Tag Archives: wild camping

A wild school night 

If you’re anything like me, a serious lack of organisation and procrastination , not to mention the usual excuses (family, friends, work, tv, comfy bed and other such commitments!) can be a big barrier to getting out for a little adventure, especially when it comes to adventuring on a school night.

Despite the very essence of Microadventures being to keep it simple and maximise those hours of freedom between the end of one working day and the start of the next, I’d not managed a midweek wild camp for over three years but with a small window of opportunity presenting itself this week, I was determined to jump through it head first and grab myself a little hump day treat… 

good to go


I’d spotted my intended camp – a former quarry now reclaimed by a beautiful wood – whilst out on the bike recently and having packed and loaded the bike the night before, I was quickly changed out of my suit and on the trails within an hour of getting home from work. 

hitting the trail


Keeping it simple I packed only the essentials – hammock, down jacket, buff, waterproofs (you never know in Britain), water, bike spares and of course some Peroni 😉 

bear essentials…


The wood in question was only about 5 miles away (something my hips were grateful for) and I took my time, just enjoying being outdoors on my bike, no need to rush. 
I had the woods all to myself, save for a few noisy badgers, foxes and owls who made an appearance once darkness enveloped the trees. 

alone in the woods?


I love the transition of life and noise in a woodland environment, the day crew eventually settling in for a good nights kip at sundown, only to be replaced by the denizens of the night, scurrying and scuttling and screaming (blimmin foxes!) around their darkened playground. 


But even the night owls have to get some shut eye and there’s often a moment of quiet tranquility that descends upon any woodland. This moment usually happens at about 3am when you suddenly need to clamber out of your cosy hammock to answer the call of nature but it’s a beautiful moment to witness, if only until it’s shattered as you curse and swear and shuffle yourself back into the hammock. 

do i have to get out?


Awoken by sunrise and the dawn chorus (is there a better alarm clock?), I was packed up and back at my desk bang on 9am, perhaps looking a little dishevelled, a little wild but certainly feeling more alive. 

Life’s a beach 

Two hours since returning home and I’m still sluicing sand out of places best not described in public – a gritty reminder of last nights beach bivvy. 

this way


After my not particularly successful adventure earlier in the week, it was back to basics last night: bivvy bag, beach, beers and a fire. 

fast food


Dinner was taken care of courtesy of the local chippy, leaving us to carry just the essentials. 

The long walk to the beach was backdropped by a beautiful sunset smouldering away behind us and we arrived just as the light was fading. A few Saturday beach goers were scattered along the shore but they soon disappeared along with the fading sun, leaving us with just the constant crashing of waves for company. 

bliss


Bivvy spot chosen, we set about replacing day light with firelight, making the most of an abundance of driftwood scattered amongst the seaweed. 


There’s something about a beach fire that makes it different from a fire in woodland, the exposed nature of the beach and the swirling wind combining to make a more vibrant and energetic burn. 

Whether set in a forest or on a beach, all fires burn out eventually and we drifted off to the crackling embers, only to be awoken by a somewhat larger fire blazing away on the horizon. Nights are short at this time of year and Microadventures arent particularly conducive to a lazy Sunday lay in. 


As tempting as it would have been to linger, the ever increasing light prompted action before we were joined by the morning dog walkers. 


My new Koro stove got to earn it’s keep, getting a moka pot brew fired up before trudging back homeward. 


  

So now, just over 12 hours later, I’m tired and looking somewhat dishevelled but feeling like I’ve made up for my birthday misadventures, a good end to the week! 

homeward bound

Gambling with the weather 

Notched up wild camp number three of 2016 last night. 

Armed with a decent weather forecast (well decent for January) I decided to forgo setting up a tarp and instead just hung my hammock. 

  
Risky for sure but it paid off – the skies were clear and the rain held off until morning, giving me a night spent gazing up through the trees at a beautiful star filled sky. 

  
Awoke gently at 7am to a private showing of this woods’ version of a dawn chorus and the first few drops of rain – exactly as forecast – prompting action at a speed I don’t usually achieve in the morning! 

The full deluge held off just long enough to stash my down sleeping bag before it got soaked and to brew up a fresh moka pot of coffee – I’ve yet to discover a better start to the day than waking up in an English wood and brewing coffee on a stove, or better yet an open fire. 

  
Now back home, sat typing this as I gaze out the window at the constant drizzle, I’d say my gamble paid off. 

Bikepacking 

“So it was always at night, like a werewolf, that I would take the thing out for an honest run down the coast. I would start in Golden Gate Park, thinking only to run a few long curves to clear my head…

There was no helmet on those nights, no speed limit, and no cooling it down on the curves. 

Bent forward, far back on the seat, and a rigid grip on the handlebars as the bike starts jumping and wavering in the wind.

…wind-burned eyeballs strain to see down the centerline, trying to provide a margin for reflexes.

…and that’s when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. You can barely see… the tears blow back so fast that they vaporize before they get to your ears. 

…letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge…”

Hunter Thompson may have been writing about motorcycles but the principal is the same, two wheels -whether powered by an engine or a pair of legs – are a great way to get around. 
  
Whilst the motorbike may be able to go faster, the bicycle offers a return on investment far outstripping any other mode of transport. No sooner have you set off and the miles simply melt away behind you, covering ground at a rate of knots far quicker than walking, far more comfortable than running and far more in touch with nature and your surroundings than a motorbike or car.

  
Even slogging up hills is rewarded (eventually) with the freewheeling joys of the downhill, the effort of the climb a distant memory as you hurtle along, no input required save for a dab of brakes and a touch of lean to keep you heading in the right direction.

And so, with all this in mind I loaded up my mountain bike and set out for a bikepacking microadventure this past weekend.

  
Admittedly the first couple of miles were a hellish nightmare, navigating first into, then out of my local town, the roads snarling with post-Christmas shoppers looking for a January sales bargain.

I’m sure a few of them tried to kill me but I’m equally sure it was nothing personal… 😉 

But never mind all that for I was on a bike and it wasn’t long before I escaped the clutches of town, the drab grey concrete reluctantly giving way to the green of the North Downs.

  
The North Downs are about as wild as it gets in Kent which is to say they are not really that wild at all but to give them their due they put up a good fight, providing some challenging hills (certainly for me in my current unfit state), some excellent bivvy spots with great views below and all this whilst for the most part being sandwiched between two motorways.

  
Having traipsed through the muddy trails and found a quiet spot, I watched the sun set over my home town, that wry smile that so often finds its way onto my face whilst out adventuring slowly appeared as I thought about what everyone else would be doing on a Saturday night – X Factor, The Voice, takeaways, pubs and clubs. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not adverse to a curry and a pint or two but not tonight. Tonight dinner would be two packs of 15p Tesco noodles and some venison sausages, drinks would be provided by my trusty Camelbak (ok ok and a bottle of Czech lager…) and entertainment would be provided by real stars, you know, the ones up in the sky.

  
Fed and watered I turned in for the night, the forecast was for minus 1 but even so I was still somewhat surprised to be awoken to what felt like very gentle and very cold rain on my face – yes it was actually snowing!

  
I pulled my bivvy bag up closer around and over my head, trying to minimise the gaps where snow could get it, I succeeded for the most part but every now and then a few flakes would creep in, a small price to pay though for waking up in the middle of a blanket of fresh snow all around me.

  
It wasn’t much but it was enough – I’d bivvied in the snow! A few “hero” pics, a quick brew of coffee and I was off, threading my way through the snow and ice, back towards home and a welcome blast of central heating.

 


A world first? 

Last night I’m pretty sure I did something no other human on this planet has ever done before. 

In a world where the limit of human performance is constantly redefined, where the likes of Killian Jornet, Ueli Steck and countless others are forever going faster, higher and further, it’s easy to overlook some of the worlds smaller, more humble “firsts”. 

Ueli Steck on the Eiger

Take last nights wild camp in some local woods for example. 

Now, I know that I was certainly not the first person to ever camp in those woods (evidence of that was sadly strewn around parts of the woodland) but I am pretty certain for a start that I was the only person daft enough to wild camp there that particular night! But as I lay in my hammock, strung between two unlikely looking trees, the wind fluttering gently against my tarp, a thought occurred to me. I may not be the first person ever to camp in these particular woods but there is a very good chance that I’m the first person to ever have decided to string up a hammock and spend the night hanging between the two specific trees I happened to choose. 

I was well off the beaten track, one tree (although sturdy) was quite small and not the obvious choice to anchor a hammock and the other looked relatively young compare to the thicker trees elsewhere in the woods. 

So maybe, just maybe, in the middle of a small woodland in Kent on a windy December evening, I managed to (quite by accident) take a couple of lungfulls of that rarefied air usually tasted only by those sportsmen, those athletes we often revere as being superhuman and in the course of that one long and dark night set my own world first – the first person to ever set my hammock up between random tree a and random tree b. 

hanging out between random tree a and random tree b

Of course, world first or not it’s all just a bit of good fun, I’m not seriously comparing myself to Ueli Steck! The above simply goes to highlight the power of microadventures, of getting outdoors and letting your imagination run wild. Give it a try sometime, you might make history! 😉 

Bikepacking 

It’s been a while since my last adventure – a four day, three night hike bivvying & hammocking a rough circumnavigation of my home town. Since then I’ve had surgery on my right hip to cure a rather painful case of hip dysplasia and despite recovery going well I’m still not 100% pain free. Running is definitely out due to the high impact and walking is a little too pedestrian, especially when exploring closer to home so I decided to head out on my mountain bike and see where I ended up. 

I loaded up my bike using an alpkit airlock dry bag to store my sleeping bag, bivvy bag & sleeping bag liner and strapped it to the handle bars, everything else went into a 45 litre Berghaus arête extrem rucksack. 

With the bike loaded, I set off in the rain with a plan to, well, was there a plan? Not really if I’m honest. I had a couple of maps covering my home turf, most of the North Downs Way and all I knew is that I wanted to bivvy somewhere new. 

good to go

After an hour or so riding I was at the foot of the North Downs but frustratingly I was struck down with a nasty migraine that forced me to make an unscheduled pit stop, pop some ibuprofen and have a little lay down! On the plus side, this presented a good opportunity to test out my new mountain equipment self inflating mattress which I quickly set up and having pulled my buff over my eyes tried to clear the headache. 

pit stop

A bit of rest and the headache had all but gone so I set off again, linking up with the Pilgrims Way and heading towards Holingbourne. At Holingbourne  the Pilgrims Way merges with the North Downs Way, heading off road & making things interesting with a fully loaded bike. 

I quickly arrived at Lenham then Charing, stopping off briefly at the site of a chalk quarry where I stopped -going the other way then – on my long walk home nearly 2 years ago. 

  

It was at this point I realised I was close (ish) to being able to almost fully retrace the steps of that epic walk back in 2013 but this time I fully intended to not end up back in my office! I would instead camp out on summerhouse hill, a small, perfectly formed almost micro mountain, nestled just between the North Downs ridge and the Eurotunnel  terminal at Folkestone.

as close as you’ll get to a mountain in kent

  

I peddled on through Eastwell Manor and down into the picturesque village of Wye at which point I decided that in order to make it to my bivvy spot at a reasonable hour, I’d ditch the north downs way & instead make use of the quicker but no less pretty country lanes. Mercifully they were quiet and largely traffic free on this Thursday afternoon so I could pootle along and mind my own business. 

As dusk approached and the daylight started to fade, I flicked on my head torch and rear light & eventually made it to the foot of the hill just as day turned to night. 

  

What I didn’t realise after two years of driving past this hill on the motorway though, was just how high and steep it was! With my bike weighing me down it took a good 20+ minutes to scale the 200 odd feet of hill and by the time I reached the top I felt like I’d actually conquered a small peak! The view into Folkestone, around the bay to Dungeness and even across the channel to France were certainly worth it though. 

  

Despite what was largely a gloriously sunny day, by the time night fell it was bitterly cold with temperatures hovering around 3 degrees and a wind chill bringing this closer to zero degrees!

chilly!

 I survived though, thanks largely to my new Helium 2.5 inflating mattress & my trusty Buffalo teclite smock, awaking to a glorious sunrise. With the first of the suns rays stirring me into action, I made a quick brew & headed back to civilisation for a well earned sausage sarnie. 

good morning