Have you ever had that thing, when you suddenly discover a whole new way to experience a place?
That’s how it was one sunny weekend this June when Erin Bastian rounded up seven people for some boat-based sea kayaking off the south Cornish coast.
It was one of this year’s improbably hot spells. For three days we launched from the Blue Linnet to kayak in and around the Helford; rock hopping, seal spotting, beach swimming, creek paddling.
The sea kayaks meant we could glide past cormorant nests on exposed, rocky shores and drift silently up tree-framed inlets as egrets took flight.
We picnicked on beaches and spotted wild campsites, swam from the boat before breakfast and jumped from the wheel house roof, plunging into a glassy sea.
There was SUPing, snorkeling and even diving for scallops – a mini foraged feast.
Meals on deck meant always eating with a view; the parade of boats in Falmouth Harbour, the breadth of sea and sky at Helford Creek.
In this liminal space where sea meets shore, and in these small craft, the best way to navigate was via OS Maps. We searched on our phones for places I’d only read or heard about.
Then we paddled there – slow, tranquil, human-powered explorations.
These kinds of times are ones to be treasured. Days of finding new ways to experience a place, of making discoveries, and of opportunities being seized.
Of paddling, swimming and laughing. Of meeting people you’re pretty darned sure you’ll adventure with again.
Days of seeing all you can see and doing all you can do when you GetOutside.
Erin and Jonnie were our kayaking guides and, although this was an informal trip for friends, Erin also runs kayaking trips with Evoke Adventure.
There’ll be fewer people in their homes and beds on July 1st. That’s because that Saturday is Wild Night Out. That’s the national outdoors adventure that’s designed to inspire people of all ages and all abilities to do something active in our great outdoors. Why might you like to give it a try?
Here are my Five Reasons to Love a Wild Night Out
People of all ages LOVE it!
No prizes for guessing who the person on the left is. And – as you can see – all these decades later, being in the outdoors still makes me smile. In fact, I call that expression a GetOutside Grin. You can see it on the faces of people of all ages – from pre-school to pensioners, there’s something similar about the gleam in alfresco eyes. Even in a world where people are so much more used to posing for photos and are adept at arranging their features in a flattering way (someone show me how), photos taken on mountainsides and beaches are often different. You’ll spot it in the scenery, yes, but even more because there’s something unstaged about the grins – something more alive about GetOutside eyes.
Think back to one stand-out, really happy memory. The chances are it relates to your or your child’s childhood. And there’s a fair chance it involved being outside. I can’t honestly say I remember that much (or think that fondly) about getting up – as a child – on weekdays; getting dressed and heading off for school. But I can remember the time my Dad took us off to hear the dawn chorus. We were up way before dawn to walk what felt like miles to an orchard, where we stomped around in wellies trying to keep warm. And then there was a sudden stillness and the sweet, swelling songs of birds. So maybe making memories is about breaking from routines and going somewhere different – even if it’s really close to home. It’s about spending time together, without digital distractions and day-to-day pressures. It’s about being playful and child-like and ready to laugh. Which are all things we tend to do when we GetOutside.
Getting More into the Time
I bet it’s happened to you – you’ve been away for a short while and someone says: “I can’t believe we’re only been here two days, we’ve done so much!” Somehow you’ve crammed much more in. It can happen when you go abroad, discover new places and see new things. But it can also happen when you explore closer to home – crest a hill, see a new view. Simply by sleeping under canvas or in a bivvy bag – even in the garden – you’re transforming your night time routine. Everything is novel, so you notice each aspect more. The result? You feel you’ve done more; you have done more.
Challenges bring their own rewards
It’s often relatively easy to get into bed. Building somewhere to sleep each night takes a little more time. Putting up a tent, wrestling with guy ropes, inflating a roll matt, lighting a stove, is all likely to involve more effort. Which means you value your temporary accommodation more when you’re in it, and you certainly value your warm, dry bed more when you get home. And often camping is more than a little empowering; of course you can do it. Add a wild camping or bivving element – add to the challenge – and you might feel even more rewards. Of many excellent camping trips, the ones that really stand out are those that involved hiking with kit onto Dartmoor (on the Summer Solstice and mid-week) and a first solo bivvy – for me a big challenge, which really brought rewards.
You’re Immersed in Nature
Being really immersed in something can make for a more powerful experience – the film industry know this, hence ‘surround sound’. And we know it too: being in the sea makes you feel more connected to it than just looking at it; cycling a road means you really notice the gradient; hiking along a trail is infinitely more powerful than sitting looking at it on a map. Which means a wild night out is likely to have much more impact – watching out for nocturnal wildlife from a hillside or the garden is more immersive than spotting it on TV from the couch. You’re also more connected to your environment in other ways. If you’re young then getting outside might mean staying up late. If you’re older, it might mean going to bed with the sun, or defying the darkness with a fire. Perhaps it’ll see you toasting marshmallows late at night – you’re allowed, because you’re camping. You’ll be swapping duvets for sleeping bags, doors for zips, and torches for bedside lights. You might be gazing up at the stars from your garden, the moors, a hillside or a sand dune – wherever you are, you’re likely to be wondering at the world.
Wild Night Out encourages people to link up with loved ones and friends and come together to enjoy an outdoor activity on Saturday 1st July 2017. It’s also raising money for two charities: Youth Adventure Trust and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. For more information, to register an interest and to share your experiences, visit:
“Can you be there in 30 minutes?”
It’s the kind of message that spells adventures.
It was late one weekday afternoon in this recent hot spell. The sun was bright. The sky a brilliant blue. And my desk suddenly seemed very unappealing.
Because the mini-adventure being suggested was something I’d never done: swimming – properly swimming – in a Devon river.
No contest. 30 minutes later we were here: toes tickled by sun-warmed grass beside a river that flowed through dappled shade.
Feet in neoprene socks scrambled down the bank, sharp stones dug into toes. Inching in was squealingly cold. Then it’s ‘oh what the heck’ (or words to that effect) and a deep breath and a step and a plunge and: ‘whoosh!’ – cold water gasps and puffs.
Then water-borne conversations about flow and eddies and learning to swim – generations of Devonians have sketched their first strokes in this water. And chats about using the water flow to perfect swimming technique – it’s a natural resistance pool.
Next we were exploring a mini-island, discovering another stretch of water, and playing in a swoosh – the section of current that propels you downriver faster than you can swim, to deposit you safely on a sloping bank.
Blissfully cool. Sunlight glinting on water. Squeals from playing children. Youngsters jumping in.
This is something to value – friends who can unlock new experiences and places.
People, sensations, wild spaces. Playing, learning, enjoying.
A grin-inducing way to GetOutside.
The practical stuff:
I was lucky, a friend knew just where and how to swim. If you don’t, do your research carefully – nationally the Outdoor Swimming Society is a good place to start.
Devon & Cornwall Wild Swimming provides sound regional advice.
While Ordnance Survey maps will help get you wherever you need to go.
In the overall arena of contests and endeavour, the Polkerris Biathlon doesn’t loom large. A 1.5km swim, followed by a 6km run – for some isn’t that far. But for me it was and it underlined five simple truths about why I love to GetOutside.
Completing Not Competing
“Are you competing?” said the guy pointing people towards registration.
“Yes”, I said automatically.
“No”, said my friend at the same time. “We’re taking part”.
And she was right. This wasn’t about speed and race positions. Yes, we were here to challenge ourselves and step outside our comfort zones – but it was more about finishing and having fun.
This is the face of someone who is really very nervous. I love sea bathing, but I’m not a speed or distance gal. 1.5km would be the furthest I’d done. At my painfully slow swimming that’s 45+ minutes in 13 degree seas (in a wetsuit). Worse still it was a blustery day with a four foot swell – from the beach it looked an awfully, awfully long way … Luckily I had two good friends to tell me I’d be fine. Could I do it? I kept wondering, eyeing a very bouncy sea. Their answer, always: “of course you can”.
Trying Something New
If the sea was off-putting, the transition zone was baffling. Great advice from the organisers saw me equipped with a washing up bowl (to rinse sand from your feet before putting them into trainers for the run). And friends had advised on how to dress (a bra under the swim suit was a top tip) but how to best arrange the gear was all very unclear. It adds to nerves when you can’t quite envisage how things will pan out. And everyone else seemed to know just what to do …
This is the route (marked up on OS Maps). While the swim worried me, it didn’t remotely phase my friend. While the run didn’t worry me, that was her bug bear. We could have chosen to do the event as a relay. But we wanted to help each other around. As I plugged away, horribly slowly on the swim, my buddy kept me company – encouraging, chatting, being chilled and calm. She could have swam four times as far (at least), but instead chose to help me. Eventually we made it (yay!!) and we headed onto a sometimes hilly and slippery course. It was now my turn to go a little slower than I could (note: not much slower), as we chatted our way around, taking in the views.
“Failure” & Success
Because of that determination to finish together – to match the pace of each other at our slowest, we came very spectacularly last. But you could also say we triumphed. Not just because that last place – and the spirit in which it was ‘achieved’ – netted a bottle of Prosecco each. But it was a kind of triumph because we’d been bold and stepped outside our comfort zones. Because perhaps the only failure is not to try.
We were there not to compete, but to complete. And we did that in fine style.
Fancy trying something new?
The Ordnance Survey has lots of good ideas on how to GetOutside in its Beginner’s Guides section.
The Polkerris Biathlon was run by the excellent Mad Hatter Sports – they have plenty more events in Cornwall this summer, over a wide range of distances, for you to try.
Let me know how you get on …
When these shoes walked into my life two months ago, they brought more than just a snug, waterproof casing for my feet.
But the Siren Hex Q2s also came with a hashtag: #MyNature. And each time I’ve put them on, they’ve set me thinking – what does MyNature mean to me?
I guess MyNature is those wild spaces, near or far, that you positively itch to explore.
It’s the world beyond the window. The un-glazed horizon of sea and hills.
The limpid, molten mirror of an early morning sea swim.
It’s the trek to the foot of the crag that you know will test and scare you – and the exhilaration when you’ve climbed to the top.
MyNature is pushing beyond your fears and doing that first, solo, beach bivvy.
It’s laughing at the rain as you hike hills, coast paths and moors.
It’s being churned about in Cornish surf, and kayaking in surging waves.
It’s toasting food and toes around a camp fire.
And exploring the shore.
For me MyNature is not about doing these things because you’re an expert – often I’m a beginner.
It’s about trying, and sometimes failing.
But always exploring.
And it’s about letting the outdoors help you connect better with yourself, your world and with family and friends.
Since April, my Merrell Sirens have been on my feet as I’ve embarked on all these adventures. They’ve become my go-to outdoor shoe.
Shoes that keep you dry and help you GetOutside and be wild.
They even make you think.
So that’s MyNature – what’s yours?
When heading off to GetOutside for a day out or an adventure, what’s your default mode of transport? If you’re going camping or even climbing, how would you get there – hop on a bus or walk? Perhaps, although most will load up the car. But could you get to your destination by train?
Camping, by train? What about all the kit?!
For some this simply won’t be an option. But it might work for you. The bags in this photo contain all the kit I recently took when heading off camping. Yep – all my gear. So that includes: tent, sleeping bag, roll mat, stove, cutlery, mess tin, wash kit and towel, thermals, layers, full waterproofs, hat, buff, gloves, clean tops, etc. As I was going climbing it also included climbing shoes, harness, helmet and chalk bag (but not ropes & gear). As I’m a writer and blogger, it also includes iPad, GoPro, notebook and solar charger. And as, bizarrely, I was going onto a posh do in London, it also includes my version (!) of evening smarts. It seems hard to believe, but it is all in there. So is it worth considering what you need to take, what you want to take and whether you might like to leave the car at home…?
But what about the convenience – with a car I can go where I choose!
It may be driving is the best route to your destination. But it might not be. Britain’s train companies can get you very close to (or into) our wild spaces. Perhaps research ways to get to your favourite slice of the great outdoors by rail. I travelled from Plymouth to Sheffield, courtesy of CrossCountry. From Sheffield, the hills and crags of the Peak District are within easy reach. For example, the market town of Hathersage, is 15 minutes from Sheffield by local train – from there you can walk to campsites and climbing crags. The Lake District, Snowdonia, Northumberland, Brecon Beacons, Yorkshire Dales and Moors, Cairngorms, New Forest, Dartmoor, South Downs – various train firms are lining up to take you there or at least very near.
But driving is quicker and cheaper!
It might be. But not always. My Plymouth to Sheffield leg took 5 hours by rail. Driving would have taken around 5 hours too. If you buy early enough (tip: set a diary reminder for when the really cheap tickets go on sale), a single rail ticket can cost around £60. Depending on petrol consumption, you could pay a similar amount to drive the 300 miles. If there’s a group of you, piling into one car will probably be cheaper. But if you’re driving alone, it may be comparable – especially once you add parking fees. And then there’s your time – as a self-employed writer, time spent driving is dead time, but if I go by rail I can write, communicate, plan. You might like to take environmental factors into consideration too.
To be clear: I was lucky – this trip was courtesy of CrossCountry. But that’s not why I’m singing the praises of taking the train – normally, if I can walk, get a local bus, or get there by rail I do. I often find leaving the car behind is a bit liberating – it makes me feel like I’m on holiday. So it’s a thought – it may not suit, it may not be your thing, but is it worth considering whether you can GetOutside by train?
Sunday 7th May 2017
It’s 10.10 at night and I’m sitting on the beach in the dark on my own. I’m propped against a rock, my sleeping bag and roll mat are stretched out in front. A driftwood fire is warming my legs, occasionally the smoke swirls into my eyes.
So what does it feel like to be doing your first solo wild bivvy?
Funnily enough I’m not nervous. I always thought I would be, especially as a woman. Being afraid of being vulnerable always meant I ruled out heading to a wild space, to sleep, without a tent, all alone.
I was nervous earlier – walking the shore with a substantial rucksack as evening drew closer felt very exposed. You think everyone knows what you’re going to do, however much you try to look like you’re on a training hike.
But I’d set out calling this a ‘bivvy reconnaissance’. A recce with full kit, but still a recce – if I didn’t want to stay I’d head home: recce done (tick), not bivvy failed (cross).
So I found myself a stretch of beach where I was tucked completely out of sight. And as I sat there on my rock and the sun got lower, I slowly adjusted to the thought of not going home.
I became more and more comfortable – I could envisage what it would be like to stay. And suddenly I was staying; it was too dark to go back – it felt more dangerous to go back. And I was happy with that.
Now, although the sun set 90 minutes ago, it’s curiously light – ahead in a completely clear sky hangs an almost full moon, with a bright planet just below and to the right.
Odd jumping sand creatures are pinging off my kit – I’m determinedly not thinking about them jumping into my bivvy bag once I’m asleep. But if that’s now the biggest of my worries – I can cope with that. Otherwise it’s still; serene. An owl is hooting. I can hear the waves, see the moon, smell the burnt-out fire. Time to sleep.
Monday 8th May 2017
It’s now about 6.15am. The sun has risen over the headland and is warm on my back. I have a mug of ridiculously strong coffee brewed over a driftwood fire*. The remains of the French bread that was, with cheese, last night’s supper, still tastes good for breakfast. Six oystercatchers have just given a noisy, celebratory fly-past.
I’m thinking back to the night – how I kept waking to peep at the clear sky through the bivvy hood. Each time the moon had tracked to the right taking that planet** with it. Another time the sound of waves woke me – much nearer now. I watched them warily for a while – the piece of advice most people gave me (although I was already onto this one) was to make sure I slept above the tide line …
So how do I feel?
Having done the thing that scared me and made me feel vulnerable? Where I’d let learned fears and perception win out over reality? (the thing that prompted My Solo Wild Bivvy Pledge)
I’m not stoked, not punching the air. But somehow I’m deeply happy – I keep giggling to myself.
I’m relaxed, quietly empowered and somehow more sure. Of me.
I’m also incredibly tired – I really didn’t sleep much at all.
But I’m considering the possibilities and the potential.
And I’m thinking of all the mornings that can be like this.
So what have I learned?
That there are pretty much always people who can provide inspiration and information. On this that came via Phoebe Smith, author of Extreme Sleeps (essential reading). And via an encounter at Women’s Adventure Expo with Erin Bastian and Anna Blackwell – awesome adventurers all.
And that (thank you!) so many people will give support when you do the thing that scares you.
So much so that on a solo bivvy, although there’s no one else there, in some ways you’re not really alone.
Since this first solo bivvy most reactions have been to do with being a woman and feeling vulnerable or not safe. This is tricky, and one solo bivvy down, I’m far from an expert. But my guess is sometimes you should listen to the voice that says you shouldn’t stay – that instinct might keep you safe. But sometimes I’d guess it might be ok to push through and stay on. The skill, perhaps is knowing which to do.
Sometimes being more remote will mean you’re safer from people, but it might mean you’re more at risk from the weather and the terrain. The skill, perhaps is recognising which is which.
Either way you need to do lots of research, make the right preparations and take the right precautions to stay safe***
I’ll continue learning from those who’ve done this before, continue wanting to GetOutside, continue listening to good advice, and continue testing myself.
Yes, sometimes I’ll pack up and come home.
But sometimes a safe space, clear skies and a driftwood fire will keep me outside.
Let me know what you do and how you get on
* A driftwood fire that was contained in a metal fire box, controlled (was on the beach, was near no flammable vegetation and had sand & water to put it out) and was completely cleared up – no bits of burnt wood, charred stone or even piles of ash. Overall, I left no trace 🙂
**I later discovered from outdoors chum Ju Lewis that this planet was in fact Jupiter
***Obviously these are judgments that must rest with you alone – this post shouldn’t be the basis of decisions (and can’t be liable or responsible for your decisions); seek specialist guidance for that.
Loads of us love a night under canvas. But might it be even better if you head not for a campsite, but for the hills or moors?
Camping is fabulous – the fresh air, the sense of escape. But sometimes getting away from it all also means you’re getting very close to other people. The views are of their tents, not rolling hills.
Wild Camping or Mild Camping?
- With wild camping, there’s an exciting edge of unpredictability – seen here in the gleam in our eyes as we set out …
- You’re heading out onto the moor when others are heading home. Walkers look at your full rucksacks enviously, thinking “they’re going to wild camp!”
- Nobody else gets the best pitch at the site, because nobody else is there …
- You become a campsite designer – rocks become kitchens and dining-room tables and chairs …
- There’s no noise from too-close tents. So you can laugh more freely too …
- It’s completely free – so more money for tent snacks.
- Having to carry everything means you only take essentials. Less clutter means the break from your daily life is more pronounced.
- The sun rises over tors and rivers, with nothing else in the way of the view.
- It helps us really reconnect with our world, ourselves and with loved ones and friends.
- It’s an empowering GetOutside – look what we did!
- You walk off the moor as others are walking on. You’re grinning; still with a gleam in your eye.
- When wild camping, it only takes nine seconds (ahem) to take down a tent*
*This one ‘might’ not actually be true …
Obviously, you can’t just start pitching tents just anywhere. In England and Wales you have to get the landowner’s permission first. Some parts of Dartmoor National Park are exceptions; in those you’re free to wild camp – provided you follow some strict but relatively simple rules. They’re outlined here by Dartmoor National Park; it also links to a map of possible areas.
Why do you love wild camping? What are your hints, tips and tricks?
The sun rises every day, but does that mean we should take it for granted? And can a burst of the pink-tinged great outdoors really brighten your whole day?
I headed off to the shores of Plymouth Sound, to swim at sunrise and try to find out.
Gloves on, hood up, flask of espresso in hand, I then wrote about why this great GetOutside moment matters.
About how it helps make memories.
About why it might be time for a dawn adventure.
And about why Albert Einstein just might motivate you to #ShareYourSunrise and lighten someone’s day.
Click through to the Ordnance Survey’s GetOutside pages to read more …
It was a challenging, exhilarating three days in the snows of the Scottish Cairngorms. There was leg-testing, wind-blasting and snot-streaming (sorry, but it’s true). But it was an unforgettable place to GetOutside.
This, my first experience of the Scottish winter hills, led to an article for the British Mountaineering Council. It covers the safety issues, challenges, rewards and lessons learned. It also features how you too can get up into the winter hills. For that article click here.
For the story and pictures behind the article, read on …
Creag Meagaidh Range
This is us high the Creag Meagaidh Range. My friend, Ellie, is guiding us from Carn Liath, via Stob Poite Coire Ardair and The Window to Creag Meagaidh. It’s a route of around 20km with an ascent of 1080m.
As you can see, it’s beautiful. What you can’t necessarily see is that the avalanche hazard is Considerable on certain slopes. That the temperatures on the tops are -6C, with winds of 30mph bringing that down to around -18C.
Cold then, with a stinging wind (hence the snot-streaming), some energy-sapping slogging through shin-deep snow and sometimes-treacherous gusts.
Wind-blasted, tested and awed by this environment. I can still see these views …
Hunting for Homer’s Head
This is us, a few days earlier, high in the hills of the Glen Feshie range, gathered round Ordnance Survey maps.
You’ll notice the full winter kit, including crampons. What you might not realise is that we’re looking for Homer’s Head. Not Homer the ancient Greek philosopher; but Homer the cartoon character. Why? Well, because although OS’s surveyors quite possibly didn’t have it in mind when they plotted the contour lines, these brown wavy marks do bear a sneaking resemblance to the profile of Springfield’s bright yellow patriarch.
So why are we so set on finding ‘Homer’? It’s partly because Ellie, who’s leading us, wanted to do a micro nav exercise – when you navigate short legs in difficult conditions, when accuracy is key. But now we’re up here, it’s more than an exercise. Because, as expected, low cloud and snow now means dramatically reduced visibility. In fact we’re in the midst of a whiteout – where you can’t see features or the horizon. Today – you can’t see them at all.
And these hills are full of very real hazards, some of these slopes today carry avalanche risks. And as those contour lines suggest, some of the ridge edges here are pretty sheer. But, our navigator nails that circuitous micro nav route spot on; skill and prolonged concentration mean she leads us back to precisely the right point – the path we came up, where we can still make out our earlier foot prints in the snow.
The biggy is having the utmost respect for people and place: serious hills and serious conditions require serious preparation, equipment and skills.
For more on the specific lessons learned and the ways you could prepare to GetOutside in Britain’s winter hills, see my BMC article here. The Ordnance Survey website has a wealth of hiking tips and location guides – start your explorations here.
By the way, there wasn’t room in my article to discuss the best ever winter hill snack. I’m putting down a vote for peanut butter, banana and honey sandwiches. You?
What are your British winter hill walking experiences; your favourite places & tips?
A huge thank-you to Ellie, Taff, Sarah and Sally, who helped me get up into the hills 🙂