Microadventure: London to Ditchling Beacon Cycle (and Campout)

28058995125_696c73d405_k

When I was twenty years old, after only a little bit of training, I took part in the BHF London to Brighton cycle ride. It was a great experience but the thing that has stuck with me is that I walked, rather than cycled, up the majority of Ditchling Beacon. I vowed that one day I’d return for a re-match and defeat my nemesis! This was that day. Would I make it or would it be another defeat?

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

London to Sutton
With only a week’s notice I asked on Facebook if anyone wanted to join me in my mad-cap scheme to cycle to Ditchling plus climb the beacon and then overnight bivvy there. Luckily for me the (Cam triathlete) Fiona joined me for the cycle and (walking superstar) Astrid planned to meet us there for the campout.

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

I set off from Sydenham in beautiful sunshine worrying that I might get sunburnt. About half an hour into my cycle the heaven’s opened and it torrentially rained. I stubbornly kept my sunglasses on. Fiona and I had agreed to meet in Sutton as the nearest place between us. We even shot a little video:

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

Sutton to Crawley
The sunshine and showers routine was something that continued for most of the afternoon. At least it was clear and bright when we had lunch and also when we found this delightful lavender field.

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

The miles rolled by and we crossed the M25 and I was feeling pretty good. it was here that my lack of route preparation started to come in to play. I naively just expected that we could follow Google maps bike route to our destination. Bad call. What I had sort of known before but hadn’t thought about is that Google maps takes you down any path and bridleway it sees. This could be fun if we A) Had mountain bikes, B) Had all the time in the world. We had neither.

The real kicker was when I got pretty much lost in the suburbs of Crawley with Google maps directing us down little hidden alleyways. It was very frustrating! This was, therefore, the absolute perfect time to also get a puncture. Especially as I’d not packed a spare tube (always carry a spare tube folks!). I did have a puncture repair kit but very little experience of actually using one. Luckily Fiona (my hero) was brilliantly patient, both with the navigation and my panic over the burst tire. My first field repair held! Go us!

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

My knees were looking even less pretty than normal after dealing with the wheel. We eventually did get out of Crawley.

Crawley to Ditchling
From here on we at least managed to not get lost any more plus the sun was out and the rain all gone. Tiredness, however, was starting to creep in and climbing the many rolling hills was getting a bit tough now. We did revive ourselves a bit with some enormous gourmet burgers (and a shandy for me) at a pub before finishing the final 12 miles.

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

We passed this wonderful viaduct and made our way through Haywards Heath, the last significant town of the day. It was getting late by now and it seemed odd seeing lots of folk out drinking and enjoying themselves on a Saturday night while we toiled on our bikes.

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

My original aim was to get to the beacon and watch the sun go down, however, our various delays meant I got this ‘sundowner’ en route.

Coming up to the beacon itself I had to decide if I was going to ‘go for it’ or not. My legs were a tiny bit sore and my lower back actually quite painful but I thought I had to at least try. This was a dragon I really wanted to slay.

The beacon looms menacingly from quite a ways out and seems impossible from the bottom but as you climb, the summit is never in view so there is no way to gauge the end. I just kept chugging along, knowing it would be quite painful and there was at least one occasion when I thought I would have to walk. I’m so pleased I didn’t.

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

Going round that final bend and seeing the South Downs Way sign I could have cried with joy! I had done it. Finally. This was a story over 23 years in the making and now it was over. I honestly haven’t been this pleased with myself in a very long time and it feels really good.

An Awesome Campout
At the top of the beacon we met up with Astrid, who was out training for some more ultra walking events (she had walked 30 miles that day). After some hugs, whoops (from me) and smiles we set up our bivvy stuff. There seemed a chance of rain so we rigged some bashers up too. Astrid came good with a pole and some pegs and best of all some beer (what a legend).

This is what it’s all about, sharing a wonderfully fulfilling day with some friends with a view and a beer. There was even some fireworks on the horizon although I suspect it may not have been celebrating our ride.

Tired but happy we went to sleep. I was woken at 0430 by the most amazing sunrise and felt blessed to be here.

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

After a quick brew and a couple of hot cross buns we packed up and went our separate ways. Fiona had picked up a bit of a knee injury and understandably didn’t want to risk it getting worse. Astrid had another long training day to do and i thought I’d try and cycle home. We seem pretty darn happy:

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

This was also campout number 10 in my #16in16 project!

Ditchling to Home
I set off at 0700, starting with a fast freewheel back down the road i’d laboured up so painfully the night before. The sun was bright and it was good to have the wind in my face.

I feel that I’d learned a few lessons from yesterday with regard to route planning and this time I did some way points rather than the whole route.The first major one was Turner’s Hill in which I stopped for a breather and some refreshment courtesy of the convenience store. My second breakfast consisted of a pint of milk, a carton of coconut milk and a snickers. I take nutrition seriously! What I didn’t get was any water as I assumed i’d be able to pick some up on the way. A foolish schoolboy error that was.

London to Ditchling cycle (and camp out)

Carrying on, I skirted East Grinstead and then hit the most direct way home – the A22. This is not a great cycling road in that the cars had to pull out to overtake me and I know I held a few of them up as several hooted me and one nice man called me a c**t. What I did do was make good time.

Broken by Marden Park
I was getting very tired now and more than anything, my back was killing me and I found I was stopping every 5 miles or so just to have a stretch. What almost finished me off though was when Google maps took me off the A22 near Woldingham and sent me up to Marden Park. This, it turned out, was up an incredibly steep hill, one I thought was much harder than Ditchling and one I certainly didn’t finish cycling up. I felt a little defeated by having to push after my ‘heroics’ yesterday. I feel better about it now.

The Finish
After the north downs were done it was mostly downhill or flat and I kind of coasted home. I was a tiny bit sunburnt, a tiny bit saddle sore, my back was killing me but I felt like a million bucks. The cycle from Ditchling had only taken me 5 hours which seemed pretty quick.

Cycling for two days straight, 60 odd miles the first day and 50 or so the second is a huge accomplishment for me. I can’t say that I feel very able to do a third day of 50 miles but this has still given me a lot of confidence. I’d like to do a 4-5 day cycle later in the summer and this actually feels pretty doable now.

When you smash through one barrier, you line up the next one!

 

Microadventure: Lullingstone Recce

It’s been weeks since i’d last slept outdoors and I was itching to get out there. I had a busy weekend planned but felt I could just about squeeze in a night under the stars (or clouds).

On saturday afternoon I played Softball with some Project Awesome folk (really good fun!). Everyone else headed very sensibly to the pub while I shouldered my kit bag and headed out of London.

Lullingstone Country Park
I’ve been to this park quite a few times and have been meaning to give it a reconnaissance with the idea of bringing a group here later in the year. It has some brilliantly creepy trees and would make a superb Halloween camp spot.

Isle of grain

It was just getting dark when I got there and I had to use my torch to find some suitable trees to put up my hammock. This is always the terrifying bit! There had been a thunderstorm earlier in the day and whilst it was clear now I did get quite a few residual drips from the canopy above.

Lullingstone recce

In just a few minutes I was snug in my sleeping bag listening to the noises of the forest. I’ll confess to also listening to a podcast or two while I waited to get sleepy. All-in-all quite a good (and dry) night but I did find myself waking before 5 am.

I forgot to bring a mug with me so had to improvise with an m&s nut container for my coffee this morning. Worked alright!

In the morning I ate some nuts and brewed myself some coffee. It was then that I realised that I’d forgotten to bring a mug. What to do? Use the nut container as a cup seemed to be the obvious thing and I have to say that it worked ok.

Lovely #microadventure in Lullingstone Country Park. Beautiful fields of flowers and scampering rabbits this morning

Lullingstone campout

The morning was a bit grey (no sunrise for me) and very wet underfoot. There were, however, fields of beautiful flowers and even plenty of scampering rabbits to walk though on my way to the station. A wonderful start to the day!

This was my 9th campout of 2016 and I am over the halfway mark of my #16in16 project. As things are standing I should easily get there.

Microadventure: YesTribe Kids Campout – Ivinghoe

Ivinghoe

An alternative title might have been ‘YesTribe Summer Series Campout – The Next Generation’. That’s right, it was time to get out there with the adventurous kids and their parents.

Since before Christmas I’ve been organising (or at least going) on monthly campouts but so far I’ve mostly resisted the idea of letting kids join in. My own plan had always been to wait till the better weather and organise a dedicated kids campout. My main goal being not putting off my own kids during the colder months. Now was the time.

Something that has been particularly cool about this campout has been some ace teamwork. I mostly did the facebook page and looking for dates while James Gout (DadventureBasecamp) found us a cool location and ‘lead’ the expedition.

YesTribe Kids Campout - Ivinghoe

We met up at a pub in the lovely (and very twee) village of Ivinghoe. Those of us from London were astounded, and a little suspicious, that there appeared to be no parking restrictions in the streets. None-the-less we abandoned our cars and set off into the countryside to find a camp spot. Kudos to the kids on this trip, many of them had decent sized packs but with only the tiniest of grumbles (from mine) they shouldered their burdens the 1.5 miles, and a good bit of ascent, to our destination.

YesTribe Kids Campout - Ivinghoe

YesTribe Kids Campout - Ivinghoe

The weather was hazy but warm(ish) and it is lovely to be out in the lush countryside of the Chilterns, especially for me as this was my first visit for over 20 years. A little ways off of Ivinghoe Beacon itself we found our camping spot – a ‘secret’ clearing in some trees just off the path. People could walk right by us and not know we were here.

YesTribe Kids Campout - Ivinghoe

YesTribe Kids Campout - Ivinghoe

After setting up camp we all retired to the nearest high point and enjoyed a beautiful sundowner while the kids looked for bugs. A real stunner of an evening too. Then bed, of course.

The one downside of our camping spot is that it is on a slight slope and during the night both of my kids, and to a lesser extent myself, slid downhill. I was fine, but the girls did get a bit cold during the night and woke me up to tell me. I got them in some more layers and and least some sleeping did go on. As we are near the solstice it did start to get light before 4am which didn’t help with my own sleep patterns.

YesTribe Kids Campout - Ivinghoe

Come morning there were some great expressions on the kids faces. This is the real magic of this microadventure malarky. As far as the young’uns are concerned there is no ‘micro’ about it, this IS adventure!

YesTribe Kids Campout - Ivinghoe

YesTribe Kids Campout - Ivinghoe

After we ate some breakfast, had a coffee and packed up we headed out into the morning fog and descended back down to Ivinghoe. We we’re all a bit damp and pretty tired but it was a really cool night out and I hear that all of the kids are asking when they can go again. Hurrah!

YesTribe Kids Campout - Ivinghoe

This also marks number 8 in my 16 campouts in 2016 (#16in16). I’m now halfway!

All the photos from the campout on Flickr.

Microadventure: Home Campout

It is interesting that in both Alastair Humphrey’s Microadventure ideas and my own original list that bivvying in the garden was at the top of the list. It is surprising then that it has taken me nearly a year before I actually did it.

My daughters and I had conducted and afternoon raid on one of my favourite shops – Decathlon – fitting them both out with new sleeping bags and other goodies. This had the brilliant effect of inspiring my eldest (8 year old) to insist on sleeping out in the garden. It’s possible she was just testing, but I called her (possible) bluff and said ‘sure we can’.

jason-rose-sleepout

So there we were, on a balmy late May evening in our sleeping and bivvy bags on our (new) garden decking gazing up at pink clouds and Swallows (or maybe Swifts?) swooping for insects. I was pretty tired so the prospect of reading my daughter an extra long story and then having an early night was actually quite appealing.

Despite being surrounded by flats and houses our neighbourhood was fairly quiet for a Saturday night and it was mostly the chirp of birds and hum of insects that accompanied us to sleep. I was woken at 0330 by Rose telling me she was cold. I did worry that she would insist on going inside the house but after ensuring she was properly snuggled in her sleeping bag, she went back to sleep till morning.

Home microadventure

All in all a brilliant night and i’m counting it as number 7 in my #16in16 campouts this year. It is a fantastic thing to share this with my daughter and I can’t wait till next week when I can take both my kids out in the wild for a campout!

 

Microadventure: Oxshott Woods Awesome Campout

awesome-may-campout

Following the Awesome January Campout I was a bit giddy with excitement and full of ideas of things I wanted do on a microadventure. One that came to mind was to add some kind of atmospheric performance into the evening. Being out in a little patch of ‘wild’, in the dark and properly outdoors, not even with a bit of tent canvas for protection makes for a good bit of edge. What if you could add to it?

Oxshott Woods Awesome Campout

I’ve been aware of Vanessa Woolf and her work as a storyteller for some time. She has a great repertoire of stories tailored for certain settings, many in London’s urban and derelict areas but others in places i’d take a campout. Could this be a good combo? I felt sure that it could.

Oxshott Woods Awesome Campout

I did a recce of Oxshott Woods last week and found it both a brilliant bit of ‘secret wild’ in suburbia and a great place for a large group of microadventurers.

I took a small group from Waterloo and met up with the rest at Oxshott station before heading up into the woods. In 10 minutes we were at a nice little camp area with some logs to sit on and by 9pm we were ready for the show to start.

Oxshott Woods Awesome Campout

Oxshott Woods Awesome Campout

We were treated to a couple of songs from George, one of which was about ‘Spring Heeled Jack’, one of my favourite London folklore characters. Vanessa gave us three stories, one suitably based around a woodland (which was great). The other two were actually quite scary, particularly given that we were about to sleep out in a wood over night. At least we all had each others company! It was everything I had hoped for.

Oxshott Woods Awesome Campout

I slept in my hammock again, cementing my love for this type of camping. I had, however, allowed a lot more ‘give’ in the tension this time and definitely found it less comfortable. I think I quite like a flat hammock bed. We were all treated to a star filled night with a half moon.

Contrary to my normal sleep-out habits I ‘slept-in’ till just after 7am. This meant that packing, breakfast and coffee were a bit rushed. On the coffee front, i’d brought a (borrowed) hand coffee grinder and was able to make myself a lovely aeropress. I really must get one of these for myself, very handy.

Oxshott Woods Awesome Campout

Oxshott Woods Awesome Campout

All in all my 6th #microadventure of the year was really lovely and i’m looking forward to more soon! Still nicely on track for #16in16.

Microadventure: Oxshott Woods Recce

I was a bit busy in April which meant I didn’t manage any #microadventures. I did squeeze in a trip to Iceland so no tears though.

I have a big group of ‘Awesome Campers’ to take out next week plus I was mad keen to try out my recently purchased hammock. All that plus some gorgeous weather made heading to the woods a no-brainer.

Oxshott Woods Recce

As planned I got to Oxshott at just after 8pm and headed into the wood to have a scout around while I still had a bit of light. Even though the weather was perfect I only saw one small group of people, amazing really.

Oxshott Woods Recce

Oxshott Woods Recce

Once I’d had a pleasant look around the wood it was time to find a spot for myself to settle down in. This is the time when I find that I get all nervous. I really want to find somewhere out of the way and ideally hidden from view. It is not helped by wanting to tie a hammock between two trees rather than hole up behind a shrub out of the way. I eventually found somewhere in the middle of the wood and as much out of the way as I could find.

Oxshott Woods Recce

Slinging the hammock really does take just a minute , something I find quite amazing. I then broke out a mini bottle of wine and a travel pillow and, well, lay back and just relaxed as the last rays of the sun filtered through the trees. Hammocks feel quite decadent, especially if booze is present.

After it was dark I got my mummy style sleeping bag set up and I was all snug very quickly. What I didn’t do, however, as it was fairly warm was to put an insulated mat underneath. I regretted this later in the evening as I did get a bit cold.

Oxshott Woods Recce

I woke up in the morning to a some lovely dawn light through the trees. I was tempted just to lounge about for a while, partly because it was just so comfy but also because I had ages till the morning train left. I was also slightly anxious not to be surprised by an enthusiastic dog walker so got up and enjoyed the awesome morning light.

Oxshott Woods Recce

I packed up and then went for a bit of a wander around the wood and being a Sunday I didn’t see anyone, even dog walkers till well after 7am. I had plenty of time to hang out in the sunshine as the first train wasn’t until 0813.

This was a fantastic introduction to hammocking and it was great to get my 5th #microadventure of the year. #16in16 campouts is still on the cards.

Oxshott Woods Recce

View all the photos on Flickr.

 

Iceland Road Trip 2016 – Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Snaefellnes

It was a bit murky this morning. Luckily Iceland still looks amazing in the murk and it had cleared up to some wonderful sunshine by the time we were on our way. We had decided to drive around to Grundarfjörður (on the north shore of the Snaefellsnes Peninsular) and to stop on the way where it looked good.

It was a icy on the roads but the mountains looked amazing covered in fresh powder with blue skies behind them.

Snaefellnes

Snaefellnes

Our main challenge on the day was working out how to fuel up the car (in the UK we are not used to using a card at the pump). We stopped in the pretty town of Stykkisholmur. In our original plan we were going to head over to the Westfjords on the ferry from here, however, the weather was going to get a lot worse the next day and we HAD to make it back to Reykjavik.

Snaefellnes

Stykkisholmur itself looked wonderful in the sunshine, especially from the little hill on the far side of the harbour where we could see Flatey (an island) and the Westfjords themselves. There was also a very cute little lighthouse. You don’t necessarily see it from the pictures but it was about 1 or 2 degrees C and really cold.

Snaefellnes

We had lunch here (the seafood is usually very reliable in Iceland and the soup particularly so) but were disappointed to find the Volcano Museum shut. There was some debate about whether to try the local swimming pool that had been recommended but as our Airbnb was supposed to have a hot tub, we passed on it this time.

We then headed out of town, west towards Grundarfjörður admiring the majestic mountains. Over the last few days we’ve frequently passed little side roads but generally just ignored them. This time Gil asked me to stop (it was my turn at the wheel) and suggested that we investigate. I’m glad that we did as the road (more a track) took us up into the foothills and some snow patches.

Snaefellnes

Snaefellnes

Despite my worries about injuring my already dodgy knee I climbed a couple of the small hills in the valley. Even the small hill was steep and slippery but the views were terrific and well worth it. It was hard to think how this day was going to get better. But it did.

Snaefellnes

The Airbnb that we stayed in had a hot tub that looks out of the magnificent Kirkjufell. As soon as we could we broke open the wine, got in and essentially had a bath with a view. Honestly one of the more surreal experiences of my life. Iceland really feels like a magical place. I can almost believe in the elves and trolls too. Almost.

Iceland

On our last day we took a very leisurely route back to the Keflavik area taking in a few extra sights.

Iceland

Iceland

We had booked a final Airbnb in Vogar near the airport. It turned out to be a lovely little house and Iceland even gave us a beautiful sunset as a last goodbye. I’ll be honest, I was hoping for some northern lights as we were in a good spot for it, however, we weren’t that lucky.

Iceland

We only had a few days for an excursion but (with some luck from the weather) we’d managed to have a brilliant and memorable trip. Huge thanks to Gil and Nicola for being superb travel companions.

Takk.

All photos from the trip on Flickr.