The French River: Hamish’s Review and Video

French River expedition participant Hamish Morton with some canoes in the background.
Hamish Morton on the Frontier Bushcraft French River Expedition. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Hamish Morton recently returned from the Frontier Bushcraft French River Expedition.

He had previously done some canoeing and bushcraft courses (see below for details) and decided to join our trip to the French as “the next step”.

Below is Hamish’s review of the trip, along with a video he has added to his YouTube channel.

Over to Hamish….

The French River 2012 – Hamish’s Review

I have always had a hankering for a genuine wilderness experience, but lacked the knowledge and confidence to undertake such an adventure with my family.

I have, in the past, looked to The Adventure Company, Exodus and many other organisations to provide these trips but have out-grown these now. It was during a walk up Kilimanjaro, after watching some poor Sherpa carry other people’s heavy laptops and camera equipment to the top, that I decided that all my trips from then on would be under my own steam.

I have done a few canoe trips with Ray Goodwin (the Ardeche in France and the River Spey in Scotland in mid-Winter) and knew he was one of the ‘good guys’. He was not the kind of man to carry my bags either.

Canoeing on the Spey with a rainbow in distance
A chilly yet exhilarating trip on the Spey with Ray Goodwin in 2008. Photo: Hamish Morton.

Also, I had attended some excellent courses with Paul separately (Applied Bushcraft and Tracking). So I knew a Canadian canoe trip into the wilderness with these two would be something special.

Paul’s attention to detail, combined with Ray’s legendary canoeing exploits and story telling, make a powerful combination. The synergy these two quite different personalities have, with their varied experiences and training, was sometimes akin to a married couple on vacation. But it definitely worked!

After being met from the plane at the airport in Toronto, the trip proper started in Peterborough, Ontario with a welcome meal at the “Hot Belly Mama” restaurant. I was a little concerned when Paul suggested the hot sauce, which to my deep concern had “no pain, no gain” written in withering letters across the bottle. Not a sign of what was to come, I hoped.

After a good night’s sleep, the adventure continued with an informative visit to The Canadian Canoe Museum with Joey, our most entertaining coach driver, in tow.

On arriving at the French River later that day, I was a little concerned that the wilderness trip was going to take on luxury holiday status, as we checked into what is a very comfortable lodge (I had to delete these photos before my wife saw them). Fortunately, we didn’t get too settled, as this accommodation was just for a couple of nights until we were all up to speed with our canoeing skills and drills. After this we headed out on the river for 8 days with full canoes and everything we needed.

Hamish portaging a canoe
Hamish getting up to speed with portage skills. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

Paul, with his organisation Frontier Bushcraft, has a different approach to expeditions. From the very start, there was a ‘can do, will do, should do’ approach. It was very liberating being involved with the food purchase, packing and equipment maintenance right from the start. This enabling approach to training is much used in business and has long been neglected in the outdoor world. We need to see what goes on behind the scenes to be better able to plan our own trips.

The pace of the expedition increased day by day. Amongst other things I was pleased to note that the time I took to set up and dismantle camp improved rapidly each day. In addition to becoming more slick with our personal camp set-up, each day more knowledge and responsibility was passed on with a relaxed approach, building on what we had before.

Hamish mixing bannock
Hamish on bannock-making duty. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

The days paddling were largely filled with exploring the French River’s complex waterways and training in moving about this terrain. Ray’s deliberately scant reference to his map allowed each participant to learn the art of navigation, which was much harder than expected, compared to a normal UK river system.

One of my main goals for the trip was to return with my family and friends to the area and conduct my own adventure, with only the bare essentials. I now feel confident to be able to achieve this and indeed it is already in the diary.

Tandem canoe on French River rapids
Hamish (in the bow) with his canoe-buddy Dave, tackle some of the French River’s white water. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

The highlight of the trip was staying with Norm Dokis on the Dokis Native Reserve. He was most welcoming and very knowledgeable about his environment. Also Paul and Ray’s obvious enthusiasm and passion for this way of life was infectious. I was very glad that Paul and Ray took photos, so for the first time in years I may actually be in one!

Digging into some ribs
Hamish caught on camera: Hamish and Paul dig into some ribs at Norm Dokis’ camp. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

The Frontier website gave a fair outline of that we would be doing on the trip but it was much more than the sum its of parts. It is one of those trips that you just have to experience for yourself.

For those of you who have attended organised courses or trips in the past and are looking for the next step, this is it.

I wish Paul and Ray the best of luck with their endeavours and thank all the participants of this trip for a memorable adventure.

French River participants in canoes
French River 2012 expedition participants.

The French River 2012 – Hamish’s Video



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Paul Kirtley is Founder and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog. He is the author of Wilderness Axe Skills and Campcraft, as well as having contributed to several other books. Paul has been involved in teaching bushcraft since 2003. He is also a Canoe Leader, British Canoeing Level 3 Canoe Coach and UK Summer Mountain Leader.

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4 Responses

  1. Duane
    | Reply

    Nice Article Hamish 🙂
    I think a week spent with Paul in the outdoors would be memorable under any circumstances, I know the Elementary course in the UK was. Combine that with the thrills and spills of a canoe expedition and those memories must indeed be something very special.


    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Thanks for your comment Duane.

      Well Hamish had 13 days of me plus Ray Goodwin. That’s probably an ordeal enough in itself, never mind the canoeing, wilderness, etc 🙂

      Joking aside, it was a great trip. Hamish and the other guys all got stuck in to the tasks at hand and made it a great experience for everyone.

      Hope to see you again before too long Duane.



  2. Stu
    | Reply

    Awesome review Hamish and a great video – brings back the memories!

    If you are reading this thinking about going, Go For It!!

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Stu,

      It certainly does bring back the memories. Thanks for your comment and recommendation.



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