Category Archives: Canoe Chat

How to Paddle in a Tandem Canoe

Tandem Canoeing.

Though solo canoeing is always an option, nothing moves a canoe better than a well-matched tandem team. The trick is good communication and knowing your job. Here are a few tips to get you started.

The bow is for power.

If you’re sitting in the front you provide forward momentum and correction strokes when the boat wanders. You set the stroke cadence with a steady rhythm and are the lookout, identifying obstacles and making course corrections. The draw is a bow paddler’s key correction stroke. Instead of using the paddle to push the canoe forward, you’re using it to pull—or draw—the bow toward the paddle, thereby changing the boat’s direction. It’s great for avoiding rocks.

The trick is to reach well out of the boat, plant the blade firmly, and then pull the paddle shaft toward the canoe. To practice the cross-bow draw, simply swing your torso to plant the paddle on the “off” side, without switching hand positions (one on the top of the handle, one halfway up the shaft), and draw the canoe in the opposite direction.

The stern is for control.

If you’re sitting in the stern, or the rear, paddle in sync with your bow partner with your paddle on the opposite side of the canoe. Identify and steer the general course, sighting on a distant point or open downriver channel. You also complement the corrections made in the bow. Paddling a tandem canoe is like dancing. Talk to each other. Forgive each other.

Again, the draw is a key correction stroke, but since the stern paddler can’t efficiently draw on the “off” side, you’ll want to use the pry instead. Trail the paddle behind your hip, turning the blade parallel to the hull (like a rudder). Lever the blade emphatically away from the canoe to change the boat’s direction. Finally, because the canoe seats are set asymmetrically, the stern paddler overpowers the bow and has to correct every few strokes with a brief rudder, or J-stroke. After roughly every third forward stroke, pivot the paddle into rudder position and give a short flick (not as dramatic as the pry).

Stay stable.

In waves or white-water, drop from a seated position directly to your knees if things feel dicey. This lowers your centre of gravity and puts you in the most secure stance. Second, take a stroke, any stroke. Get that paddle in the water. It will act as an outrigger or brace.

Paddle smarter, not harder.

“Ramming speed” is the default strategy of neophytes. More often than not, paddling harder only makes bad things happen faster and more dramatically. Instead, back-paddle gently through standing waves to keep from swamping, and to slow the action as you read your way through moving water.

When in doubt, stop and scout.

The canoe world is full of scary and embarrassing stories about rapids not scouted. When you see something coming up that looks iffy—a funny break in the river horizon line, a downed tree, an unclear route—overcome the aversion to stopping. It’s always worth taking a look and staying safe.


Original article by Alan Kesselheim

Canoeing Books: Old & New


Some Winter Reading

Portage: A Family, a Canoe, & the Search for the Good Life


When as a child she first saw a canoe gliding on Lake Alexander in central Minnesota, Sue Leaf was mesmerized. The enchantment stayed with her and shimmers throughout this book as we join Leaf and her family in canoeing the waterways of North America, always on the lookout for the good life amid the splendors and surprises of the natural world.

The journey begins with a trip to the border lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, then wanders into the many beautiful little rivers of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the provincial parks of Canada, the Louisiana bayou, and the arid West. A biologist and birder, Leaf considers natural history and geology, noticing which plants are growing along the water and which birds are flitting among the branches. Traveling the routes of the Ojibwe, voyageurs, and map-making explorers, she reflects on the region’s history, peopling her pages with Lewis and Clark, Jean Lafitte, Henry Schoolcraft, and Canada’s Group of Seven artists. Part travelogue, part natural and cultural history,Portage is the memoir of one family’s thirty-five-year venture into the watery expanse of the world. Through sunny days and stormy hours and a few hair-raising moments, Sue and her husband, Tom, celebrate anniversaries on the water; haul their four kids along on family adventures; and occasionally make the paddle a social outing with friends. Along the way they contend with their own human nature: they run rapids when it would have been wiser to portage, take portages and learn truths about aging, avoid portages and ponder risk-taking. Through it all, out in the open, in the wild, in the blue, exploring the river means encountering life?good decisions and missed chances, risks and surprises, and the inevitable changes that occur as a family canoes through time and learns what it means to be human in this natural world.

Portage, by Sue Leaf

That Summer on the Nahanni 1928


Consisting of the field notes of Fenley Hunter, a New York-based businessman with a penchant for Canada’s North. Only 50 copies of Hunter’s original 1923 journal documenting a trip to Dease Lake in northern British Columbia were printed. A similar print run was made from his 1928 expedition, which started in northern Alberta and ended in Fort Simpson, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. McGahern Stewart’s volume presents both journals, as well as Hunter’s sketch maps. Perhaps the most intriguing element of Hunter’s 1928 journey, at least from a modern standpoint, is a five-week side trip he made up the Liard and South Nahanni rivers.

Today, the South Nahanni River tops the bucket list of many canoeists. In Hunter’s time, the river’s deep canyons were thought to contain lodes of gold. In 1908, the headless corpses of prospectors Willie and Frank McLeod were found on the river’s banks, inspiring stories of lost mines. Hardscrabble prospector Albert Faille was but one captivated by the region’s mystique; British ex-pat R.M. Patterson was another. Patterson and Hunter met one another on parallel Nahanni explorations in the summer of 1928.

Hunter’s journals detail his quest to survey the Nahanni’s centerpiece waterfall—and to name it after his 16-year-old daughter, Virginia. Editor Stewart notes his journal has “the ingredients of a classic wilderness tale. There is a quest. There is much arduous travel. In time, there is impatience to get out of the country… There is character development.” I agree with Stewart assertion that “Hunter writes evocatively about many parts of the trip.”

That Summer on the Nahanni, 1928, by Fenley Hunter

The Dangerous River

CanoeBookDangerousRiverRMPattersonWritten with R. M. Patterson’s characteristic sharp wit and observation, this classic tale chronicles the year he spent battling frigid temperatures and wild waters along the Nahanni River in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Patterson originally travelled to the North with hopes of finding gold, and clues to the mysterious disappearance of earlier prospectors. Instead, he fell in love with the landscape, and through his meticulously recorded journals and hauntingly beautiful photographs he introduced the now-famous Nahanni River to the world. Patterson’s bestselling first book is now back in print and ready to take readers down the treacherous and challenging waters of the Nahanni River once again.

The Dangerous River, by R.M.Patterson

Canoe Country

CanoeBookCanoeCountryRoyMcGregorOne of our favourite chroniclers of all things Canadian presents a rollicking, personal, photo-filled history of the relationship between a country and its canoes.

From the earliest explorers on the Columbia River in BC or the Mattawa in Ontario to a doomed expedition of voyageurs up the Nile to rescue Khartoum; from the author’s family roots deep in the Algonquin wilderness to modern families who have canoed across the country (kids and dogs included): Canoe Country is Roy MacGregor’s celebration of the essential and enduring love affair Canadians have with our first and still favourite means of getting around. Famous paddlers have been so enchanted with the canoe that one swore God made Canada as the perfect country in which to paddle it. Drawing on MacGregor’s own decades spent whenever possible with a paddle in his hand, this is a story of high adventure on white water and the sweetest peace in nature’s quietest corners, from the author best able (and most eager) to tell it.

Canoe Country, by Roy MacGregor

Canoeing with the Cree


In 1930 two novice paddlers–Eric Sevareid and Walter C. Port–launched a secondhand 18-foot canvas canoe into the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling for an ambitious summer-long journey from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay. Without benefit of radio, motor, or good maps, the teenagers made their way over 2,250 miles of rivers, lakes, and difficult portages. Nearly four months later, after shooting hundreds of sets of rapids and surviving exceedingly bad conditions and even worse advice, the ragged, hungry adventurers arrived in York Factory on Hudson Bay–with winter freeze-up on their heels. First published in 1935, Canoeing with the Cree is Sevareid’s classic account of this youthful odyssey. The newspaper stories that Sevareid wrote on this trip launched his distinguished journalism career, which included more than a decade as a television correspondent and commentator on the CBS Evening News. Now with a new foreword by Arctic explorer, Ann Bancroft.

Canoeing with the Cree, by Eric Sevareid

Canoeing the Congo


An exhilarating and terrifying account of the historic first source-to-sea descent of the Congo

At 2,922 miles, the Congo is the eighth longest river and the deepest in the world, with a flow rate second only to the Amazon. Ex-Marine Phil Harwood embarked on an epic solo journey from the river’s true source in the highlands of Zambia through war-torn Central Africa. With no outside help whatsoever he faced swamps, waterfalls, man-eating crocodiles, hippos, aggressive snakes, and spider webs the size of houses. He collapsed from malaria, and was arrested, intimidated, and chased. On one stretch, known as “The Abattoir” for its history of cannibalism and reputation for criminal activity, the four brothers he hired as bodyguards were asked by locals, “Why haven’t you cut his throat yet?” But he also received tremendous hospitality from proud and brave people long forgotten by the Western world, especially friendly riverside fishermen who helped wherever they could.

Canoeing the Congo, by Phil Harman

The Canoe Boys


The First Epic Scottish Sea Journey by Kayak.

“It’s too late in the year!” they were advised, but they still did it. By canoe from Bowling to Kyle of Lochalsh with numerous stops along the way, Alastair Dunnett and Seamas Adam spent a heady Autumn in the 1934 meandering up the glorious West Coast of Scotland. On their way they sent reports back to the Daily Record informing the readers of their progress and the people they met along the way. Their account makes fascinating reading as they were hailed by onlookers and bystanders wherever they went as ‘The Canoe Boys’. Escapades as varied as running the infamous tide-rush of the Dorus Mhor to a balmy harvest working on Calve Island off Mull, quenching their thirst with a mug of drammach (oats and water) are related in superb, lyrical style by Dunnett. This is an adventure story of youthful exuberance and of how life once was lived before the war changed everything for ever. Fully illustrated with archival material and contemporary press cuttings, this cult travelogue will find a new market among the growing number of adventure kayakers taking to Scotland’s coastal waters.

This new illustrated edition has an introduction by Dunnett’s son, Ninian who has also supplied a full glossary and notes on each chapter.

The Canoe Boys, by Alastair Dunnett

Canoeing the Adirondacks with Nessmuk


The Adirondack Letters of George Washington Sears

Overview – The second, revised edition of a classic, 19th-century work which captures the pleasures of camping and canoeing in the Adirondacks. The letters of George Washington Sears should interest not only the wilderness lover, but also the boater and craftsman who longs to own the perfect canoe.

“She’s all my fancy painted her, she’s lovely, she is light. She waltzes on the waves by day and rests with me at night. But I had nothing to do with her painting. The man who built her did that. And I commence with the canoe because that is about the first thing you need on entering the Northern Wilderness.”

Thus opened Nessmuk’s first commissioned “letter” for Forest and Stream in 1880. For years thereafter, George Washington Sears, under the penname Nessmuk, contributed a glorious series of pieces on canoeing the Adirondacks, exploring rivers and streams, climbing the many mountains and peaks, and chronicling his long relationship with one of the greatest canoe builders, J. Henry Rushton.

Canoeing the Adirondacks with Nessmuck, by George Washington Sears

The Happy Isles of Oceania


Paul Theroux invites us to join him on one of his most exotic and tantalizing adventures exploring the coasts and blue lagoons of the Pacific Islands, and taking up residence to discover the secrets of these isles. Theroux is a mesmerizing narrator – brilliant, witty, keenly perceptive as he floats through Gauguin landscapes, sails in the wake of Captain Cook and recalls the bewitching tales of Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson. Alone in his kayak, paddling to seldom visited shores, he glides through time and space, discovering a world of islands, their remarkable people, and in turn, happiness. ‘A sharp, fascinating and highly entertaining book …Theroux at his best’ – “Daily Telegraph”.

The Happy Isles of Oceania, by Paul Theroux

The River of Doubt


At once an incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, The River of Doubt is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing exploration of one of the most dangerous rivers on earth.

The River of Doubt?it is a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world. Indians armed with poison-tipped arrows haunt its shadows; piranhas glide through its waters; boulder-strewn rapids turn the river into a roiling cauldron.

After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many at the time refused to believe it. In the process, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever.

Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.

The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard


Digital Detox Holidays

The Chateau de Belcayre on the River Vezere, Perigord, France

The Chateau de Belcayre on the River Vezere, Perigord, France

Internet Under Control

Do you have the internet under control? Do you continuously check your Emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest. Do you have several and multiple conversations going on at once in various messengers & chats? Do you have dozens of tabs open on your browser?

Could you check your email just three times a day, visit Twitter five times, check Facebook once instead of what it is now a constant binge?

Could you take a day off, a technological Sabbath? Could you go a week on a Digital detox?

Do you suspect your online life is richer more real and more intense than your actual life? Are you the online wit who has nothing to say in real life?

This constant disruption is surely the enemy of creating anything: anything of depth and substance.

This is what novelist Jonathan Franzen had to say:

“When I’m working, I need to isolate myself at the office, because I’m easily distracted and modern life has become extremely distracting. Distraction pours through every portal, especially through the internet. And most of what pours through is meaningless noise. To be able to hear what’s really happening in the world, you have to block out 99% of the noise.”

Perhaps it is time to take a break.

We are obviously not going to go back to a pre-internet world, but we should be able to determine a way of living with it and still be creative and pro-active.

It should be possible to re-learn what the world was like before it, even if it is just a small holiday from the all encompassing reality of connectedness. After all that’s is what our fathers did when they learnt what holidays were for and realised that their fathers hadn’t had holidays at all. It’s surely time to turn our backs on the maelstrom of being constantly ‘on’ and to try and find that space & time to switch ‘off’ and re-connect in those older more ancient ways.

“The place we need to get to is one where we can move between offline and digital worlds and we’re in control, rather than bobbing on the ocean of messages and updates that sweep us this way and that.” Dr Richard Graham, consultant psychiatrist specialising in technology addiction at the Nightingale hospital in London.

The Chateau de Losse on the River Vezere, Perigord, France

The Chateau de Losse on the River Vezere, Perigord, France

Canoe Touring Holidays

Firstly our holidays are not strictly digital detox. We don’t throw your devices in the river and we do go to [some] places that have wi-fi.

We do seriously endeavour though to persuade you to let go.

In the first place we encourage you to go online only in the privacy of your own room. In this way when you are in the social space of breakfast or lunch or dinner you are being sociable with those who you are actually with and not those half-way around the world. This also separates work from play. We really try to persuade you to leave work behind, but if you cannot then it’s probably best if you are doing it alone, so you can concentrate, and perhaps get it done and dusted.

Secondly we remind you that technology and water is not a great mix. We’ve seen many phones and cameras disappear into the river. If you must bring it with you then you make sure it is in a waterproof jacket: preferably two, one inside the other. If you do spill the canoe and your belongings end up afloat or sinking at least they have some chance of surviving.  Of course being inaccessible like this increases the chance they will not be used.

Which is a bit of a nuisance if you are a keen photographer. Which is a dilemma. Do you risk using a camera in a wobbly canoe. Would you exchange a cheap waterproof camera for your fancy DSLR? I can assure you that it is not easy to canoe and photograph at the same time – and I of course do it all the time.

The places where we paddle however have several advantages in the digital detox stakes. Very often we are paddling in deep gorges very far from wi-fi services and more often than not with terrible phone connections – even when you can see the mobile towers perched on the cliff far above you. In many of these places you couldn’t get a connection even if you wanted too. After a while it becomes tiresome to even attempt it and after several days of this kind of nonsense it becomes natural to disavow your telephone. Don’t throw it in the river though. Just file it away in your bag. It could be handy later.

So that’s meal-times and on-water times technology free. How about the other times? Well, the other social times are spent perhaps in cafes and bars where the same rules apply as at lunch and dinner. Anyway why would you want to spoil the atmosphere by rummaging about for your phone. You’re here, now, and in need of a long cold drink. You’re exhilarated by the achievement of getting your boat thus far and tremulous about the hours of watery activity ahead. Their is absolutely no need to complicate your day any further. All you have to think about is when you should be drawing and when you should be prying to keep your canoe relatively on the straight and narrow. You can practise your J-stroke and cross-draw in your mind or instead take a quick nap in the warm sun.

If like me you like to rise early and go for a walk before breakfast then you are welcome to join me. I can’t say I’m very voluble in the morning. I’m definitely not. All the same I wouldn’t want to be walking alongside you whilst you’re on the phone. At that time in the morning I just want to enjoy the birdsong and the sunrise and watch the mist rising in the valley below. Cameras don’t count as modern technology though do they? I am allowed to take photographs, yes?

The Chateau de Losse on the River Vezere, Perigord, France

The Chateau de Losse on the River Vezere, Perigord, France

Peace & Quiet

Just because your are digitally disconnected (and I don’t mean you’ve lost your fingers) you shouldn’t expect a spiritual awakening. But even a couple of days off can be an intense experience. You should feel  refreshed, and not just because of the lack of contact with the outside world after all you’ve been in contact with a closer world, a world of the here and now.

All you have done is swap the contact with the remote with those close by. The most likely time to be distracted by mobile devices is when you’re with the people closest to you.

Whether you are cut out for the monk’s life or not, a digital detox is an ideal opportunity to take some time out and recharge.

A few days digital-free and a few days off-grid and you’ll be ready to re-join the mainstream once again.


A Gabarre boat as we approach Roque-Gageac on the Dordogne river, Perigord, France

Another List

Here are some reasons to do a digital detox. Some ideas to motivate you if and when you do decide to switch off.

If you are fed-up of pinging demands, an overflowing inbox, and are feeling overloaded, a digital detox can be the way to achieve balance in the digital world. It might just give you the boost you need.

These are some reasons why a digital detox makes sense.

  • to take a step back from technology now and again.
  • to make space to think, connect to yourself, and connect to the people around you.
  • to break the incessant checking of phones, social media and email.
  • to find time to do whatever it is that you want time for. Read. walk, sing.
  • to find  time for yourself.
  • to catch up on sleep.
  • to break the cycle of being ‘always available’ or ‘on call’.
  • to be able to put your phone down.
  • to stay productive.
  • to slow things down.
  • to change your perspective about using technology.
  • to question and notice the ways you’ve become dependent on, reliant on or addicted to certain digital platforms or media. (It’s easier to observe your behaviour when you take a step back.)
  • to have dinner without a phone at the table.
  • to have conversations that meander and make you think and bring up questions that aren’t answered by google.
  • to form memories. To have experiences for the sake of the experience, not for the sake of posting.
  • to give your brain a break from digital processing. Information overload is a serious issue. Recharging is healthy.
  • so you can return to the digital with energy and fresh ideas.
  • because good ideas tend to appear while you’re switched off.
  •  to reclaim your time.
  • to find a balance that works for you.

Rock formations in the village of Montfort beside the Dordogne river, Perigord, France

How to Digitally Detoxify

A digital detox is simply switching off all your digital devices (phones, tablets, laptops, computers, game devices and all the rest) for a certain length of time.

At least for 24 hours.

Prepare for your digital detox by considering these things:

Find Your Motivation

Remind yourself why you want to do a digital detox. Is it to recharge your batteries? Do you want more thinking time? Or to spend extra time with family and friends?

Find Your Time

Choose a time for your digital detox that is realistic. Weekends and holidays are best. Tell anyone you need to that you’ll be away from your email and phone. Perhaps you should announce on social media that you will be offline for a while.

Make some plans

Plan enjoyable activities for your switched off time. Try cooking, walking, or spending time with friends and family. Pick up a neglected hobby or spend time reading. Choose to explore where you live in or somewhere new. Spending time in nature or try outdoor activities and sports.

Enjoy the Time

During a digital detox, there tends to be a feeling of having plenty of time (rather than rushing against time). You may well sleep better, think more clearly and more deeply, and feel re-energised. Enjoy the change and notice your reaction to not being on.

The Digital Return

The return to the digital world can be overwhelming: a huge pile of information and multiple demands. Use the perspective gained from the detox and redefine what is urgent, what is important, and what doesn’t even need to be done. Unsubscribe to any email lists you no longer need. Try new behaviours, such as checking email or social media less frequently.

Repeat & Reach for the Off Button

A digital detox needn’t be a one-off experience. Plan your next digital detox. Try a longer time off, or try making a digital detox a regular part of your week. Once you’ve done so you’ll probably be reaching for the off button again.

Slow Travel, Slow Canoeing


Approaching the Château de Belcayre on the Vezere river, Perigord, France with Nancy & Mitch

The Slow Movement

The Slow Movement began from Slow Food which is an international movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. It was promoted as an alternative to fast food,  and it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming characteristic of the local area.

Its goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are matched by a political intent directed against globalization and particularly that of agricultural products.

What started as a philosophical stance against the onward rushing of modern life and the general speeding up of busyness and business has become a paean of a new approach to living based on sustainability, localism and the environment.

The objectives can be summarised as:

  • celebrate local foods and the traditions that go with them
  • preserve heirloom varieties of foodstuffs by creating seed banks
  • organize regional cuisine festivals
  • promote “taste education” and educate about the dangers of agribusiness, monoculture and fast food.
  • develop various political strategies to preserve family farms and encourage organic farming
  • lobby against government funding of genetic engineering & pesticides
  • teach gardening skills and encourage ethical decision making

This cultural initiative has since grown into a way of life known as the Slow Movement, which emphasizes connection – connection to food, connection to families and, in the case of travel, connection to local peoples and cultures.

Beynac on the Dordogne river, France

Beynac on the Dordogne river, France

Slow Travel

Slow travel is not so much a particular mode of transportation as it is a mindset. Rather than attempting to squeeze as many sights or cities as possible into each trip, the slow traveller takes the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture.

The key is slowing down and making the most of each moment of your holiday.

Going slow is not about doing everything slow it is simply a  reminder  that we need to stop rushing through life so fast that we lose track of ourselves. We need to stop applying the same high speed to everything that we do.  Certain things are not meant to be rushed. Learn to slow down when life really matters. We need to stop doing everything at once. Less multitasking – more present and mindful. Focus on the now.

Skimming through life on the surface brings little meaning and leaves us feeling empty and without a purpose. Go slow and deep.

We need to slow down and find the energy to get involved with the world that we live in. In our high-speed society we barely have the time to get involved with our own lives let alone the neighbours or the communities. But there are real problems that need to be addressed and we should all find the time to contribute.

Perhaps the defining elements of slow travel is the opportunity to become part of local life and to connect to a place and its people. Slow travel is also about connection to culture and nature.

In addition it is about not letting the anticipation of arrival undermine the pleasure of the journey. By choosing to travel slowly, we reshape our relationship with place and with the communities through which we pass on our journeys.

Linda and the Chateau Milandes on the Dordogne river, France

Linda and the Château Milandes on the Dordogne river, France

Slow Canoeing

Canoeing, of course, isn’t necessarily slow, as anyone who has been white-water paddling can attest. And this is of course invigorating and exciting and thrilling and slightly dangerous too.

Green River Canoes however generally do things the slow way. The green in our name is the opposite of white. We paddle calm and tranquil rivers.

Everything we do is slow, and calm.

Especially the rivers. Our aim is to immerse ourselves in the countryside and watch the world go by like Ratty & Mole in Wind of the Willows. The river essentially does the work and all we have to do is keep the boat from spinning and knocking into the banks and otherwise getting into a muddle. Our tours are eminently suitable to those who have never paddled before, those who didn’t even know they wanted to paddle and children.

Even if we do take things slowly however I should point out that we do take things seriously & safely too. We give elementary paddling lessons if required and a reminder every morning about being careful on the water. It’s important to us not to neglect these things.

So even if we are drifting casually downstream our guides on the river have one eye open (at least) for possible surprises. Not that these are very likely as we have paddled our rivers many times over the years and we think we know every nook & cranny. We don’t however and rivers can always bring a surprise.

So we are drifting and casually paddling and letting our minds drift as we listen to the ripples and the birdsong. The heat bears down and we balance it with a hand in the cool river, letting some drops trickle down the paddle onto our bare arms.

The smells and sounds of spring, or summer or autumn, lull our senses and our enjoyment of life in the slow lane is suddenly jolted by the flap of a heron rising, or the flash of a kingfisher or the rush of a flight of ducks coming in to land.

Eventually the river meanders around a bend that brings our attention from nature to culture. A beautiful and ornate château perhaps or a splendid castle, grim on the cliffs. And then we’ll have some stories to tell of past tales of war & passion. We have plenty of time to casually paddle to the bank and pull our boats ashore.

A slow walk up the hill – these châteaux and castles are always on a hill – gives us time to admire all kinds of things. Firstly the houses and gardens of those that live in these tiny villages. Then the sequence of history that we pass. A Roman road, a Romance Church, a graveyard with 19c monuments and crosses, and then the place itself with evidence of its 11c beginnings, its medieval fortifications and its 17c ornamentation and refinement and finally the 20c accoutrements of modernness: telephone wires and satellite dishes. These places are always worth a slow visit. Especially if it is hot.

A short while later we will perhaps take a short break and sit in a cafe with a cold drink or an ice-cream and watch the world go by. It is summer in France. Somehow it seems natural to do things the slow way. Everyone here seems so natural at it.

And so it goes. A lazy picnic lunch. A long slow evening meal in the long evening light of a local restaurant. Our evenings are relaxed and informal. We stay in ‘not quite’ remote places in small villages and with hoteliers that we have known for many years and that have become friends.

Even the museums and caves (where the 25,000 year old paintings are) we visit are guided by familiar faces. The same can be said of our canoe outfitters. On the first trip to every river in the season it is like meeting friends again after a winter break. Everything is easy and routine. A hug here and a kiss there. Perhaps a stiff shake of hands. A few brief remarks about adventures taken during the winter months and then the inevitable chat about how the river has fared: the rain fallen, the floods, the trees down and all the slow rest of it.

It is the general case that nothing much seems to have happened at all. But of course it has. The seasons have rolled around and things are much as they ever were. The same and yet not quite the same. Just like us really.

Célé, Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips

On the ‘English Trail, in the Célé valley, Lot, France

Slow Principles

Notwithstanding the fact that nobody should prescribe how you  travel. Here are some thoughts which might appeal to those interested in exploring slow travel.

Start at home. The key to slow travel is a state of mind. That can be developed at home.

Get there slowly. Avoid flying if at all possible. Travel the longer slower way. Use ferries, buses and trains (and not always the high-speed trains). Slow travel restores the connection with landscape.

Don’t let the anticipation of arrival eclipse the pleasure of the journey.

Use the local markets and shops.

Use the local cafes. Sitting in a café, you become part of the community and not merely a passing observer.

Try the local languages and dialects and learn a few phrases. Try reading a local newspaper.

Choose accommodation and eating options that are appropriate to the area where you are travelling. Try the regional specialities.

Do what the locals do, not only what the guidebooks say, and look out for local events, fetes, fayres, concerts, films and shows.

Savour the unexpected. Delayed trains or missed connections create new opportunities.

Mindful Canoeing

A Swan on the Dordogne

A Swan on the Dordogne

What Is Mindfulness

“The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”

“A mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”

This is what wiki has to say: “The practice of mindfulness involves being aware moment-to-moment, of one’s subjective conscious experience from a first-person perspective. When practising mindfulness, one becomes aware of one’s “stream of consciousness”. The skill of mindfulness can be gradually developed using meditational practices that are described in detail in the Buddhist tradition. The Five-Aggregate Model, an ancient link between mind and body, is a helpful theoretical resource that could guide mindfulness interventions. The term “mindfulness” is derived from the Pali-term sati  which is an essential element of Buddhist practice, including vipassana, satipaṭṭhāna and anapanasati. It has been popularized in the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn with his mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program.

Mindfulness is also an attribute of consciousness long believed to promote well-being. Large population-based research studies have indicated that the idea of mindfulness is strongly correlated with well-being and perceived health. Studies have also shown that rumination and worry contribute to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and that mindfulness-based interventions are effective in the reduction of both rumination and worry.

Clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people who are experiencing a variety of psychological conditions. Mindfulness practice is being employed in psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, such as bringing about reductions in depression symptoms, reducing stress, anxiety, and in the treatment of drug addiction. It has gained worldwide popularity as a distinctive method to handle emotions.

Clinical studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in general, and MBSR in particular.  Programs based on MBSR and similar models have been widely adapted in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and other environments.”

At the Chateau Belcayre on the Vezere river

At the Chateau Belcayre on the Vezere river, Perigord, France

Mindful Canoeing

Let me first say I’m not an expert on mindfulness or a Clinician or Doctor or Psychiatrist of Psychologist. Everything I say here you must take with a pinch of salt.

However I do think messing about in boats on easy tranquil rivers in the bosom of beautiful countryside is a way to live ‘in the moment’ and to leave the busyness & business of life far behind.

Our canoe tours leave all the complicated decisions behind on a relaxing vacation where perhaps your only concern is whether you want to paddle bow or stern on this particular day and whether you should think idly about paddling with someone else.

We take you from lovely inn to lovely inn, very often, with the inn being right on the river. Your luggage miraculously appears at our next stop. As if by magic we pull over on the river bank to find our picnic lunch already prepared and ready. The only decision to make being whether you fancy a glass of wine or would rather have a sparkling water today.

On the river we generally paddle in tandem. You don’t even have to paddle half the time. The river taking us in the right direction even if you have to work ever so slightly to keep the boat straight and away from the edges.

Our rivers are exceedingly quiet. We usually have the river to ourselves, we sometimes pass a sleepy fisherman and in the height of summer a small beach of sunbathers and children & dogs swimming. Even the villages we pass doze in the summer heat. The sound of traffic is far away. Perhaps an aeroplane drones in the summer sky.

All we hear above the susurrus of the river bubbling and the murmuration of the leaves in the riverbank trees are the quiet trills of songbirds, the occasional agitated quack of a duck or the crawk of a disgruntled heron forced to move on downstream. In the spring a collective warbled song of frogs sometimes arises, as if from nowhere, and then finishes again.

Generally the air is silent. No sound accompanies the fluttering dragonflies and damsels dancing in the light between the river shadows. Silent are the anguished flights of butterflies as they flit across the river.

The swooping flights of the wagtails lull the lazy to sleep. The flash of an azure kingfisher brings the observant alert once more. You might hear a plop here or a splash there. A water-vole perhaps or an otter. Perhaps even a late-season quince dropping off the tree.

It’s easy to be mindful in such an environment. To idly drift down river, one hand in the cool stream. Dreaming of nothing on the one hand and watching the world go by on the other.

The sun glints and sparkles on the water. You slide the boat over beneath the shade of the overhanging trees if it starts to get too hot. If it gets too hot you can dangle your hands and feet over the side. Trail your hat in the water. Put a wet hat on your head. Sometimes we stop for a swim where the river lies deep. Sometimes we swim & walk downstream push our canoe in front of us. Water fights often ensure. Shovelling the air full of cool crystals.

We usually paddle two by two in tandem canoes. You can go solo if you prefer. If we are an odd number on the river (!) then I usually guide solo but it is often fun to swap your canoe partner on some days.

I think paddling tandem has a nice element of mindfulness about it. With two in the boat you don’t always have to concentrate on paddling and keeping your boat straight and out of the tiny troubles of overhanging branches, shallow reaches and that rock which seems to lure your canoe towards it. Your partner can take the strain whilst you doze in the warm sun or think about taking a photograph if only you could be bothered to rummage around in the water-proof bag for it.

Also their is something very therapeutic about not facing one another in a canoe. Somehow this makes talking about things much easier. Any topic can be brought up and your conversation stays on the boat and even another boat quite close by cannot overhear a thing. I’ve often found almost complete strangers can open up and talk about the most personal things when they have their back to the interlocutor – and vice-versa too – when you are talking to the back of someone.

Conversely this seating arrangement is also eminently suitable for not saying anything. For sitting quietly in the rhythm of paddling. Letting the slow strokes measure the summer beat of time, the gentle movement and soothing sounds amplifying a smooth gliding drift of both thought & mind.

Being on the river will soon bring the feeling of not having a care in the world. A personal care that is, for it should certainly bring forward the thought that this, the river, and the environment that makes it, forms it, and the flora & fauna that depend on it, is where our care should be.

Célé, Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips

Black-eyed sheep under the Chateau in Cabrerets, Lot, France


As mindfulness has become something embraced by companies and all the people frazzled by anxiety, I wonder how many of us believe that it is possible to buy inner calm and contentment.

The difficult commercial thing about meditation is that you don’t have to pay for it. You just need space & time.

But how can it be worth it if you don’t pay for it?

Hence Mindfulness.

This ancient Buddhist practice, sounds fine. But there’s something so offensive, so limp about the way it’s marketed, and even more, the way we have leapt at it. Why are we so keen to turn ourselves off? Why are we so desperate to stop thinking? And why are we so keen to pay for it? I’m sure most of us could benefit from meditating for a few minutes a day, but rather than buying tools to teach us mindfulness, can’t we simply work out the method from the word?

The end result of this paid-for passivity is surely a world where, rather than noisily trying to change the world, we are all content silently within our own heads, earbuds in, and eyes closed.

Hence Mindlessness.

Horses on the Cele

Horses on the Cele

Alternatives to Mindfulness

Before Mindfulness became so ubiquitous if you had anxiety or depression, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was seen as the solution.

And there is indeed much scientific evidence for its benefits in treating depression, anxiety and addiction.

As with most things it’s not for everyone and there are alternatives.

Before CBT, Freudian psychotherapy was the ‘thing’.

If none of these appeal, you could try these  other options.

Solution-focused hypnotherapy

This builds on the idea of a short-term talking therapy, adding a layer of hypnosis to achieve relaxation, and then neuroscience.  After an initial consultation, the process starts with a physiological explanation of stress.

The practitioner describes the vicious cycle of going to sleep agitated, not getting enough REM sleep and operating in fight or flight mode, allowing the primitive part of our brains to take over and fire negative thoughts. A mixture of positive thinking, lying down, and being read relaxing visualisations and positive messages calms you enough to get a proper night’s sleep and get you out of the stress cycle.

Breathing exercises

Seven-10. For 10 minutes every day, inhale for seven counts and exhale for seven counts.  Many breathing exercises like that have their roots in mediation, and the ultimate breathing exercise is, perhaps, doing hatha yoga.

Exercise and diet

Never underestimate the positive psychological impact of spending a little time taking care of yourself physically. There have been a number of studies recently about the impact of exercise and diet on depression and anxiety. They can make a bigger difference than antidepressants.

Don’t have to go sports mad – it’s just about increasing your activity levels. Even walking can have amazing results. Team sports, meanwhile, provide human interaction, endorphin boosts and raised adrenaline levels.

Likewise, sugar and caffeine feel like essential crutches in tough emotional times, but only make you feel lower. When Cardiff university psychologists gave one group of subjects fruit snacks for 10 days, and crisps and chocolates to another, the fruit group experienced less depression, anxiety and emotional stress than the crisp gang, who reported greater fatigue and cognitive difficulties.

Creative therapies

Music, dance, drama or art can help people express themselves, feel connected to their bodies and find a way to process more difficult emotions.

Horse riding

Equine-assisted therapy can relieve negative emotions, with recipients learning to read non-verbal cues, trust, nurture and be assertive, while gaining greater self-esteem, self-control, empathy, self-awareness, emotional awareness and the ability to stay in the present.

Horses are sensitive animals, so to be able to hang out with them and influence their movements, you have to overcome your nerves and be physically assertive. Communing with most animals brings psychological benefits, but there’s a theory that the bigger the animal, the bigger the boost.

Canoe Keep Resolutions?

A Green River Canoes Poster: © Steven R House 2014

Everything must have a Resolution

It’s the usual time of year for making resolutions.

Beginning the New Year with some serious goals to improve and expand your canoeing not only helps keep your list interesting, but also makes it less likely to go the way of most resolution lists. Try out a few of the ideas below and make 2016 a year of adventure! I’m kidding. Most of us don’t have a hope!

Keep in mind that an early relapse needn’t undo your best intentions. Just switch to the Orthodox calendar, accept 14 January as your new New Year’s Day, and begin again. And if you fail again the Chinese New Year is 8 February. For serious failures, or to give yourself more time, consider that the EthiopianCalendar  is approximately 8 years behind our Gregorian one and that their New Year is about September 11th.

First however bear in mind some rules for making sure you can achieve your resolutions.

Resolution Rules

Do Not use Previous Resolutions

You failed at these before that’s why you’re considering giving it another bash. Don’t. It’s a failure for ever. This is liberating and not at all depressing. Even if you had achieved it you would still have realised the overall pointless of it all.

Choose Many Resolutions

This will give you ample room for failure and a better chance that at least one will stick. Spread the disappointment of non-achievment around. With any luck you may still have a chance to fail, right at the end, this time next year.

Make your Resolutions Reasonable

Say you will try to do ‘x’ instead of I will do ‘x’. Let yourself down easy. Even better make your targets incremental. Just as soon as you find out what that is.

Use Last Years Achievments as Resolutions

If you accidentally achieved something last year that you omitted to make a resolution last year, then drag it out and claim it for this year. Then you can relax. Do try to inform any friends about these achievements if they are not aware of them. Don’t go to early though. February should be fine.

Avoid Common Resolutions

Really everyone is attempting to do these. Stopping drinking and losing weight. No-one will care if you do or don’t achieve them. Some may actually hate you if you do. So what’s the point? Find your unique gelling point and that way you can bore everyone silly about your resolutions.

Don’t Resolute when Drunk

You will have forgotten what they were anyway and if someone reminds you of promises made whilst you were down in your cups then stare at them hard. They don’t count now, and never did.

Social Media Resolutions

Don’t do it. Everyone else is anyway so you’ll have already been culled by all your online friends and your streams will be empty. When they sheepishly return you can chastise/troll them for it mercilessly.

January 1st Resolutions

These don’t count either.

Lower the Resolution Bar

Get over yourself and aim low. This will surely give you a better chance of succeeding even if your success has less bragging rights. Start low and go lower.

Resolutions that Never Fail

Go for the resolutions that are heroic even in the event of failure. Because it’s the taking part that counts.

Try 2 Year Resolutions

Just give yourself longer to achieve the hard things, with the added advantage of not requiring you to go through all this hassle this time next year.

A3_2016_HPoster_Parallax02Resolution Ideas

Explore a New River, Lake or Sea

Particularly if it is near where you live and you always thought it might be dull. Find out. Everywhere has some interest. If you’ve been doing the same runs over & over. Try somewhere new. If you normally paddle a river, try a lake, and vice-versa. If you normally paddle a canoe, try a kayak.

Camp Overnight

Taking all your camping gear out by canoe is a thrill. Find a place to wild-camp if possible. Leave the technology behind. Enjoy a fire and the stars.

Try A Charity

This could be by donating your time to helping get disadvantaged people on the water or helping protect a threatened environment. In the USA you may like to help protect the Boundary Waters. In the UK you could help protect reptiles & amphibians. You will have your own favourites.

Take a First Aid or Rescue Course

It’s always good to top up your skills. It could be vital. In the UK the St. John’s organisation is the place for First Aid training. You can do a Foundation Rescue Course and Whitewater Rescue Course at British Canoeing.

Get Professional Coaching

Even seasoned paddlers can benefit from professional coaching or instruction. Learn something new or correct bad habits you didn’t know you had. It’s never too late to learn and it’s very important to top your skills up.

Try a Tandem Boat with a Friend

If you normally paddle solo, then try a tandem, and vice-versa. The communiation skills are important. The co-operation is vital. But must of all it’s important to share. In fact forget solo paddling altogether it’s just plain unsociable.

Introduce a friend to the sport

Experience the nostalgia of watching someone discover the magic of paddling and practice your teaching skills by taking a friend with you to a lake or an easy river this year.

Start a Diary

Keeping a diary or log can be beneficial in the long run to help remind you of how rivers are at certain levels and certain times, and it will help you remember your days on the river and who you were with when you are in your dotage!


So Happy New Year and all the best on the water for 2016. Don’t take yourself seriously, but take the water seriously, help the environment as much as you can and have a fabulous year.