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!

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!

Microadventure: Oxshott Woods Awesome 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.

#16in16 Awesome Campouts

As another year comes around, what challenges am I going to set myself this time? It needs to be difficult, yet achievable. Additionally I’m inspired by Adam Sultan’s ‘Life Years‘ idea of 16 things in 2016 (he ran 15 marathons in 2015).

Marathons are clearly SO last year (I even did one myself) so it had to be something else – my new passion for camping out, sans tent, microadventure style. Sixteen of them in twelve months. #16in16 if you will.

On a bit of a whim before Christmas I put the word out for people to join me on a pre-Christmas campout at Coombe Hill near Wendover and was amazed that 15 people joined me. Enthused by this and all the people that asked if I was doing any more I sort of undertook to do one a month into 2016.

My super-talented wife Deborah even did this wonderful graphic to use on the Facebook event page. Lucky me!

Sketch 2015-12-13 22_14_03

I’m not sure if I’ll manage to organise group campouts every month this year, but I’ll certainly arrange a few for the first half of 2016. It is especially lovely if I’m helping some people go on their first outing.

So all I have to do is one microadventure a month plus four ‘bonus’ campouts. Seems pretty doable, especially in summer when the weather is likely to be enticing. Stealing away for a night on my holidays is also something I have pencilled in.

Themes
It is tempting to try and keep the ‘awesome campouts’ simple (simple is really good) but I have a few ideas that might help theme them or make them stand out a bit. I’m going to be asking for ideas and i’m sure there will be a few more but here is a start.

  • Mid-week campout – the classic 5-9 microadventure – go somewhere awesome but close to a station after work, get back to the desk by 9am the next day
  • Bushcraft theme – light a fire, make a beer can stove, learn some essential knots, build a shelter, basics of navigation and map-reading (and more?)
  • Cliff-top bivvy – Thinking beachy head (seven sisters)
  • Cycle bivvy – I particularly fancy a cycle to Ditchling Beacon, get to the top and campout there (go into brighton the next day).
  • Storytelling – Ask a professional storyteller along to give us an amazing atmospheric story on a suitable hilltop or in a wood. Small charge (£5 each) for the storyteller.
  • Swim Bivvy – find a spot near some relatively safe water and all have a dip before bed.
  • Beach Bivvy – Sleeping on a beach (preferably a remote one) is on my tick list

Sounds like a lot of fun!