I feel like I’ve hit many of my fitness goals so far this year: I’ve done multi-day rides, I’ve done long-distance rides, I’ve increased my threshold power far beyond what I thought was possible, I’ve climbed more hills without whinging than I care to count, but one thing still remained. Until last night, I had never ever been camping.
Can you believe it? A girl like me had never been camping until an evening in May when the sun beamed on Manchester like never before. It was time. I had to get a few things to make it possible first. Oliver had already let me borrow his Alpkit PipeDream 200 sleeping bag and Alpkit Hunka bivvy bag on a wreck-and-replace policy, so all I had to do was hire a Therm-a-rest sleeping mat and Rab tarp from Pannier. I packed my bags, strapped them to my bike, did that work thing I have to do, then made my way into the Peak District. Thanks to a tip-off from Stef at Pannier, I heard Slippery Stones was an ideal wild camping spot so I plotted a route and chucked it on my Wahoo Elemnt ready to use straight from work. I decided to do this little adventure alone because that’s how TCRNo5 works and I’m also of the persuasion that I don’t wait for others to join me on whatever it is I want to do so snooze, you lose.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I love living in the north of England particularly close to the Peak District National Park. I’m so lucky to call Manchester home (Adelaide, you’re home too k?) and recent events have just emphasised this. I got just 22km into my route to the part which I affectionately call “mingin'” when I had a minute (mainly because my bike was much heavier than the last time I went up this section) and took in the view. I wasn’t even in the Peaks yet and the roads I was riding were taking my breath away.
I set a new Strava PR up Rushup Edge apparently and my gift on the night was this cracking view from the top of Mam Nick. I’d have stayed longer had it not been for my stomach requiring otherwise, but it was stunning with very few others around for miles. Dropping into Edale is something my poor brake pads dread because I’m so useless at descending, taking the safe option of cruising down while tugging at my levers. Mam Nick for those who haven’t done it is a steep ascent/descent but also quite technical. Thankfully it’s been resurfaced at its historically rough parts but that still doesn’t convince me that I can just swoop down like a preying bird.
I took a quick dinner break in Edale at the Old Nag’s Head and thought it rude not to have a pint. Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of walkers, locals and campers around these parts enjoying the first expedition of what looked like many for this long weekend. A table of 30-somethings opened up their OS map while one chirped up about a specific walk he did one time. Behind me, two locals enjoying an evening drink while two young girls just arrived dolled up as though Edale was the new Northern Quarter. Light began to fall and I still had a good few kilometres until I reached my bed for the night so I made tracks.
If you’ve never ridden at dusk in the Peaks, I whole-heartedly recommend it. It’ll set your senses on fire as towering greenery turns to silhouette, pockets of warm and cold air whoosh past with every pedal stroke, the smell of fresh air is ever present and the bugs between your grinning teeth taste great.
One last right turn from Snake Pass lead me to Howden Reservoir where I’d camp out for the night. Given it was recommended to me as a popular place to go, I wasn’t surprised to see a quite a few others with a similar idea to me though none I saw on two wheels. The reservoir road was a gallery for VW Transporters new and old and a dream to ride along as I took in the view to my right.
Night fell a little sooner than I anticipated and I’d stumbled across a river crossing with another tent on the other side. Figuring I’d be safer in numbers, I took my shoes and socks off and embarked on my voyage with shoes in one hand, bike in the other. These weren’t called Slippery Stones for no reason and at night, I was conscious I could easily do an ankle if I wasn’t careful. Having made it safely across, I parked up with the other tent in sight but careful not to piss entirely on their parade and threw all my bags on the floor as I scrounged around for my headtorch and tarp.
I still didn’t have socks on at this point and the pine cones beneath my feet reminded me. Lesson number one: don’t cross rivers at night, lesson two: find a clear area to bivvy on. Oh and watch the sheep poo. Conscious of my new neighbours, I got changed behind a tree into some compression leggings and a merino t-shirt. I put my beanie on and got to work setting up my bedroom for the night.
I couldn’t get this tarp to work how I imagined it worked. No, I didn’t practice beforehand and it was now really quite dark. Lesson three: double check you know how to use your kit before you leave on an expedition. I repurposed the tarp for a ground sheet so hiring it wasn’t totally wasted. I then laid out my bivvy, inflated my sleeping mat and jumped in my sleeping bag. This was bed. The stars were out and they were bright, what sounded like a cuckoo played the lullaby and the babbling flow of water at the end of my bed made sure I knew I wasn’t alone.
Morning broke and I checked the time. It was 4:24am and the animal world was waking. Mr Cuckoo was about to end his night shift while some sheep were hovering at the fence behind me to remind me that this was their field. No worries guys, give me a couple more minutes and I’ll be out your way. That turned into about three hours then I decided it was time to up and leave knowing full well a storm was on its way at some point.
It turns out the bugs really took a liking to me overnight and it was hard shutting them out from my sleeping bag. Thankfully my puffy eyes didn’t last beyond brew o’clock in the morning but I don’t think I’ll be bivvying to kickstart any future relationships. The humidity in the air was stupid. I’d barely began to roll up my sleeping bag and I was sweating. Putting yesterday’s kit on was a feeling I won’t forget too soon. Should I just sleep in my cycling kit in future? I thought hanging it out to dry was a good idea but it still felt damp in the morning, but maybe it was just chilly.
I made the river crossing for the second time and made sure I put on fresh socks on the other side. As soon as I got around the corner, I saw the sign pointing the opposite way for the “Slippery Stones Cycle Route”. Oh. I pulled over for a cup of tea and a bite to each before making tracks towards a nice cafe for a decent coffee.
It’s hard to believe places like this exist until you discover them. How have I descended Snake Pass so many times and not thought to turn left to Howden Reservoir? How had I never camped before? Sometimes I keep thinking that time’s going way too fast and I’ve got far too much to do and how will I ever fit it all in and how will I ever afford to do everything? The truth is I can’t but I can pick and choose moments like these that’ll widen my horizon at the same time as being adventures within my existing world.
I’ve got a lot to learn about bivvying and I’ve taken away a lot from this one night in the Peak District. I can’t wait to do it again with hopefully similar conditions, but I’ve also been inspired to do some school night bivvys and making best use of the work showers. I’m now on the hunt for my own lightweight sleeping mat (I would totally buy the one I hired), a sleeping bag for cooler temperatures but still again lightweight and packs down tiny, my own little stove (thanks Sliths for lending me yours!) and other camping kitchen bits and bobs, a pillow of sorts and someone to assemble my tarp for me!