You can be fairly sure that you are in the middle of some kind of adventure when your deodorant is wood-smoke, your morning wash involves jumping into the sea, and the view from your “pee rock” stretches out, uninterrupted, to the horizon. It is very easy to go looking for adventure in faraway places, or within grueling endurance challenges, but more often than not it is the uncomplicated adventures close to home that give the most satisfaction.
Less than 15 minutes cycle from home are a few tiny grass-topped tidal islets inhabited only by oyster-catchers, gulls, terns, rats, and rabbits. Beautiful little havens of wildlife. For this week’s micro-adventure we decided to spend 24 hours stranded and secluded on one of these paradise isles.
This isn’t the first time that I have slept on this little rock – when I was 13 or 14 I came out here for a night with a couple of friends from scouts. Back then we slept beneath the stars, inside bright orange plastic survival bags that quickly became soaked with condensation, with the noises of rats and other inquisitive wildlife always a bit too close for comfort. This time though we took our trusty expedition tent for a little bit of luxury, protection, and so that we could check it over before taking it further afield next year.
Lucy, being super organised, had pre-chopped ingredients to make a delicious one-pot veggie campfire curry (recipe here), so after a quick snorkel we gathered some twigs for the stove, found a flat rock on the seaward end of the island to avoid drawing attention to ourselves, and cooked our dinner while drinking homemade elderberry wine. We had only been away from home for a few hours but it already felt like a proper holiday.
Sitting there by the fire, listening to the sound of the waves and seabirds, unexpectedly brought back nostalgic memories of Enid Blyton’s book “The Island of Adventure” – I don’t even recall the story in any detail, just a childlike feeling of wonder, adventure, and excitement. I always find it amazing that spending even a short time immersed in wilderness like this has the power to reignite these kind of emotions that are usually neglected beyond adolescence.
As the sun started setting behind Guernsey we put up the tent and unpacked our sleeping bags, getting our tent organised while there was still some daylight left. Before getting settled in though we sat around the fire for a little longer, finishing off the curry and elderberry wine.
Our night was fairly uneventful, not very much happened, including sleep. We had pitched the tent using the criteria of: 1. being as camouflaged as possible from anyone on the shore, and, 2. having a beautiful view from the doors for when we unzip in the morning. Criteria 1 was sensible, criteria 2, it turned out, was a mistake. We had positioned ourselves in an exposed spot, broadside to the wind, and although the wind wasn’t particularly strong it did a good job at noisily shaking the tent for much of the night. It was not helped by the fact that we hadn’t properly secured two of the guy ropes and they had worked themselves loose. The sensible thing to do would have been, as soon as we realised this was an issue, to quickly empty the tent and spin it round 90° so that it was pointing, streamlined, into the wind, or at least get out and check all the guys. Instead we lay there, half out of laziness, half assuming we’d fall asleep at any moment, until 3:30am when I finally got up and sorted out the loose ropes. After that Lucy quickly drifted off, but for me it was too late, I lay awake from then until the sun started to rise a couple of hours later.
This isn’t our first coastal wild-camp but it may be my first where I have laid awake until dawn listening to the sounds of the night. On previous cycle trips, when wild-camping in woodland, the evening sounds of songbirds slowly give way to the hoots and screeches of owls, the snuffling of hedgehogs and badgers, and the occasional terrifying barks of roe deer. Eventually these sounds fade into a short period of almost total silence before the sudden explosion of the dawn chorus starts up with first light. When wild-camping on moorland, or on the side of a mountain, the rhythm is almost exactly the same, except the evening songbirds are replaced by the calls of curlews, lapwings, chuffs, and ravens, and the dawn chorus is often, especially in early summer, sung by sheep. Here though, on the coast, the rhythm of life isn’t just controlled by the rising and setting of the sun but also by the rise and fall of the tide. There seemed, with my eyes closed, no way to tell what time it was from just the sounds that I could hear; the peeps of oystercatchers and the shrill calls of sandwich terns seemed to continue throughout the night with little respite. Only the distant sounds from across the water of a glass recycling truck doing its collections and the crowing of a cockerel gave away any hint as to what the time actually was.
Lucy and I were also at the beck and call of the tide, with 2 windows when the causeway would be dry enough for us to head home – either before 5:30am, or after 4pm. To be honest though, with or without sleep, neither of us was going to leave our cosy sleeping bags and be packed up ready to leave by 5:30am. As well as being outside of our normal hours of consciousness it would have also meant missing one of the most beautiful sunrises that I have seen in a long time (ok, maybe the only sunrise I have seen in a long time). This gave us nearly 12 more hours of swimming, snorkelling, exploring, sunbathing, and tea drinking time before we needed to head home.
Our last task, and the most important responsibility of any wild-camping trip, is ensuring that you leave the area in a better condition than it was in when you arrived. As an uninhabited and not often visited nature reserve we had hoped that this job would be a quick one, but flotsam and jetsam from a small harbour across the water, and the horrible single-use packaging from a nearby coastal cafe, made the job bigger than it should have been. So, as we waited for the tide to uncover the causeway, we walked a couple of loops of the strand-line of the island and collected two carrier bags of food wrappers, disposable cups, polystyrene pieces, plastic string, and fishing gear – as well as a stray crab-pot bobber and some rope that had become tangled between rocks. Then, just as quickly as we had found ourselves absorbed in our own little world 24 hours earlier, we were back across the causeway, cycling through smelly traffic and noisy roads, on our short journey home, eager to begin making plans for next week’s micro-adventure.