Microadventure: Happy Valley

This is almost pure microadventuring for me: arrive late and leave very early. It was a campout organised by Laura M on behalf of the YesTribe. I put the kids to bed and by the time i got in the south croydon area that ‘happy valley’ is in it was already dark.

Happy valley camp

From the bus stop I had to make my way down some dark paths, through a remote car park (please god let this not be dogging night) and finally into the valley itself. For some reason I thought it would be fun to try and not use a torch (there was a little moonlight). Fifteen minutes of stumbling later I found the spot we’d agreed on but where was everyone? Was that a feint light of a head-torch through the trees? I crept through (ahem, crashed through) the undergrowth till I found my buddies. I was ‘home’.

We sat round in almost a circle, ate cake, biscuits and crisps and told a few stories by torchlight. I love this!

It had rained earlier so the ground was a bit damp and teeming with beetles and other creepy crawlies. In the night I was viciously mauled by a couple of slugs. By which I mean they crawled (or fell) on me and i picked them off.

Campout at dawn

We got up, packed up and were on our way more or less at first light. And what wonderful light!

Sunrise on one side, noon on the other. Perfect.

Fab morning after a lovely campout in Happy Valley

The walk back to Coulsden station over Farthing down was fantastic. This makes it all worthwhile.

This was my 13th campout as part of my #16in16  project. Not many to go now….

Microadventure: Hadleigh Castle 2016

Nearly (but not quite) a year since my first ever bivvy under the stars I found myself back at the wonderful Hadleigh Castle with a mostly new bunch of YesTribers.

Hadleigh Castle 2016

It is amazing how much has changed in the last year. I certainly remember how nervous I was last time, both of meeting a new set of people but also of sleeping out, exposed to the elements and to potential ne’er-do-wells. Now I feel a relatively seasoned microadventurer or at least experienced enough to be giving advice, lending gear and, of course, leading my own campouts.

#microadventure in a castle!

It was a nice change though to not be leading this one and I could take it easy a bit and just enjoy it. The weather looked quite threatening for most of the evening but apart from a few drops we were pretty lucky and it stayed dry.

Hadleigh Castle 2016

Hadleigh Castle 2016

Hadleigh Castle 2016

I even managed to meet up with my friend Sophia, who lives in Leigh over a wonderful breakfast.

Love this place and I’m sure i’ll be coming back again soon. This was my 12th campout of the year as part of my #16in16 project. Only four to go!

Microadventure: SUP the River Cam

It is good every now and again to try something new. If it also scares you a bit all the better right? Well on that slightly iffy principle I signed up to have a go at Stand Up Paddle-boarding (SUP). The sensible thing would have been to have had a few lessons and then planned an adventure. I skipped phase one of that plan and went straight for an expedition.

SUP the Cam

My friend Fiona had already completed the first two parts of her ‘Cam Triathlon’ project (walk and cycle the River Cam) and the SUP was the third and final leg. It was all a bit of a major faff on the logistics side but Fiona managed to organise the hire of some boards and was kind enough to give me a lift there too.

SUP the Cam

So there I was, without any training and only some useful hints from my friends, pushing the board out into the river and I was away. I have to confess that it all felt fairly wobbly and unstable and I was well out of my comfort zone. I did what I often do in these situations and do my best to fake confidence and competence as best I can. Not sure it particularly worked but you have to try!

SUP the Cam

We ambled along on a gorgeous day with loads of people out by the riverbank enjoying the sunshine and opportunity to swim, punt or kayak. I found going at a gentle pace on a calm river to be fairly ok. The excitement levels rose the nearer to Cambridge we got as the number of boats became quite an issue. It was a lot like dodgems and in its own way, quite exciting! So exciting that at one point I fell in. I can’t even blame anyone else, I just lost my balance. If you are going to get a soaking I do recommend that it is on a really hot day when it feels quite refreshing.

SUP the Cam

After we were through Cambridge it dawned on me that we’d really not gone that far and we needed to get down to some hard paddling! This is where I found that pootling along was fun but clocking up the miles was distinctly tougher. I never really got the hang of going in much of a straight line, it was essentially veer one way for a few strokes, change hands on the paddle and veer back again.

We were in the very interesting position of having more people than boards so when we got to the 10 mile mark I was a bit relieved to have someone take over my board for the last bit.

SUP the Cam

Tired but very happy we bivvy’d by the river in the grounds of a pub. This was my 11th campout of 2016 as part of my #16in16 project.

Clearly it was a bit ambitious to sign up to two days of paddle boarding with absolutely no experience or any training. I am a bit disappointed with myself, however, that I didn’t push it a bit more though. On the positive side, I did manage to paddle ten miles which can’t be too bad?

Would I try Stand-up Paddleboarding again? Probably, though it would be good to get some actual lessons on technique. On balance (literally) I think I’m a lot more in favour of kayaking. It seems more efficient and stable a way to travel on water. Time will tell.

SUP the Cam

Microadventure: London to Ditchling Beacon Cycle (and Campout)

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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!