Microadventure #5: Spectacular Sunrise at Donnington Castle

I’m taking part in the My Year of Microadventure proposed by Alastair Humphreys. This is month one of twelve.

Jnuary, My Year of Microadventure - MYOM

Yesterday evening I attended my wife’s colleague’s surprise birthday party in a pub in a village just outside of Newbury. I quaffed a copious amount of beer (by my standards) and then we headed home. When I got home I grabbed my rucksack, stuffed my sleeping bag into it, filled up my hydration pack, and started walking.

It might not be entirely ideal to head out on a microadventure when drunk, but I knew the weather forecast was for a cold, clear, dry night… My chances of another clear night before the end of January were probably not great: this had been the first clear night for about three weeks, so I was keen to make the most of it.

I’d already decided I’d like to do a microadventure on Donnington Castle, a medieval castle that was the site of an 18 month siege during the civil war. After its eventual fall to the parliamentarians it was decided that the castle would be demolished. All that remains now is the gatehouse, some small walls showing the original outline of the building, and the earthworks that were built to protect the castle during the siege.

Being a short walk of about an hour from my house it seemed like a fantastic opportunity for a microadventure. And with being on a hill it commands fantastic views across Newbury making it the perfect spot for sunrise photography.

I rolled up around 1am, still drunk, and spent the next half an hour or so simply staring at the twinkling lights of the town and the twinkling lights of the stars. Eventually I noticed the cold and decided a retreat into the sleeping bag would probably be a wise move. After the usual fight to get into the bag I lay and watched the stars for a while contemplating, as I always do when staring at the stars, my own insignificance. And then suddenly I was asleep.

It got COLD last night, below -3ºc at times
It got COLD last night, below -3ºc at times

With alcohol in my blood and with the night being so wrenchingly cold it should come as no surprise that I slept badly. I never sleep well after alcohol, and it really was bitterly cold. This is the first bivvying adventure I’ve completed where I was actually cold during the night. But to be fair I used to always find myself freezing in the night on summer camping trips with a tent, so to be able to now survive below -3ºc with just a bivvy bag is something of a triumph.

A pink sky just before the sunrise
A pink sky just before the sunrise

And then I peeked out of the sleeping bag and noticed the sky was changing colour – sunrise was beginning! I leapt out of the sleeping bag, which was covered in frost on both the inside and the outside, to find my shoes and my gloves had also frozen in the night. I went about setting up the camera – this time I’d brought both camera batteries so as to avoid a repeat of the battery fiasco on the Liddington Castle microadventure. Already the sky was turning a beautiful pink colour and I found myself so entranced I kept forgetting to snap some photos.

Amazing brooding sunrise sky at Castle Donnington
Amazing brooding sunrise sky at Castle Donnington

A portrait of Matt at Donnington Castle on a wintery morningAfter the pink sky settled down I went about packing my belongings ready to go home, thinking that was all the sunrise I was going to get, when a lady with a dog walked past.

“You’ve got the sunrise this time then, eh?” She said. Then she paused and looked at me again. “You are the same person who was here the other day?”

“No this is my first time coming up here for a sunrise.”

“Oh– Well you’ve picked a good day, you’ve definitely caught the sunrise!”

The sunrise begins at Donnington Castle
The sunrise begins at Donnington Castle

I looked behind me to discover that the pink sky had really been only the beginning. I’d been assuming the sun was behind the clouds, but there it was now, slowly starting its climb over the horizon. And so back I went to the camera to take some more photos!

Watching the sunrise - not a care in the world
Watching the sunrise – not a care in the world
Sunrise at Donnington Castle
Sunrise at Donnington Castle
Flying high at Donnington Castle
Flying high at Donnington Castle
It's so tiny, I could just reach out and grab it
It’s so tiny, I could just reach out and grab it

This was a truly breathtaking sunrise. I could so easily have wussed out the microadventure having been out late for the birthday party, but I stuck to the plan regardless and the payoff was incredible. Here’s to the next awesome sunrise!

January microadventure completed!
January microadventure completed!

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