There’s a special balance, it’s a mixture of excitement and apprehension, that you get from being on the road and not knowing where, or even if, you will be able to find a quiet spot to rest your weary legs and tired eyes for the night. Occasionally it just happens; miles away from anyone else, beautiful hazy views, and with a couple of hours before dark to leisurely cook something hearty and relax in your own little domain. Sometimes though, cold and exhausted, soaked through to the skin, pedaling into the dusk, barely able to see anything much beyond the small patch of road illuminated by the glow of your front torch, you end up full of regret at the decision not to stop a couple of hours earlier at that perfect little forest clearing or secluded canal bridge.
Now that we are temporarily confined within this island that we know so well, our wild-camping experiences haven’t had that same element of the unknown that they often do when we go away. With each of our micro-adventures so far we had already worked out where we would be sleeping before even packing our panniers or dry-bags. So this week we didn’t make any plans beforehand and instead set out north along the coast to see what we could find. To make things a bit more exciting we decided to head out, without a tent, on an evening when Storm Alex was forecast to bring force 8 gales and heavy rain – forcing us to look at this familiar landscape with different eyes.
One of the many great things about any rugged, rocky coastline is the way that they forge a beautiful, higgledy-piggledy mosaic of headlands, bays, gullies, crevices, ridges, and crags. Features and contours that can make negotiation by bicycle a little tricky at times, but also almost guarantees an abundance of concealed sheltered spots to set camp. If it wasn’t that the first storm of autumn was on a direct collision course with us, and that we had no shelter other than our bivvy bags, we would have been spoilt for choice.
Cycling into the steadily intensifying rain, we passed up on quarries, hollows, and dunes; any one of which, on a calmer evening, would have created the perfect little nest for our overnight adventure. For tonight though we decided to find a shelter with some kind of roof. We were briefly tempted by the lure of a dry night in one of 3 nearby wildlife watching hides, however today was about challenging ourselves a little and so we continued along the coast, past various bunkers, towers, and ancient dolmens, until we reached the most northern point of Guernsey and a 200 year old fort, perched, prominent and exposed, on the end of a rocky headland, keeping watch over the English Channel and the wild Atlantic Ocean.
The 4 rooms that still exist within the fort looked as though they would make ideal sleeping quarters for us, but denied by heavy padlocks we instead chose a narrow passageway connecting the two sets of entrance steps, just wide enough for us to lie down head-to-head.
This time there was no snorkeling in turquoise water, no basking in the warmth of the afternoon, and no blood orange sunset. By now we guessed that the sun had already set, not that we could really tell through the thickening grey clouds and sharp salty spray. The light was fading fast and so we lit the stove and cooked dinner. Just as we were scraping the last few bits of carrot from the bottom of the pan the rain came in hard and it was time to go back down the steps and retreat into our hideaway.
Although the outside world had become dark, it was still pretty early and we weren’t feeling tired yet. We had come prepared for this with a heavy bedtime tome containing 119 political manifestos for candidates of next week’s election in Guernsey. We need to decide which 38 of these individuals we believe could do the best job of running this island over the next four years. It’s no trivial task. I hope that those who have put themselves forward to be elected, and those of us who will be voting for them, realise the gravity of their decisions. The actions of governments and politicians all around the world over the next few years are likely to be remembered on the pages of history and in the classrooms of our descendants. And so we sat there, under the protection of those granite blocks that have served to defend this island time and again, trying to decide for ourselves whose hands that precious legacy will be best stewarded by. How many soldiers have walked on the stones beneath our bivvy bags over the centuries, anxious about the future of their home, feeling the weight of responsibility on their shoulders, doing what they can to protect what they believe is true and right. In our current era though we are no longer an isolated and vulnerable rock in the middle of the sea, we are a puzzle piece in a global community and we need to realise that despite our coastline being dotted by the fortifications and defenses of countless battles we should no longer be looking out to the horizon to spot those who would try to damage the beauty of this place. It’s time to readjust our expectations and with any luck this next set of leaders and voters will step up to the plate and take their responsibility seriously while doing their best to navigate the approaching storm.
119 manifestos would usually provide a fast-lane to sleep, but not tonight. By midnight the pooling water on the platform above us had seeped it’s way between the rocks and mortar and had begun to drip through the ceiling. I put my earplugs in and zipped myself inside my waterproof bivvy bag, while Lucy shuffled and turned in hers trying to find a position where she didn’t feel like she was being interrogated using water torture. By 2am the storm had settled in as promised and our little corridor was transformed into a howling tunnel of wind. When daylight eventually arrived, the eye of the storm was overhead, and so there was a short respite of relative calm from the worst of the weather. This was a good chance for us to walk along the shingle to collect the rubbish that last night’s strong winds and high tide had delivered and then head home for breakfast before things started to pick up again. There is something refreshing about staying out over night like this, despite having little sleep, that seems to usually make us emerge from our burrow happy hearted and with more energy than by rights we should have. I know though that if this was one night within a longer adventure that the thought of cycling through this weather all day, and maybe for days to come, would have eaten away at our positivity. For me it’s probably one of the hardest parts of cycle touring – the thought of days of relentless rain and wind to fight against and obsessively watching the weather charts for any sign of relief. Hopefully, with a few more stormy micro-adventures, we might begin to feel more prepared.