A few weeks ago I had a little adventure. I’d managed to escape for 24 hours in the middle of the school holidays for a wee trip to Edinburgh.
It was always going to be a rushed trip. I had to be in Edinburgh for mid-morning but I didn’t fancy a 3am alarm call to get there. The obvious answer was to head up the day before but that was my son’s sixth birthday and I felt a bit mean abandoning him for the whole day. So, how could I do this quickly with minimal faff and cost for an overnight stay?
After a spot of discussion it was agreed I’d drop the boys at my parents’ house near Hull, we’d have some birthday action there and then I’d head off on the long drive and wheedle in a quick kip. But where? I needed to do this on the cheap. Obvious option – camping.
But we only have a mega family tent. Not one to be attempted on your own. And certainly not conducive to a quick pack up and dash off the following morning which is what I needed. And so, inspired by Alistair Humphries microadventure movement (Microadventure) I decided a sneaky wild camp in a bivvy would be the perfect option.
When I posted the resultant photos on Facebook I claimed it as my first wild bivvi camp. But I have a confession to make. It wasn’t. I’ve bivvied before. Just not in the UK. Proof to be sceptical about the life people portray via social media 😉
I bivvied a long time ago on an expedition in Patagonia. It was remote, and we carried all of our gear in huge backpacks. I was young and significantly more naïve. But we were also in a big group so there was an element of safety in numbers. This time I was on my own!
But I also had a car, all the resultant crap I can carry in it, my phone and the frankly revolutionary tool that is google maps!
Oh, what a joy, satellite mapping at the touch of a fingertip. The ability to find swim spots whilst I’m out. The magic of google to find an alternative route when the traffic comes to a grinding halt. The ability to look at beaches to work out if they’d make a good late night bivvi spot 😉
I had a few places lined up on the way. All over the border in Scotland, the land of right to roam, where you can wild camp pretty much anywhere.
But wild camping should be wild shouldn’t it? In the middle of nowhere. Remote. No toilets. No fresh water tap. No modern conveniences.
I needed to be up and off and ready to swim with a bunch of newbies in Edinburgh in the morning. Minimal faffing, breakfast, pack up, off. I didn’t have time for a long drive or walk-in to somewhere remote. I’d equally not packed a big enough bag to carry my sleeping bag and bivvi any distance. That meant I couldn’t head that far off the beaten track.
Thankfully the A1 dips to and from the coast on the way to Edinburgh so I didn’t need to head far for an empty beach. I didn’t even need to head far for a toilet as it turned out.
I’d spotted the beach on the map. A mile off the A1, there was what looked like a car park and there was only one house near the beach. The fact it was slap bang next to the Torness Nuclear Power Station really didn’t bother me. It was convenient, it looked like a gorgeous mix of sandy beach and interesting rockiness and I’d be able to nip in the sea for a dip as soon as I got up. Perfect!
When I got there it became clear this was going to be even easier than I thought. There was a handy public toilet in the car park (open all night), picnic benches and a large old lime kiln, not only a perfect shelter from the wind and noise of the A1 but with a huge archway for sheltering under if any rain came my way. My pitch for the night was about 500m from the car!
I set up in the dusk, enjoyed a beer on the beach 10m from my new front door and watched the sky light up in varying shades of indigo, pink, purple and red as the sun went down. If I looked behind me I could admire the boxy grey industrialness of the power station lit up like an out of place city out in the wilderness. Turn around and the view was filled with beach and sea. Sheltered from the noise of the A1 behind the lime kiln all I could hear was gently lapping waves and the chattering of oystercatchers, curlews and terns as they started bedding down for the night.
Just as I was about to call it a night and squeeze my way into my gore-tex body stocking, lights appeared in the car park.
Uh oh! I was on a beach pretty much in the middle of nowhere on my own. What were people doing down here at this time of night? There’d been a couple of dog walkers down there when I arrived but I thought it a little dark for that. Would they stay in the car?
I retreated back towards my bivvi which was hidden out of sight of the car park by the lime kiln. People got out of the car. With bright torches. Shit!
They were clearly making their way along the path from the car park to where I was pitched for the night.
Eventually I heard a friendly “hello, is there anyone there?”. ARound the corner came two well kitted out police officers. Flack jackets, pistols strapped to leg!
“Err, can I help you officers?” I piped up.
It turned out I’d been spotted on the CCTV from the nuclear power station (about 500m away) and they’d come to see what I was up to.
Content that I wasn’t in fact a terrorist trying to blow the place up or steal nuclear fuel for illicit purposes they happily went on their way. Approving of my wild camp spot, wishing me a good night’s sleep and nice swim in the morning off they toddled back to their post at the power station.
Perhaps I’d been a happy interlude in what must otherwise be a fairly boring gig. It certainly wasn’t something I was expecting on my first UK wild camp.
And you know what? I did have an amazing nights sleep. Cushioned by soft grass, warmly cocooned in my sleeping bag and bivvi. I didn’t wake up until my alarm went off. I gently lolled in bed for a while with the door open on the bivvi. Enjoying the sky, the birds, tall grass all around me, the lapping of water and the few gentle spots of rain that had started to fall.
I eventually slithered out and went for a dip in the calm, cool clear sea. Now THAT is how to wake up in the morning! Completely deserted, quiet, peaceful with a slightly leaden sky overhead.
I packed up and got to work using the handy picnic benches for my stove to whip up some porridge and coffee.
I was on the road again by 8am, less than 12 hours after I’d arrived at that idyllic beach.
It may not have been wild in the conventional sense but my wild camp certainly hit the spot. It was quiet, secluded and free. It fitted perfectly into my sometimes busy schedule too.
I can’t wait for my next opportunity……………I’ll probably avoid close proximity to nuclear power stations next time though 😉