Riverside Camp – Otter Spotting

Everytime I visit my parents in Cornwall, I hope to hear owls or see otters running about down by the river. I’ve never seen an otter in the wild, but they have been spotted near here in the past. I took advantage of a break in the rain and made camp down by the river. I thought I’d spend the night by the water, in the hope of hearing or seeing some evidence of otters. I built a small fire pit using lumps of granite that I dug out of the ground, set up my tent and marvelled at my picturesque riverside dwelling.

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I lit a fire. There’s nothing like watching fire. It’s primal. I sat and drank a beer, watching the flames flickering in front of the water. I imagine fires are probably not the best thing to have if you’re trying to attract otters, but it was cold and I wanted to cook something. The fire would go out eventually, then I would wait for otters and owls in the darkness.

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I heated some water on the fire and made myself a mug of Horlicks. I hadn’t even seen Horlicks in about twenty years, and I’m not really sure what it is. I found some packets of it when I was buying coffee for this trip, and couldn’t resist. For the record, Horlicks is delicious. I still don’t know what it is.

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Transfixed by the fire, I hadn’t noticed that the sun had gone down. I turned around to grab another beer and saw the most surreal purple sky. I was quite hidden in trees, but the effect of the black branches being lit in purple was quite something. I thought perhaps otters might be stirring.

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I heated some more water in the last few embers of the fire and made some noodles. This was hardly fine dining, but the setting more than made up for it. I ate my noodles, drank another beer and watched the fire die out. It was getting cold. The moon was out, but wrapped in a patchy blanket of cloud. I thought of The Highwayman and recited some of it in my head, “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.”  My gran could recite the entire poem, all seventeen verses of it. I usually get stuck after the second.

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I crawled into my tent and read Bill Bryson’s ‘The Lost Continent’ by headtorch. I listened out for owls and otters, but the noise of the river was hypnotic and began to put me to sleep. I was woken up at about 1am by, what I assume was, a battle between a couple of badgers. The noises were unfamiliar. I unzipped my tent and stuck my head out but couldn’t see any eyes or movement. It was freezing out of the tent so I retreated and left them to finish their battle in private. Now awake, I listened to tawny owls hooting back and forth in the trees. I saw no otters. I saw no owls. I loved every minute of it.

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