I looked at the weather report. Summer temperatures were forecast, with clear skies, no rain and only a bit of wind, despite it being mid-October. Sure, Hurricane Ophelia was on its way, but it wasn't due to arrive for at least 48 hours. How often do you get no rain and warm temperatures in October in Yorkshire? Never. So there was only one thing for it: a wild camp.
Having done it once before, on my own, I decided that this time I'd take a friend but would use a bivvy bag instead of a tent. After all, it was going to be dry.
My lovely friend Sarah said yes, and then wanted to say no, but I dragged her along assuring her that we wouldn't get murdered or fall off a cliff. I didn't tell her that I was slightly apprehensive in case the hurricane did arrive early and we'd get blown into the sea. And having never bivvied before, this was a new experience for me too.....
Parking at the Robin Hood's Bay car park, we followed the Cleveland Way signs north towards Whitby. The sun was already beginning to set behind thinning cloud, casting a pinky-grey softness across the gorgeous coastline. There were plenty of places you could simply unroll a sleeping bag, but we wanted to head slightly off the path. Of course, you can't head far off the path or you will end up in the sea. Some of the cliffs are very unstable so it's important to find a patch of ground that isn't likely to crumble beneath you.
We managed to find a spot roughly a mile or so from Robin Hood's Bay. An outcrop of land jutted away from the path out towards the sea and off to each side of it, were handy little ridges the perfect size for lying on (although it didn't allow for much rolling over in your sleep). Had we rolled off, we would have simply rolled down a gentle bank to a slightly boggy trough, not to our deaths. Always a good thing. But by lying just below the lip of earth, we were protected from the breeze and gave Sarah comfort that we were more hidden from view of potential murderers.
With no tent to pitch, we could immediately get to the important task of having a glass of wine, eating a hearty dinner of roasted nuts and talking shite. We'd brought a game along with us but couldn't quite muster up the energy to play.
By 8pm it was pitch black and our wine was gone. We decided it was time to snuggle into our bivvies. Despite it being an exceptionally warm night for the time of year, it was still getting chilly. Storing our boots in a dry bag to keep any dew off them, we got into our beds fully clothed.
If you haven't bivvied before, it is in essence a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag. Depending on the size bivvy you get, you can fit your sleeping mat into your bivvy along with your sleeping bag. For a pillow, just use a rolled up coat or spare jumper. A hat is a good idea to keep your head warm or a buff that you can pull down over your eyes and top of nose so just your nostrils and mouth are free. Sleeping with socks on will keep your feet warm. Other tips: sleep with a head torch on or near you should you need to get up in the night. Also keep your mobile phone wrapped up somewhere warm to save the battery as it gets drained in the cold.
Without a tent, you lie staring straight up at the stars. We were very lucky to have clear skies for most of it, without the typical accompanying plummeting temperatures. As we lay looking up at the Plough constellation, a shooting star whizzed overhead, so bright and close you could see the orange tail of burning dust glowing brightly. Magical!
Just as we were getting ready to nod off, we noticed a light flashing on the rocks on the nearby cliff. Sarah immediately went into 'we're going to be murdered mode!" It was a bit odd and slightly scary, but I assumed it was probably just cockle pickers or someone down on the beach below. The thing to remember about wild camping is that most people are tucked up in their beds. They don't know you're there and won't be able to see you in the dark anyway. So there really isn't anything to worry about.
After watching the stars for hours, I finally nodded off only to be woken about an hour later to a loud screeching. My guess is a bird of prey had caught something. More star watching ensued as I tried to drift off again. I must have fallen asleep at last as I woke just as the very first glimmer of morning light was starting to leak some colour into the blackness. I watched as the lighthouse in the far distance flashed every five seconds and listened to the waves crash on the rocks far below, while seabirds began their morning chorus. What a wonderful way to wake up.
Sadly, we had to get back to York and real life, so after a quick cup of coffee, we packed up and were ready to go before the sun had even fully risen. Waving good morning to the curious sheep along our path, we made our way back to the car. We were tired, looking a bit scruffy but we'd had a brilliant microadventure. From door to door, we were gone 17 hours, yet we'd made wonderful memories.
Anyone can squeeze a bit of adventure into their life. And you should. Because when you look back on your life, you won't remember those evenings sitting on the sofa watching reality shows on TV. You will remember lying on a cliff watching the stars with a friend.
If you are women - particularly if you are a women who has forgotten how to have adventures because you never have time for yourself - join the free Glamoraks group on Facebook. We will encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and into your potential. You just have to love walking and the outdoors and want to rediscover yourself again.
Here's a little video to inspire you.
Want to try wild camping with a bivvy? Here's what you need to pack
I would never consider myself a brave person. I'm scared of heights and cows and caterpillars. I don't do scary rollercoasters, go in confined spaces or jump off high things.
But I have decided that I want to take on a challenge that scares me. Many people will think I am insane for considering it. Others might shrug and think it's not that scary. I'm not doing this to compare my adventure ability with anyone else. I'm doing it to prove to myself that I can. (And to give me the content for a book, which I want to write.)
I have set myself a goal to not only do this adventure, but have written the book and become a speaker about how to challenge yourself by the end of of next year. And unless you set big, scary audacious goals and tell people about them, life will just stay the same. I'm tired of waiting for a magic wand. I'm making my own magic.
To walk the Cape Wrath Trail. On my own. April/May 2018.
The Cape Wrath Trail is considered the UK's toughest long distance walk. It's not the longest. In fact it's only 200 - 250 miles. The reason the mileage is approximate is because there is not an actual trail. There is no lovely way marked footpath. You have to find your own way from Fort William to Cape Wrath, the most north westerly point in the UK.
The way goes through some of Scotland's wildest terrain, boggiest ground and most remote areas. It is tough walking where every mile feels double that.
Not only will I have to navigate my way using a map and compass, I will have to carry everything I need on my back. My accommodation will be a tent, wild camping anywhere I can find a not boggy piece of ground. Or staying in very, very remote bothies (little stone huts that provide four walls, a roof and a fireplace, with little more.) I will have to carry my own food - there are not many places to restock en route. Access to water will be less of an issue, but will require purifying. Staying dry will be a major challenge. In fact, I can expect to have wet feet for the 20 (to 30) days it will take me (depending on how lost I get).
If I go too early, there will be too much snow/cold. If I go too late, there will be too many midges. If I go from August onwards, I'll come across deer stalkers doing a deer cull. And when I get to Cape Wrath I will need to ring the MOD to find out if they are practicing live drills or dropping real bombs. They typically do this in April.
Upon reaching Cape Wrath, when you are supposedly done, there is a long slog over bogs to reach a tiny ferry, which may or may not be running depending on the weather and the sobriety of the skipper. Once across the Kyle of Durness, I will need to get back home. There is a very limited bus service.
I have walked 192 miles during the coast to coast. But I have never carried my kit on my back (except for one 1 mile walk to a wild camp). I have wild camped on my own once, close to home in sight of humanity.
This walk will require massive physical, mental and emotional endurance. Getting lost, running out of food and crossing rivers are the three big challenges (the rivers can be particularly dangerous if in spate). I expect to cry a lot.
But I want to know that I can find my way in the wilderness. And I want to embrace the solitude and amazing views. I think everyone needs to test their endurance at some point in their life. I've done other challenges, but nothing on my own. And frankly, why start small? If you're going to go solo, go REALLY solo to one of the last remaining wild spaces in the UK. In the words of Rafiki from Lion King, 'It is time.'
My husband has kindly agreed to me doing this and some how I'll sort out childcare cover. I will take a satellite emergency tracker so that should I get into real trouble I can call the rescue team and so that my path can be plotted at all times.
I have booked myself into a Mountain Navigation Skills course for November and will have my silver certificate by the time I go, with possible additional training should I feel I need it. Plus I will be doing practice walks in boggy ground carrying a heavy pack. I do not want to have to call the emergency services unless absolutely necessary so I won't be going into this ill prepared.
I know that for many women, the thought of being alone in a bothy with strange men who happen to also be there may seem dangerous. But it is highly unlikely that people walking that trail are the type to go raping and murdering. I doubt they'd have the energy!
I have applied for an adventure grant (fingers crossed) to cover the costs and have got in touch with a mad man who has run it in 8 days, getting tips and advice from him. I have the maps and guide book.
I AM GOING TO DO THIS EVEN IF IT SCARES THE SHIT OUT OF ME.
There. I said it. No turning back now.
So why should a mother in her forties choose this over having a comfortable bed and a nice holiday with her children in the sun? I do question my own sanity. But I also know that inside me is a secret adventurer. Not a very brave adventurer, but an adventurer all the same.
Every single time I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I come back feeling a little more confident, a little more capable and a little more comfortable in my own skin. As they say, it's only when you get lost that you truly find yourself.
What's your challenge for 2018?
Please join me in the Glamoraks group on Facebook to share any adventures you may have planned. They don't have to be a multi-day hike through the wilds of Scotland. Just tackling whatever is out of your own comfort zone is enough. Seriously. If you have never put on a pair of hiking boots and even walked a mile, make that your challenge. This is not a competitor sport. It's not about who has gone the furthest or done the toughest thing, it's about pushing your own personal levels of comfort so that you can discover just how remarkable you are. And trust me, you are remarkable. You just need to realise it.
Five years ago a man called Alastair Humphreys gave the speech day address at my children's school. He was on a mission to get people to have microadventures - a mini adventure that you can fit into every day life. It should challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone but still be achievable.
That speech inspired me and soon afterwards I started walking, having my first microadventure when I set off walking 14 miles on my own and staying in a hostel. Since then I've gone on to have plenty of adventures, but I had yet to wild camp. So when I saw that Alastair was running his Summer Solstice Microadventure challenge, I knew it was time to push my comfort zone a little bit further.
My plan had been to go wild camping on the summer solstice (21 June) but despite having arranged childcare and having my bag fully packed, the Met Office put out a yellow warning for thunder, lightning, gales and very heavy rain showers with the potential for localised flooding. That didn't sound particularly sensible to be camping in, particularly on the top of a hill. I had to put my plans on hold and wait for better weather.
Last night that weather arrived. Once again I packed and this time headed off, leaving my husband and children at home, all three thinking I was daft in the head. My microadventure would see me do three things I'd never done before:
1. Carry all the kit I needed on my back for an overnight stay
2. Wild camp
3. Camp on my own
My comfort zone was going to be well and truly pushed. But too many women - particularly mothers and those whose 20s and early 30s are well behind them - spend their lives observing life through their kids or doing things for others instead of experiencing life first hand. I'm on a mission to change that and I can't tell others to do it if I don't do it myself.
But first things first.....
Where to wild camp?
My biggest challenge with wild camping was trying to find somewhere to go. In England, legally you are not allowed to camp anywhere you like. You're supposed to get the land owner's permission. But that can be very tricky to do and it spoils the spontaneity of it. The advice is to find somewhere tucked away, out of view, don't make fires and don't leave anything behind. Arrive late, leave early and no-one will be any the wiser.
I spent a good amount of time trying to find a suitable spot by looking at maps. I wanted somewhere remote, but not so remote that if anything happened I'd be in tricky spot. I didn't want to run the chance of bumping into people. I wanted views and it had to be not too far from my home in York.
After doing some research, I found the very spot. Hawnby Hill in the North Yorkshire Moors. It was 50 minutes drive away, was a short walk from a pub/civilisation, but was remote enough to not be found. And it had stunning views.
What to take wild camping?
Here's what I took. You could get away with less:
I set off from York at 6.20pm on a Sunday evening and drove north, past Helmsley before arriving 50 minutes later in the exceptionally quaint hamlet of Hawnby. I knew it had an Inn, but I hadn't realised it also had a tiny tearoom and shop, which amazingly was open at 7.15pm on a Sunday evening. I popped in for my crisps and chocolate bar and asked which hill Hawnby was (there are two - Easterside and Hawnby). She pointed out the hill to me and said I could park my car behind the village hall. That was handy to know as there is nowhere else suitable to leave your car overnight. I tucked mine out of sight behind the hall and set off up the hill.
I guess you could ask The Inn at Hawnby if you could park there for the night and it would save you a 500 yard steep climb up a hill lugging a backpack. But I didn't. Once you reach the Inn, directly in front of you (just to the left of the phone box) is a public footpath sign that points you up between some houses. Follow that and you get to a stile/kissing gate. Go through that and head straight up to the top left corner of the field. Don't take the appealing looking waymarked route lower down on the left. Head to the top corner to find a gate with a map of the hill. Then follow the path straight up.
And I mean, straight up! It was exhausting. But it was a short brutal walk - only about 15 minutes - before I was on the top of the hill with magnificent views on all sides. To my right was Easterside Hill, another tabular shaped hill, while straight ahead you look towards the moors.
I followed the path along the ridge line, looking for somewhere to make camp. I reach the cairn on the hill summit and noticed several dips off to the left hand side just before the cairn. They would be out of sight of anyone on the path and out of sight of anyone below. They were also slightly less exposed to the wind than on the very top. Because the thing about hills is that they're high up and therefore windy!
I chose a little dip that had a tiny tree for a bit more shelter and attempted to pitch my tent. This proved a challenge as the ground had a layer of soft spongy moss to lie on, but a layer of solid rock just beneath it, making it impossible to get the pegs to grip. But I finally managed it and rewarded myself with my glass of red wine and an exceptional sunset.
It truly was magnificent. The bright daylight had transformed into an array of purples, pinks, corals and golds. Every five minutes it would change, each more stunning than the last. It hit me that the sun setting really is an artistic masterpiece that is available for free every day to every person - you just have to step away from your screens and head outdoors. I watched the wind blow through the grass, saw birds swooping for a late supper of bugs and heard their night time calls, while sheep far below were baaing to their lambs. It was truly magical.
Unlike an inside space, the great outdoors is always moving, whether it's clouds scudding past or long grass waving, there is a sense of perpetual movement. As the night sky darkened, it seemed as though the stars themselves were racing across the sky, but it was just a trick played by the clouds rushing along. I tried to read my book, taking nips of cherry liqueur as it grew colder, but my attention kept getting distracted by the view.
Just after 11pm I decided to retire. It was a battle between my closing eyelids and my desire to wait until it got truly dark. But my eyelids won and I slunk into my tent and fell asleep instantly.
I'm not sure what time it was, but possibly 1am I woke to the sound of wind howling around the tent. Having pitched next to a tree for shelter, the wind sounded even louder as it funnelled its way through the branches. I lay listening to it a while, wondering if my tent would take off, with its poorly secured pegs. I must have drifted off again as I had a really odd dream about an adventurer (a real life one who I know) who was shaking me awake. In my dream I sat up and said, 'Oh, I thought I was dreaming but here you are.' We had a good long chat. It seemed so real that when I eventually did wake up in the morning, I was surprised that he was no longer there. About 4am the rain started to come down but the sound was soporific and I went back to sleep until 6am.
I woke to a very wet morning. A brief respite in the rain meant I could make a cup of coffee, have my sandwich and pack up before it started again. I just managed to get everything put away when the heavens opened. I bid a hasty farewell to my campsite, making sure I'd left nothing behind. The only trace that I had been there was a slightly flattened bit of grass.
I headed back the way I'd come the day before. Any plans for a longer walk home were binned as the water poured down the back of my neck. I'd failed to pack waterproofs!
It was a brilliantly refreshing start to the day. Instead of chivvying kids into uniforms or sitting in traffic, I got rain pelting my face, sheep to yell good morning to and views of rolling green hills.
So would I recommend it?
Hell yes. It seems much more scary in the planning than it actually is to do it. I loved going on my own as there is something beautiful about solitude. But I can imagine that going with a friend would have a completely different feel and would be a lot of fun.
If you want to feel alive and come home grinning from ear to ear, go wild camping. It doesn't matter how old your are or that you're a woman (it's not just for blokes!). Go have a microadventure. You'll be so glad you did.
Watch the video below for a taste of what it was like. And don't forget to join the free Facebook group for likeminded ladies who love to walk and sign up for the Glamoraks newsletter to find out about events you can take part in.