Two Wee Adventurers

Rediscovering the great outdoors with a little one

Tag: family microadventure

August Microadventure: Hill Fort Bivvy

We left our monthly microadventure to the last minute last month, squeezing it into the last couple of days in August. But now into our 7th month of our ‘Year of Microadventures’ (we missed out June) and with plenty of camping in between, packing for a bivvy adventure has become a smoother, more refined process, verging on my ultimate bivvying goal of… spontaneity! It took just an hour and a half between arriving home after a full day in the city, and getting packed up and leaving the house for the night and I’d even managed to bake a batch of oaty banana cookies for breakfast in that time! Go me. I’d also managed to drop a bag size; my backpack was the lightest it’d ever been, partially aided by packing some of the lighter but bulky gear into Finn’s pack on the one hand and the realisation that I could make do without always carrying a book or two in my bag for the one night.

Turning off the main road down a rutted farm track, I could hear the loud barking of several dogs from the building nestled out of sight in the forest a mile away. Our route would lead us directly through the farm yard and although I’m a dog-lover, the thought of being nipped at the ankles by a collie mistaking me (or worse, my son) for a sheep made me think twice. We double backed to the road and were just scouting out a possible alternative, involving jumping a metre wide ditch, crossing a field full of cows and scaling a couple of barbed wire fences, when I saw a car emerging from the forest up the track. Racing back to the junction, hauling our bags, we arrived just in time to halt the car and were assured that the working dogs were tucked up in their kennels for the night so we continued confidently along our original intended route.

Sleeping out regularly each month with nothing between you and the elements brings a new awareness, or rather appreciation, of the changing of the seasons. As it became obvious that the sun would set a full hour and a half earlier than our last bivvy in July, it was a bit of a push to persuade Finn to keep up his pace as we climbed the hill in order to set up camp in the last dregs of daylight, especially so as we passed the impressive remains of an iron age hill fort, (cue Finn launching into his own Celtic battle re-enactment). We eventually found a flattish spot between two ramparts of a second extensive hill fort on top of the hill and put our wee orange toilet trowel to good use in clearing away a carpet of sheep poo – a necessary precaution against ending up face to face with the stuff in the morning.

It was a beautifully calm evening and the atmosphere couldn’t have been more different than our July hill top bivvy when it was blowing a hoolie. The night was so still that we could hear with clear precision the everyday noises from miles around; the hoots of a tawny owl, the occasional barking of a dog from a farm and the traffic from the distant A702.

With an earlier sunset we were also perfectly timed to be snug in our bivvy bags but still awake to watch the stars emerge one by one (in unison with the electric lights from the nearby town of Biggar). A we competed to be the one to spot the most stars Finn whispered “It’s lovely mum. I wish we could live outdoors”. “Well, we could pitch the tent in the garden and sleep out” I replied. “No mum, I mean without the tent. In the bivvy bags”. Oh dear, what have I got myself into?

After a blissfully non-eventful night we woke to the sun behind us andthe town of Biggar below us blanketed in a thick mist. One of the benefits of bivvying is that you see your usual, mundane, day-to-day surroundings with new eyes, from a fresh perspective that makes it feel like you’re on holiday. And another benefit of bivvying (particularly up a hill) is that you get to enjoy a glorious morning walk that’s downhill all the way…

The morning warmed up and we basked in what has felt rather rare in Scotland this summer… sunshine. We took the long way home, not meeting a soul, just a hare and the ubiquitous sheep, until passing the farm. “You’re out and about early” remarked the kindly farmer emerging from a tractor. I came clean and told him we’d slept on the hill. He was nonplussed and only wanted to know whether or not we were ravaged by midges. But no, despite the calm evening we’d managed to thwart the biting beasties once again.

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.

 

 

 

 

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