You should never camp in a ravine. Look for higher ground, and a windbreak – a fallen tree is fine, but rocks are the best. Gather balsam wood for bedding, and use your tomahawk to cut firewood from a dead tree. Make two fires. Set the bigger one against the rocks for warmth, and spread the ashes of the smaller one over the ground you wish to sleep on – they will stop it being so cold and damp. Catch fish from the river, but keep an eye out for Indians moving silently through the forest on moccasined feet.
This much I have learnt from Ronald Welch’s Mohawk Valley – I just wish I had read it as a boy, for it would have furnished my bivouacking trips in the woods with a far greater level of detail. I would not have depended so much on being a cowboy, an Indian, a Viking – I could have been Alan Carey, learning how to live as a backwoodsman in America in the 1750s. I would not have made sticks into swords or revolvers but into muskets, and I would have practised reloading while lying on my side. I would have done things properly.
Ronald Welch has a knack for extraordinary detail and rapid pace – he is the perfect adventure companion. He was a history teacher, and each of the novels in his Carey family series is meticulously researched – though that research never gets in the way of the story. Mohawk Valley begins in a smoke-filled room in Cambridge, where we’re introduced to Alan, a tall, clumsy mammoth of a man who doesn’t quite fit in with his card-playing peers.
The events of that night decide his future – there’s a dispute over marked cards, and Alan gets blamed. In the morning, he must duel with his accuser, Harry Napier. Despite his bulk, Alan is terrified and in a moment of extreme nerves he drops the long-barrelled duelling pistol. Still, he’s caught by the university proctor and sent down from Cambridge. He travels in shame back to Llanstephan, the family home in Wales, where his father the Earl of Aubi
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