Still terrified on a campout

Since discovering this microadventure malarky back in July 2015 I have slept out under the stars (not in a tent) a minimum of once a month (and often a lot more often) since. A majority of these have been with other people but quite a number have been on my own.

I love a campout with others, in fact I organise trips pretty regularly in autumn, winter and spring, but going on my own is still very special. Why is it special?

Because I still find it damn well scary, that’s why!

https://flic.kr/p/W65Uup

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be sent on a work trip to Aberystwyth in Wales and while I was here I thought it would be lovely to walk up the coast and campout on a clifftop. After weeks of hot and balmy weather, fate waited till I was at the seaside and made it rain with high winds. Not ideal campout weather but you go with what youve got. By the time I was looking for a place to bed down, the rain had at least stopped but there was a ferocious wind and I found a disused lime kiln on a beach that looked like perfect shelter. The downside being, it was right next to a house.

Aberystwyth microadventure

My normal procedure is to get out of sight and wait for dark before I unpack my bivvy and sleeping bag. As it was quite stony in the kiln I did get my therm-a-rest out to sit on. Just as I did, a dog appeared and gave me a friendly sniff, then another dog hove into view and finally a teenage girl, presumably from the house, walked by. Oh no, i’ve been spotted! I then had a nervous couple of hours wondering if the grown ups in the house were going to come and tell me to bugger off or worse.

This is the thing, the sane me, currently sat in a cafe all warm and snug knows that nothing bad was going to happen. The ‘me’ at the time, however, had the wind howling, the gulls crying and a deep feeling of vulnerability. Were a bunch of guys going to come out of the house, maybe a bit boozed up, and beat me up? Was an angry farmer going to chuck me off his beach? [Can the beach be owned??].

Obviously my night was was totally fine, apart from seeing a mouse that did make me jump. Rodents aside, I had an uneventful night listening the the waves crash on the beach. I got up early, packed up, made coffee and got out of the area.

After nearly two years of sleeping out I think of myself as a fairly ‘seasoned microadventurer’ but this just highlights that the magic is still there.

I think I actually love the ‘edge’ that putting myself in these situations creates. A little bit of fear actually makes these feel like an adventure and as experienced as I might be, they are still special. I can’t wait for my next one! Who needs a comfort zone all the time!

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Lofoten Islands (Norway) on a budget

Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Norway is an amazing country but it is also a pretty expensive place to visit. I did, however, manage to visit the wonderful Lofoten islands (from London in the UK) for six days without breaking the bank.

My basic plan was to try to only spend money on the travel (flights and ferry). This would entail wild camping (which is free) and taking all of my own food for 5 days. Being a major cheapskate, I also made up my own dehydrated breakfast and dinner meals (see appendix for details).

Lofoten 2017

I booked a very early morning flight from London Heathrow (after spending an uncomfortable night at the airport) to Bodø (via Oslo). The flight touched down at 1430 and I had exactly one hour to make the ferry. I’ll be honest that I never thought I’d have any chance of making it! The consequences of missing the ferry would be to wait for the midnight sailing (eek). I’m delighted to say that Bodø airport was very efficient in delivering my rucksack and is also only just over a mile from the ferry terminal. I was comfortably on the ferry in 40 mins. Win!

Note on travel costs: I was a little late in booking so my flight costs of £280.00 could almost certainly have been cheaper. The ferry was about £20.00 each way.

Lofoten islands

Arrival
I got off the ferry at Moskenes, located towards the western end of the Lofoten Islands at 1830 in the evening. My first, and really only worry, was trying to find a gas canister for my stove. It was going to be a tricky trip if I couldn’t boil any water!

I’d done a bit of research and the nearest place to buy camping gas was in Reine, 4-5 km away. I shouldered my pack and started my walk, some of which was on the road and some on a path (actually the old road).

Lofoten islands

Lucky for me, the gas station in Reine was open and actually sold the type of canister I needed. Slightly unfortunately it was an enormous one that i’d never use up during my trip. My map of Lofoten seemed to indicate that there was a campsite in Reine but it turned out that this was total fiction! Not a major problem as I walked back towards Moskenes where I had spotted a couple of camping spots by the side of the path. I was sorted!

Lofoten islands 2017

Day 2
In London, the weather in late May was pretty balmy, in Lofoten, which is well above the arctic circle, it was quite cold – 6-8C. On my first night it was also very rainy and windy and when I woke up I was reluctant to pack up and go until it stopped. My little one man tent (MSR Hubba HP) was pretty snug and comfy and I managed to safely make coffee and porridge in the porch. The rain stopped about 1030  and I headed back into Reine.

Lofoten Islands 2017

My original plan to was to get the ferry from Reine to Vinstad but i’d stupidly forgotten to look up the timetable before I left and had missed the morning ferry. The timetable is written very oddly (to me at least) and I didn’t think that there were any other ferries that day so decided to walk around the fjord/bay. Note: I later discovered that there was an afternoon ferry that I could have gotten. Doh!

Lofoten Islands 2017

The Lofoten islands are famous in the winter months as cod fisheries (cod spawn here), following which the fish are hung out to dry. These drying racks are around all of the little villages that I saw and yes, the places do smell a tad ‘fishy’.

Lofoten Islands 2017

One thing became pretty clear to me was that there really isn’t much open here. I won’t complain too much as I did have literally world class scenery to look at but it’s worth noting that in bad weather there aren’t many indoor activities. Luckily for me the weather was sunshine and cloud without any rain. What it wasn’t though was very warm and I was grateful for a cafe/bar to open in Reine in the afternoon. I splurged what I think must have been a million pounds on a pretty decent cake and an awful coffee. I did take the opportunity to use the wifi to contact to the family and brag a bit on facebook and instagram.

Lofoten islands 2017

Lofoten Islands 2017

When i’d had enough of looking at mountains soaring out of the sea I retreated to the same campsite as the previous night and hunkered down.

Day 3

Lofoten islands 2017

I woke up early on this amazingly sunny and beautiful day in order to get the early ferry from Reine to Vinstad. Despite it still being the ‘winter’ season, the boat was full to the gunnels.

Lofoten Islands 2017

Lofoten Islands 2017

Lofoten islands 2017

After arriving at Vinstad, I walked (along with a a small group of fellow tourists) up through this small community, over a small pass to the breathtaking Bunes beach.

The beach seems, at first, to be quite small but it is only an illusion created by the height of the substantial mountains that surround it. I rushed down as soon as I could, dumped my bag and then with only my phone and a towel headed for the water. I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to swim (or in this case briefly dip) in the Arctic Ocean.

Lofoten islands 2017

It was cold, but oh so glorious! Plus I saw an avalanche (my first)!

I ended up staying at Bunes beach for more than a day and a half, walking around the beach, gazing out at this amazing beauty or reading my book. The weather was wonderfully sunny all the time I was here although it was never warmer than 8C and the wind was often high creating quite a wind chill factor. There is a drop toilet at the back of the beach (without a door) but I avoided it as much as possible.

I’ll confess to being a little disappointed that I wasn’t the only person to sleep on the beach overnight. I really fancied being alone here. To be fair to my fellow campers, they all kept themselves to themselves and I wasn’t disturbed at all.

Day 4

Lofoten islands 2017

[Note: These strange hollow iron balls were washed up on the beach. What are they? Pretty sure they are not cannonballs.]

After lunch, I packed up my stuff and headed back towards the ferry point. I decided to attempt to walk further down the fjord as there was a tall and amazing looking waterfall at the end.

Lofoten Islands 2017

Lofoten Islands 2017

As I caught the ferry back to Reine, the sunshine was replaced by cloud and it got distinctly chillier. Back in ‘civilisation’ I had a sandwich and coffee (another million pounds) in the cafe and then headed back to my usual wild camping spot for the night. The night was pretty windy and rainy! The tent was solid though!

Day 5
This was pretty much my last full day in the Lofoten’s but bearing in mind that I needed to catch a super early ferry in the morning I didn’t want to go far. I therefore decided to walk to the end of Norway itself! Well, the western most point that can be reached by road.

Lofoten Islands 2017

I walked through Moskenes (apart from the ferry, not much here), Sørvågen (more stuff here but all closed), Tind (more or less nought) and finally Å (yes, just the one letter).

Lofoten Islands 2017

Lofoten islands 2017

As with just about everywhere else in the Lofotens, the views were just spectacular but it did feel quite special to be at the end of the road. Å also boasted some actually open places too. The stockfish museum (which I didn’t go in) and a wonderfully rustic bakery selling a delicious cinnamon roll and totally wonderful Barley bread. The coffee was awful but you can’t have everything!

Lofoten islands 2017

The sun was still out and I decided to take the footpath from Sørvågen up to Stuvdalsvatnet, a lake surrounded by mountains. It is a bit of a stiff climb but the view is stunning. The path continued up to a mountain hut called Munkebu but I decided not to go that far.

Lofoten Islands 2017

Lofoten islands 2017

I have to say though that this was a glorious way to spend my last afternoon. I was a tiny bit disappointed to learn that you could neither swim nor camp here but considering this is where everyone gets their drinking water from it was fair enough. It was my initial plan to not stay in any formal campsites but my hygiene situation was such that I decided to relent tonight. I’d only had a sea dip since i’d been here and I was starting to find myself a bit unpleasant!

Lofoten islands 2017

The campsite fee turned out to be the equivalent of £13 which in effect was what a shower was costing me. Annoyingly there was a ‘pub’ but of course like most things here, it wasn’t open. At least it stopped me spending £10 on a pint of lager!

Day 6 – Going home

Up at 05.30, I had my usual porridge and coffee before quickly packing up my stuff for the trip home. I was at the ferry in plenty of time, indeed I was second on the boat for the trip back.

Lofoten islands 2017

The ferry trip was uneventful (I slept some of it), as were the flights. I spent a bit more time in Bodø than on the way here but it didn’t strike me as all that exciting (sorry if I missed the good bits).

Summary

Well, firstly, I really can’t recommend the Lofoten Islands enough. World class, breath-taking scenery in every direction! Going in late May before the ‘summer season’ started did mean that it was still pretty chilly even on the sunny days and that very little was open.

It’s possibly worth noting that I didn’t really go very far (in terms of miles) on this trip, partly because I was walking with a 16-18kg rucksack at all times. I made a decision before I came that I wasn’t going to bother with the infrequent bus service. It did limit me, but I can’t say I regret it as it was all awesome more or less all the time where I was.

I’m also fairly happy with managing to keep costs to a minimum. I did end up having a few cafe visits but this was OK for me. I actually came back with some food so i feel pretty good about how much I packed. I wasn’t in any danger of going hungry on this trip!

If it had rained for days on end I think it could have been quite grim, considering I was living as a hobo. If you had a car, you could at least go for a drive or go somewhere that has things to do but car hire is quite pricey and it is harder to wild camp.

In short, don’t delay, just book your tickets now! It is a must-see place.

Appendix 1

You can get some pretty tasty dehydrated expedition food these days, however, they are also mostly quite expensive, i.e. £5-6 a meal. This really adds up over the course of a week so I decided to make some of my own.

My food list for the week:

Porridge
100g porridge oats
15g milk powder
2 teaspoon Sugar
1 dessert spoon of sultanas
1 teaspoon peanut butter

Add twice the volume of boiling water, stir, wait 7 mins, stir again and eat.
I keep the porridge in a platic food bag and use a large mug to keep it in shape. No washing up!

Bulgar wheat surprise
100g Bulgar wheat (mine has some quinoa in it)
40g of roughly ground lentils (they take too long to cook if whole)
half a stock cube
dash of chilli sauce

Add twice the volume of boiling water, stir, wait 20 mins, stir several times. I again use a food bag and a mug for stability. Nothing to wash up. [Note: I found this filling but quite bland, next time I plan to add a spoonful of curry paste]

Wed 24
Breakfast: on plane
Lunch: Oslo airport
Dinner: Bagels and peanut butter
Snacks: Crimble macaroon x 2, Snickers bar
Thur 25
Breakfast: Porridge
Lunch: Bagels and peanut butter
Dinner: Bulgar wheat, lentils and pepperami
Snacks: Crimble macaroon x 2, Snickers bar
Fri 26
Breakfast: Porridge
Lunch: Malt loaf
Dinner: Bulgar wheat, lentils and pepperami
Snacks: Crimble macaroon x 2, Huel bar
Sat 27
Breakfast: Porridge
Lunch: Malt loaf
Dinner: Bulgar wheat, lentils and pepperami
Snacks: Crimble macaroon x 2, Huel bar
Sun 28
Breakfast: Porridge
Lunch: Malt loaf
Dinner: Bulgar wheat, lentils and pepperami
Snacks: Flapjack bar, huel bar
Mon 29
Breakfast: Porridge
Lunch: Moskenes/Bodo
Dinner: Oslo airport
Snacks: Huel bar

Injury update (March 2017) – I’m back

Blimey, this has been a much longer saga than I ever could have imagined.

First run in over a year!

Way (way) back in December 2015 I was doing sprints with the lovely folk from Project Awesome and on one of the turns (nothing special) something clicked. Of course I just carried on because that’s what I always do. Later that day in a meeting at work my leg collapsed under me and I couldn’t walk at all.

I went to a physio and eventually my doctor who in turn referred me to a joint specialist. I was (officially) diagnosed with a meniscus tear (a bit of cartilage inside the knee). The consultant even delighted in saying that I had ‘fat knees’ which was tough to take from a basically pretty corpulent man.

For over a year I have been (mostly) doing my physio (a LOT of squats), switching my exercise to cycling and generally being ultra careful not to twist my knee. The pattern then followed that I would feel a bit better, push things on the exercise front and re-injure myself. At the beginning a re-injury would have me limping for a week but over time the recovery time reduced and the gaps between injury increased.

I’ll be honest, there were times when I thought that I was going to have a permanent (albeit minor) disability and never run again. I love running which meant this thought was pretty depressing. As much as I know how minor this is and how lucky I’ve been physically in my life it has gotten me down.

Since the turn of the year though, things have improved a lot. I’ve not had a relapse and whilst I can definitely still ‘feel’ the knee throb a bit after exercise it seems more or less ok. The big news was last weekend when i did an actual bonafide real proper run. It was very slow (by my old standards) but a solid 4.5km round the park.

I felt quite emotional afterwards. Doing a proper run again felt HUGE. Oh yes, i’m back baby! [cough]

Project awesome 'happiness day'

Photo by www.annarachelphotography.com/

 

How to winter bivvy on a budget

The last two years i’ve enjoyed going on campouts throughout the winter. In the UK this rarely gets too extreme (sub-zero temps are rare) but it is undoubtedly a very different undertaking for someone who has only tried a summer microadventure.

frosty leaf

The obvious answer to this is to pony up and invest in some decent winter kit. A three or four season sleeping bag and maybe an arctic puffa jacket. The trouble is a decent down sleeping bag will set you back several hundred pounds at least. One of the things i truly love about microadventures are that they are pretty inclusive and expressly don’t require a major financial outlay. What to do then?

I have some thoughts on how to stay cozy on those cold cold nights without breaking the bank. I’ve assumed here that someone owns at least a bivvy bag, a sleeping mat and a summer sleeping bag.

Sleeping bag solutions
Ok, so a 1-2 season bag isn’t going to cut it in the winter months. How about buying (or borrowing) a second 1-2 season bag and put one inside the other? Decathlon (one of my favourite shops) do a 2 season synthetic bag for £30.

If you don’t quite want to lay out for (or have to store) another sleeping bag but need a bit ‘extra’, how about a sleeping bag liner. Silk is ideal but expensive so why not try a micro fleece for £15?

Boxhill awesome Campout

Sleeping mats
Some kind of insulating mat is a good idea even in summer months but on frozen ground it’s a good idea to double up (or is that down?). Foam roll mats are relatively cheap but if you want to maximise your ‘bang for your buck’ try something like this aluminium backed roll from Amazon for only £5.70.

Insulating yourself from the ground will make a huge difference in winter.

Hot water bottle
A few pounds will buy yourself a hot waterbottle that you can fill from a stove just before bed. It won’t last all night but it will start you off toasty. You can also get some chemical heaters that may make a useful contribution.

Shorne Woods Country Park

Pack on the layers
I’ve heard quite a few times how not wearing much to bed somehow makes you warmer. The basic laws of thermodynamics refute this i think. In a frosty situation wear many layers, even your coat if you have to. In the morning you can get up and move around to stay warm.

Get some extra socks to go over your normal socks. If you have a spare jumper or coat, put it down the bottom of your bag to keep those toes toasty.

WEAR A WOOLLY HAT, a scarf (or a buff) and some light gloves if need be. If you have a hoody pull it up. The neck and head areas lose a lot of heat otherwise.

Don’t breathe in your sleeping bag
I realise that this is a tough one but try to keep at least your mouth and nose exposed to the air. One of the enemies of warmth is being wet and breathing inside your sleeping bag may keep it damp.

You’ll need the BIG rucksack
Quite a few of the tips i’ve suggested here will add considerable bulk to your microadventure kit – 2 sleeping bags, 2 roll mats, extra clothes, a stove etc.

There is an old trope – light/small, effective, cheap – pick two. In this case i’m suggesting we go for effective and cheap.

Good luck microadventurers! If you have any of your own tips, let me know. 

Boxhill awesome Campout

A Walk across London – North to South

Having ‘conquered’ a walk across London from east to west (Part 1, part 2, part 3) it was time to tackle North to South. London is a lot shorter than it is wide and I reckoned that this route could be done in just two days of walking. I was also really fortunate that my friends Nickos and David were keen to join me on the challenge.

Part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

It turns out that the most northerly part of Greater London is a lonely country road just inside the M25 near Crews Hill station in Enfield. This required walking along an unpaved verge for a kilometer or so. The completest in me meant that we had to make the border. My companions were less fussed. At least there was a sign to mark the start. It was exciting that almost from the start we could see the half-way point of the Shard in central London.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

The morning was quite cold but very sunny and it was a pretty lovely walk alongside fields and trees. It wasn’t too long before we found suburbia though in the form of Enfield town. There some very nice parks though and my old friend Google maps took us through as many as possible.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

I did take us slightly away from the most direct route firstly by insisting on walking by a street near Bounds Green that I used to live in and second by climbing up to Alexandra palace. The views from here are magnificent and the ‘palace’ itself is still pretty great.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

By this point, however, the beautiful sunshine gave way to threatening clouds. It wouldn’t be long before it turned into drizzle and finally a proper downpour. Good old British weather.

The revelation of the walk was quite how nice Crouch end is, a place that none of us had been to (at least in many years). This is one of the best things about walking round your home town. Discovering or re-discovering places that life hasn’t taken you to.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

It’s fair to say that once the rain got heavy the walk was a little bit of a trial and we didn’t dawdle. Also the central London Sunday shoppers were out and making fast walking a bit tricky too. When will there be a ‘locals lane’ on London pavements?

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

We ended our day on Waterloo Bridge, the northern part of our walk completed. Damp but undefeated we celebrated with a beer and a burger. Yay!

Part 2

The weather couldn’t have been better for the second part of this walk (about three weeks later) – a crisp cold blue sky day. It may have been cold but it was glorious. We started off from Waterloo bridge and made our way down the river to Vauxhall.

A Walk across London - north to south

Leaving the river we passed through Stockwell and made it to Tooting Bec Common where we stopped for some excellent brownie (thanks David).

A Walk across London - north to south

A Walk across London - north to south

From here our journey took us through the unremarkable suburbs of Mitcham and then Carshalton and Wallingford. It included passing the aromatic Beddington sewage works.

A Walk across London - north to south

A Walk across London - north to south

With daylight starting to go we finally arrived in Coulsden, the last bit of town before our destination. Farthing down would have been a superb end to the trip. It is a pretty bit of heath with lovely views into happy Valley and beyond. We even got a majestic sunset.

A Walk across London - north to south

A Walk across London - north to south

Sadly, however, the edge of Greater London was a further 1.5 km down a small unpaved lane. I was checking our position on my Ordnance Survey app on my phone which eventually told us we were there. We had made it. We had a nip of whiskey and a celebratory photo.

A Walk across London - north to south

All that remained was to walk several miles back up the lane and across farthing down to Coulsdon where we could have a drink and a curry.

A huge thanks to my companions David and Nickos who were brilliant company. Even when it rained or I made them walk to the middle of nowhere ‘because that’s what the map says’.

This was a really nice project that I’d recommend.

The Invisible Adventure

Why do I like to go to the top of mountains? Why do I like to sleep outdoors on a winter night? Why cycle 200 miles visiting 12 castles? Is it because I love these things for themselves or is it because I can brag about them on facebook and instagram? Is success measured by how I felt or by how many ‘likes’ I get?


The last question has been haunting me a little bit lately. It is a sign of modern times that we (or at least I) judge myself and others at least partially on the ‘cool’ stuff that they do and then share. I’m not proud of this.

I’ve been telling myself that I really do love the outdoors for the joy that it brings to my heart and that I don’t need any recognition. Or do I?

The test is to think up something that I think is super cool and then do it without posting a thing about it. Don’t say where I’ve gone, don’t post any pictures and don’t blog about it. Simple right? Well, I’ve planned a mini trip and if I was going to put my money where my mouth is, this is a great opportunity. The problem, and why I’ve written this post at all is that when it has come to the crunch, I find myself being pretty disappointed not to be able shout about it. What have I become?

It has made me all the more determined to try it out anyway.

 

Microadventure: Bath Skyline

I’m lucky in that my job occasionally takes me around the country (and sometimes even abroad). So when I had a speaking engagement booked in Bristol it was obvious to see if I could squeeze in a #microadventure.

Bath microadventure

My adventure friend Emma is lucky enough to live in Bath (conveniently close to Bristol) and was kind enough to scout a few locations for us. By the time I arrived though, lady luck did initially look a bit against us. It was raining steadily and all the pubs were completely full due to the Bath vs Bristol Rugby match. After a swift half and a gastro pub dinner (we are classy microadventurers!) we were on our way climbing up the steep atmospheric streets of Bath.

Bath microadventure

I like to think that I’m not overly superstitious but when crossing a field our head torches caught what seemed like a thousand devil eyed creatures charging towards us. Don’t panic, it wasn’t devils, it was cows but they were definitely running our way which is worrying enough. I did my usual tactic when confronted by cows which is to stand my ground and wait for them to stop. They stopped. Big sigh of relief all round.

Bath microadventure

We made the skyline and were able to find a mostly convenient spot away from the path with some trees to rig a tarp. At least by now the rain had stopped and there were even a few stars about. As well as a shelter the (camouflaged) tarp also made us very tricky to spot. The night was cold but it was dry and I was warm enough in my sleeping bag plus a few more layers.

Bath microadventure

The morning was bitter cold but a warming cup of coffee and a bit of malt loaf did the trick of reviving us enough to get going.

16 campouts in 2016
Instead of just coffee I had been tempted to bring some booze as this was my 16th campout of the year and the target that I set myself in January. In just over a year I’ve gone from someone who had never slept outdoors without at least a tent to what feels like a microadventure veteran.

The question did arise as to what I should do next year – 17 challenges in 2017. Some early thoughts:

What was definitely a wonderful bit of luck was the amazing sunrise over a frosty field that welcomed our walk back into Bath. About five minutes after this it started raining. Every gorgeous sunrise just fills my heart with joy and makes it sing.

Bath microadventure

Bath microadventure

Bath microadventure

Bath microadventure

A fantastic night out to complete this challenge. I’m sure i’ll be doing more campouts but I’m sure I won’t be keeping score from now on.

A huge thanks to Emma who was such a great adventure companion!