Microadventure #2: Sleep On A Hill In Oxfordshire

I came away from my first Microadventure feeling somewhat ambivalent: On the one hand I’d all but destroyed my right foot, had no sleep, I had blood blisters where my backpack had been and literally every muscle hurt, but on the other hand I’d done nearly 20 miles of walking between finishing work one evening and starting work the next morning (although I have to admit I never actually made it to work that day in the end) and completed the single most gruelling hike I’ve ever undertaken. In that regard I felt pretty great about it.

Let me tell you now, one really rough night can make you really appreciate your sofa in a whole new way.

So when it came round to the next opportunity to undertake a microadventure I wanted to do something easier. My foot was still injured so long distance hiking was out, and my mind was still numb from the last walk anyway. I was itching however to spend one night in a bivvy bag under the stars, without any of the other pressures. And so I decided simpler was better: Sleep on a hill. Nothing more, nothing less.

I scoured the map for hills. Sadly Berkshire is a fairly flat part of the UK, but then it struck me: Uffington Castle, the Iron Age hill fort in Oxfordshire, is a short drive. It’s one of my favourite places and has easy parking near the hill. It was decided, now I just needed a night with reasonable weather.

When that day finally arrived I was all set. I’d learnt some lessons from my first microadventure, and so had spent some time removing things I knew I wouldn’t be using: The basha, the trangia, lots of food, some spare clothes, etc. What I’d not realised was that I’d put the bivvy bag into the basha bag to save some space. I drove half way to the site before I realised. By the time I’d driven all the way home I’d lost all enthusiasm and decided to can it for the night and try the next day, weather permitting.

The weather the next day was poor, so the plan was postponed one more day in favour of a clear night.

When I arrived at the empty car park a 4×4 followed me in. This was a bit of a surprise, given that it was after 9pm and pitch black, in the middle of nowhere. The 4×4 pulled into a parking space directly behind me and sat there with their lights on for a short while before switching their lights and engine off. I chose to wait in the car a while to see what happened. Eventually I was starting to feel brave enough to unlock the doors and get out, when suddenly their lights flicked back on and they started their engine, pulled out of their parking space and then moved to a parking space further down the car park. I waited another five minutes or so before filming a piece to camera for the video of the trip, and then getting out.

I’ve no idea to this day what they were doing there.

The hike up the hill was easy enough. At the top it was incredibly dark, being cloudy and with no natural light at all. I wandered across the fort for a little while trying to find somewhere to sleep, and found myself in a herd of sheep. Not keen on the idea of being woken up by sheep flocking over my head I chose to go away from the sheep.

I found a spot at the top of the hill above the white horse that was flat and that gave me a reasonable view to the east so that I could watch the sunrise in the morning. After setting the camera up on its tripod I was able to get a few star photos. None of them were incredible, but I wasn’t really there to photograph the heavens – I was there for a sunrise and to experience the joy of nature by interacting with it directly.

I watched the stars twinkling for an hour or two. Being so dark it was possible to make out the Milky Way, something I’ve never been able to spot before. All of life’s problems soon start seeming insignificant when staring straight up on a clear night. The picture we see when we look into a starry sky was painted millions of years ago, most of the stars we see likely no longer exist as it takes the light so long to reach us. I lay in my bivvy bag considering that I’m an unimportant speck on an important speck in an unimportant speck that forms part of an unimportant system in an uninteresting part of another system tucked away in an unimportant part of the universe.

Uffington Castle sunrise
The beautiful red glow of sunrise from Uffington Castle iron age fort. Not a bad view to wake up to.

I bedded down relatively early, I was tired and wanted to be up early enough to get a shot of the sunrise. The night was peaceful and I was amazed at how comfortable the sleeping mat was, and how warm the sleeping bag was with the bivvy bag. I’d expected to be cold, in reality I was lovely and warm all night.

The morning came quickly and I was rewarded with a red sky. Sadly it had clouded over during the night so no view of the sun making its way over the horizon as such, but watching the land around me slowly getting lighter and lighter was still a joy and I managed to get a few shots of the sunrise’s red glow on the cloud.

I didn’t want to be there when the dog walkers inevitably broke the silence and feeling of isolation, so I left early and headed back to the car knowing full well I’d be back out in the wild again soon enough making the most of the real world.

Watch a short video of the trip.

Microadventure #1: Burghclere to Walbury Hill Night Hike

My first ever Microadventure – or, at least, the first that I have given the title of “Microadventure” to.

After work on Tuesday 14th I got in the car and drove to Burghclere, a small village to the South of Newbury, just over the border in Hampshire. It was already getting dark when I arrived: The first in a long line of errors. The plan had been to do the majority of the walk in daylight and watch the sun go down once I reached Walbury Hill – the destination.

The next error was that I’d grossly underestimated just how far I had to walk, and how difficult the terrain was going to be. And walking it in pitch black didn’t make it easier. On top of that about half way through the walk a thick mist set in.

  • Pitch black dark,
  • surprisingly tricky terrain,
  • thick mist with visibility of about 2 metres,
  • wet, muddy ground,
  • an overweight back pack on my back (I have a bad habit of packing too much)…

Not an ideal mix for a first microadventure. I arrived at the halfway point around the time I had planned to finish the walk.

Shortly after the halfway point something went very wrong with my right foot: The sole started hurting and it only got worse with each step. By this point I was in the tail end of nowhere in Hampshire, soaked and covered in mud. I couldn’t exactly call a cab. I checked the map thinking I could shorten the walk by changing the destination, but I was as far away from the car as I could get at this point.

One bad slip on a badly water-eroded path led to a fall into a water-filled ditch, grabbing a handful of brambles in one hand and a handful of nettles in the other. Soaked, muddy, hands throbbing and bleeding I still had no choice but to pick myself up and carry on trudging into the sensory-depriving mist. There was no scenery, even the path was barely visible.

Seconds felt like minutes, minutes felt like years.

I finally arrived at Walbury Hill at about midnight in a lot of pain. I didn’t bother climbing to the top, I decided to sleep at the bottom in order to avoid putting any further strain on my already very sore foot. It took close to an hour to get the bivvy site set up and in the bag. It was after 1am before I was even close to being able to attempt sleep.

Sleep was unattainable: The strain of the walk had left my heart racing and pounding, so I simply lay there in the mist for another five hours or so before getting up, packing everything back into my backpack and then hefting it back onto my back to head off into the mist once again.

I spent the morning simply finding the shortest, quickest route back to the car. The route wasn’t especially scenic, the plan was just to get back as fast as possible before my foot completely gave out on me. The sun rose around 7:30am and the mist lifted which improved my mood considerably and lifted my spirits.

I arrived back at the car around 9:30am – some time after I had planned to be back at work. I still had to drive home, shower, change clothes, drive to work, … In the end I called the office and told them I wasn’t coming in (one small perk of being the boss). I still had to go to a client meeting in Oxfordshire later in the day despite not having slept and being in a great deal of pain, but that’s part of the joy of the five-to-nine Microadventure.


This Microadventure hurt like hell, it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done: I’ve been up and down plenty of mountains, done night hikes, a 30+ mile walk… yet this was the toughest hike I’ve ever done. It was only about 12 miles the first day and about 7 miles the second day, but the conditions made it hard. The total sensory deprivation made this hike torturous.

Does that mean I regret it?

Au contraire: I’m glad I did the walk even though it hurt like hell. I’m in no rush to repeat the experience, but I might be up for doing the same route in easier conditions at some point, perhaps in the summer.

I also learnt a great deal on this adventure:

  • You don’t need to take the kitchen sink with you, you won’t use 90% of the stuff in your pack,
  • Walking in the dark greatly decreases your speed,
  • Walking in mist vastly decreases your speed,
  • For your first microadventure you’re better off picking a simple location you can drive to, park, walk up a hill and then bivvy down for the night.

This video contains a few clips of the Burghclere to Walbury Hill Microadventure towards the start. I never made a full video for my first microadventure.