Microadventure – Hadleigh Castle

After sleeping under the stars (and a Blue Moon) with my daughter Rose on Holiday a few weeks ago I was thirsty for more outdoor adventure. Just as I was planning to do a trip of my own I came across the ‘Adventure Army‘ group on Facebook and through that a trip by the Adventurer Dave Cornthwaite and his ‘Say Yes More‘ campaign. I thought it might be nice to join some like minded adventure seekers so signed up.

It was all a bit of a mystery as to the plan up until the day before when I got the email with instructions and the loose plan. I’m used to extensively planning things and i’m finding it quite a revelation to just be a bit ad-hoc and last minute. I’m hoping to embrace this a lot more.

Hadleigh Castle

Hadleigh Castle, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
The ‘plan’ was simple – get the train to Leigh-on-Sea in Essex overlooking the Thames estuary, eat fish and chips, walk up to Hadleigh Castle (about 30 mins) and bivvy down for the night. Unlike my previous microadventure where the weather was warm and cloudless this night promised rain which added a bit of extra adventure to the whole thing.

Hadleigh Castle

The threatened rain may have cut down the numbers somewhat and 13 of us ended up having a quick drink and enjoying the excellent fish and chip supper at ‘The May Flower’. In the brief chats with the group everyone seemed keen, friendly and willing to ‘have a go’. I was also really pleased to see a wide range of ages from 20s to 60.

Hadleigh Castle

We arrived at the Castle just as it was getting dark and found a spot below the fortress a bit out of the way. It almost goes without saying that this is a very atmospheric and cool place to have an overnight adventure. I personally also loved the view over the estuary, the refineries on Canvey Island and even the Kent coast.

Hadleigh Castle

Normally we would aim not to have any shelter but with the imminent rain the group pooled resources of various tarpaulins, cord, bungies and tent pegs and made a group basha. We then went and sat in the castle and talked about our adventure plans, aspirations and motivations. I found this very inspiring. What I had failed to bring, however, was any booze which I think would have been nice.

At a late hour we all crawled into our bivvy bags and made an effort to sleep. As we were under a basha and with full cloud cover there were no stars or moon to watch and dream of. A shame but still a shade better than being fully enclosed in a tent. The rain did arrive making our effort worthwhile.

Hadleigh Castle

Hadleigh Castle

In the morning I woke around 6am to a grey but dry morning and had a breakfast of a can of coffee (horrid) and Malt Loaf (lovely). If I had been on my own I think I’d have quite liked to just pack up and head off but we hung around until everyone had risen and sorted themselves out. This is possibly my least favourite element to group activities like this.

Hadleigh Castle

Overall this was a lovely way to spend a Friday night and it didn’t even eat much into my weekend. The people were all really nice and very inspiring, I felt really at home. I would definitely go again.

All my photos from the trip.

Microadventure – Hadleigh Castle

Loch Ness Marathon – Part 2

It is now less than two months away from the marathon and only three weeks from my maximum training run (in terms of distance). I am just about on target but I do feel a bit like i’ve squandered a lead.

It has been lovely to go away on holiday but it has undoubtedly put a strain on my training routine. I’ve been able to hit my major distance goals but at the cost of my ‘speed’ BMF sessions. A big test will be finding a 30-32km route on our holiday in France. Hopefully nothing to worry about but it has all made me a tiny bit nervous.

The other issue is that i’m now hitting some big distances (22km yesterday) and while podcasts help I find them a bit lonely on my own (everyone say ahhh). I am going to see if I can recruit some running buddies if I can. I imagine this is where a running club would come in handy?

Onwards and upwards.

Loch Ness Marathon – Part 2

Microadventure – Blue Moon Bivvy at Seaton, Devon

Already fired up by the idea of doing a ‘Microadventure’, we were on a family holiday in Devon, there was a (rare) Blue Moon and the weather was clear and balmy. How could I not take the plunge and do my first official #microadventre?

As mentioned in my previous blog post on ‘Microadventure ideas‘, my 7 year old daughter had expressed an interest in ‘sleeping under the stars’ so I decided to call her bluff and bring her with me. It certainly felt super special to share this first time experience.

Manor Farm Campsite

The day before I had gone for a jog and scouted the area on the cliffs over Seaton, towards Lyme Regis, that had been the view from our campsite. I’m glad that i did this as it meant that we could up there and get to a suitable spot without too much faffing about.

Wheat

We walked though Axe Cliff golf course and then through some wheat fields before finding a patch of long grass with views over the sea. I was keen on the long grass as there was a combine harvester at work and I didn’t want to get turfed off the farmers land.

Wild Camping above Seaton

Sunset above Seaton

The great thing about bivvying is that you are set-up in minutes. Sleeping mat, sleeping bag and bivvy bag and you are ready. All set and looking out on a glorious sundown, we had some fortifying popcorn. Everything seemed pretty perfect apart from the noisy combine harvester that carried on till it was properly night time.

Blue moon bivvy at Seaton, Devon.

Having now slept under a full moon I can really see what the fuss is all about as I thought it was magical. The moonlight was incredibly bright, especially with the gorgeous reflection on the sea so it felt like sleeping with the light on. My daughter was excited and nervous and despite claiming she would never sleep, dropped off as soon as night fell. This did mean that she missed the shooting star that I spotted while I gazed at the sky. I found myself resenting my tiredness and desire to sleep as it would take me away from stargazing, something that seems odd now that I am typing this up at home. Insomnia might be worth it if I had views like this.

Rose and I wild camping

I missed the first glimmers of dawn but enjoyed seeing the world lighten up with the golden glow. I wanted to get off the clifftop before too many people were about so I woke up my daughter, packed up our things and headed back.

I found the whole experience wonderful but I think my daughter has only seen it as quite cool now that there is some distance of time. I’d love for her to join me again. I know I’m thirsty for more!

Microadventure – Blue Moon Bivvy at Seaton, Devon

Microadventure – The Idea

There is not enough adventure in my life. I live in a London suburb, commute to central London, have a wife, young children and cats and I feel all the ‘cool stuff’ is very far away. When I think of adventure I mainly think about climbing a mountain in Wales or Scotland, sailing a boat across an ocean or some other intrepid thing in a far flung place (or at least 5-6 drive away). This makes me sad. Don’t get me wrong, I love the family and like the job but I of course want everything – adventure AND family time. It would be cool if I can combine the family in the adventure too.

A couple of things have come together recently that have given me some hope on this front. The first was my daughter (7) who asked if we could sleep out under the stars. At first I just dismissed this idea saying we didn’t need to as we have a tent. Thinking about it later, of course it was a very cool idea. In a warm summer evening what would be better than to watch the sun go down and go to sleep under the moon and stars. No reason we couldn’t do this on holiday I thought.

At about the same time I also stumbled across the book and website from ‘adventurer’ Alastair Humphrey’s about ‘Microadventures‘. He has done some truly epic expeditions (cycling the world, rowing the Atlantic) but his idea here is to encourage that sense of adventure closer to home and make it cheap, accessible and most of all – doable.

The biggest inspiration, or at least my starting point, is to sleep outdoors without the tent more and to do it outside of the proper designated camp sites. I.e. find a nice spot, wait till it is dark and just bed down till morning. I’m used to the idea of wild camping in, err, wild places like Snowdonia, but to do so in Kent seems pretty revolutionary to my pretty square outlook.

I now feel inspired to think that within 1-2 hours of home (by car, train or cycle) I can be having cool overnight adventures. My current (initial) adventure list:

  • Sleep in a bivvy (garden)
  • Sleep out in a bivvy (hill/wood/wilderness)
  • Make a fire (no firelighters)
  • Swim in a mountain lake
  • Cycle and bivvy
  • Kayak and camp next to a river (or island)
  • Build a raft
  • Sleep in a hammock (outdoors)

No excuses now, let’s do this thing….

Microadventure – The Idea

Loch Ness Marathon – Part 1

Sometime in the autumn of 2014 while out drinking with friends someone, probably me, suggested that we all pledge to sign up to the Loch Ness Marathon in September 2015. Four idiots put their hands together ‘Musketeer style’ promising to sign up and two of them actually did register.

With the BMF training three days a week I didn’t feel that I needed to panic too early in the training front. In fact I didn’t think about it at all until June 2015.

The Goal
I ran my last marathon (in 2009) in 4:12:40, a time I was both happy with and yet disappointed by. I had done what I felt was the minimum training and I was sure that I had a sub 4 hour marathon in me. So, I’m going to run this marathon in under 4 hours or else.

The Training Plan
In 2009 I used the loose idea of two short 5km runs and one long run a week. The long run obviously getting longer. Even on my longest run I never did more than 18 miles (28km) in one go. In retrospect it feels that with a bit more training the time should go down.

One advantage that I enjoy this time is the base fitness that I get from my BMF. Three of these sessions a week have given me some extra speed and a good core. They tend to have 4-5km of running in them too so not too much slacking on the stamina front either.

The plan (at this point) is to continue with two BMF sessions a week but replace one with a long run, probably at the weekend. It would be nice to throw in the odd swim or cycle for a bit of variety if I can manage it. I have followed this pattern (minus the swimming/cycling) over the last month but worryingly I’ve not been able to move beyond 15km in one go.

There is nothing to panic about things yet but I need to start moving beyond this from now on.

Here goes.

Loch Ness Marathon – Part 1

Mariposa Grove and The Mist Trail, Yosemite NP

(Does the title of this blog sounds like a teen detective novel?)

For a bit of context, I’m not a big fan of woods (or forests) on the basis that after the first 10 mins the views remain the same and you can’t see very far. I like seeing far. Usually the prospect of a woodland walk will get me very underwhelmed and possibly even grumpy.

Yosemite

This wood, however, is a bit different, special even. It is Mariposa Grove, part of Yosemite National Park and it contains some very special trees. There are a variety of sizeable fir trees but the talking point are the giant redwoods. The ‘giant’ bit is no hyperbole either, these things are monsters and the biggest are titans!

Mariposa Grove

I think I walked all of the available trails up to Wawona Point, passing many magnificent trees, many of which have names such as ‘Grizzly’, ‘Clothes peg’, ‘the bachelor and three sisters’ and ‘California’. The whole place s quite magical and the views from the point are well worth the hike up. If we could have a few more forests like this I think I could turn into a fan!

Yosemite

The Mist Trail

Following my nice morning jaunt around Mariposa Grove i dove the incredibly winding road to Yosemite Valley. After getting some advice from the Ranger and getting a few supplies, I had a few hours to get a quick hike in. As I’m staying in Curry Village the Vernal and Nevada Falls looked close and doable in this time frame.

Yosemite

The trail up to the falls is pretty steep but for quite a way is actually tarmac’d after which it is packed earth and finally granite steps. The path is mostly overlooked by trees which means that views are rare for much of the hike. When they do emerge though, they are spectacular and the river, at this time of year at least, is excitingly fast and frothy.

Yosemite

The Vernal Falls is what this is all for though and when it finally comes into view, it doesn’t disappoint. A raging torrent of frightening force, it definitely gives ‘the power of nature’ to the viewer. Even better, you can ascend to the very top of the falls and watch as it goes over the edge.


Well worth it despite the heavy crowds. If i’d had more time I’d have tried to do Nevada Falls too, maybe next time?

Mariposa Grove and The Mist Trail, Yosemite NP

The Major Series – 2015

Over the winter i’ve been enjoying taking part in a number of trail runs, the Wildman and the Iceman. As fun and muddy as these are it is time to take it up a couple of notches and tackle ‘The Major’.

The Major 2015
Yes, I am carrying a log, what of it?

Billed as an obstacle race, I think of it myself as more of an extreme 10km trail run. There are a few man-made obstacles but mostly the challenge is to be immersed in cold rivers and mud for extensive periods. There is still plenty of running and a number of stiff little hills to help the leg muscles burn.

A tad muddy
A tad muddy

When I did this race in March 2013, not long after I started doing BMF I did it in 1:54:00. This time I managed1:12:59 and a much more impressive position of 55th out of 1545 finishers. Obviously I am considerably fitter than last time but my position was helped a lot of setting off in the first wave where, at most, I may have had 100 people in front of me. This is important as there are quite a few bottlenecks on the course where you literally have to queue.

Despite having over 40 of my BMF Hyde Park buddies also running the race I found myself running and finishing on my own. Still kind of wish I had someone to high five at the end.

All told though it was fantastic fun and I’m really chuffed with my time and placing. I look forward to tackling this again next year. Or maybe I should do ‘Tough Guy’ instead?

The Major Series – 2015