Microadventure: Cycle, run and bivvy at Houghton Forest

This microadventure started with the unusual motivation of needing some new trail running shoes. I had been very happy with my Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes that i had run almost to pieces. When I spotted an event that included a complimentary pair it seemed a no-brainer to sign up.

The SupBikeRun Night Trails offer a 2 hour off road mountain bike in Houghton Forest and the South Down’s followed by a 5-7.5 km trail run. They let you borrow a bike and give you the trainers.

Houghton wood #microadventure

Mountain bike
It was a long drive from London to a small parking bay near Arundel, Sussex and with a bit of traffic congestion I arrived only just in time. With barely any time to say more than ‘hi’ to the three other travellers I found myself quickly paired up with a mountain bike (with ‘fat’ tyres) and we were on our way!

Houghton wood #microadventure

I do a fair amount of exercise but I do hardly any cycling and this was a tough two hours up and around the south downs. The paths were often slippy and muddy and there were a few proper savage climbs. I may have even pushed the bike up a particularly tough bit.

It was, however, pretty cool to be doing this on a crystal clear night under the stars. Finding our way wasn’t too big a problem as we had some powerful ‘exposure’ headlights illuminating the path. I’m told we did a figure eight but to be honest, if our guide Sam had left me behind I may still be up there now! The last section was a fab single track downhill through a tight packed wood. Definitely the highlight for me!

Houghton wood #microadventure

Trail run
It may have only been two hours in real life but it felt like midnight by the time we got back to the cars. Here we had an energy giving giant cookie and a slurp of water before being handed our brand new trail shoes. I was pleased to get a nice blue pair!

Houghton wood #microadventure

Head-torches on, off we went for an invigorating 40 minute trail run through the forest. I’m glad that my new Alpkit headtorch gives out a good 190 lumens as care really needed to be taken with footing with numerous tree roots and branches were there to trip the unwary. Somehow I got through it with no twisted ankles and the shoes turned out to be a perfect fit and really handy on the slippy surface.

Instead of going on forever like the cycle, the run seemed to end before I knew it and we were back at the cars. All good though, what a cool adventure! Shoes showed at least some muddy respectability by then too!

Houghton wood #microadventure

Houghton wood #microadventure

Bivvy in the woods
Feeling a bit tired but far from ‘smashed’ after nearly three hours of zooming around I now had to decide what to do next. I had brought along my #microadventure kit bag but had planned on seeing how I felt on whether to try and stay out or not.

I have to be honest, much more than my previous adventures, I felt really really nervous about this one. If I was nearer to home I may have even gone there, but thankfully I found some ‘steel’, ‘manned-up’, grew a backbone etc. and went for it.

Shouldering my bag I started walking up the gravel path, scanning the forest to side of me for a suitable spot. I wanted somewhere flat(ish) but next to some trees so that I could set up a shelter. This proved a harder set of criteria than I would have imagined. The ground was either clumped with brambles or on a severe slope. Not quite despairing, I carried on till I found something suitable.

Houghton wood #microadventure

Once I picked a spot and had started putting my ‘basha’ [tarpaulin shelter] I relaxed a bit and my nerves went away (for now). Despite only being about 10 metres from the path, my camouflaged basha (plus real leaves scattered on top) made me feel I would be hard to spot from the path if an early morning walker came this way.

The sky was clear now, but rain was due in the morning and I was pleased to be prepared for the worst. By the time I was ‘in bed’ it was 2130 and time to sleep, I was certainly tired enough. It is a bit of a creepy cliche, but the fairly continuous calls of owls did get me nervous again. I wasn’t sure if it was one owl moving about or several answering each other but at one point the calls seemed to be approaching me. I also heard the call of something else, possibly a fox (probably not a werewolf). For a city boy like myself this is all wonderful and at the same time, quite unsettling, especially on my own.

Despite all this, I DID get to sleep and only woke once or twice. It was a cool night but far from bitter and I was cozy and warm. There really is something cool about sleeping with a night breeze on your face.

Not sure it is in the spirit of wild camping but I actually set my alarm for the morning as I wanted to get home as quick as I could. In a mere 15 minutes I was all packed and in another 15 I was back at the car, making myself a quick coffee on the stove before heading home.

What a super evening and night of adventure!

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