Two Wee Adventurers

Rediscovering the great outdoors with a little one

Tag: bivvy

May Microadventure: On the importance of being flexible

Sometimes even the best made plans fall through. Most of the time if there are children involved. Our plan was to hike up a path beside one of the UK’s highest cascading waterfalls and bivvy by the side of an upland loch. Wild. Tick. Dramatic. Tick. Excellent views. Tick. But when we woke yesterday on the morning of our planned May microadventure (sleeping out one night a month as part of our Year of Microadventures) it was raining. It rained. And it rained. And it hailed. And it rained some more. With each torrential shower, my mind conjured up a new plan, from Plan B (postponing), to camping in a tent (Plan C) all the way to Plan E. By the time we left the house, together with another mother and son, we still hadn’t decided where we were going to sleep that night. But as I’m sure you’ve heard adventurers say before, the most important action is to take the first step, or in our case, just get in the car and figure it out when we got there. Wherever “there” might be.

“There” turned out to be a valley leading into rolling, uninhabited hills down a quiet no-through road that I’d always wanted to explore, despite being barely ten miles from home. We scanned the valley sides for a suitable camp spot and parked up, neatly timing our arrival to coincide with a heavier than ever downpour. Reluctant to leave the warm, dry confines of the vehicle we arrived at a new plan, Plan F. Just in time, as the boys were ready to explore NOW! And they were off, straight into the squall.

We scouted out a spot, only just level and wide enough for four, in a coniferous forestry plantation, sacrificing views for shelter. Not my first choice for a bivvy but with the benefit that we didn’t have to venture far from the road to feel like we were deep in the heart of the forest. The trees were so densely packed we couldn’t feel a drop of rain despite the persistent downpour “outside”.

Having earmarked our bed for the night, we fought our way back out through the impenetrable firs and the boys raced up a small hill to explore (the mums wheezing behind). Reaching a grand, old sycamore we were rewarded as the sun lit up the valley below (for all of ten minutes). We made a meal while the boys made a fire and swung each other from the tree.

As the cloud thickened once more and darkness descended, we too descended, collected our bags and entered the forest, where under the trees it was already dark. What we’d neglected to consider was how different a once visited place will appear under the cover of night. We had trouble locating our intended site. The situation became farcical as the four of us scurried around and around in circles, head-torches scanning this way and that. We had underestimated the distance in the dark but eventually found the spot (then had to backtrack to find the various baggage we’d put down while we were searching). Setting up the sleeping bags and getting the boys ready for bed was a task not made any easier by one of the boys who wasn’t able to settle down (mentioning no names!)

I was woken early, for once not by F, but by a vocal and persistent cuckoo, joined in a crescendo by a wood pigeon and pheasant. This however is one of my most savoured times of day on a sleep out under the stars; to enjoy the emerging light, stirring wildlife and awakening of a new day.

In conclusion, on microadventures with children it pays to be flexible. In my mind’s eye I’d envisaged a wild bivvy in the uplands of Scotland, with sweeping views and far from the road. But then there wouldn’t have been the boys’ delight of the fire or the swinging from the trees or the satisfaction not only of surviving a bivouac out in the rain but actually enjoying it.

 

Read more about our January microadventure here

Read more about our February microadventure here

Read more about our March microadventure here

Read more about our April microadventure here

March Microadventure: Woodland Bivvy

I was afraid that last month’s freezing bivvy had put my son off as yesterday he woke in a miserable mood and spent the morning complaining that he didn’t want to go bivvying. By afternoon, after getting hold of some marshmallows and meeting up with our friends who have committed to participating in our Year of Microadventures with us, he had cheered up a little and by evening, while sat around the fire in the evening the boys were declaring how amazing bivvying is.

For each month’s microadventure we are planning to bivvy in a different environment; beach, forest, riverside, hilltop, island. This didn’t quite work out for January and February when we went no further than the neighbour’s garden, but last night we kicked off with somewhere completely new for our first woodland bivvy. Part of the attraction of microadventures for me is that it presents an opportunity to explore your local area and discover somewhere beautiful you never new existed less than ten miles down the road. Being so close to home also makes it easy to get back home for a morning coffee.

We left the boys playing in the stream, pushing each other out of the hammock and building a den while we set up camp and lit a small fire.

The boys whittled sticks for their sausages and we cooked corn cobs in foil in the ashes, followed by tea and hot chocolate and the previously mentioned marshmallows.

Being a person who generally prefers wide, open spaces, I was worried I’d feel a sense of claustrophobia hemmed in by trees, but with the light from the candle lantern and the glow from the fire our camp spot felt cosy and inviting and a safe space rather than a threatening one. It’s also surprising how much darker it is in the forest, with the advantage that Finn thought it was a lot later than it actually was and was persuaded to go to bed earlier than usual.

Unfortunately he can’t be persuaded to sleep any more soundly. Twice he sat up talking in his sleep to himself and a couple more times I found him half out of his sleeping bag and upside down. I didn’t think it was possible to feel too hot out in the woods in early March but the temperature was probably a good ten degrees warmer than on our February bivvy and I was so warm in the night that I woke up and had to strip down to just two thermal layers! After the birds settled down to roost and the owls ceased their hoots and the boys ceased their chatter, a calm silence descended. The trees helped to muffle the sounds outside of our little enclosed space and there was just the gentle tinkling of the small burn a few metres away to lull us to sleep. Being outside enlivens rather than desensitises the senses, and it was easy to appreciate the smell of the damp earth and dried pine needles, the whiff of woodsmoke, the feel of the cool drizzle on my face at intervals during the night, and the occasional gentle gust of cool, unpolluted air.

The boys were full of energy in the morning even if the mums weren’t and there was just enough time for a quick explore down by the river until that well earned (and very much appreciated) cup of coffee back home.

 

 

 

 

The Beach in the Mountains: A Microadventure in Galloway Forest Park

3am Monday morning and while awake suffering a bout of insomnia I decide that Finn and I should take advantage of the forecasted favourable weather to go on another microadventure. Five hours later we were up and getting ourselves sorted for an overnight bivvy at Loch Enoch in Galloway Forest Park. I had envisaged a coastal bivvy but pictures I’d seen of the white granite beaches of Loch Enoch, 500m up in the hills, nestled below southern Scotland’s highest mountain, Merrick, had intrigued me. Apparently the sand here was once collected and sold for sharpening scythes and knives. It looked idyllic and the perfect spot for our first serious hike and wild bivvy with just the two of us. As usual it took longer than expected to pack up and pick up fuel, supplies and a map before we could head on our way.

After a slow drive cross country on winding, sometimes single track roads and a late lunch in the car park at Loch Trool, by 3pm we were on our way up the path leading to Merrick. As we followed the rocky, tumbling burn it felt pleasantly rebellious to be heading out on our adventure while everyone we passed were returning from theirs. Two retired gentlemen stopped to chat when they saw my heavily laden bag and when I told them our plans they looked first at each other, than incredulously at me. When I enquired about the state of the path to Loch Enoch as indicated by my map they suppressed a knowing laugh. “Path? No, there’s no path. Just follow the burn. Why aren’t you taking the Loch Valley route? You do realise you’ve still got a long way to go don’t you?” I laughed nervously and gave them a casual “ah, well, we’re well equipped. We can always sleep wherever”. On the inside I’m starting to panic and question what we’re doing (as I seem to do on every trip…) They looked at me once more, than at Finn. “Well, good luck” they said smugly and were on their way. I decided to dismiss their comments as unwarranted negativity and thought they probably dismissed us as unprepared and naive. Well, I thought, we’d show them! Unfortunately, we were naive (though prepared). The path indicated on our map didn’t exist and the 5 miles or so uphill through what was essentially bog, with thigh high vegetation in parts was excruciatingly slow. As we followed the burn uphill and started to scramble up the steep slopes hemmed in either side by forestry plantation, I realised we were following the wrong burn. Cue another panic. I decided we needed to cross the stream, climb the opposite bank and fight our way through the closely spaced conifers to leave the forest.

 

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Starting off on our journey beside the Buchan Burn

Pausing for a quick snack outside the Culsharg Bothy

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The ‘path’ beside the burn!

Nearing the edge of the plantation we heard voices ahead. We’d not seen a soul since we left the footpath that ascends Merrick and as it was now early evening the voices were quite a surprise, but a welcome one after the earlier minor panic of being lost in the forest. It was a family of five from Germany who turned out to be even happier to see us than we were them, as they really were lost and without a map. I momentarily felt less naive and more prepared as I showed them our position and instructed them on the route back to the car park. We didn’t hang around as the minute we stopped we were ambushed by the scourge of Scottish summer camping. The midge. I fairly dragged Finn over the next stretch of boggy, pathless terrain as to stop or slow down would mean instant attack. Cue another panic. What was I thinking of bringing bivvy bags as opposed to a tent? In Scotland. In August. We’re going to be eaten alive by midges! How could I be so naive? I strode on, head down, aware of the sun starting to go down and busy formulating a back up plan in my head, leaving Finn behind shouting “wait for me mum, WAIT FOR ME!” This was to form the refrain of much of our trip. He is quite happy to walk for miles through pathless bog without complaining, but it has to be at his pace, which was unfortunately slower than that of the midges.

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Looking back to the forestry plantation after the slog up the hill

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The first view of Loch Enoch as we summited the col

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A well earned stop for chocolate rations

I could see the col up ahead over which our destination lay but it took an age to reach and when we did it was a false summit. When we finally reached the col and could see beyond we both gave a whoop of joy at the view of Loch Enoch spread out before us, larger than I imagined, serene and stunningly beautiful. We shouted our thanks to the wind for keeping the midges away and stopped for a celebratory ration of dark chocolate. But not for long. By now it was 7.30pm and where were the fabled beaches? We spotted one directly opposite on the furthest side of the loch. I groaned. I didn’t think I could face skirting the loch for at least another mile over pathless bog. Thankfully, the chocolate had given Finn a spring in his step. He marched straight through the hummocky terrain and ankle deep mud singing the same line of a song over and over and over. For the entire next hour. Despite the monotonous singing I was so grateful for his company and cheerfulness. Tired and fed up of the rough, challenging walking, it was Finn who kept both our spirits up to the end, until finally, at 8.30pm we arrived at our beach. It was simply beautiful and despite wanting to linger and watch the sun set behind Merrick I was conscious of the impending darkness and hurried to set up camp, until Finn stopped me in my tracks. He was singing once again, this time with pure, childlike joy and delight… “I love today, I love today, today is the best day of my life…” For a few minutes time stood still as I watched and wished my husband was there to share the moment too. Finn had declared this tough, relentless slog over bog and moorland as the best day of his life and his expression of joy will forever be one of my cherished memories.

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Arriving at our beach

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Setting up camp

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Dinner with a view

An hour later, tucked up in our sleeping bags and in darkness, the silence was all encompassing. The high elevation of our position and the light breeze was just enough to keep the midges away (thank you, thank you…) Every little noise was amplified by the quiet isolation. We listened to the lapping of the waves on the shore a metre from us, the flapping wings of wild geese taking off from the loch and then a noise that sounded to both Finn and I very much like a wolf. Cue another panic as I tried to recall whether or not wolves had been reintroduced in Scotland. For two hours after Finn had settled down I sat up and looked around nervously at every little sound I heard, but we were utterly alone. The moon was so bright there was no need for a torch. It’s light reflected off the loch and I marvelled at my moon shadow. Then the stars came out. It was spectacular. Galloway Forest Park is one of only a couple of officially designated Dark Sky Reserves in the UK as a lack of light pollution allows for an exceptionally good view of the night sky. Once again I counted my blessings and buried myself deep in my sleeping bag to keep warm.

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The sun rising on a sleeping Finn

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Morning campers!

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Morning storytime

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Finn doing the washing up prior to our ‘dip’ in the loch

The loch looked even more beautiful as the sun rose behind us the next morning. We honoured our usual morning ritual of reading stories in ‘bed’ and followed breakfast with a ‘refreshing’ dip in the icy waters of the loch. I was expecting a more straightforward walk out via Loch Valley as implied by the two gentlemen we met the previous day. They had the last laugh as it was far from it. After the first couple of miles we found a path, but the route was even more boggy than the day before, if that was even possible, and it took an arduous 6.5 hours to get back to the car, accompanied by the ever repeating “WAIT FOR ME MUM!”

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Saying goodbye to Loch Enoch

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Negotiating yet another bog

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The descent from Loch Valley

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Spotting Loch Trool. The end is in sight but still hours away!

As we approached the car we high-fived. We’d done it! All apart from the 2.5 hour drive home. Finn remained awake for the entire journey. I obviously need to think of something a little more adventurous to tire him out next time.
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Our First Bivvy Microadventure

Mum, I just love it!” squealed my overexcited wee boy, his voice muffled by his head half buried in a bivvy bag. Lying back on the surprisingly soft, springy grass, gazing upwards at the wide expanse of blue, smiling contentedly, I was loving it too. We just don’t see clear blue skies so often in South Lanarkshire. We were six miles from home and 468m up on a nondescript but fairly accessible hill. My first overnight bivvy. Finn’s first overnight bivvy. A shared first experience and wonderful memories in the making I hoped.

On our way

I’ve spent a fair few nights out under canvas, including one or two solo camps in the wilderness but this was an entirely different experience, one I’m struggling to put into words so you’ll just have to try it for yourself. To clarify, by bivvy I’m referring to sleeping out under the stars without a tent, in our case using a waterproof ‘bivvy bag’. The seed of this trip was sown over a year ago after picking up Alastair Humphrey’s book “Microadventures”. After reading, then re-reading it, I’d daydreamed of camping out minus the canvas but I hadn’t made the mental leap required to make it happen. So after seeing Alastair’s latest Microadventure Challenge to get an overnight microadventure happening in every county in Great Britain before the end of June and hoping to be the first in South Lanarkshire, it was time to take action.

Setting up camp

The practicalities were as I suspected. No just throwing a few things together in a small 30 litre bag as espoused by Alastair. Packing was a half day expedition in itself. After a manic search for our bright orange survival bag bivvy and remembering we’d cut it into pieces for some creation the previous summer, we made a rush visit to find a bivvy bag for Finn at the only outdoor shop for miles. Lanark Army Navy stores. No cheap orange survival bag replacement but a single oversized camouflage bivvy bag smelling faintly of cigarette smoke. It would have to do. I’d spent all morning psychologically preparing myself for our sleep out on the hills, not to mention the year spent thinking about it.

Watching the sun go down

Hauling a bag containing all we would need for the night wasn’t too challenging. Cajoling a five year old, who would normally be getting ready for bed at this time, up a hill, was a little more so. Still, he was fuelled by excitement and the promise of home-made chocolate brownies when we got to the top. An hour later we had reached our king-sized bed and room with a view for the night. Settling down listening to my husband and son tell each other stories, I was tired but fought against succumbing to sleep, every five minutes forcing my eyes open again to watch the darkening skies and imprint the view in my mind and the contentment in my soul.

The night itself was surprisingly uneventful. I was expecting visits from a myriad inquisitive animals but we saw only sheep, who respectfully kept their distance and heard only birds, which I wish I could have identified from their calls.

Our first bivvy complete!

I can’t say I woke feeling refreshed, but I certainly felt the warm glow of satisfaction from completing something that’d taken a year to work up to. After a quick breakfast and cup of tea, we got packed up (neither as fast or as gracefully as I’d have liked) and were on our way back down the hill. Finn still in his fleecy pyjamas, me, still with a big smug grin on my face.

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