Most New Years I aim to camp at least once every month in the coming year. I don’t think I’ve ever managed it. However, as I’ve camped for one night in November, December and January, I’m going to try to continue for as many months as I can. Those winter camps were all proper tent camps. Heavy pack full of luxuries. Long dark nights with plenty of food, drink and reading material.
Storm Ciara – or was it Dennis? – limited my options for February but I kept my eye on the weather and decided that this weekend shouldn’t be too bad. The wind should be dropping and the worst rain should be overnight when I’m asleep. The urge to camp every month was louder than the little voice telling me that this was a daft idea, so off I went. A 24 hour trip consisting of an 8km walk either side of a bivi camp.
The walk into the camp was drizzly and showery but quite pleasant. Starting from Llandegla I followed the Offa’s Dyke Path SE through the forest. This seems to have become my “Quick camping trip” destination of choice and I recognised junctions and bridges from my last trip when everywhere was covered in snow. I watched in gleeful anticipation as three lost mountain bikers crossed a slippery plank bridge, but they didn’t fall in.
Approaching the southern edge of the forest I found a contractor’s metal hut, a new vehicle sized gate and a taped off stile. Initially disappointed at what I supposed must be some sort of industrial vandalism, I then realised that the access gate and hut must be something to do with the new slabs which have been laid to replace the wooden duckboards in parts of that very wet, boggy part of the ODP.
On reaching the minor road, I’d intended to follow it for a mile or so before going off track and finding somewhere to camp on Esclusham Mountain. However, I decided the surroundings were now wild enough so I went a short way up a marked, but faint, path until I found a heather free patch and I made my camp.
I’ve had some wonderful nights in a bivi bag. This wasn’t one of them. I’d brought my Rab Survival Zone bivi bag and my small tarp to keep the rain off my head. This has worked well in the past although, in hindsight, I’ve only had very light showers in the past. I pitched the tarp as a simple lean-to with a beak. The wind was gusty, so I went to town with the guylines. Originally planning to lie along the line of the shelter, I soon turned my bed to be at right angles to the tarp; partly to create more dry space for my kit.
There were light rain showers in the evening but nothing too heavy. The heavy stuff came in the night, accompanied by violent gusts that blew the rain around the shelter of the tarp. A V shaped shelter would’ve been better and I must experiment more in the back garden when the weather improves! I was sleeping on an inflatable mattress on top of a roll-mat, so I was warm and comfortable enough, but the concern about getting wet meant that I cinched up the bivi bag drawstring and couldn’t wait until the sun came up. The worst bit was when Mrs Bladder came knocking at 4:30. In a tent you can quickly nip outside and back without getting very wet; it’s a Houdini-esque struggle in a bivi bag in the rain.
At 7:15 I woke again and it was getting light. It was also not raining very much. I put some water on the stove for coffee and planned my
escape approach to packing up. I would pack everything away in between the rain showers. In a dry interval I got out of my bag and put my waterproofs on. I could now relax and enjoy myself whilst eating my breakfast and packing up. The cloud level was dropping and I love being out in bleak countryside in the mist!
During the evening I had toyed with taking a different route back to Llandegla but now I just wanted to be back on firmer ground. There’d been a lot of rain overnight and I could see that the already full streams were now overflowing. I’d stepped over this stream to get to my camp site but could now see no way across….
Not to worry; I’d head in roughly the right direction until I found somewhere to cross without getting my feet wet. I soon realised that this was not going to be an option! Every time I thought I was nearing a narrow stretch of the stream I ended up stuck on an island of rapidly sinking reeds. There was no way I could keep my feet dry so, in for a penny in for a pound [The Slade song is still stuck in my head], I edged my way through the bog looking for somewhere to cross. I had sometimes had water halfway up my calves but I could at least now take a direct route rather than pussyfooting around.
The stream was rushing from right to left ahead of me when I took a small step forward. Waaahhhh! All of a sudden I was up to my chest in water and could not feel the ground underneath me. Thoughts flashed through my mind: release my rucksack clips, keep my head up, grab onto something. I turned back to where I’d come from, as I knew that ground had just borne my weight, put my walking poles flat across the reeds and pulled myself up onto them and dragged myself up and forwards, then crawled to drier ground. I could hear a slightly pathetic wimpering sound.
Shocked and a little bit frightened, I wondered what I should do. What would I tell someone else to do? I was soaked from the chest downwards. Change into dry clothes? Ha! I should have known this would happen. This was the very first time EVER that I did not have a spare pair of trousers with me. However, I decided that there was little point getting changed into dry clothes; I didn’t feel cold and the rain was heavy. My best bet was to get back onto the track and get to my car – less than 2 hours away – as soon as possible.
I checked my phone. It said it could detect moisture(!). I wasn’t too bothered about losing my phone mapping as I had a paper map (in waterproof case) in my bag and a compass. I suddenly worried about my car key which is usually in my trouser pocket and would’ve got soaked. However, on this occasion it was in a plastic bag in my Paramo pocket and was still dry. Phew!
I made it back to the car without incident. I had a full set of dry clothes waiting in the car and it was a relief to put them on, although only then did I start to feel cold. A huge pot of tea and an egg & mushroom roll in the Community Shop and Cafe sorted me out although, 8 hours later, I still feel a bit wobbly like I’ve over-exerted myself. Maybe that’s shock?
Getting drenched in the morning was probably the best time of day for it. I was rested and well fed and I was on my way back to civilisation. It would’ve been a different story at the end of a long walk with only a bivi bag to shelter in and no dry trousers! I’m sure there are lessons to be learned here. I’m still pondering what they may be.