Tag : outside

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An Unadventurous Adventure

Here is something a little different, and perhaps a touch more accessible than my usual posts. On the 30th June 2018, people all across the UK had a wild night out (https://www.wildnightout.org/). This is my story of our unadventurous adventure.

With a busy few weeks scheduled between the European Alps and the Scottish Highlands, I didn’t have much time to plan a ‘proper’ adventure. But I still wanted to be part of the Wild Night Out for 2018, so with the constraints of time, we made the best of it and had one of the smallest adventures it’s possible to have in the UK! Hence, for those who are yet to sleep out in the ‘wild’ but would love the challenge to be in manageable territory, this might just be the inspiration for you.

On our journey, we headed for Newbury and then into the North Wessex Downs to a village called Fosbury. This area is full of charming quintessential English hamlets. Fosbury and Vernham Dean are the main places that the SatNav will recognise, but the actual start of the adventure is from Conholt Hill, 1.5km south of Fosbury. The map below shows all you need to know to start your adventure in the right place.

Ordnance Survey map of Fosbury Fort route

Driving along the Conholt Hill road from Fosbury for 100m, you come to a house (on the right), and an obvious parking place on the left (the rightmost purple dot on the map). One of the best features of this walk is that you park in Berkshire, but as soon as you start your adventure, you cross into Wiltshire, and so have conquered a county boarder after only a few steps!

From here the fun starts. Taking the very non-obvious footpath on the right hand side of the house, you start down a narrow track with a beautiful cottage and greenhouse to the right. The path narrows further as you walk beside a wall, and then 2 minutes after leaving the car, you emerge into wide open fields of *whatever the farmer has growing this year*. Whatever it is though, the vistas are stunning.

The entrance to the adventureThe cottage with the greenhouse

From here, the walk is simple; you trek up for 15 minutes via an obvious footpath with a forest on the right and fields to the left. After 15 minutes, you will reach your first, and only, navigational challenge. The forest bends around to the left, and there is a footpath either straight through the trees in front of you, or around to the left. Turn left, keeping the trees on your right and the top of the field on your left.

Fields of cornStunning skies and fields to Fosbury Fort

Five more minutes takes you to a very slight right hand turn, as the path (very obviously) takes you through a small leafy section of the forest. This path ends with a stile, and on crossing this, you enter the fields of Knolls Down, once home of Fosbury Fort. And this is your home for the evening!

The forest to the fortThe stile to Fosbury FortThe view back down from the forest

There is a little more climbing to get to the actual site of the fort, with a moat or two to be crossed, but these grassy fields are the perfect setting for a microadventure and really worth exploring. There is a main footpath running south down the middle of the fort, but this is easily avoided, and the slopes to the east away from the path give a great vantage point over the surrounding countryside. The area really is very wide and open, allowing you to explore the best place to lay down for the evening.

This Hill to Fosbury FortThe Fosbury Fort Moat

Thanks to some logistical challenges, our own exploration extended to finding the most suitable tree to sleep under. Thankfully these come very soon after reaching the fort, and the flat Serengeti style trees give great cover whilst still giving a superb view from your million start hotel.

Doing things a little differently

As for our little adventure, we didn’t manage to set out from the car until just after 10pm, meaning despite the full moon and general scorching summer temperatures, the relative darkness still made finding somewhere to sleep a challenge. We only had our iPhone torches for both the map (OS Mapping), and for lighting, but this only goes further to prove really anyone can take part in such an adventure.

We took one rucksack each and even though we we’re only 20 minutes downhill to the car, we had enough kit to make our stay as pleasant as possible. My bag contained one bivi bag, one very light sleeping bag, a sleeping mat,a makeshift basha, a bottle of water, and some snacks (obviously). Clearly there wouldn’t be much time for snacking in the evening, so we wandered up by the side of the forest, following the arrow on the map; all very easy stuff that even the least outdoor-literate person could achieve. On finding a perfect little tree, we set up camp (a 2 minute job at most if you have a bivi bag), and then settled down for the night with a log and my rucksack for a pillow.

After a completely uneventful night of a bliss 14 degrees, we awoke to yet another round of glorious sunshine and stunning views to keep us company whilst eating mini pain au chocolats and some cinnamon rolls; an altogether perfect antidote to a stressful week in the city.

Our camp, makeshift basha, bivi bags and viewThe view from our treetopThe microadventure view

And then we left without a trace, spending 30 minutes to trundle back to the car, soaking up the sunshine and getting down with nature. Perhaps the best part is since it starts getting light at 4am, you can lounge around in the morning, have a lazy breakfast, head back to the car and be back at home well in time for a second breakfast (and most of the countries first).

A few hours later, we were back on the bikes, soaking up the remainder of a glorious summers day. #bliss

A room with a view, microadventure, tree, bivi

*Regular updates of speed flying madness will resume in the next blog

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Why I Love to Run

If you had asked me a two years ago whether I liked to run, I would have probably remarked that running is the activity you only do when you’re being chased. I did adventure running for two years in the build up to climbing Everest in 2012, but I still retain the ‘being chased’ quip. Perhaps this is some overly complex Orwellian metaphor about me wanting to run away from something in my past… I digress.

The point is, up until 2017, running wasn’t something I did. Running has always previously been something I would do in desperation, either to get fit for a big mountain, or to pass a fitness test, but running has never previously been something I did purely for the love; for ‘that’ enjoyment feeling all actual runners seem to get.

But I wasn’t unfit. Far from it, I used to relish in getting up at ungodly hours on a Saturday and Sunday to sit on a hard saddle for 100 miles with the local chain gang or middle-aged-men-in-lycra-gang. I raced for road racing teams in Scotland, and generally had a pretty enjoyable time of trying to keep pace with the back of the peloton, occasionally daring to venture to the front just to see what all the fuss was about before quickly deciding it didn’t seem like the place for me.

In all my years of keeping road cycling as my main training tool, I racked up countless miles. Well, actually according to Strava, it’s not quite as countless as I’d like it to be, but still, I was putting in the miles, 200 each week on a good summer, perhaps 250 if I was feeling overly strong. Not bad considering I used to work for 5 days out of 7 with a driving commute. But over all those miles, I started to feel weak. I started to feel like something was missing from my physicality, that I wasn’t quite as strong as I had once been. Perhaps pro road cyclists also get this feeling, but whilst my legs were strong with an FTP of around 5W/KG, I started to feel like a strong breeze could blow me over at any minute. And indeed they often did whilst topping out from winter climbs onto the Cairngorm plateau.

So I gradually petered down my cycling, and in the winter, started to get some running miles back under my belt. I gradually built up the miles and started to relish running up my local hill, just to get out there, simply to complete another run. I guess that’s how my buzz for cycling started. Strava made getting out fun, you could record your rides and like no social platform before it, actually track your progress against friends, locals, unknowns, and importantly yourself. This is the buzz I seemed to find again on taking up running, as an actual runner. I started to eagerly upload my route, not because I wanted to be the leader of any segments, but just to see where I had been on an actual map with distances put into grid-like perspective; a very simple pleasure.

As I got stronger, I started to run further, explore my area, and eventually started to do some more mountain runs, just like I had done before Everest, but this time with an even bigger and much longer lasting purpose than a single event. I was doing this for enjoyment. So why do I love to run? I only realised why I now love running so much quite recently. The past year has been an exploration for me; other runners will have their own reasons, but as I have become busier, with more goals and life targets, and the ceiling for what I feel like I can achieve continually moving higher as I achieve my goals, I realise the reason I love to run is for the opposite of all those things. It’s for the simplicity.

Even before going out on a bike ride, you need all your equipment, you probably need some nutrition to fuel your ride, particularly as rides over the winter months need to last upwards of 3 hours. If you didn’t do it the night before, you probably have a bit of maintenance to do, tyre pressures, oiling the chain, tightening the QR’s if you’ve driven out to a ride in the car. You then need to think about clothing; sure you’ll be exercising, but at the end of the day you’re sitting down so keeping warm is quite a priority, especially when the gritters start coming out and the horizontal rain turns positively slushy. You’re now ready, you get on your bike which surely totals over £5,000 when you’ve factored in frame, wheels and a power meter which no budding cyclist worth their road salt is found without. You’ve also got those bib shorts which somehow cost £120 on Wiggle, and that jersey that you magically picked up for £60 in a sale. Four hours later, you’ve burned the morning away and you’re now ready for a well-earned shower to thaw out those toes.

But running? I take out my £120 Inov8 shoes which I picked up on SportsPursuit for £60. I put on my clothes, perhaps £200 total when the compression socks, sunglasses and cheap Garmin are counted. I then stare around the room. Surely I need something else, I feel naked without a helmet, or some other form of protection. But no, there really is nothing else I need. I walk out the door, turn my watch on and start walking. I’m warm now, I start to run. I don’t need any nutrition, I only need to run for an hour, I run fast, I get warm, it’s mid-winter but I’m only running in a thin base layer and shorts. I’m home now, showered and stretched. It’s only two hours since I woke up and regardless of whether I intend to spend the next 12 hours jumping off mountains, making calls or laying prone on the sofa, I’m now ready for my day.

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But don’t get me wrong, I still love the bike…