Thursday, 30 June 2016

30 Days Microadventure

Last night I slept in the woods.

This wasn't something I'd been planning, but it made sense for two reasons, two challenges. The first is Alastair Humphreys' microadventure challenge, or rather his Great British Summer Microadventure Challenge (linky) where he's trying to get an overnight microadventure happening in every county of the UK in June.  A microadventure can be as simple as spending a night sleeping on a hill, a beach or in a wood, preferably without a tent. Now, I've already done one of these, with my overnight stay in North Yorkshire, but last week I discovered that Tyne and Wear hadn't been done yet.  I could hardly leave my home county as a blank space on his map, could I?  Plus, Alistair has prizes to give away, and I could really do with the kit!  (Did I mention his excellent blog? Just follow the link above, and if you like the idea of microadventuring, he's also written a book on it).

The second challenge is the Wildlife Trust's 30 Days Wild challenge, which is coming to an end today.  I've loved doing this but have been struggling a bit for the last week, so I really wanted to finish it off with something special.

Now this was the fourth night this year I've spent sleeping in the wild, but it was very different to the others.  This is because there was no other purpose to it.  I wasn't backpacking and spreading my trip over multiple days.  I wasn't there to see any nocturnal wildlife or to get an early start on a day's birding.  I was purely there for the fun of a night in the woods.  I didn't even take my binoculars or camera! I was also pleasantly surprised how much lighter my pack was without my cooking kit, so maybe it's time to shop for a lightweight stove!  I arrived at the woodland centre at about ten o'clock at night, walked up to a nice, remote spot where I'd actually practiced with my hammock one afternoon in March, spent the night and came home on the first bus at half past five.

Just like in Yorkshire I took my hammock but didn't bother with a tarp cover.  It really makes a huge difference to the feel of it, you feel so much more open and not at all like you would in a tent.  Obviously there's also a big difference in how sheltered you are and I certainly wouldn't fancy a wet or windy night without it, but one of the beauties of microadventuring is that you can easily base it around the weather.  This time though I did throw my new bivvy bag in on top of my sleeping bag for some protection in case of showers.  I discovered it kept me a lot warmer, even if I didn't need the waterproofing.  My hammock has a built-in mosquito net that I hadn't used before last night but that got used too as the midges started biting as I was setting up.

One thing I love about hammock camping is that it totally changes how you look at camping sites.  This is particularly useful in woods, where it's hard to find an open spot that's level and clear of roots and stumps.  With the hammock I don't even need to clear the pine cones away!

I was far from alone in the woods.  There were at least two Tawny Owls calling earlier on, a deer barking off in the distance, and then I was woken shortly after three by a roding Woodcock flying, grunting and whistling over my head.  Shortly after this, the Song Thrushes got the dawn chorus started, with the Woodcock joining in as best he could, before everyone else joined in.  It was a really special treat to be able to just lie there, snug and warm, drifting in and out of sleep to that orchestra and a wonderful way to start the last day of my 30 days wild.  It was made even better when a gorgeous young Fox wandered along the path just a few metres away, totally oblivious to me.

Sleeping up there, I felt like I was somewhere remote, somewhere wild.  It was actually quite startling to see that just five minutes walk had me back at the bus stop on a fairly busy road, and to be back in Newcastle in twenty minutes.

It felt like quite a big leap doing this, in some ways a bigger leap than backpacking across the Highlands or the North York moors, because I was still so close to urban centres, but it's definitely something I'll be doing again!

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