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  • brian.johnson

    A Long Summer in the Wilderness 2001

    Having taken early retirement from teaching and having no ties I am able to make the most of the summer. Over the years I have developed a love for the wilderness and would much prefer to watch the sun setting warmed by a camp-fire, wake up in the morning with a magnificent view of the mountains through the door of my tiny tent and take a brazing swim in a remote lake than stay in a four star hotel in some tourist trap and fight for space on an overcrowded beach.

    People often ask if I get lonely travelling on my own but I have never found that a problem in the wilderness. On your own you actually talk to people you meet rather than pass them by which usually happens with groups. I find I often spend a few days with another individual or group before going our separate ways. For someone on their own the loneliest place is in a crowd!

    In 2001, I split my time between canoe-touring and backpacking. Paddling a Canadian canoe through lake and river systems in uninhabited countryside gives plenty of opportunities for the naturist. It is almost always possible find places to swim and camp without clothes and in remote waters it is possible to paddle naked (provided that water conditions don’t require buoyancy aid to be worn!). In hot weather backpacking in the mountains can also provide plenty of naturist opportunities with bubbling streams with rock pools to cool off in, sandy beaches by distant lakes and wild campsites miles away from the nearest house. There is a tradition of skinny-dipping in the mountains and when both canoeing and mountain walking I find I meet plenty of people who wouldn’t call themselves naturists, but who strip off to swim or sunbathe.

    Shortly after Easter I took my Canadian Canoe down to Portugal and spent 12 days canoeing down the Tagus from just west of the Spanish Border to just east of Lisbon. For the first few days the paddling was along reservoirs through wild uninhabited gorges. The seclusion was only broken by an occasional fisherman, from the portages past the dams and from the trains that crawl along the rail-line, which follows the river; rail but no road!

    Once past the last dam the river flows freely to the sea. The flow varying from a trickle to a flood depending on the amount of water allowed through the reservoir dams. The first time I had paddled this river I had camped on an island about 3m above the water level and was woken in the night by water flowing through my tent!. Gradually the country became gentler passing through farmland with the occasional small town. As the coast is approached there are increasing signs of industrialisation but the only thing impacting noticeably is the extraction of gravel and sand extraction from the riverbed.

    The main canoeing problem can be fighting your way into the prevailing westerly winds but on this trip the winds were light and plenty of sun gave ideal conditions a naturist canoe trip. The power of the river was brought home to me when I found that winter floods had washed almost all of a tree-covered island where thousands of Little Egrets, Cattle Egrets and Spoonbills used to roost away.

    Before returning home I spent another week exploring a large reservoir higher up the Tagus in the Extramadura region of Spain. In this remote area I saw at least ten different species of Bird of Prey. On my own you saw a lot more wildlife than I would if I was in a group and the canoe is a particularly good platform for bird watching.

    A period at home marking GCSE exams was followed by four weeks in Sweden. Sweden has an extensive system of lakes and rivers, which are ideal for canoe-camping trips. I spent two weeks in the Dalsland area of Sweden close to the Norwegian border. This beautiful area of large lakes and connecting canals is popular with German, Dutch and Danish canoeists. Although there are few official naturist beaches in Sweden there are numerous small beaches and rocky bathing places where naturism seems to thrive. Camping is allowed in the woods along the lakes and on the many small islands dotted around the lakes and many idyllic spots can be found. With long sunny days punctuated by the occasional thunderstorm, air temperatures reached 30°C and water temperatures approached 25°C. It isn’t always like this in Sweden but you get good weather more often than not in mid summer.

    My remaining time in Sweden I spent in the area southwest of Stockholm. Here it is possible follow small rivers and lakes which are joined by tracks where it possible to wheel your canoe on a trolley. Because of these portages these routes are less popular than the Dalsland area and few canoeists are met on the water. With the heat wave continuing conditions for swimming were still perfect and I was able to paddle naked most of the time. At the end of this trip I spent a couple of days on an official costumes optional beach on a small island on one of these lakes. Surprisingly this was much less used by naturists than the many unofficial sites I came across.

    After a few days back in England I headed off to the Pyrenees where I intended to spend about six weeks walking from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. There are three main walking routes along the Pyrenees: The GR10 which remains in France and the GR11 in Spain are on well marked and maintained footpaths which generally stay below the highest peaks. I had decided to attempt the High Level Route, which follows the main ridge of the Pyrenees where possible, and remains above 1500m over most of the route. The route scrambles up airy rocky ridges, crosses high-glaciated passes and traverses rocky pathless terrain. In these remote areas it is necessary to camp wild and often to carry a very heavy pack. I spent a few days dropping supplies along the route before starting walking from Hendaye-Plage on the Atlantic Coast near the Spanish border.

    Through the Basque country the route mainly follows the border ridge and is a gentle introduction to the walk before reaching the alpine slopes of the High Pyrenees. Lakes and streams along the route provided some rather cold swimming. Tea breaks and camps often provided opportunities to top up on the tan gained earlier in the summer. Eventually Andorra is reached and the route again becomes somewhat gentler but the shorter days meant that I had to keep going and was not able to spend as much time lounging around in the sun. On the last day as I approached the Mediterranean Sea near Banyuls-sur-Mer the generally good weather I had enjoyed for most of the summer ended with storm force winds blowing me off my feet and making progress very difficult and dangerous.

    Please feel free to contact the author at ancientbritbrian@btinternet.com

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