Adventure is out there: Wild camping north of the M25

I feel like I used to be more adventurous than I am now. I tried windsurfing and waterskiing on holidays with my parents. As a teenager, I did hiking, caving, white water rafting and kayaking… I went skydiving and even completed the A J Hackett trilogy of bungee jumps including New Zealand’s highest, Nevis, from 134m over a ravine … Now, after a decade of pretty mellow living, I’m finding that I have a renewed sense of adventure and a desire to try new things.

So it was on a bit of a whim that I signed up to a secret adventure via meetup.com. Although I’d joined the group months ago, and seen many events without signing up, something about this one drove me to click that RSVP button. The description of this Tiny Island adventure included escaping London, cooking round a campfire, and a special reading from a Guardian journalist. With that brief information, I bought a place on this ‘literary adventure’ and on Saturday I suddenly found myself on a train to London equipped with a bike and a bag full of kit.

Bikes by the river

Now, let me be clear, I’ve never been much of a lycra fan, preferring instead a more leisurely approach to cycling while singing Do Re Mi and ringing my pink bell. This was a mainly flat ride along the canals of London, so perhaps not the biggest challenge, but it was definitely the furthest I’ve ever ridden.

The adventure began with a 20-mile bike ride out of London. We stayed together as a group, waiting for punctures to be fixed, brakes to be adjusted, and the whole ride took three, maybe four, hours. When we reached our secret location, we locked our bikes together behind some bushes, put our belongings into a dry sack (a miraculous bag that floats in water and keeps your things dry), and swam across to our tiny island that would be our home for the night. I felt just like in The Beach, except without Leo DiCaprio and that handsome French actor…

Tiny island

Okay, so there was 3G so we weren’t exactly that remote, and we even had planes passing over us… but we did have an island to ourselves, and how often do you wake up to a view of the open sky above the treetops and get to go for an early morning dip?

As the Guardian journalist and author Dixe Wills writes in his book Tiny Islands (for some reason, he has developed a passion for all things tiny), “islands imbue their visitors with an immediate sense of escape, of getting away from it all, and the tempting if possibly fanciful notion that if you came to live here you could start your life all over again with a fresh slate”.

The organiser was Madoc, a qualified youth worker and expedition leader who started Secret Adventures in January this year. He runs it from Bathtub 2 Boardroom, a charity start-up incubator that offers a creative working space to entrepreneurs in London. (Although I do love a good Starbucks, and I’m planning on leaving London soon, I must say that I’m tempted…) I thought Madoc could be a great candidate for my Fearless Fridays interview, where I talk to people who’ve left a corporate job to pursue their passion; but when I asked if he had ever had a more traditional job, Madoc replied matter-of-factly, “I never considered doing anything I didn’t want to do.” It really is that simple…

Campfire

Madoc already had the fire going by the time we had swum across to the island. We ate a nutritious meal of couscous and chorizo followed by grilled banana and melted Dairy Milk, after which we passed round a bottle of whiskey – I never drink whiskey, but somehow is seemed appropriate! – and listened as Dixe read from his book and we shared our tales of adventure from around the world.

And, as you would imagine, the group was lovely. Almost all of us were there alone, which always helps to make everyone open to talking to everyone else. “Assuming for a moment that we are what we do”, as Dixe writes on his website, there was a graphic designer, an app developer, a BBC researcher, a photographer, a manager of a drug and alcohol service, a journalist who works on a solution-focused newspaper called Positive News… Again, a reminder of all the different paths you can take!

Wild camping is strictly speaking not allowed in England and Wales (it’s not like the Eden that is Sweden where we have allemansrätten, the right of public access, which allows us to stay on any land for one night without permission). It’s usually not a problem, as long as you remain discreet and clean up after yourselves. On this occasion, though, our adventure was made all the more exciting as we heard angry voices coming from the mainland and torches flashing in the dark. They left us – well, they weren’t about to swim across, and apparently they didn’t have a boat – with a sinister warning, “See you in the morning!” Luckily, when morning came, there were no angry farmers and no policemen waiting to arrest us for our heinous crime, only a lovely if slightly racist man who was pacified when he heard that we were all English. My imagination ran wild as I pictured my new friends handing me over as a foreigner, but they remained silent as the man grumbled about the Poles who had a cannabis festival on the island last year…

Group photo

In the morning, we swam back across to get our bikes, finding a nearby café where we could gorge ourselves on a big English breakfast before continuing on to our different destinations.

I heard somewhere that you should buy experiences instead of things, and I’m all for that! I managed to scrounge together a lot from my parents’ attic, but I had to buy a couple of extra things for the sake of this experience (that dry sack and a bivvy bag). Of course, now that I have all the kit, I need to do more wild camping to use it all!

So what’s next? Madoc is planning a visit to one of Dixe’s tiny islands, so I’m hoping to join that one. I definitely want to go kayaking, maybe next summer in the Stockholm archipelago. I’d like to cycle around Gotland, a not-so-tiny island off the south-east coast of Sweden. And… well, let’s see what other adventures the future may bring!

 

Read more about microadventures on Alastair Humphrey’s blog, and join Madoc on one of his upcoming Secret Adventures (he has kayaking, camping and canoeing trips still happening this month, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime Arctic Biathlon in December).

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