Microadventure #7: A Night On The Test Way

In Microadventure #1 (Burghclere to Walbury Hill Night Hike) I hiked 12 miles in difficult conditions, and then slept at the end of the Wayfarer’s Walk on Walbury Hill, before heading back to the car in the morning. I was somewhat disappointed with that microadventure for a whole bunch of reasons, but I was particularly disappointed I’d not seen Walbury Hill in the light of day. Being the highest points in both Berkshire and Hampshire – since the county boundary bisects the hill – I had really wanted to see the top of the hill and the views commanded from there. I’d been far too exhausted and injured on MA#1 to climb to the top and so had slept at the bottom in the dark and the fog, with fantastic views of absolutely nothing.

I’ve been wanting to correct this for some time. When March’s “my year of microadventure” rolled round a month late in April I knew I had to revisit Walbury Hill and do it properly. I was still recovering from the serious bout of illness I’d suffered back in February at this point, and so planned for another very gentle outing.

March, My Year of Microadventure - #YYOM

I remembered that there was a car park at the bottom of Walbury Hill and knew it would be an ideal choice for a gentle walk with a sleep on a hill. Perfect.

Nightfall on the Test Way, near Combe Gibbet
A beautiful dusk on The Test Way

I drove out there and parked at the bottom of the hill, which was less simple than I had expected. Why? I’d walked there 6 months ago, I should have known the roads and the look of the place. But it turns out that Walbury Hill looks VERY different in broad daylight and when not covered in thick fog. The car park at the bottom of the hill is already surprisingly high and overlooking an absolutely breathtaking view. On MA#1 I’d walked right past this view oblivious to its presence by the lack of visibility. Arriving for the second time I couldn’t believe I was in the same place as it simply looked too different.

Reaching the top of Walbury Hill I have to confess to not being blown away by the available bivvying locations, nor the view. The path over the hill is actually a road, of sorts, with wide verges alongside of it, but to me a verge does not seem like much of a bivvy site. And still being light and with plenty of people still on the path I decided to carry on along the Wayfarer’s Walk to its end at Combe Gibbet. At that point I was thinking I’d spend the night at the gibbet, but I reached it much quicker than expected, and it turned out to be private property and full of sheep. Not a great place to put your head down for the night. And so on I walked, continuing onto the Test Way.

Both the Wayfarer’s Walk and the Test Way start at Inkpen Beacon, the hill on which Combe Gibbet is located, and they could be considered to be continuations of one another. I carried on Westward as darkness fell. As I passed a field of sheep near the gibbet I spied one with its head stuck in the fence separating the field from the path. It had managed to get the fleece on its neck thoroughly tangled in the thick brambles that were growing on my side of the fence alongside the path, and they in turn were preventing it from sliding its head back through. Not wanting to return in the morning to find a strangled sheep I helped the panicked animal by slowly making my up to the fence making what I assumed to be noises that would be soothing to a sheep. Gently pulling the brambles out of its fleece I slowly untangled the stricken creature. After a fashion it managed to free itself from the fence, look back at me with a disgusted expression on its face, then run after its mates who’d left it for dead. Some friends, huh? And for that matter some thanks, huh? Clearly, sheep have no manners.

Eerie dusk on the Test Way, Berkshire
Sundown from the Test Way

I carried on down the Test Way along Inkpen Hill where I eventually found a reasonably secluded spot between a hedgerow and some trees. Thinking ahead for once I’d even brought myself a spot of dinner in a Stanley thermos flask which I then ate with a multitool. Apparently my forward thinking hadn’t stretched as far as considering to bring a spoon.

Starlight and trees along the Test Way in Berkshire
Stars and trees on the Test Way

Being a fairly clear night made for some great photo opportunities for star photography, so I snapped away for a while before realising I was getting tired and cold.

A sky full of Stars in Berkshire, shot from the Test Way
Sleeping under the stars. Is there a better way to sleep?

Ready for some sleep I got out my new lightweight 2-seasons sleeping bag that I’d only just bought earlier that week, and proceeded to bed down. Turns out April was still a little too early for a 2-season sleeping bag and so I found myself waking up in the night shivering and wishing I’d brought my 3-season bag.

Nighttime on the Test Way near Combe Gibbet, Berkshire
One night under the stars

An abundance of sleep was not had that night: Partly thanks to the cold, partly thanks to the fact that I never seem to sleep well the first night of a microadventure – which is particularly annoying since most of my microadventures consist of only one night under the stars – but also largely thanks to the rave that seemed to be happening nearby. I never worked out where, but there was a hell of a lot of loud music fairly close by that night. I suspect it was over at Combe Gibbet, but I don’t know for a fact. There was no sign of it the next morning, but there were some empty beer and cider cans that hadn’t been there the evening before.

Early morning photo from the Test Way, Berkshire
Gorse in bloom along the Test Way

Next morning I packed up, took a couple of photos and then cursed myself for not having charged the battery on my camera since it spectacularly failed after only a few photos. So with little else to do I headed back down the Test Way paying special attention to the lack of a dead sheep in the fence.

As with every other micradventure, life felt good that morning.

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