This year, I have discovered the concept of “microadventures” courtesy of Alastair Humphreys wonderful book of the same name. He encourages people to have small scale adventures close to home, making the most of the 5-9. There is a microadventure challenge to spend one night a month during 2015 outside wild camping in a bivvy bag. I started the challenge well in January with a night out under the streetlights in my own tiny suburban back garden. I awoke at 4am to find snow drifting gently down around me, and the world transformed. I had found my bivvy bag ( a waterproof cover that goes over your sleeping bag, and allows you to stay snug and warm, without the cover of a tent) a little restrictive, and the thin foam mat uncomfortable to sleep on, but I was determined to carry on with the challenge. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, life got in the way, with my planned Valentines microadventure scuppered by a horrible flu bug which left me stuck in the house, and the one planned for the end of March was abandoned after we realised that it was not such a great idea to sleep in the woods when there were very high winds forecast.
For April we allowed ourselves no room for excuses. We were well prepared, with new, less restrictive, German army issue bivvy bags and self-inflating sleeping mats that fitted inside the bags. I was spending the weekend in South Devon with my husband P, exploring green lanes (or byways open to all traffic- which you can legally drive along) in our Land Rover Defender. We tagged a day on at the end, and did not book any accommodation, so that we had no choice but to wild camp. After two days exploring the lanes, Easter Sunday dawned bright and sunny, a perfect day to explore beautiful Dartmoor. Early that morning we headed to New Bridge, and walked along the Dart as far as the Sharrah Pool, which I had heard was a beautiful spot. I had no swim suit with me but the water was so beautiful that I was tempted in to the pool for a “wild wade”. It was a good job that I decided not to take a dip, it wasn’t long after I was out of the water and dried off, with trousers back on, that a family out for a walk joined us near the pool! Visiting such a beautiful spot has certainly made me want to try wild swimming.
Following our walk, we visited Buckfast Abbey, we had been staying overlooking the abbey and wanted to have a look inside. It is a very beautiful and tranquil place and, for the purposes of keeping warm during our night on the moor, we purchased some of their famous tonic wine.
As afternoon faded into evening we headed for Harford. We were able to safely park and leave the car there for the night while we made our way up on to the moor. We did not walk far up on to the moor, probably only just over a mile or so. We found a spot among the stone row below Sharp Tor, where the grass was soft and the views of the clear blue sky and down into the valley below were expansive. We pulled out our sleeping bags, mats and bivvy bags ready to settle in to once it was dark and then relaxed with a picnic to watch the sun set. It was a beautiful golden evening, but the temperature soon dropped as the sun fell below the horizon. We sipped on our surprisingly tasty Buckfast to keep out the cold, before wiggling in to our sleeping bags to settle down and watch the stars.
I should confess, that this was the worst part of the whole experience for me. As it transpires, I am a little claustrophobic and can feel quite trapped and panicky when zipped into a sleeping bag and bivvy bag. I may have mentioned, more than once, to my poor husband, exactly how much like a body bag the new bivvy bags felt like. Panic over, and finally settled and warm in our sleeping bags, we settled down to watch the stars. The moon was just past full, and even shining through thin cloud, lit up the moor, but the sky was still dark enough to identify constellations above us, and watch satellites glide by. P was even lucky enough to see a meteorite streak across the sky, sadly, I had just taken off my glasses for the night, so missed it!
Warm and cosy in our sleeping bags, and much more comfortable on our new sleeping mats we spent a restful night on the moor. I slept most of the way through until dawn. I woke as light, slowly bleeding into the sky, began to illuminate the moor, which glistened under a heavy frost, covering not just the grass and gorse, but also our bivvy bags, although we were warm inside them. The moon was still up, setting just before the sun rose over the Eastern Horizon. The valley below was shrouded in mist looking down towards the sea in the distance. After gradually waking and taking in the beautiful start to the day, we packed up, leaving no trace behind, walking off the moor as the sun rose higher and the day warmed, meeting no one but some roaming ponies. Skylarks soared overhead, their beautiful song rising and falling as they danced above our heads. I felt glad to be alive. We were heading on our way by 8.30 in the morning, already discussing when we could next head out for an adventure and where it would be. The challenge is back on!