Microadventure #6: One Night on Beacon Hill

My Year of Microadventure started so well with a spectacular sunrise at Donnington Castle. Unfortunately though, I got sick in February. Really sick. I lost a lot of weight, and came within a hair’s breadth of becoming anaemic. A microadventure was sadly not possible in February as I just wasn’t well enough.

In March when I was finally feeling strong enough to get out onto a hill again I knew I wouldn’t have the strength for anything demanding, and so I opted for the gentlest outing I could come up with and chose Beacon Hill.

So this is my “February” microadventure. In March.

February, My Year of Microadventure - MYOM

The weather forecast was good: A warm (for March) and dry overcast night, so pretty much spot on for a microadventure. There is a car park at the bottom of Beacon Hill and it’s not far from the bottom to the top, albeit a steep climb when your iron count is low.

Standing atop Beacon Hill, Burghclere
Standing at the top of Beacon Hill with a foggy Hampshire behind me.

When I got to the top and set up my bivy bag it turned out to be a little colder than I had expected. I fought my way into my bag as best I could and found myself falling asleep from exhaustion before I’d zipped it up. I woke up an hour or two later frozen to my core, deeply regretting that decision.

Otherwise the night passed in an uneventful way and I packed up early as I was in a fairly exposed location and, being a popular dog-walking location, I didn’t want to be woken by a cold wet nose forcing its way into my sleeping bag. In fact I was wrong to expect dog walkers, I didn’t see anyone until I got to the bottom of the hill, but the old mantra still holds true: Arrive late, leave early.

In fact the closest thing I saw to a dog was a fox that was eagerly hunting while I packed up. We spotted each other at the same time and we both froze, though for different reasons. He stared at me for a moment and then darted away in a panic.

A view over Hampshire from Beacon Hill
Hampshire’s gentle hills covered in mist.

I spent the morning wandering around the top of the hill fort investigating the landmarks. Yes, Beacon Hill is yet another hill fort – I seem to be collecting them!

From one side there is a gorgeous view over Highclere Castle (better known as Downton Abbey to many) and its grounds. There is also a grave for George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, a key player in the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. His grave is inexplicably kept locked behind a 6 foot cast iron fence. I very much hope that’s to keep people out, and not to keep him in

Sunrise over Beacon Hill, Hampshire
A deep red sunrise over Beacon Hill in Hampshire.

The sunrise was a surprise, it was actually very pretty despite the cloud, and seemed to happen some time after it should have done. I’d been up and about for some time when the sun finally rose and the world was already bright and alive when suddenly the red ball burst over the horizon. I snapped a couple of shots before heading off.

Before I left I found the energy, somehow, to run and then climb onto the trig point at the top of the hill, to pose for a photo. My camera’s interval timer is very short so this was no small feat. This photo had a lot of outtakes, and by the time I’d got the shot I was exhausted. But I got it.

Standing on a trig point on Beacon Hill
A photo with a lot of out-takes.

It was a very basic cut-back microadventure, but the point is I got out there and did it despite the fact I was still recovering, even if it was a month late.

 

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.

TL;DR

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.