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!

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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

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.