Showing posts with label walking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label walking. Show all posts

Thursday 11 February 2016

A plan starts to form...

A plan

During my 2015 Year of Microadventure challenge*, as suggested by the wonderfully inspirational Alastair Humphreys, I came up with a simple plan: Walk to the office.

Easy, you say? I do that every day, you say? Well, for me it's slightly different. I'm currently an IT consultant, based at my home in South London. My office, however, is in Tewkesbury, in Gloucestersestershire. Have you seen how far that is? I mean, it's nearly in Wales!

A quick look at the map shows it to be around 120 miles. That's 190 km. That's quite a lot. Regardless, my plan is to walk there from home unsupported** this summer. I'll be on my own, which adds to the challenge as, although I've bivvied and camped a fair bit, I've never been camped beyond the garden on my own.

Proposed route

Having had a brief look at the map, I've decided to take the following general route, subject to more detailed planning once I've actually had a closer inspection, of course. I'd favour pleasant scenery and countryside over quicker straight line routes any day. Having said that, my first day will be as direct as possible, to try and clear the urban areas quickly:
  • depart South London
  • head across Richmond Park and cross M4
  • head vaguely across Colne Valley Regional Park
  • cross M25 towards Chilterns, staying north of High Wycombe
  • head west, keeping north of Oxford in direction of Woodstock
  • cross the Cotswolds and over M5
  • arrive Tewkesbury
(I'll figure out how to stick a map in at some point!)

Yes, there are slightly more direct routes. However, they take in areas I'm more familiar with and I want to get out of my comfort zone and give myself a bit of a navigational challenge. I'm also keen to avoid the Thames Path, as I've been walking that in sections with a friend (really need to finish that one day!) so don't want to spoil the fun.


Travel light, travel fast. That's the plan. As I'll be travelling alone, I'm not assuming there'll be much to do in the evenings in a bivvy bag. I'll also be tired from walking so hopefully I'll be able to bed down around 10pm, shortly after the light has fully gone, and get up with the sun. Allowing a bit of slack for distractions I'm hoping I'll be able to manage around 14-15 hours active time (including breaks).
On a recent microadventure jaunt, we covered approximately 22km in around 5 and a half hours along part of the North Downs way with a similar size pack to the one I'm planning to take in favourable conditions. Therefore I'm hoping to achieve it in 4 full days, although I'll probably book the next day as contingency. This is around 48km per day with an average pace of about 3.5 km/h. I'm not looking to crack along at 5km an hour, but fully expecting to put in the hours.

It'll be tough!

Gear, etc.

I'll write some more posts in the coming weeks on my plans for:

  • gear
  • clothing
  • food

So, that's it. Just need to find a date to do it now!

* I've not been terribly organised about documenting my adventures to date. My fellow camper has done better than me with this post (seems to be down at time of writing - sort it out Jayne!)

** I say unsupported. I'm not ruling out the odd pub stop. Purely to refill my water bottle, of course...

Thursday 28 August 2014

"What happens if it rains?"

Leith Hill microadventure

'Sunrise' around 0530. Great views...
In Ronald Turnbull's excellent and highly entertaining 'Book of the Bivvy', he answers the question with a succinct and honest "you get wet". As the following account shows, he was not wrong so I suppose I could argue I was prepared, although sadly in expectation rather than equipment...
We met at Dorking station just after 1800, all geared up for a night in the hills. It was a warm evening, although there was a persistent low cloud base and the promise of rain overnight. I'd given my walking buddy the chance to pull out and we even checked the last trains home - just in case things really turned bad early on. Escape options planned, we hit the footpaths.

A lovely walk

Heading east from the station, we hit the trails across the southern edge of Ranmore common. Although the sky was overcast it turned out to be perfect walking conditions; warm, but not so much as to break into a sweat and not too humid. As a result we made cracking time through woodland and across lush green pasture before turning south onto the Greensand Way.
We passed some stunning Surrey farm houses, wondering whether the beautiful buildings with their colourful rhododendrons and neatly manicured lawns made up for being stuck in the middle of nowhere (well, as remote as it gets round here anyway). The path continued along more fresh green trails through farmland and fisheries, with a decidedly English feel to them.
A grassy bank made an ideal location for a quick packed dinner, just before we entered the woods of Squire's Great Wood as the light started to fade due to cloud.

Night draws in

Headtorches came out shortly after, as the thick trees and gorse closed around us and the thickening cloud and lack of moonlight left us otherwise in near pitch black, despite it only being 2030 in August. Still, good time was made and so we decided to head down into Coldharbour for a nightcap.
If you're in the area, the Plough Inn is worth a visit. It has a good selection of real ales, including some from their own Leith Hill Brewery and has always been welcoming.
The warmth of the bar and the relaxing effects of a couple of pints made it difficult to get the packs back on. One of the locals eyed up our gear and asked if we were headed up the hill for the night with a grin as the barman offered us a B&B room for the night. "No, no", we assured them, "we'll be fine!" In hindsight, £69 may have proved to be a worthwhile expenditure!

Up the hill to bed

Within seconds of leaving the pub the drizzle started. Whether it was the forecast coming true, or because we were walking up into the cloud, by the time we reached the summit it was bucketing it down. Sideways rain, driven by the wind that had picked up over the crest of the hill started to make things rather unpleasant. Surprisingly, perhaps the biggest difficulty was the lack of visibility - too dark without torches, too much glare off the rain and fog with them. Whether on high or low settings, the moisture in the air was seemingly impermeable to light, leaving us to choose possibly the worst possible location to bed down for the night.

Ronald was right

Mr Turnbull was not lying. If it rains, you get wet. Very wet.
In a fit of "oh, it'll be fine", the failure of the tarp I'd ordered to arrive and lack of alternative plans meant we were left with just our bivvy bags for shelter. Whilst I have no doubt my excellent value AlpKit Hunka itself is watertight, it's amazing how much water can leak in through the tiniest face opening. Whether the wind was driving the rain in, condensation from breathing, or water pooling in folds and flowing in I got very, very wet. I woke numerous times through the night, getting progressively wetter and colder. I would not have believed I'd actually slept at all if I hadn't been told I was snoring the next morning. With dripping wet hair, I put on a fleecy hat which proceeded to soak up water like a sponge. In one particularly cold, shivering, miserable waking moment, I saw my other crazy friend's bodybag-like bivvy next to mine and wondering whether there actually was just a corpse inside now, and whether to prod with a stick to see if they were still breathing. The rest of the night passed:
  • 0300 - awake
  • 0330 - need a piss. Shouldn't have had that second pint
  • 0400 - I wonder if we could just get up now and walk? Can't be worse than this.
  • 0430 - only one more hour before I can think about getting up properly
  • 0515 - 15 mins
  • 0530 - right, fuck this. I'm getting up
Finally, the drizzle eased up, just as the grey light of morning allowed us to see Leith Hill Tower for the first time, despite being within 50 metres of it all night.
Still, with dry pants and socks on, the walk down the hill and across to Holmwood station was surprisingly pleasant, with what was possibly the worst night's sleep I've ever had already starting to feel like a surreal dream.
We were back home an hour later, and with a washing machine full of soaking wet gear on the go, I was just settling down to work at 0830 when the doorbell rang...

My tarpaulin had arrived.

Friday 1 August 2014

Microadventures ahoy

Why microadventure?

The term 'microadventure' has become a bit trendy in outdoorsy circles recently, created or at least popularised by the wonderfully unsnobby and inspirational Alistair Humphreys. The concept is simple: Grab a sleeping bag, some cheap basic kit and a bite to eat and head to the hills to spend a night under the stars before returning to real life the following morning; A '5-9' adventure.
As many people find, having a 2 year-old little girl brings many great moments, but often at the expense of time for long weekends away to the Peaks or Lakes, especially living in South London where it's 3-4 hours travel to most 'proper' walking areas.
Missing the opportunity to hike, climb and camp makes the microadventure an appealing alternative to full on camping.

My challenge

With this in mind, I decided to set myself a goal: one night in a bivvy bag each month for a year.

But isn't it going to be cold in the winter?

Er, yes. But I'm hoping that the sunrises on a crisp, clear frosty morning in January, the lush greenness of dewy spring mornings and telling how long until morning by the rotation of the stars will be more than reward. Not to mention the good humour and entertaining company of whoever else is brave enough to join me!