Sunshine and Stargazing in early spring

After two unsuccessful attempts to camp out for the night in February, March had rolled around sooner than expected. After juggling the diary, work and rugby watching commitments for the month I found a window of opportunity and began to form a plan to get away for the night and fuel my hunger for adventure. The original plan was simple. I was working for the day in South Wicklow and had to drive back to the city at the end of the day, so with nothing planned for the following morning it made sense to make the most of my time and stay over on the way back. In my previous post for January I had stayed at a mountain shelter on the side of the Wicklow Way which had proved to be an excellent venue and given me a safe option for the sort of weather you would expect at that time of year. There is a second shelter further north on the Wicklow Way, not far from the village of Laragh, and this was my intended bed for the night.

I awoke early on Saturday morning and was met immediately by streams of sunlight pouring in through the window with the sort of high pressure weather system we have not seen in some months here in Ireland. As I drove down through Wicklow I couldn’t help but think that maybe, just maybe the weather may hold and I may not need the shelter on this occasion. As the day went on I found myself working in a t-shirt with the sun on my back and not a cloud in the sky. At one point I even found myself contemplating a swim in a river on the way to my bivi. This was quickly consigned to the overly optimistic list of ideas, however all thoughts of needing to stay in a shelter were abandoned.

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“All I now had to do was follow the river up-stream until I found a suitable site for my bivi, got bored with walking or ran out of daylight”

Five o’clock rolled around quickly and soon enough I was finished with work and in the car on the way to my new location. After chatting with some friends I had decided to follow their recommendation of walking a few miles to the head of a valley not too far from the Sally Gap, in the Wicklow Mountains National Park, where I had been promised I would find a nice combination of boulders, a river and a remoteness that should provide all I was looking for in a venue. A short drive later I had found the spot I needed to be in and headed off full of excitement and anticipation for the night ahead. I quickly picked up the track and followed it past a small pine forest and down to the river. All I now had to do was follow the river up-stream until I found a suitable site for my bivi, got bored with walking or ran out of daylight. The views of the valley and the surrounding hills were spectacular and I was already glad I had opted for the more authentic bivi rather than the safety of the shelter. As I wandered along the side of the river I found sandy bays, bubbling rapids and even surprised some deer who were near to the river.

IMG_0158After around forty-five minutes walking it was passed sunset and I could tell I did not have much time left if I wanted to cook and set up camp in the daylight. Part of me was torn and wanted to continue to the head of the valley, the other part of me thought it was silly to keep passing up great bivi spots in the quest of finding the head of the valley where it would already be dark and there were no guarantee of a good spot. After a few minutes thought I turned around and headed a short distance back down stream to a soft looking patch of grass next to a small sandy bay without too much background noise from the river; my home for the night.

My first port of call when arriving at a camp is to always get my bed out. I realised years ago when I was a child that it is all to easy to sling your bag down or into a tent and find yourself scrabbling around in the dark hours later when you are tired trying to find your sleeping mat and bag. It seemed slightly strange this time as I had no fixed point of reference apart from which part of grass looked the softest. After deciding upon a less sandy spot of grass I pulled out my stove and began to prepare a hearty meal of noodles and chorizo. This is where learning point number one came- don’t forget your spoon. Miles from anywhere I was now faced with the challenge of how to eat noodles with no utensils. After a few moments of thought I decided the best I could do with the resources available would be to add more water to create a noodle soup and I found I could use the lid of a water bottle as a basic spoon for the solid parts. Whilst I was quite proud of my resourcefulness I have to admit the noodles were cold by the end due to the slow process and care needed when scooping food into your mouth with a water bottle lid.

Having overcome my culinary challenge I climbed into my sleeping bag and watched as the last of the sun disappeared over the hills and the stars began to make an appearance. I must have drifted off as I awoke around an hour later and became aware of a damp patch at the top of my sleeping mat, I quickly realised that dew had fallen and begun to freeze on the outside of my bag. Not a problem but I had not yet put away my boots and stove or properly weatherproofed my bivi for the night. Ten minutes of rushed packing and camp rearranging later I was back in my bag, warm, dry and with my camp all in order and weatherproofed for the night. I love camping and the low temperatures contrasted the warmth and safety I felt inside my bag as I looked out at the stars, igniting the childlike excitement within me and I soon dropped off to sleep, happy and satisfied with my evening.

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There is something special about seeing the sunrise. It is even better if you can do it while still tucked up in bed.

I awoke to a combination of a strange noise and a singular drop of icey water that had fallen from the rim of my bivi bag. I soon realised that the sound was my alarm and that I had slept through the night in a most peaceful and refreshing sleep. As a sat up and started to dig out my alarm from my bag I noticed a rustling cracking noise that seemed unfamiliar. As my eyes cleared and my senses returned it became clear that  the temperature must have dropped further during the night as I was surrounded by a thick white frost and had a healthy layer of frost and ice covered my bivi bag and rucksack. I was both pleased and surprised that I had slept so well in what must have been my coldest bivi to date and was thankful for a good quality sleeping bag and glad I had invested in a bivi-bag with a good hood. Given the temperature and the fact the sun was now up I decided it wasn’t the morning to linger and make coffee on the stove. Within ten minutes I was up and my camp was packed away. All that was left was to take a few photos of the sunrise and to disappear back down the valley leaving nothing apart from a large rectangle of unfrozen ground in the blanket of morning frost.

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“I was surrounded by a thick white frost and had a healthy layer of frost and ice covered my bivi bag and rucksack.”

The smallest of Adventures

It seems longer than just over a week since I was out exploring South Wicklow and writing my previous post. After having an enjoyable and relaxing time I was keen to push on and begin to plan February’s night out. After returning to work I found out I had the combination two days off at the start of the week and my mind started to steadily turn over ideas for the trip. A loose plan was in place that if the weather was suitable and time allowed I would head off again today and return sometime tomorrow from my next dose of adventure.

The forecast was looking good, nothing had come up last minute and it was seeming I would be able to get away again for the second time in two weeks. That was until Sunday morning when I decided I should catch up on some fitness training and somewhere in the process managed to upset my back which responded by refusing to bend very well and reduced my walking speed to that of a child. After accepting any form of trip wasn’t going to happen this week I awoke to a wonderful glow of winter sun on Monday morning but knew any meaningful trip was still out of the question. For those of you who know me, you will know that I do not do staying inside or resting very well unless it comes after a long and sustained period of exertion. As such I decided staying indoors all day was not an option and decided to head to Phoenix Park in Dublin for a short walk and a coffee to see if I could loosen the back up a bit.

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I am very fortunate in that the park is only a short distance from my house allowing me to regularly visit its cafes and to run, cycle and walk there. Upon leaving the house I had no intention of going for an adventure and was certainly not intending to write a blog about my trip. As I left the house for what I thought was going to be a short trip for some fresh air my spirit of adventure began to get the better of me. Two things led to my change of thought. Firstly, my speed was much reduced from my normal pace and I immediately noticed how the slower pace meant I had already begun to pay more attention to the detail of my surroundings. Secondly, I had just received a new phone with a much better camera than my previous one. I had hardly been going for five minutes when the idea of a photo walk came into my mind. I have never been much of a photographer but liked the idea of the challenge and figured that as my pace was reduced I may as well make the most of my lack of speed by trying to hone my creative eye and find a few good things to photograph along the way. Within another five minutes a second thought had struck me; ‘This is the smallest adventure’.

I figured that almost all of the people living in the UK and Ireland probably live within access of a green space, even if only small, that is accessible either by foot, bike or public transport. Whilst this blog and most of my adventurous goals for the year involve wild camping, not all of us have the equipment needed or the desire to stay outdoors for the night. However, most of us would at some point or another venture out to a local green space for a walk, a picnic or a sit on the grass. While this can just be viewed as a trip to the park it only takes a small shift in mindset to become a starting point for adventure. For myself there are a few key characteristics I enjoy about my wild camping trips:

  • I am doing something different in an environment that is usually quieter and more natural than my normal day-to-day environment.
  • I am exploring and discovering a new place and learning from my surroundings.
  • I have time to relax and reflect.
  • There is an element of challenge to the activity I am undertaking.
The added challenge of the 'Photo Walk' made all the difference to the trip

The added challenge of the ‘Photo Walk’ made all the difference to the trip

As I continued on my way I realised that what had started as a short walk to a cafe with an added challenge of photography had the potential to be something more. After deciding not to stop at the cafe as I was only just getting started I found that I noticed an entire pond in the trees near the main road through the park which I had never seen before. My slower pace allowed me to notice the regularly placed information signs that taught me some of the history of the park, showing me things I would not otherwise of seen.

Being a weekday the Park was much quieter than at weekends and soon I had left the main road through the park and was surprised by the level of peace and tranquility I found so close to my front door. I began to wish I had brought a stove or a flask so I had an excuse stop and enjoy my new environment with the added sense of self sufficiency I do on camping trips. At one point I realised I was completely alone as I wondered along a leafy path under an archway of trees with the winter sun shining though. I stopped for a few moments to enjoy the solitude and really felt as if I could have been in a much more remote location, in the mountain’s or maybe a forest. I was aware sounds and textures that I had not noticed before and smiled as I continued on my way.

Some of the trees in the park are hundreds of years old

Some of the trees in the park are hundreds of years old

Just as I emerged from the path towards another road through the park I was treated to a special moment. Five or six of the deer that live in the park, completely unaware of my presence, ran across the path and up into the woodland beside it.

Within another five minutes I was back at the gates to the park and on my way home. The whole trip had taken me around two hours. I would normally walk the same route in 40 minutes or run it in 20. In all the times I had done that I had never noticed the detail, the natural beauty or adventure around me. All of this I found within two miles of my front door. You don’t have to be extreme or experienced to enjoy these places, sometimes all we have to do is slow down and use that slower pace to show us more of what is right there for us near where we live. Although I wouldn’t suggest waiting for an injury before you do it.

I was only five minutes away from a busy road but not a person in sight.

I was only five minutes away from a busy road but not a person in sight.

A break in the January weather

It is hard to believe it has been almost a month since I first started the blog and decided to undertake the twelve night challenge. In usual form my month was quickly filled with work commitments, bad weather and the annual winter cold. However, the hardest part of anything is starting. I watched my work schedule closely and managed to arrange a three-day weekend to give me ample time to recover from what may have been a cold and tiring adventure. This lined up nicely with a high pressure weather window, the trip was on.

After speaking to friends and doing some research I decided my first trip away would be to a shelter or small cabin in South Wicklow on a long distance trail called the Wicklow Way. I did not know what to expect when setting off, my experience of these style of shelters in the UK has been mixed, but the location of a dense pine forest gave me comfort that I should a least be able to find some shelter from the weather if things took a turn for the worst.

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I arrived to a small car park off of a back road to be met by afternoon sunshine and most encouragingly, a large map showing me the location of the shelter in the woods. After a short wait a friend arrived who had agreed to join me for an afternoon walk, he wasn’t convinced by the camping idea, and we set off into the trees. After about half a mile of steep climbing the small path we were on joined with a fire road and the going got easier. After roughly another half mile we found the shelter perched picturesquely in a small clearing in the trees. Having found the shelter we decided to push on up the hill and see if we could make it to the top, or at least above the treeline before dark. It wasn’t long before we managed to get above the treeline to see a lovely view of the sun beginning to set over the surrounding hills. They say time and tide wait for no man, and as such we decided it was time to call it a day in order to get back to the shelter before dark.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the shelter. A sign told me the shelter had been constructed in 2006 and the roof had been replaced in 2012. It had a good quality wooden floor, three sides and a sturdy tiled roof that had been designed well to keep out rain and reduce the wind. At this point some of you might be starting to ponder the validity of this location for a ‘camp’. My thoughts would be simple, the ethos of my challenge is simply adventure. It’s not about rules or regulations and I would encourage you not to make yours about rules either. To put it simply I was away from home and I was happy, that is enough for me.

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After a quick coffee from the stove my friend departed back to his car and I was left alone for the night. I quickly went about getting out my sleeping bag, mat and bivi bag and set about making the shelter home for the evening. It doesn’t take me long to make myself at home in these places, as I had said to my friend earlier in the day, I think in many ways I still feel more at home in the outdoors than I do living in the city. There is something I like about the way you have to contrast the big open expanse of nature by making your world smaller. Everyday activities such as being warm and finding or creating shelter focus us on the task in hand for a while, then, once you are comfortable this gives way to an expanse of time to be filled with your own thoughts, creativity and in my case, often a good book.

Be laid out in shelter ready for the night

Bed laid out in shelter ready for the night

Having not been out for a while it was good to see all my skills are still in place and it wasn’t long before I was tucked up in my sleeping bag, hat and gloves enjoying my evening meal of cold pizza and noodle soup made on the stove. At this point I must confess to one of my short comings of the trip, a combination of poor planning and too much sleep on the morning of the adventure had left me slightly short on food. The combination of soup, pizza and Kendal mint cake I had manged to pull together was adequate but only just to see me comfortably through the night. I am normally more prepared than this and would want to highlight to anyone reading this the importance of having both a good quality and quantity of food for such trips as it is an important part of our ability to generate heat from within. I also forgot the mint tea bags I usually take on such trips so no more hot drinks for me as I would have been willing to bet more coffee would not have led to a good nights sleep.

After what felt like a long and enjoyable evening I must have drifted off and before I knew it I had awoken to daylight filling the shelter. As I looked out from the shelter I realised there was a fine mist of rain falling and was glad I had not had to camp in the woods. I was somewhat surprised that see a 4×4 drive past and continue up the fire road as a was still relaxing in my sleeping bag and on a deeper level I think the presence of another person, if only briefly, stirred me to get up and start the day. Within ten minutes I was up and my bag packed. Within an hour I was back at the car and on my way back to the city feeling satisfied and looking forward to a substantial breakfast.

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A year of adventure

For as long as I can remember I have been absorbed by the thought of adventure. When I was a child I was captivated by books such as The Lord of the Rings and Enid Blyton’s Adventure Series. These tales of far off excitement shaped me greatly and as I started to grow up I looked for opportunities to replicate this and build adventure into my life wherever possible. To begin with this included the sort of outings every young boy experiences, trips to the park or a forest with my family and camping in wet fields or staying in a youth hostel for the annual family holiday, being allowed out on my own with friends for the first time and exploring the neighborhood, slowly being allowed to cross bigger roads, find new places to explore and being allowed to return home at a later time.

Since then many years have passed, many great adventures have taken place in my life and I have made many life decisions that have allowed this passion for adventure to remain a central part of my life. However year on year life catches up with you. I find my desires changing and time for adventure is squeezed ever tighter. This year, as I once again embrace the full and busy life I enjoy, I have decided to share it with you. I am no poet or author but have for some years now enjoyed the writing, films and photographs that have accompanied people’s adventures. At first I thought the production of these was only for the ‘big time’ professional adventurers or the occasional highly talented and interesting amateur. It has however occurred to me lately that I now enjoy reading of people’s personal experiences more than I enjoy the far off accounts of people at the top of their game with a lot of stickers from their sponsors to prove it.

The aim of this blog is for me an experiment; a challenge that will last for one year. I hope to enjoy writing it and I hope at least some people will enjoy reading it. I have recently committed to the challenge to go on twelve small adventures this year, one per month, and as such shall also commit to writing a short blog post about each. My aim is not to impress or wow but to show how easy it is to embrace the spirit of adventure within us and to enjoy ourselves in the few precious hours and days we can claw back from the busyness of life.

Please feel free to share it with others you think may enjoy its content and I wish you all a happy and adventurous year.