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.

 

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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.”