en route.
The principal reason for choosing the campsite was it’s lake-fronting location and we got out in the boats every day that we were there.
A view from the water gives a whole new perspective on the Lake District and I found it very relaxing, even though the weather was a bit mixed.
A in particular seemed to agree with me and, with her friend E, probably used the canoes more than anybody else.
TBH was out quite a bit too…
…here with our friend G.
We didn’t go very far, but we didn’t need to. Down to the yacht club at Thwaitehill Bay a couple of times was the furthest. (Dinghies can be rented there we found, something I’ve stored away for future planning).
Some of the kids were more keen on the small playground on site, and others, B in particular, spent a lot of time swimming. I probably would have swum more than I actually did, but for the fact that the water is not very deep. I swam out quite a way and found that I still wasn’t out of my depth. It seems illogical, now that I come to write it down, but for whatever reason, I don’t like that. Even TBH, much to everyone’s surprise, got in on the act…
The campsite was excellent, we would definitely go again. The showers were good. The toilet block closest to us was a sort of upmarket portacabin, but it was always clean and perfectly adequate. There’s a small well-stocked shop and a take-away kiosk. The site was busy, but very quiet at night. The ground was water-logged – we saw one car get really stuck in the mire. For that reason, we put the trailer-tent on a bit of a slope, which isn’t ideal, but it worked out okay: we managed to pitch it with the beds level after a lot of help from our friends. The big advantage for us was the access to the lake shore which, hopefully you can tell, we really enjoyed.
The day after our exertions on Scafell Pike and the forecast had changed considerably, with the weather now expected to stay fine for most of the day. We packed the inflatable canoes into the car and set off early, hoping to get one of the parking spaces at Low Peel Near on the minor road which runs up the eastern shore of Coniston Water. I think that we were the fourth car there, although it transpires that far more cars can squeeze in there than I ever would have expected.
We’ve had previous messing-about-on-the-water trips to Coniston Water, but have always parked at Brown Howe on the opposite shore.
We’d switched the venue because I’d done a bit of googling the night before and discovered that Peel Island, in the lake, is considered to be one of the inspirations for Wildcat Island in the Swallows and Amazons books and was also used as a location for the recent film. It’s close to the shore and not far from the launch spot at Low Peel Near, so ideal for the focal point of a canoeing trip.
After we’d rocked up and inflated the boats we had a short trip out then paused for our lakeside picnic and brew.
I really enjoyed the canoeing. The splashes of the steady rhythm of the paddles in the water were very relaxing, and the views across the lake to the Coniston Fells were stunning.
This is Wildcat Island…
Whilst we circumnavigated the isle, I handed the camera to Little S, since he wasn’t paddling at the time. I was surprised to discover later that he is even more prone than I am to get his horizons off-kilter, often wildly, sea-sickeningly so.
He was adamant that this house and boathouse…
…were also used in the film.
Eventually, we landed on the island itself. We were far from being the only visitors, but that didn’t seem to detract from the experience.
We explored the Island, it’s only small, and whilst I enjoyed the views the kids were climbing trees, clambering over rocks, and then…
…venturing into the lake for a swim, at which point I decided to join the fun.
Whilst we were on the island, the wind picked up and paddling back against it proved to be a bit of a battle.
Here we are at the end of the afternoon, just be for we began to pack all of our kit back into the car.
Once we’d decided that we would spend some time at home together over the summer, we resolved to try to get out and be active, turn our hands to something new from time to time, generally make the most of what’s on offer on our doorstep. We tried archery, not once but twice. We cycled along the shore of Windermere, and would have cycled again, but for difficulties with a defective cycle carrier. The boys and I dabbled in gill-scrambling. All good. But top of our wish list of things-to-do was a spot of canoeing. Attentive readers will be aware that as long ago as last New Year I expressed a yen to go “messing about in boats: to do some sailing; to buy, beg, borrow, blag, build a Canadian Canoe”.
Well we sailed on the Kent Estuary back in May – I don’t think that ever made it on to the blog – but it was terrific fun. And now we have some Canadian canoes, inflatable ones, having decided to take the prosaic approach of buying them.
We’ve two canoes, a two man and a three man. I don’t intend to review them, we’re very happy with them, but I don’t really have anything to compare them too or sufficient knowledge to to give an objective assessment. However, there do seem to be some real bargains out there and if you’re interested in some details leave a comment and I’ll get in touch.
We’ve had them out three times so far; twice at Fell Foot Park and, sandwiched between those outings, another trip on Windermere, but this time starting on the Western Bank from Harrow Slack car park. We travelled across to it on the Bowness Car Ferry (above).
These photos are from that second trip. It was pleasantly sunny, but very windy.
We paddled along the shore with the wind behind us, took a tour around two small islands called Lilies of the Valley and then landed back on the lake shore….
…to stretch our legs, climb trees….
…and photograph the local fungi….
Back in the boats we cruised past the two small islands again and then followed the western shore of Belle Isle, keeping out of the wind which was funnelling down the lake.
Belle Isle is comparatively large and is privately owned, with a house on it. Here we are (some of us anyway) hugging its sheltering bank. The two islands behind are the Lilies of the Valley.
…is from our third trip. The people in the boat in front are our friends B and M. (Tempting now to add ‘Bargains’ to that, but if instead, I call them M and B I shall only think of Mitchells and Butlers – I dread to think what these low rent free associations say about my character and misspent middle-age?) Anyway, that’s our friends B and M, M and B. We’re canoeing on the River Leven. We did that the first time we launched the boats from Fell Foot Park too. Then, the water levels were much higher and there was quite a strong current. We managed okay, but we met others who were struggling. B, who had two kids in an inflatable dinghy which was rapidly deflating, was making no headway at all, and in the end we gave him a bit of a tow to the shore.
I’ve since found a copy, stashed away sometime ago, just in case I ever got around to buying a canoe, of John Wilson Parker’s ‘Atlas of the English Lakes’.
This clip of the front cover pretty much sums it up. It’s a lovely book, a sort of ‘Wainwright for the Lakes’ with hand drawn maps, handwritten text and lots of detail about access, boat launching etc. All that, and it’s published by Milnthorpe’s Cicerone Press.
Anyway, he warns against paddling downstream in the rivers flowing out of the Lakes in general, and down the Leven in particular, precisely because there can be a strong current and you’re then faced with paddling back against it. It is a pleasant trip down to Newby Bridge, and just about the right distance for us at the moment, but perhaps we shall have to be a little more circumspect in future.
Fell Foot Park has the advantage over Harrow Slack of other facilities besides somewhere to launch – toilets, a play area, a cafe, an ice cream shop, room to throw a Frisbee, picnic tables etc. We try to not be in a position to need the cafe however – brewing the tea is part of the experience.
*So will the blog now have a sub-title “Paddling the Periphery?” Credit where credit’s due – this suggestion is from Alan Sloman’s comment on my January 2013 post about wanting to do some sailing and canoeing. Hopefully, there will be many more ‘Paddling the Periphery’ posts to come.(Probably only when the weather is kind though).