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!

How to winter bivvy on a budget

The last two years i’ve enjoyed going on campouts throughout the winter. In the UK this rarely gets too extreme (sub-zero temps are rare) but it is undoubtedly a very different undertaking for someone who has only tried a summer microadventure.

frosty leaf

The obvious answer to this is to pony up and invest in some decent winter kit. A three or four season sleeping bag and maybe an arctic puffa jacket. The trouble is a decent down sleeping bag will set you back several hundred pounds at least. One of the things i truly love about microadventures are that they are pretty inclusive and expressly don’t require a major financial outlay. What to do then?

I have some thoughts on how to stay cozy on those cold cold nights without breaking the bank. I’ve assumed here that someone owns at least a bivvy bag, a sleeping mat and a summer sleeping bag.

Sleeping bag solutions
Ok, so a 1-2 season bag isn’t going to cut it in the winter months. How about buying (or borrowing) a second 1-2 season bag and put one inside the other? Decathlon (one of my favourite shops) do a 2 season synthetic bag for £30.

If you don’t quite want to lay out for (or have to store) another sleeping bag but need a bit ‘extra’, how about a sleeping bag liner. Silk is ideal but expensive so why not try a micro fleece for £15?

Boxhill awesome Campout

Sleeping mats
Some kind of insulating mat is a good idea even in summer months but on frozen ground it’s a good idea to double up (or is that down?). Foam roll mats are relatively cheap but if you want to maximise your ‘bang for your buck’ try something like this aluminium backed roll from Amazon for only £5.70.

Insulating yourself from the ground will make a huge difference in winter.

Hot water bottle
A few pounds will buy yourself a hot waterbottle that you can fill from a stove just before bed. It won’t last all night but it will start you off toasty. You can also get some chemical heaters that may make a useful contribution.

Shorne Woods Country Park

Pack on the layers
I’ve heard quite a few times how not wearing much to bed somehow makes you warmer. The basic laws of thermodynamics refute this i think. In a frosty situation wear many layers, even your coat if you have to. In the morning you can get up and move around to stay warm.

Get some extra socks to go over your normal socks. If you have a spare jumper or coat, put it down the bottom of your bag to keep those toes toasty.

WEAR A WOOLLY HAT, a scarf (or a buff) and some light gloves if need be. If you have a hoody pull it up. The neck and head areas lose a lot of heat otherwise.

Don’t breathe in your sleeping bag
I realise that this is a tough one but try to keep at least your mouth and nose exposed to the air. One of the enemies of warmth is being wet and breathing inside your sleeping bag may keep it damp.

You’ll need the BIG rucksack
Quite a few of the tips i’ve suggested here will add considerable bulk to your microadventure kit – 2 sleeping bags, 2 roll mats, extra clothes, a stove etc.

There is an old trope – light/small, effective, cheap – pick two. In this case i’m suggesting we go for effective and cheap.

Good luck microadventurers! If you have any of your own tips, let me know. 

Boxhill awesome Campout

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!

Expedition: The Tour de Turret

If you read my plan for this trip you’ll know that I was excited but also completely terrified. I have friends who have done much bigger things than a few days of cycling but i’m a believer of finding one’s own level of adventure. For me this is a huge thing (for now) but I hope that it will be another step towards bigger and more ambitious things in the future.

The Tour de Turret would (hopefully) take me 200(ish) miles from Nottingham, via twelve castles, to London. I reckoned on this taking four days with about 50 miles a day and bivvying out the nights in between. I had no exact plan on where I was going to stay, it was going to be ad-hoc microadventure/stealth camp style.

Things started with a bit more excitement than I’d wanted with realising a bit late that I wouldn’t be able to get the tube to St.Pancras (or even into central London) as it was still rush hour. I wanted to conserve my legs but ended up hammering it into town – let’s not start by missing my train!

Day 1 – Nottingham to Tamworth
Despite doing quite a bit of public speaking for my job, I feel very uncomfortable filming myself. Feel lucky that i’ve posted this!

Tour de Turret

Nottingham Castle didn’t actually have much ‘castle’ left after it was razed during the civil war and a previous house was burnt down. The gateway looked alright though! I really felt that if I was going to have any chance of completing this adventure then I needed to get my quota in today and that meant reaching at least Tamworth, 43 miles (70km) away which is on top of the 17km that I cycled to St. Pancras this morning. It was a tall order (but i’m taller).

Tour de Turret

The first leg of my journey took me through Nottingham and soon out into a bit of countryside. A feature of this trip is going to be canals and like many things in life, sometimes they are my friend and sometimes my enemy. Today though, canals were mostly my friend and Google maps (cycle) took me across or down a few so as to avoid roads.

Tour de Turret

Before long I’d arrived at Castle No.2 – Elvaston Castle. ‘But its a house’ I hear you cry! Yes it is, BUT it has castle in its name and look at the crenelations! Plus if you’re going to be picky about this one, there is worse to come I assure you. I, at least, was very happy to have stopped by here.

Tour de Turret

Feeling the pressure of time and the limited daylight hours I pressed on to my next target, the brilliantly named ‘Ashby de-la-Zouche Castle‘ (No.3). Another feature of this trip and another ‘sometimes my friend and sometimes my enemy’ is Google maps (cycle). On the whole it seems to be my friend on the open road but it gives me the right old run-around in any built up area. In Ashby it led me around three sides of the castle including a back alley instead of the short, direct route. I’ll leave further ranting about google maps for later!

Tour de Turret

After Ashby, I started to get a bit tired but promised myself a good meal in Tamworth. This section was mostly an internal argument about whether I wanted a curry or fish and chips or maybe a pizza. Plus where was I going to leave my bike where it wasn’t going to get nicked (I only brought a light flimsy lock).

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

I made it to Tamworth (and its castle) just after five’o’clock and in the end I had a superb curry and a beer and it went a long way towards re-energizing my batteries! By the time I was finished it was dark and I had the small matter of finding somewhere to bed down for the night. No formal campsites for me, I was out to stealth camp!

I had ear-marked some lakes south of Tamworth as having good potential for a bivvy out but getting to them was harder than it seemed. Firstly it was now dark and secondly good’ol google maps sent me down the canal which was narrow and muddy. I ended up walking my bike for at least 2-3 km. Finding a campout spot in the dark is always tricky but even more so when you need to hide a bike as well. Especially when the bike is covered in reflective stickers especially made to be seen in the dark.

After a bit of anguished searching I found what I thought was the perfect spot – a fisherman’s seat/place/hide [not sure what you call them] that was not obvious from the path and would give me a great view of the sunrise in the morning. I unpacked and bedded down for the night only to be woken about an hour later by a couple of guys (fishing wardens I think) who were apparently looking for poachers. Despite not having any means to catch fish (plus I WAS ASLEEP) they insisted that I move on to be on the safe side. For the record this is the first time I’ve ever been moved on! Apparently they caught the reflections of my bike from across the lake.

No one likes being woken up and I had the hassle of packing my gear and then finding somewhere else. About a mile away I found a place set in from the path and hidden by trees that looked ok. It was a lot damper here and as a wildlife bonus I was pooped on by (i think) a bird above me. It was pretty sizable and the thud on my bivvy bag actually woke me up.

Tour de Turret

Day 2 – Tamworth (kind of) to Broughton Castle

At least the night hadn’t been all that cold. That is about as positive as I can make it. The morning was all foggy and dark (no ace sunrise) and after brewing up some coffee and a small bowl of porridge I was actually grateful to be getting on my way.

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

My first castle of the day (No.5 overall) was the privately owned fortified mansion of Maxstoke. With the scary signs in the drive plus some actual people in the gatehouse lodge I didn’t go in. You can (just about) make out a tiny bit of the castle from at the end of the drive.

Tour de Turret

It was a grey, cold cycle and I was more than a bit grateful when I reached Meriden (it claims to be the centre of England) and more specifically a cafe where I was able to get a fry-up and a coffee. On this trip I always ensured that I had enough to eat in my panniers but also took every opportunity to get a proper meal (and get my waterbottles refilled). At the table next to mine was a fabulous couple of old guys having a chat. They seemed so happy and cheerful, even on such a grey morning. Cheered me up a bit too!

Tour de Turret

Back on the road, it wasn’t long before I got to castle no.6 the fabulous looking Kenilworth Castle. Unlike yesterday I actually had a lot more time today to actually look around if I wanted, however, when it came to it I preferred to get some miles clocked while I was still feeling good.

Tour de Turret

A short eight miles further down the road I was in the lovely town of Warwick with what might be one of the best castles on my trip (No. 7 Warwick Castle). I was slightly pre-prepared for the fact that the castle is now more of a theme park than an historical building and I can’t say I was very tempted to go in (not least because of the ‘premium’ cost). I settled instead for an old world looking teashop and a lovely cream tea.

Tour de Turret

Refreshed by coffee and clotted cream I was on my way again. Not far from Warwick I found myself in a suburb of Leamington Spa called Heathcote, which also happens to be my mum’s family name. Is this where my ancestors are from?

Tour de Turret

The countryside for the rest of the day was distinctly more undulating than i’d been used to so far and the hills started to take their toll a bit. At one point near the village of Avon Dassett I saw what looked like an iron age hill-top fort. Bonus ‘castle’ here I reckoned.

Tour de Turret

Although not a fort it did turn out to be excavations from mine workings and they are now a nice looking country park. From this point onwards I was looking out for potential campout sites. I felt that unlike the previous night I wanted to be settled before dark this time.

Tour de Turret

It was a gorgeous late afternoon and castle no. 8 – Broughton Castle (another fortified manor house) looked good in this light. After this my radar was set exclusively to ‘bivvy site’ and I spent an anxious 45 minutes looking for somewhere that was a) near my route, b) hidden from the road and any houses and c) would give me a good view of the sunrise.

Tour de Turret

I still enjoyed the sunset of course! I found a good place in a field, behind a hedgerow. Once dark I unpacked and got in my sleeping bag, even though it was only 1830. It got cold quite quickly but it didn’t matter as I was snug and reading my kindle. I think I was asleep by eight-thirty!

Day 3 – Broughton Castle to The Tower of London

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

After carefully ensuring that I would wake up facing east I was a tad disappointed to find it was grey and cold again. No sunrise for Jason [sad face emoticon].

Sunrise disappointment aside, I’d slept a lot better last night (I did have almost eleven hours). Usual coffee and porridge and I was away. With bivvying there is at least not a lot of faff in the mornings. After a short few miles I was in the twee village of Deddington where I was lucky to see a sign for ‘cafe’ and ‘coffee and breakfast inside’. I wandered into what turned out to be a posh Inn. The staff may have spotted something of the fact that I’d been wearing the same clothes for two days and nights and that i’d literally slept in a hedge. They put me well away from the other normal, I assume sweet smelling, guests. I didn’t care too much and just enjoyed my belgian waffle and bacon.

Tour de Turret

There was not a lot of suffering on the food front on this trip I can assure you! My time filling up on coffee and brekkie also gave the day time to perk up a bit and by the time I got to (Castle no.9) Deddington Castle there was even a bit of sun.

Tour de Turret

From the picture i imagine you’re thinking ‘sure, nice field but where is the castle?’. Well, it got knocked down ok and we only have the earth wall and ditch left. I did warn you earlier that it would get worse. I promise they get better from here on!

Tour de Turret

From here I had a pleasant morning cycling in the chill sunshine, the highlight being to briefly overtake a group of cyclists in lycra (and definitely no panniers). To be fair I think they were going slow waiting for someone to catch up. Or am I just really fast? It is the first one. I caught up on some provisions outside Bicester at a military base before reaching Castle no.10 Boarstall Tower.

Tour de Turret

I knew the tower was closed to visitors and in any case I wasn’t that worried about going in. I was just eating a snack outside, however, when a car comes up the drive and an incredibly posh woman winds down her window to tell me the place is closed. She sounded quite annoyed as folk apparently don’t read the sign and just knock on the door. It turns out that she lived there and its a house when it isn’t an English Heritage tourist trap. I told her about my trip and interest in castles and she softened considerably and said I was welcome to look round the gardens. I think she was on the cusp of inviting me in for tea when I said I had to leave.

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

Following a caffeine top-up in Thame I joined the wonderful Phoenix Trail (and old railway line) where I saw a deer (a mountjac), one of several I saw during the day. The end of this trail brought me to Princes Risborough and the Chilterns.

The thing is I’d vaguely planned to camp somewhere in the chilterns and end my day here. The problem was that it was only 3 o’clock and I was feeling pretty fresh. Well, whilst not quite ‘fresh’ I felt that I could carry on ok. Once past the hills I knew it would be tougher to find somewhere to bivvy so I felt I had to either stop or really go for broke.

Every now and again I want to see if I can really push it and this seemed a good time. Time to put the hammer down and just keep going.

I came unstuck almost immediately by a killer of a hill outside of High Wycombe. It defeated me in that I had to push my bike up most of it. Slough was tough in a different way in that google maps directed me down the major roads which were a nightmare. I never thought I’d be glad to see Eton.

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

It felt really amazing to get to Windsor Castle (a real proper castle!). I was a bit tired now but determined to finish. My initial thought was to get something to eat in Windsor but the place was rammed with tourists and it occurred to me that I should carry on while it was still light.

Crossing back over to Eton I did have a wee in the school sport grounds (out of sight I may add). It’s about as subversive a thing as I can imagine. From here I suffered a number of miles on the bumpy towpath of the Grand Union canal (curse you google maps). I did stop in Chiswick for a sourdough pizza and [cough] a small glass of wine.

Tour de Turret

The last miles were pretty tough as I had to have my ‘city cycling’ wits about me and I was pretty pooped. I was pretty damn chuffed with myself when the Tower of London finally rolled into view.

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

I think I might have clocked up 90-95 miles. Bloody hell that’s a lot! A decent four day cycle in three days! I treated myself to the train home from central London.

This definitely ranks as one of my proudest moments in a while. Beforehand I was incredibly nervous about doing the distance. I also did find it a bit stressful bivvying with the bike, something that I don’t think would have worried me if i’d been walking.

After my epic third day of cycling I was a total zombie and good for nothing the day after. It has made me think though, that if I’d stuck to the 50 miles a day I feel I could have carried that on for some time. Something similar or longer now feels quite doable and I’m already eyeing up ‘Tour de Turret 2’ amongst other projects.

It’s been emotional.

 

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)

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.