Back to the Lakes

I lived on the edge of the Lake District for nearly ten years. I loved it there. The Lakes, Rivers and Mountains were like a giant play ground to explore. I studied there and I learnt there. I’ve long-lost count of the days I have walked, scrambled and climbed on the Mountains or the numerous days seeking adventure on the many rivers and lakes it has to offer. But as with all things time moves on and after almost a decade I was ready for a new challenge in a new location.

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As a awoke the sun was shining upon the water

Last week saw me have four days off work and a quick phone call found me a climbing partner and an excuse to head up early on the Thursday before joining a group I know on the Saturday. By Thursday night I was on a stop over in Lancaster to pick up my climbing partner and see my family who I was overdue a visit. Friday did not start as a promisingly as I would have hoped as I drew back the curtains to see grey overcast skies and the drops of rain could be heard bouncing from the pavement. Never-mind, Lancaster is a wonderful City to pass the time in with its History and Architecture. A Full-English and a guide-book purchase later the weather turned and we were back to the plan.

Farleton Crag is in Lancashire and can be seen as you make your way along the M6. It has good road access and a short walk in even if parking is limited. I don’t know how many times I have been to Farleton. I learnt to climb there, did a day of my climbing instructors training there and have taken many groups and friends there over the years. However it has been at least five years, probably more, since I last visited. Its short clean single pitch limestone make it ideal for a quick afternoon out and with grades from Diff to somewhere in the E numbers it has a lot of offer. What followed was an afternoon of smiles and laughter as we scaled the crag re-discovering its joys and reminding me how much I enjoy outdoor climbing. Soon it was time to go and after a quick detour back down to Lancaster I had resupplied with Milk and Beer and was off for stage two.

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The view from Farleton Crag out over Morecambe Bay

It took me a long time to venture into the South Lakes. When I moved to the North Lakes I had little knowledge or experience of the area so I just started on my doorstep and worked outwards. Towards to end of my time though I began to spread further afield and aided by the offer of regular work in the South Lakes I found I spent less time in my familiar localities of Derwent and Ullswater and started to discover a whole new world of Coniston and the Western Fells.

No blog would be complete without a micro-adventure of sorts so with twenty-four hours until I was due to meet up with my friends I felt like a child unleashed into a play area as I pulled into a remote parking spot high far from any main roads or civilisation. Yes it was 11pm, yes it was dark, but when you are an adult with the correct level of experience and know how there are few rules when it comes to staying up late and being outside. I set off along a well used bridal way winding up the fellside in search of Seathwaite Tarn. Seathwaite tarn is an amazing place where the beauty of the natural world meets the resourcefulness of the modern world as it is contained on one end by a dam. After walking for around forty minutes I was soon to arrive at my home for the night.

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My home for the night looking out onto Harter Fell

I pitched my tent on a suitably soft patch of grass and wondered back across to the dam wall a few meters away. At that point I looked up at the stars and relaxed in the knowledge I was completely alone. As midnight passed I sat leaning against the Dam wall enjoying a

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A cold and refreshing place to wash and start the day.

beer and taking in the silhouettes of the mountains that were still just about visible on the ridge lines above.A Peaceful nights sleep followed and I awoke to a bright and sunny day as I emerged from my tent. I made breakfast and took time to explore the Dam and its workings.   I found myself running along the Dam and jumping from stone to stone as I moved across the edge of the tarn. I felt a sense of freedom and energy that had been lacking for a few weeks prior to the trip. After I calmed down I wandered through the Dam workings trying to find where water entered into and out of what I assumed was a hydro-scheme. After I calmed down I returned to my now familiar sitting spot in the sun. I fired up the stove and another cup of tea later I was on my way down.

IMG_1373As I arrived back at the car I met a group of people heading up in the direction I had come from about to spent the day volunteering on an archaeological dig that was happening with aim of trying to learn more of the hills past from times long ago when people had lived higher up into the fells. After a brief chat they disappeared up the hill and I refreshed myself with a wash in a cold mountain stream. I looked at my watch to find it was still early and some hours until I was due to meet my friends. After a few minutes consideration I was off back to Broughton for a visit to a most excellent bakery and a tour of the beaches on the west coast. Memories flooded back as a re-visited the sites and places I use to surround myself with so regularly. After an hour wandering on the beaches it was time to move on. I drove up the West coast of Cumbria on the way to meet my friends happy to be back with a feeling of fulfillment in the land I have explored the most, dreaming of what adventure the summer may have in store.

 

A 5-9 Microadventure

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“What am I doing here? I’m a grown up with a nice house and a wife!” I exclaimed while laughing. I had just got into my bivi bag under the tarp. I was in a small patch of woodland squeezed between a country park and a golf course on the outskirts of Birmingham.

IMG_0994Let me take you back a few hours to three friends gathering together in a pub garden having a beer on a Saturday evening. Only it’s January, its raining and one of the three is refusing to go inside the pub for any reason as he is wearing waterproof trousers. I loved this Microadventure. It is probably the most authentic one I have done yet. Iain and Tom had finished work two hours before and had to be back in again at 10am the next morning meaning we had no chance of going away for the weekend. It was the perfect chance for a night out.

We finished our beer and decided it was time to make our exit. The lady on the next table had clearly had a few and her chat up lines were terrible. Within five minutes we were walking along a muddy footpath in search of our bed for the night. As we approached the top of the hill we emerged from the woods and were met with an amazing view looking out over the lights of Birmingham. Despite a little rain the sky seemed clear and we could see all across the city as people carried on with their evenings activities. It would have been a great place to stop on a dry night but the rain and a nearby car park made it too much of a risk. Instead we pushed on.

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The man who brings scented candles on a Microadventure

Soon we had found a quiet spot in the woods that was at least a little bit less muddy, and being vaguely flat it seemed like a fair spot for the night. This is where I was introduced to a great idea. Iain in his wisdom had brought a pack of tea lights with him. This was a great way of providing some natural light for the bivi that was neither too bright or likely to attract as much attention as a torch would. Secondly they did have a surprisingly noticeable warming effect once we were under the tarp. However, Iain being Iain had insisted on bringing Strawberry and Pomegranate scented tea lights that added a slight questionable edge to the experience that prompted much joking throughout the evening.

The next point of humour was when it came to building the shelter. We had all agreed to bring a tarp, the thinking being that three would be plenty to keep us off the mud and covered from the sky that threatened rain. Iain had decided on a bright yellow tarp. Not the best and it was quickly confined back to his bag for the night. Over to Tom. Tom is usually somewhat reliable and with some sizeable microadventure experience I was expecting good things. What was produced next could maybe be described as a waterproof green table cloth. I say maybe, as this may be a little generous.

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Waking up from a good nights sleep

After much joking and general laughing at Tom’s expense we actually managed to build a pretty good shelter using the table cloth, the third tarp, a pair of walking poles and some bungees. I climbed into my bivi bag and spent the next hour or so sipping port and chatting. I gently drifted off to sleep enjoying the fresh air as I smiled at our creativity and choice of recreation.

Sometime later I awoke, it was light and I felt rested and refreshed. Within a few moments Iain and Tom had also awoken and a flask of coffee was being passed around. The tarps came down, sleeping bags were packed away and we were off on our way. As I looked back over the site I was pleased to see you would not have been able to tell we had been there. As we walked out onto the golf course I was slightly surprised to see more than one pair of golfers already half way through their 18 holes despite the fact it was still only 08:30. In another ten minutes I was back in the car on the way home and Iain and Tom were on their way to work. A proper 5-9 Microadventure.

 

A year of Microadventure – A Review

It feels a long time since I was sat on my sofa in Dublin reading Al Humphreys’ blog (www.alastairhumphreys.com); on the other hand it feels like it has been about five minutes. I enjoy his writing, photography and films and although I’ve never met him he seems to have a down to earth, normal approach to his work with his goal being to help normal people have a better quality of life. I’m not a hundred percent sure but I seem to recall someone on Twitter asking me if I was going to do the year of Microadventure challenge, it may have been Al himself.

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One of the many times I have smiled this year

If you knew me well you would know that many of the wonderful things I have done in life have come from an opportunity arising followed by a laid back thought and reply of “yeah, why not?” This was my thought exactly, I had all the kit and the know how. I was in a completely new environment and life situation and I was looking for a way to stay attached to my love for the outdoors. A few days later I was sat on the sofa again (not as much of a habit as it may be sounding) when another person I follow on Twitter but have never met, Martin Black (www.martinblack.com), encouraged me to write about my experiences, again “Why not?” so I spent the rest of the day looking into how to make a Blog and trying to think what to write.

Since then I have had a wonderful time. In total in 2015 I think I have managed:

4 Nights in my Bivi Bag (1 in sub-zero temperatures)

8 Nights in a tent

2 Nights in a Bothy

I’ve spent time alone in the outdoors, exploring, relaxing and reflecting. I’ve spent a valued twenty four hours in the mountains with my brother-in-law. I was joined by my lovely wife on many occasions, we have laughed and grown together through these experiences and she continues to develop both ability and confidence in the outdoors. I’ve made new friends and shared trips with them. I have met passing friends who’s path I have crossed while out and have enriched my experiences. I’ve traveled to parts of Ireland, England and Wales that I would not have seen if it were not for my goal of one night out a month. I have learnt to be creative in my approach to trips. I have taken photographs and I have attempted to write.

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The frost on my bag back in March. I think this may have been my favorite Bivi of the year.

I have been amazed by the Blog. I have surprised myself by how much I have enjoyed writing it. In it I have discovered a creativity and interest I did not know I possessed. My wife says it is due to all of the books and magazines I have read about adventure. All I know is that I enjoy it. Most amazingly, other people seem to enjoy reading what I share. I honestly would have been happy to have written down my thoughts and experiences for my own benefit and reflection. The fact that people take the time to read and sometimes comment on my story amazes me. For all of those of you have offered compliments and encouragement I am truly grateful.

What next? Well I just spent Saturday night sleeping in some woods on the edge of a golf course so I guess I am not finished with Microadventures. Will I do another round of the Microadventure Challenge, I don’t know. Its been good for me to be outside once a month so I will stick to trying to have one adventure a month, but these may not always involve sleeping out. Who knows though, if the mood takes me a may well do it all again. As for the blog I was initially unsure. My first plan was to write twelve posts and then close the Blog when I finished the challenge. However, as I have already mentioned I have been surprised by the enjoyment it has brought so I will keep it going for now. I think the content will change slightly as the adventures do but I will still aim to write once a month, though as with this whole concept it is to be something that brings joy and not stress.

Thanks again- if any of you are feeling inspired or want to come along then please get in touch.

Have a great 2016

Stu

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A winter tradition

The very first time I wrote for this Blog I wrote a biography which mentioned having grown up as a part of the Scout movement. I learned many of my basic camping craft, navigation and climbing skills here. I am hugely indebted to a group of people who gave up countless hours of their time and holiday allowances to give me a host of experiences I will never forget, all without pay or reward. I am still in touch with many of these people and enjoying time outdoors with these friends whenever I can.

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A great bunch of friends who helped teach me many of my basic outdoor skills.

At the age of 19 I was invited to join a long standing tradition that had already existed for a generation before my own. This was not a Scout event but a group of friends going away, this was a men’s weekend. The concept was simple; one weekend a year, normally the same weekend for ease of planning where a group of men all arrange a weekend free of family and responsibility. In a modern world where many men struggle to spend any meaningful time in friendships I believe this is a great thing for all guys to do. Its not about getting drunk and trying to live like single teenagers. Its about enjoying old friendships and taking some time out of the busyness and stress of life in an environment that is both relaxing and inspiring.

True to form November came and so did our get together. Mid-Wales and the Elan Valley was our destination. One of the guys had found a wonderful Independent Hostel with no mains power or gas. The hostel ran on solar powered water and bottled gas. Its main source of heat was a large log burner in the middle of the lounge and I was impressed to find a full hob and oven running from bottled gas alongside a few extra heavy duty gas burners for boiling drinking water.

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Our home for the weekend. It really was the middle of nowhere.

Myself and a friend, Andy, drove over together and after a few hours and three fords we eventually arrived in the middle of nowhere around 10pm. Our happiness about arriving was slightly thrown when we realised that despite it being quite late, we were the first to arrive. After sliding down a muddy path to the hostel we peered through a few windows and finally managed to rouse the warden from deep within. We were quickly ushered inside and the tour began. The Warden was a slightly eccentric volunteer who’s enthusiasm was quickly explained when she informed us she had not seen another person in the last three days. Within an hour the rest of our party had arrived, much to our relief, and we sat long into the night burning logs, catching up and sampling a few whiskeys that had been brought along.

Before I knew it 9am had rolled around and I had slept through. I arrived downstairs to find most people finished eating and getting ready for a walk. I quickly made some porridge and a flask of coffee and grabbed my ruck-sac in time to join the line of people walking out of the door. What followed was a lovely scenic walk along the river, surrounded by pine forest and broken up with water towers and dams. The rain hammered down but still the colours shone within our surroundings. After a while we joined some of the single track country roads and continued on our way. All thoughts of footpaths and travel across country were abandoned due to the excessive rain and ground water. On the plus side navigation became easy as one of the guys claimed he had literally driven down every road in the area the night before in his attempts to find the Hostel. This appeared to be true as he quite ably directed us through tiny rural worlds with precision.

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Soon we were back at the Hostel warming ourselves by the log burner and drying ourselves out. A most excellent evening followed. We had taken it in turns to provide courses for the evening meal and managed to come up with five, although I am not sure the Rum cake was solid enough to be classified as a course. A game of poker and some more whiskey and we all retired warm, slightly aching and with much laughter shared by all.

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I love the colourful houses you find near the sea

The next day we voted against walking. The ground was sodden, clothes still wet and the weather really was miserable. As we discussed options over breakfast an idea came up; “Let’s go to the beach”. Off we headed to Aberystwyth. I have heard many great things from friends who have studied or lived there but never been myself. As we pulled onto the seafront I was stood between beautiful multicoloured houses, the sort you can only find on the coast, and a raging sea that was very much living up to the moody coastal weather Aberystwyth has become known for. As we took photos of the sea the wind was so strong that we struggled to walk. We headed towards the lighthouse to try and get some pictures. As I looked down at my phone to unlock the camera I felt a soft spray of water against my face and simultaneously heard my friends shouting and laughing. As a looked up it was hard to describe the scene in-front of me; the soft spray of water I had felt had been the end of a huge wave that has made it over the sea wall drenching the rest of our party from head to toe, but had somehow stopped just short of me! So much for a dry day, was the sentiment of much of the laughter that followed. A walk around town and a coffee later we went our separate ways, relaxed, refreshed and tired, to head home to our families, jobs and busy lives, remembering that little bit clearer why we do the things we do and why its important to regularly slow down, unwind and catch up with friends.

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Stormy Skies overlooking Aber

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Sometimes it’s safer not to go walking. The tip of the light house can just be seen within the breaking wave.

 

 

A hut in October

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October signaled wet weather in the UK. Keen to push on with the Microadventure 365 challenge I set out once again, although I had to concede that roofed accommodation was a good choice.

In the summer I moved to Worcester, a new city to me where I only knew around five people none of which were overly interested in the outdoors. While I waited for my job to start I managed to pick up some shifts in  a local outdoor shop. I was pleased to find one of the guys there already knew all about Microadventures and another who is a keen walker and camper and happy to have the excuse for more time outdoors. Quickly a plan was hatched and we were off to Snowdonia for the weekend.

IMG_0819I love Snowdonia. It holds many memories for me from when I graduated, from walking in the Peak District to exploring the mountains, scrambles and rock climbs of Wales. This was when I was aged around 15-19 and struggling with teenage life as many of us did or still do. I found the sense of adventure and achievement refreshing and inspiring as I wrestled with my final years at school. I have enjoyed many adventures there ever since and try to make a point of visiting at least once a year. A personal highlight was in 2011 when I successfully completed the 14 3000’s of Wales with a great friend.

As we left the car it was already dark and raining as we started the steep ascent up the side of the Carnedds. Tom had had to pull out at the last minute so it was just Iain and myself for the trip. After a long and damp climb we arrived at a very soggy tarn that was to be our home for the night and after pitching the tent on the least wet piece of ground we could find we tried to settle in for the night. I awoke the next morning having slept for about two hours between the continual buffeting of the tent by the wind and rain and the occasional look outside to make sure the porch hadn’t blown away. Luckily Iain was also able to see the funny side of the situation and as we got in with our boil in the bag breakfast and coffee the hilarity was added to further when I found my right boot had blown out of the porch and was now literally filled with water (I still think Iain pushed it out). After further laughter we set off again into the cloud.

There was nothing notable about our walk over the Carnedd’s. It was wet, there was nothing to see and to be honest I wondered why I was even there. We tried to make the most if it, chatting as the wind allowed. We could not have been happier as we descended from the Carnedds and finally dropped below the cloud. After passing a lovely picturesque quarry we found the only thing that had kept us going- as we rounded the corner we saw a old stone shepherds hut which was to be our home for the next 24 hours.

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A fire place was a welcome exchange from the tent.

I don’t know if you have been to a Bothy, but if you haven’t you should. They are scattered across England, Scotland and Wales and are open and free of charge to stay the night. They are often overseen by the Mountain Bothy Association (www.mountainbothies.org.uk) but most keep running on good will and responsibilities taken care of by volunteers. They are often quite basic but usually have a fire place, walls and a roof; what more could you need?

As we arrived the door swung open and we were greeted by a smiling face: “Are you coming in?” I explained that would very much like to given the weather and we were welcomed inside. Then came the next question “Do you have any wood for the fire?” I looked at Iain, he looked and me and we both looked at the floor. Bothies are a wonderful shared space that ask very little but the there are two rules that really must be adhered to:

  1. Leave the Bothy as you found it if not better than you find it
  2. Bring some wood for the fire

We explained that we did not as we had not been planning to stay but had more retreated there to get out of the rain. Again we were greeted with a smile as a second walker emerged from the other room and greeted us with the warm offer, before even exchanging names, “Would you like some Port?”

What followed can only be described as excellent- for the rest of the day we sat chatting, eating, drinking and trying to make whatever small pieces of wood and heather we could find last as long as possible in the fire. There was a warmth greater than that of the small fire and it reminded me of the warmth and sense of community and fun I had found when I first discovered the outdoor community fifteen years before.

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The short walk to our lift was a welcome surprise compared to the planned route back over the Mountains.

As the evening rolled on another couple arrived, greetings were exchanged and two more seats were pulled up by the fire. The model continued; polite questions about each others day were asked and answered, everyone smiled as they thought back to the bad weather we were so happy to have escaped and before we knew it we were all once again laughing and chatting as if we had known each other for years. Eventually we all drifted off to sleep by the last few twigs in the fire, happy that we had walls and a roof to keep us dry and safe. As we awoke and breakfasted Iain and I were less than amused by the idea of a fourteen mile walk back over the Carnedds in soaking wet kit in the wind and rain. I could not have been happier when without a word from ourselves the question came “Would you like a lift?” Within and hour we were all back at the car park. Seven of us loaded into a 4×4 and promptly delivered back to our car. At the end of a brilliant twenty four hours I thanked our new friend and offered him some fuel money for the journey. He simply smiled and replied “Next time you are in a Bothy, Leave some logs for the next people.”

 

A Motorway, A Railway and a night out under the stars.

It was 10:30pm on a Thursday night. I had had a fairly normal day, been to work, come home, spent the evening chatting with my wife and watching TV. I walked out of my front door under a sky full of stars, the moon shining brightly and I turned right. I walked for a few hundred meters along the road with the occasional car passing by until after a minute or two I found the entrance to a footpath I was looking for. Although it was dark the moon and the stars provided enough light for me to make my way along it, passing a few houses and crossing the railway until I arrived in a field. This was to be my home for the next eight hours.

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Looking back across the field that had been my home for the last eight hours

September had been a busy month having moved to a new city and settling into new friendships and a new job. I had a great time exploring the roads near my house by bike and walking in the Malvern Hills when time allowed. One thing I was keen to do however was to try and keep Septembers Microadventure as close to home as possible. I had not been able to do this living in Dublin due to my inner city location and safety concerns had always led me to travel further afield for my nights away. This time it was different. I had spent a few hours the week before looking at maps and trying to scout out local woodland. The evening before I had stopped off at a small patch of woodland I had seen on the map and cycled past on previous occasions. In theory it looked like it should be good but when I arrived I found the footpath to be overlooked by a farm and a few houses and the woodland itself was too dense and overgrown to be of any use to me.

Having run several thoughts through my mind for the past twenty four hours I had created and dismissed a number of ideas. They ranged from trying to arrive late and use the woods I had found the previous evening to sleeping in my own back garden. After reflection I decided the woods were a non-starter and felt a little silly at the idea of sleeping in my garden as it is overlooked by neighboring houses. The idea to simply walk from my own front door appealed the most, so in the end I did.

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My bed for the night

When I arrived at the end of my moonlit footpath I was expecting to see a field about waist deep in corn. This is what I had seen previously when walking there. However it had been a few weeks since my last visit, during this time it was clearly harvest season as the field was now bare and plowed ready for its next season of growth. In reality this didn’t make much difference as it was dark and I was leaving early. I walked around to the far side of the field and found a nice grassed area just off of the footpath. I continued my circle of the field but soon returned to my first location knowing it was my best option for the night.

There was a element of contrast to this particular field that I enjoyed and had led to me choosing this particular field. Along one side runs the M5 motorway and another a the railway that would be carrying commuters to work the next morning. However in my particular spot I was away from both of these. Shielded from the lights and noise of the motorway by a small cluster of trees. Looking towards the lights of Malvern in the distance, still able to clearly see the silhouettes of the Malvern Hills in the moonlightI laid out my bed for the night and pulled out a flask of mint tea as I sat and enjoyed the moonlight. It was quiet and peaceful. No more than five minutes walk from my front door and no one knew I was there. It was a surprisingly mild night given the clear sky and I enjoyed lying in my bivi watching the stars as I dropped off to sleep. I stirred a few times in the night and again saw the stars and the hills in the moonlight.

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Still looking slightly sleepy as I emerge from my sleeping bag

Before I knew it my alarm was sounding from within my rucksack, gently waking me. It was still dark as I got out of my Bivi and started to clear away my bed. I packed my bag and enjoyed walking back around the field to rejoin the footpath. As I began my short walk home I stopped and looked at the motorway and railway, reflecting upon the number of people who would be traveling along them that day. As I walked back along the road the early morning sounds of birds singing and the world beginning to stir could be heard in the distance. By 7am I was back in my kitchen making a cup of tea, happy that I had achieved another night out and looking forward to the day ahead.

Back home in the Lake District

It was now August, the project has been going well and a lot had happened since my last Microadventure. One of the things that excited me when I first heard about the year of Microadventure was the idea that I may be able to share my experiences with others. Before my move to Ireland I had lived in the Lake District for 10 years, most of which I had been working as an Outdoor Instructor and as such got to know the area fairly well. I love the Lakes, I love the landscape, I love the memories I have and I love the almost endless possibilities for adventure that exist there if you have an active imagination and a little know how.

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The Old Man of Coniston was to be our playground for the next 24 hours

I was also excited for this adventure as it had been planned for some months. In my final few years in the Lakes I had regularly spent time there with my brother-in-law. We had walked, scrambled and on a few occasions when the weather and diaries had played ball we had even managed to get out for some winter mountaineering. Since then I had moved to Ireland and he had become a father for the first time and started a new job. After chatting to him on the phone one evening it was clear that while he was doing a great job in his new found role of being a Dad and had worked hard to settle into his new job he was starting to feel the strain. He hadn’t been in the outdoors for a while and hadn’t been finding much by the way of time to relax and recharge. I suggested as I was returning to the UK in August we should block out a night when I arrived and we should get away to the mountains.

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‘The Pudding Stone’ our lunch stop showing some atmospheric weather was about to arrive

We set off from Lancaster on Saturday morning and about an hour later arrived in Coniston. I like Coniston. It is a great mix of lake district history, has an outstanding mountain and lake and if this is not enough it is home to one of the best brewery’s in the UK. As such it is hardly surprising it has provided a popular location for tourists and adventurers alike. Having spent many days in the hills around the Old Man of Coniston the aim was simple; to have fun, stay out for the night and attempt to ‘play the mountain’. Too often when we head to the hills we are full of goals and targets that must be reached. I have lost count of the amount of times I have seen a person in the mountains so obsessed by a goal they have set themselves, usually the summit, that they miss out on a whole world of joy and adventure that is all around them. Whilst route planning, summits and clear footpaths are all important and for many a vital part of mountain safety, for an experienced walker they can also start to become restrictive. Instead we decided to return to a more simplistic approach in an aim to find as much interest and fun along the way. I had a rough plan in my head, no fixed place to camp although I know of many, and a vague idea of route. We headed off with rucksacks packed and enough food for twenty four hours.

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Seathwaite tarn provided a brilliant home for the night

The end result of our ‘play the mountain’ approach was brilliant. We scrambled, we explored, we discovered and reflected upon the industrial history of the mountain. We took our time, we didn’t rush and most of all we weren’t consumed by a need to get to the summit. We chatted, we laughed and we challenged ourselves. After an enjoyable day, even if it did rain as we finally decided to visit the summit, we dropped down to Seathwaite Tarn and set about choosing a suitable campsite. We found a wonderful strip of land that jutted out slightly into the Tarn leaving us with water on three sides. As we relaxed in our camp we drank tea and ate dinner. As darkness descended we were given a real treat. I don’t recall a night in all my time in the mountains when I have seen as many stars in the sky. It was wonderful. We saw constellations and meteorites, we chatted and we laughed, there was even a hipflask of whiskey to share. After a long and enjoyable evening we climbed into our sleeping bags and drifted off to sleep.

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The industrial heritage of Coniston has left much to see and explore

The next morning we awoke, packed up our camp in a leisurely manner and had breakfast. We took our time as we slogged up the steep climb from our temporary home to the top of Dow Crag.  As we scrambled across the views we looked down over the crag and enjoyed the atmospheric environment some low cloud was providing. As we walked down the Walna-scar road we stopped and drank from a stream, the sort of crisp fresh stream that is only found in the mountains.

Shortly over twenty four hours after we started we were sat in a beer garden back in Coniston. Drink in hand and lunch on the table in front of us. We sat and ate quietly with a smile on our face. There was little left to say and no need to say very much. Our night away had done all we had needed it to. We were relaxed, we were happy and we were rested. Our idea of little by the way of a planning and allowing time to explore and let our route be decided by impulse, fun and discovery had worked. As we drove home in search of a shower and to prepare to return to work on Monday we felt satisfied. Another Microadventure was complete and we were all the happier for it.

Exploring the West Coast of Ireland

July had been a busy month. Between planning a move back to the UK and finishing up with work there hadn’t been much by the way of relaxation and there were still a few things left on the ‘to do list’. With boxes packed and vans booked I had managed to sneak a small window of three days before the move happened. It was July; I hadn’t been on holiday and I was in need of fitting in a Microadventure to stay on track with the challenge. During my time in Ireland my exploration of the West Coast had been limited to a day out in Galway and June’s Microadventure to Connemara. All year I had been hearing stories and recommendations so the decision was simple; it was time to go.

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Simple things….

By this stage Katie and I had become masters of packing our small car and in no time at all we were on our way. A few hours later and a slight detour to see and old church we arrived in Doolin. Doolin was to be our home for the next three days. We found a wonderful quiet corner on a campsite near a stream and began to settle in. I’ve never really been one for campsites and the towering shadows of motor homes and caravans that seemed to carry more possessions than my house dwarfed our small mountain tent and stove. On the plus side we had found our camping chairs under the stairs, I hadn’t left them in the UK as I had thought all year, and I had a new cup. Therefore I was happy. By now I have become fairly creative with camp cooking and set about cooking my one pot favorite of bacon and chickpeas. As I tucked into my hearty meal and thought about going to bed I felt the most relaxed I had in weeks. Time spent sleeping outdoors was working its wonders on me again.

IMG_1178The next day we awoke bright and early feeling refreshed and ready for a day of exploring. Despite the odd complaint about how small the tent was Katie was making great progress at living in such a small space and a simple breakfast of sausages and beans was soon being consumed. Our main attraction for the trip was to see a wonderful and impressive display of nature that we had been told about more times than I could remember since arriving in Ireland. The Cliffs of Moher are 214 meters high and home to many sea birds and powerful rock formations. Upon arrival we had to wade through the usual queues of bus tours and holiday makers and after skimming over the visitor center to due its huge population of people we began exploring the cliffs. It was wonderful to walk along the cliff tops and see the many sea birds nesting and flying below. It was as we headed north along the cliff tops I began to feel really impressed with the view that met me. I am often disappointed when visiting such places due there lack of authentic nature and the effect of tourism and popularity. I like to be able to experience and touch the natural wonders that I see, to place my hand in a mountain stream or to feel the cold hard texture of rocks as I scramble upon them. I prefer to have worked hard to have an individual and authentic experience with nature rather than just role up in a car and join a queue.

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We spent time talking and laughing, sitting on the edge, a childlike sense of exhilaration and slight nerves due to the vast drop below.

As I rounded the corner and walked over the cliffs I found the part of the cliffs I had been waiting for. Unspoilt, unfenced access to the cliff tops where I could begin to explore and experience the cliffs without restraint, having to rely on my own wisdom and sense for safety instead of a barrier and a warning sign. The views were wonderful and the sea a beautiful blend of blue and green. It was hard to know where the sky and the sea joined and the height and exposure were a mixture of exciting, intimidating and impressive all at the same time. We spent time talking and laughing, sitting on the edge, a childlike sense of exhilaration and slight nerves due to the vast drop below. We tried to capture some photos on our phones but the combination of the wind and the fear of dropping them made things hard. After a while we walked back smiling, in a place full of tourists and coach trips we had found our own small adventure, shared with just the two of us and the cliffs. Others were nearby and had clearly had there own adventure, experienced the same cliffs in a similar way. On a deeper level though they had not felt what I had and neither had I known their feelings and experiences either. This wonder and joy of exploring an unknown environment was completed the next day as we took a boat trip around the bottom of the cliffs and again saw the magnitude and towering height of the bands of rock stacked one upon another.

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The view from the sea was just as impressive

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Camping continued to be fun

Camping continued to be fun. We walked more, we talked more than we usually would and we enjoyed ourselves. We slept well and made the most of the good weather. We visited islands, found a ship wreck and rode bicycles along deserted roads. We cooked outside, we ate outside, we slept under two thin sheets of material. It was the perfect way to finish our time in Ireland. Did we complete our ‘to do list’ for all we wanted in a year in Ireland? No. Have we seen enough to excite us to come back and explore further? Of course. It had been a delightful year of living in a city and exploring the countryside as and when we could. During this time Microadventures have given me two things. Firstly they have brought the escapism from a busy life that I so dearly need. They had encouraged and at times forced me to make plans and stick to them, to research and to plan. They had also given me an exciting excuse to travel further afield and to see more of the country in which I was living. Most of all they helped me to have fun at times when other areas of life were not, and they had brought a sense of excitement that I have much enjoyed.

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We found an amazing ship wreck

Three days later I was stood back in my living room surrounded by a large stack of boxes containing our home. I felt calm, I felt refreshed and I felt ready for the challenge of a new chapter. Would I have felt the same if I hadn’t made time for the trip? I guess we will never know. I’m glad I did however, and I shall continue to seek out time to relax and explore as a part of a busy modern day lifestyle, if for no other reason than that I enjoy it!

Two nights in June

With alarming speed another month had rolled around with little time for personal adventure in among the long hot days that had been filling my time since a stolen night at the end of April. I was overdue a night out now having missed a month and was starting to get restless. The diary was busy and only seemed to be getting busier. I hadn’t managed to spend much quality time with my wife lately and I was more aware than ever that we needed some time away, even if only a night.

As I was reflecting on this situation my phone buzzed telling me of yet another email that would probably need my attention:

“Stu, we will be in Connermara for two weeks from Wednesday. Camping just outside of Clifden and will have the boat with us. It would be great to see you.”

This was the excuse I had been waiting for. My Aunty and Uncle have been holidaying in Connermara for the last five or six years with there sailing boat and camping on a lovely campsite right on top of the cliffs near some picturesque beaches and coastline. They had suggested we join them as soon as we announced we were moving to Dublin the previous summer. I had heard the stories and seen the photos and was filled with the childlike sense of excitement I have come to enjoy in the build up to camping trips. There was also added joy and excitement this time as Katie, my wife, was also able to join me for the trip.

A plan was quickly made that we would leave very early on Saturday morning and would need to be back by mid afternoon on Sunday. I headed down to work on the Friday morning with a smile on my face and a pile of camping gear awaiting my return home. Half way though the day I recieved a call from Katie:

“Stu, I’ve just checked the distance to the campsite. Its further than we thought, it will take us three and a half hours without traffic. I think we should maybe leave as soon as you get home, drive most of the way and find somewhere to wildcamp.”

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It’s always better when your wife can join in the adventure

This was music to my ears. I had secretly been considering this in my planning for the trip but didn’t want to push myself too hard and was aware I wanted it to be an enjoyable and relaxed experience for Katie. I hurried home at the end of the day going via the traditional shop for beer and things you can cook using only one pot. Before we knew it we were on our way and heading back to the West of Ireland for what was only the second time since we arrived nearly a year before. A friend at work had previously mentioned to me that Lough Corrib was a great place for walking and wild camping. Sitting roughly half an hour north of Galway it seemed to be the perfect place to aim for when looking for our home for the first night. We arrived in Oughterard just after ten in the evening giving us roughly an hour of day light to find somewhere to camp and get the tent up before dark.

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Over the last ten years I have had the privilege of having camped in many places, in many countries in tent, bivi and van on campsites and hillsides and on occasion even a few more bizarre places. Out of all of these the one that sits least well with me is the idea of roadside wild-camping. Maybe it is simply that I have less experience of this than other styles of camping. However I still have a slightly uncomfortable feeling that being next to a road, however remote, and outside of a van, I am a little more accessible and therefore vulnerable than I like. The reality of this is that I probably have too much of an overactive imagination. I’ve camped like this quite a few times now all without incident. I do however strongly recommend making sure that you turn up late and leave early. This way I think you are less likely to upset any locals or draw too much attention to yourself. I would also recommend keeping to the general rules of wild camping and making sure you are not in view of any buildings, unless of course you have asked permission, and in my experience the quieter the road the better.

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Stunning views of the Lough Corrib Shoreline

After a short drive we found a wonderful lay-by with a picnic bench or two and a nice small grassed area with a few trees near the lake-shore. It looked like it hadn’t seen much TLC in a while and seemed like it was well off the radar in terms of being disturbed. After a quick walk around and inspection for a suitable flat bit I pulled out the tent and started pitching. At roughly the same time, what I can only describe as a small army of midges, that would make their Scottish cousins proud, descended upon me. I am no stranger to the midge, having traveled in the wilds of Scotland and spent two summers working in a the Canadian wilderness during midge season I know them well enough to know two things; I hate midges and that I have a mild allergic reaction to their bites. It was also at this moment that I remembered my trusty anti-midge cream was sat at home. In a moment of heroics and illogical manliness, I ordered Katie to the car for protection while I stayed and finished putting up the tent. After much laughter and being given a hard time by Katie due to the apparently hilarious theatrics that are witnessed when watching a man battle an army of midges from a safe distance, Katie finally agreed to take my plans seriously as I explained how we would need to to enter the tent with both speed and military precision in order to keep the midges out for the night. After a successful entry to the tent we both settled down and enjoyed a comfy and refreshing nights sleep.

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Apparently there is something funny about a grown man wrestling midges from his tent in the morning. From this photo I can see why…

In the morning we awoke early, full of excitement and joy at the thought of another days adventure, seeing my Aunty and Uncle and the possibility of a trip on a sailing boat. It was at this point Katie spotted the midges on the outside of the tent. After initially being dismissive and thinking she was now only seeing what I had encountered last night, I realised she actually had a point. The army of midges had clearly called for reinforcements and I would have put money on the fact almost every midge in Ireland was now outside waiting for us. After a very speedy exit and some more humorous waving around of a tent to get the midges out we were back in the car and on our way to Clifden, all thoughts of breakfast having been abandoned for the time being.

After a lovely drive through the Connemara National Park we arrived to find a lovely and idyllic campsite perched on the top of the cliffs over looking the coastline. It was obviously a small and very well kept site with a handful of tents and camper vans scattered across the field. In no time at all we found my Aunty and Uncle and were drinking coffee and eating a much needed breakfast of ham and eggs in the comfort of their van. After an hour or so of coffee and relaxing we decided it was time to see if the weather would be kind and to see about the possibility of venturing out in the boat. My Aunty and Uncle are both passionate sailors and I have fond memories of visiting their local sailing club in Llangorse as a child and spending an evening sailing with my cousins. I have sailed a few times with friends in the lakes and whilst I have a basic understanding of wind and dingy sailing I wouldn’t recommend that you lend me a boat. The idea of a day out with experienced sailors filled me with joy. There was also an added element of adventure to the trip for me venturing from the relative safety of lakes and powerboat support to one of the most impressive wilderness in the world; the sea.

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As we arrived to the small remote fishing harbor where the boat was already on the water the coastline looked wonderful and inspiring with its combinations of greens and yellows coming down to meet the greens and blues of the sea.

As we arrived to the small remote fishing harbor where the boat was already on the water the coastline looked wonderful and inspiring with its combinations of greens and yellows coming down to meet the greens and blues of the sea. The wind was blowing and I could tell straight away that the sea was rough. My uncle took a look and announced to the rest of us that we would head out to the boat and take a look to see what the conditions were like. As we got changed and readied the tender to make our journey across to the boat the wind seemed to drop slightly and the sun was seen to make an appearance. Half an hour later we were motoring up the bay and on our way to an afternoon of adventure.

Sailing boats seemed to have always been a mainstay of the childhood books I read that captured my imagination so long ago. Having never lived near the coast, the sea and in particular boats and islands still excite me and stir in me those same feelings I remember feeling as a child sat in bed reading books at bedtime. What followed was one of the most enjoyable afternoons I have experienced in some time. The wind was consistent, the waves were kind and we all had great fun taking it in turns to steer, eat and catch up as the boat carried us through the wind and the waves. Before I knew it three hours had passed and it was time for us to head back in. With a smile on my face and salt in my hair we returned to land feeling a million miles away from our busy lives back in Dublin.

After a lovely fresh fish supper in the local pub and a midge free night back in the tent all that was left was the drive home. After saying our goodbye’s to my Aunty and Uncle we drove back, happy, tired and excited, dreaming up future plans and adventures for the summer that lay ahead. Katie had enjoyed herself and seemed to have rediscovered the love for family camping trips she had enjoyed when she was younger. We arrived back into Dublin mid-afternoon and it was hard to believe that so much had happened in the 36 hours we had been away. It has been a refreshing reminder to us that adventure and relaxation are never as far away as you think.

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I am rarely more happy than when staying in a tent

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The comfort of a campsite was a welcome addition following my battle with the midges

April Fooling and a last minute Microadventure

As I moved into another month and aimed to continue with the year of microadventure, April revealed itself to be a month of high motivation, challenging weather and regular frustration as I wrestled various factors that seemed to repeatedly scatter my best laid plans. After not getting out in March until late in the month April arrived quickly. I had originally planned to head down to South Wicklow early in the month to explore the mountains and find a bivi spot but was forced to cancel last minute when work commitments changed. IMG_0304

Undeterred and with plenty of time left I made plans with a friend to meet after work and head into the hills of North Wicklow. In the build up to the trip I was working in the hills for the two days prior. Day one was the best day in the Hills I have had since moving to Ireland. The weather was wonderful, close to 20 degrees at times. The views were stunning and the scenery around Lough Dan was inspiring. I was working with a wonderful group of young people who were enjoying themselves and engaging well with the environment. Within twenty four hours I was back in the hills the weather had turned, the rain had set in and the environment was completely unrecognisable from the day before. By day three, the day of the trip, the rain had turned to snow. It was a helpful reminder of how the mountain weather can change in a moment and the importance of making good decisions. The trip was off for another week.

Plan three was quick to be formed and one week later my wife had agreed to join me and we planned to head out on the Saturday evening of the bank holiday weekend. Again the build up was good the weather fine and motivation high. Then came Saturday, heavy rain with weather warnings for wind and rain issued. Whilst my wife is a great support to me and loves the outdoor herself, without a huge amount of bivi experience, I felt this was possibly not the night for her to build on this. Being the bank holiday I wasn’t optimistic any of the local huts would be free so I decided we would side with caution and wait for a more favorable day.

At this point I would admit that I thought April may pass me by. In a moment of frustration I even found myself questioning if I would continue with the challenge or if it was unrealistic given the nature of self-employment and a busy life. I quickly banished these thoughts and excepted that while once a month sounds easy in January there will be times where this will be hard to achieve, if it wasn’t I would surely have been getting out for twelve nights a year already, right?

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Stunning views in the Wicklow Mountains

The only other opportunity I could see in the diary was filled by a commitment to lead an overnight expedition with a group of young people working towards there Bronze Gaisce award. Whilst these trips are fun they are also full of hard work and responsibility. I started to think of different blog posts and approaches to writing in a attempt to convince myself that I could somehow justify camping on a campsite with 60 young people would count. Whilst in many ways this would fit well with the ethos of the challenge as it is a night away and being shared with many others I couldn’t help but feel the reason I accepted the challenge in the first place was to allow me to enjoy the outdoor environment away from my work.

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The lakeshore that became my bed for the evening

At half past ten the time was right to act upon a plan I had been quietly forming through the evening. My responsibilities were complete and other staff had now taken responsibly for the young people for the rest of the night. Instead of pitching my tent alongside the other staff tents I grabbed my bivi bag and headed for the far corner of the field. I hopped over the wall and was now on the lakeshore, a nice mix of gravel and sandy beach that felt a million miles away from the busyness of the day. I walked a short way along the beach and found a flat area just the size I needed for a comfortable nights sleep. I pulled out my sleeping bag, climbed in and was immediately greeted by a feeling of relaxation and joy. The contrast of the busy day and large group of people made me appreciate all the more the stolen night I had managed to find and as I laid in my sleeping bag listening to the quiet lapping of the water nearby I knew I had made a good choice. I lay there feeling the cool breeze on my face and soon drifted off to sleep.

I awoke from a deep sleep at around 2am. I knew there was a strong chance of rain given the changeable weather throughout the day. The clouds had been true to form and I was being treated to a few drops that were making it through my vent which had awoken me. I have camped a lot and have bivied in the rain under a trap before but this was the first time I had taken on the challenge of rain with just my bivi bag. I zipped my vent closed, and noted how refreshed I already felt even after only a few hours sleep. I was surprised at how comfortable I was and how the claustrophobic nature of the bivi bag did not bother me. I lay there listening to the patter of rain on the outside of my bag and soon drifted back to sleep.

IMG_0315I awoke some hours later to my alarm sounding. It was clear it had turned into a heavy night of rain, the beach was very wet all around me and there was a lot of water gathered on my bivi and bag that I had been using as a pillow. I was warm and well rested though and after grabbing a few quick photos to document the event it was time to start the day. Upon getting out of my bed I found some water had in fact made it into my bivi, my sleeping mat was wet and sleeping bag damp but not enough to have caused concern in the night. I also discovered the bag I thought would have been water resistant enough to survive the night had not done so and such the contents was now rather wet. It seems like I still have a few lesson’s to learn before mastering Bivi’s in the rain. I jumped back over the wall and was soon back with the group serving breakfast to the young people and helping them pack up camp pleased in the knowledge I had stolen a microadventure back from my busyness and felt all better for it.

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I am always amazed at how well I sleep in my Bivi

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Rain clouds battling with the sunshine in Wicklow