The Big Canopy Campout / Travel Blog

A night’s sleep spinning above a river

Originally pubished by The Big Canopy Campout

The Big Canopy Campout is an event when people all around the world take to the trees and camp in forests to raise awareness of deforestation and raise funds for World Land Trust. Nina Seale describes her campout experience on the eve of last year’s event in Dartmoor.

Anyone who has ever camped in Britain will know- taking down your tent in the rain is tricky. However, taking down your tent when it is suspended from a tree hanging over a swollen river in the rain is… something else.

It was the night before The Big Canopy Campout and the campout team (John, Ollie and Jim from The Big Canopy Campout, myself from WLT and Syd from Tentsile) were having a trial run. The setting could not have been more beautiful in a vivid green oak forest in the South of England, perhaps the closest to a tropical rainforest we could have found in the UK. But there is a price to pay for the luscious green, which was a forecast of heavy rain all through the night, despite the beautiful clear weather we’d had all week.

This could prove problematic. We had five canopy tents set up: one hammock and one Tentsile over the rocky island in the middle of the river (John and Ollie), two tents hanging high over the river (myself and Jim) and one barely 30cm off the ground (Syd). We worried that if it did rain all night, Syd’s tent may turn into a boat and we would have to plan a river rescue mission.

My tent was an orange portaledge designed to house climbers overnight on cliffs, which we pitched hanging about one and a half metres off the ground over the river. As you can see in the video, it was a canvas platform hanging from a rope with a flysheet over it. The flysheet was not attached at the edges, so if the platform tipped during the night (say, if I rolled over), I could easily slip out and splash into the river below.

To stop this rather wet scenario, I slept in a harness. I was happy to pay this price, at first. But then the warnings began. If my bottom wasn’t planted firmly in the middle of the portaledge all the way through the night, I would tip the ledge and fall out, waking me up with a jerk as I then hung suspended with my nose inches from the river.

“Just yell, and we’ll come get you,” Ollie told me, eyes glinting.

“But the river is pretty noisy, and none of you are sleeping that close… What if you don’t hear me?”

“Yell louder?”

Very reassuring, but I guess had I ended up in that situation I would have mustered the lung power to wake every animal sleeping within a mile’s distance.

In the end, I didn’t. I was well-padded in layers of thermals underneath the harness, and barely felt it at all. Once I got used to the slow spin of the tent and mastered how to roll over without my weight unbalancing the ledge, it was easy to get to sleep.

I woke up to the sound of rain drumming on the flysheet- Syd! I peeked out from the flysheet to look at the river below- it looked fine, but I could just about see Syd’s tent, and it was hanging open. I got out as quickly as I could- trying not to fall out but somewhat trussed up with the harness. I ran out to our main camp and Syd’s tent, which was empty as I’d feared… because Syd was already up and making pancakes.

Then, of course, it began to pour, and the river started to swell. Our camping breakfast was scoffed and all hands hit the deck to bring the tents down before they were washed away.

More information

From Dartmoor, The Big Canopy Campout team went to The Eden Project in Cornwall to camp under the dome of the Rainforest Biome, raising funds and awareness for World Land Trust’s Saving Kinabatangan appeal.

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