WHAM BAM! Bivvy a Month-January
At the beginning of the year, Dan and I promised we would make more use of our camping equipment and get out on the bikes more. I wrote the declaration down – added it to our list of exciting goals for the coming year. But as you know, ‘more’ is too vague. More isn’t a SMART description.
A SMART goal is –
And this is where the Bear Bones idea of Bivvy a Month (BAM) came into play. The objective being to sleep outside at least once every month, which fits all the criteria for a SMART goal. And as far as Bear Bones rules are concerned, ‘bivvy’ includes tents and hammocks and possibly bothies too.
Now January is a tough month to begin an outdoor activity in the UK. It’s cold, dark and often wet. We’d missed the first weekend as we were between countries. And the second weekend, well we couldn’t go out because it was our first weekend at home in over six weeks. And the third weekend, we were booked to visit Dan’s folks up in the Midlands. The fifth and final weekend was marred by Dan’s travels with his work so it had to be the fourth weekend.
So on the afternoon of Saturday 22nd January, we packed the tent, sleeping bags, stove, evening meal, warm clothing, a flask of coffee and some homemade flap jacks onto our bikes.
It was a bitter cold day and the forecast warned of another sub-zero night. I fetched my pogies and packed my warmest woolly hat, determined to stay warm.
We set off from Netley Military Hospital, using the NCN Route 2 towards Southampton. This is a pleasant cycle path along the Solent Shore.
Daylight was running out by the time we crossed Redbridge causeway at the head of Southampton Water and pulled up between Eling Toll Bridge and Eling Tide Mill.
‘Do we have to pay for bikes?’ Dan asked the toll collector.
‘Five pounds per wheel,’ he said. ‘Double that if you’re French.’
We didn’t have to pay. Bicycles are free.
Off we went into the New Forest towards Beaulieu. With the darkness came the cold. My right foot went numb. I wiggled my toes inside my boot and rocked my ankles to and fro in an attempt to regain feeling.
‘We must be half way there by now,’ I said as we neared Beaulieu. Dan agreed, so we stopped in a bus shelter to drink our flask of hot coffee.
Beaulieu is not pronounced as its French spelling might hint at. Oh no, the English have their own peculiar way of saying the name of this village – Bew – Lee (bew as in the way one would say new). I’m telling you this to save you from making the same mistake as me. Oh the shame.
Well, there wasn’t a hint of breeze and for that I was glad as we pedalled along the river towards Buckler’s Hard. The air smelt damp. The darkness lent a mysterious air to the surroundings, every sound magnified in the stillness. In the torchlight, heavy shadows became New Forest ponies, standing silently, watching and waiting in the blackness.
Then, a couple of miles before we arrived in Lymington, Dan had a flat tyre. While he replaced the inner tube, I rolled up the damaged one, and danced about trying to keep warm.
‘Would you rather be cuddled up on the sofa with a bottle of wine tonight?’ I asked, as we crossed the bridge into Lymington.
‘Do you want to go home?’ Dan said. ‘Train station ahead if you want to bail.’
I was freezing. Hungry too. But I knew I would be fine once we’d got the tent up.
‘I’m good. Cold, but good. Onwards.’
And off we went towards the salt marshes of the Lymington to Keyhaven Nature Reserve. Our destination was Keyhaven, but Dan got another puncture as we rode along the lagoons. By then both of us felt cold, so we decided to walk to the spot where we’d bivvied before and forget about our original plan. But we made an error in navigation. My error if truth be told. So we turned around. Dan pumped the tyre up, hoping the slime inside the tube would work its magic for long enough to reach the old bivvy spot.
A breeze had picked up, so we pitched the tent accordingly.
‘Darling,’ Dan said. ‘Did you move the stove?’
‘It’s in the bottom of your frame bag.’
‘I can’t find it.’
I rummaged through the frame bag to no avail.
‘I definitely saw it in there,’ I said.
‘Maybe I left it on the ground when I took out the pump.’
Dan couldn’t see my eyes rolling as I waved him off in search of the stove. Meanwhile, I crawled inside the tent and took a picture of my pissed-off-self.
It wasn’t long before he was back with stove in hand. After our boil in the bag curry and rice, we had tea, one last pee and turned in.
I’d warmed up by then and lay quietly listening to the sounds of salterns.
I recognised the cry of the curlew, the call of the geese, and quacks from ducks, but there were many other sounds that I didn’t know and the songs continued all through the night. I even heard an owl, which I wasn’t expecting.
Dan fell asleep.
‘Did you hear that?’ I whispered.
Dan woke up.
‘I hear voices.’
Dan opened the zip and looked out to see a couple walking their dogs.
‘Are you warm enough in there?’ the man said.
Then he kept on talking. He was local and told us about how he hated the big monstrosity of a house that he believed was built without planning permission. And the rumour that the footpaths would soon be closed for access. And that he and his wife had gone dairy free so if I wanted a frothy coffee it would be made with almond milk, but he could bring me a sausage sandwich in the morning.
‘I’d like a bacon sandwich please. Dan’s a vegetarian so don’t worry about him.’
And then they left, promising to be back at 6am and we both fell asleep.
It was a bitterly cold morning. Frosty and still. Contrary to my belief that no one in their right mind would be up and about before dawn on a January morning, there were many. Runners, joggers and dog walkers (but nobody carrying a bacon sandwich). Once again, Dan pumped up his tyre and went for a quick cycle to spin the slime into the puncture. It worked.
After first breakfast of porridge, we packed up and rode back the way we’d come. We’d debated taking the ferry from Hythe to Southampton, then agreed that the money saved by cycling the full 35 miles could be better spent on second breakfast.
And so we found ourselves at Steff’s Kitchen, Beaulieu where I had a lovely bacon sandwich and Dan had a fried egg sandwich.
Summary: Sub 24 hours, sub-zero temp, 70 miles /112 km, no ferries, no trains, no cars. Tent.
Tune in next month to find out What Happened At My (WHAM) Bivvy A Month (BAM) in February.