WHAM BAM! Bivvy a Month-March
When I was a little girl, I loved making dens. I liked hiding under the table, with the tablecloth shutting out the world. A blanket draped over the top bunk made the space between my little brother’s bed and mine a place where daring deeds and wild stories were invented. And there was this one time, when I was seven, that I ran away from home and hid under a rowing boat, at the bottom of our yard. I stayed there in the pouring rain until the smell of dinner drew me home. But what I really wanted was a den – in the woods – where fairies and hobbits might live – a hideout – where no one would find me.
Before I knew it, I was fifty-years-old. Decades had passed. And in that time, I forgot about the den. I forgot about the woods and I forgot about my childhood desire to be a woodland nymph.
Until last week, when I went to visit my friend in her new house.
‘Fancy a walk with the dog?’ she said.
‘Excellent.’ I said. ‘I’m on the lookout for a good bivvy spot.’
‘We were doing a bit of exploring and found a den,’ she said. ‘I’ll see if I can find it.’
At the mention of the word ‘den’ my heart skipped a beat. Me, Maggie and Barney the dog, walked along the river bank and into the woods, weaving our way along narrow paths where TS Mercury was once based. Tucked among the trees was a stack of slender branches and twigs that had been made into an ‘A’ shaped den. I squeaked with delight at the sight of it.
‘I think I love you,’ I said as I stepped over the carpet of dead leaves to the entrance which faced east.
‘Sunrise,’ I’ll be able to lie here and watch the sunrise. ‘OMG, I’m so excited.’
‘When do you think you might stay?’ Maggie asked.
‘Tonight,’ I said, looking at the sky. The look on her face as good as said: ‘You’re bonkers’.
Here’s What Happened At My Bivvy A Month-March
By 6pm I had prepared a massive bowl of pasta and poured a glass of wine to go with it. Dan had called to say he’d travelled by train from Moscow to St Petersburg and was pretty tired. I told him I was going to do the BAM without him – just in case he didn’t make it back in time.
At 7pm, I filled a flask with fresh coffee and hot milk, then wrapped the last slice of Tarta de Santiago in foil and stuffed it inside my camping cup.
By 8pm, my bike was packed and I was out the door.
The den was only a couple of miles away so there was no need to rush. It was a dark night and I rode with my headlamp and head torch switched on. Once I reached the public slipway near the TS Mercury memorial I turned towards the tall dark trees and rode into the woods.
I pushed across a makeshift bridge and up a steep banking before finding the spot which marked the final turn and the secret hideout. I dimmed the lights, felt twigs crack underfoot, and heard the wind whistling in the rigging of a thousand yachts.
In the darkness the shelter looked spooky. Then an owl hooted.
I leaned my bike against a stump and unpacked. Then I crawled into the space to check for sharp sticks or stones (which may not hurt me but will destroy my mattress). Black shiny things glistened in the lamp light. ‘Ugh,’ I said, louder than I meant. Then I told myself to man up. After all, these creatures weren’t man-eating slugs, nor were they going to give me a life-limiting bite. So I picked them up, one at a time (using my stuff sack as a glove) and threw them far away. Though I’ve read that they have a tendency to return to their home from quite a distance.
Then a moth flew straight at my face. I ducked and swatted but it kept attacking. I remembered my head torch and switched it off. It’s strange how your mind works when you’re alone in the dark. Imaginary voices too- ‘Come into the light’ one called. Then a little song, ‘If you go down to the woods today…’ I took a deep breath and told myself to get a grip.
For a few moments before putting on my woolly long johns, I stood there in my knickers, my feet balanced on my boots, watching and listening. The air caressed my skin and I remembered a poem – Leisure, by William Henry Davies.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
I climbed into my cocoon but I did not fall asleep.
Moments later, the air whooshed over the tree tops and from my bed on the forest floor, I saw the trunks sway and the skeleton like frame around me change shape again and again.
I turned on my side and curled up to sleep. I heard a soft patter, like dozens of tiny feet tiptoeing over my bivvy bag. Drizzle.
I pulled the hood of my Alpkit Hunka tighter and hoped the rain wouldn’t last.
A branch cracked and I sat up. A deer or a badger, I thought. My sight had adjusted to the night but I saw nothing. I settled myself and tried again to nod off. I hadn’t cycled far, so wasn’t tired in the usual way.
One big drop of rainwater fell from a branch onto my bivvy bag, right next to my ear. I never knew a raindrop could be so loud. Then I thought about making earplugs from moss, but that was never going to happen. In the same way that I was never going to wipe my arse with it either.
After another failed attempt at sleep, I gave in to my body’s need to empty my bladder and crawled out of the bag. It was then that I realised that I was on a slight slope and had slid slightly off my mattress and out of the den.
I slipped my feet into my boots, flattening down the heel and shuffled through the leaf mould. I hardly noticed the rain and couldn’t see the moon. As I crouched down to pee a large bird flew through the trees. I saw the dark shape of its wings, then heard the snap of a dead twig as its feathers clipped a branch.
I returned to my sleeping bag and thought about drinking my coffee. A silly idea, I decided after much consideration.
Another giant drip. Then two in a row. And then I was asleep because the next thing I heard was a drumming noise, rapid knocking on hollow wood.
The unmistakable hammering of a woodpecker’s beak against a tree was a timely reminder that this was the start of the vernal equinox and spring. By 5.30 am, the birds of the woods and the water were in full song.
I opened my flask and poured a cup of coffee. It was hot enough, not steaming, but certainly not lukewarm and went well with cake.
Not even the slug trail in my left boot dampened my spirits as I set off to Maggie’s for second breakfast of tea and rice pudding.
I had at last spent a night in the woods – alone – and nobody found me.