The stars, the hill, and the bears: a prize-winning summer solstice microadventure

Galen O'Hanlon
Jun 27, 2015 · 5 min read

‘We’re going to sleep out on the hill tonight,’ I said, over breakfast.

‘Oh right. Yes. Lovely. I’ll look for the tent then.’

‘No. No tent mum.’


‘Yeah — it’s called a microadventure. You skip into the wilderness for a night, without a tent. Just the stars, the hill, and the bears. We’ve got bivvi bags. It’ll be fine.’ Pleased at how confident and capable I sounded. How hard can it be? ‘It’s the solstice, too,’ I said, looking out at the grey skies and rain.

Our microadventure happened to coincide with a trip home to Kent for the weekend, to see mum and the dog. The dog was in high spirits, having just found a mouse that the cat had left in the garden.

Nelly, with a mouse.

I wasn’t quite sure how this microadventure thing was going to fit in the weekend plans. We live in Glasgow, and I don’t see mum very often, so we had to squeeze the adventuring into the same space as family catch-up time. But that’s the whole point of a microadventure — that it fits in with everything else perfectly, if you want it to. So we took mum and the dog to see our camping spot. This involved a walk. The dog was just a bit excited.

Up on the hill, we had a picnic of stinking camembert and oatcakes — and chatted through the difficult shit going on at home just now. There’s always difficult shit going on though, right? Something about camembert and a hilltop clears the head, which helps.

We set up camp. Which didn’t take very long, because there’s nothing to set up. No fannying around with tent poles. We dumped the firewood in a pile, covered it with a sack to keep dry, and headed back to the house.

For a big adventure, I would have liked to be biking, hiking and bivvying all in one — but this was micro, so we sat in the garden with prosecco, listening to the rain falling in the trees. ‘Isn’t the rain lovely,’ said mum. ‘But are you sure you’re going to sleep out tonight?’

No mum, not sure at all. ‘Yes of course we are,’ I said, enthusiasm getting fainter and fainter the longer we stayed there, eating sausages in all the comfort and familiarity of home.

If we didn’t head out straight after supper we’d never get there. We grabbed our packs and strode off into the night. My sister was fresh, or not so fresh, from camping for ten days in Bulgaria, so she went for the microadventure superlite option: bring the dog, sit by the campfire, then slip home to bed at the last moment.

‘I wish we’d hidden this sack. It’ll look completely inauthentic on the blog.’

It was the dog’s first microadventure too. She was amazed that we were actually going for a walk so late — especially because walks are, like, her absolute favourite thing. And a walk at dusk? So many new smells. So much activity to check up on. But as we got further from the house, she got closer to our heels, growling a little bit at the hedge, at the black line of trees. Her worrying only made us feel all the more intrepid.

Obviously an enormous pile of sticks is just about too much excitement for a puppy, which made building the fire a new kind of challenge.

‘Someone distract the dog.’

I made a surprisingly good fire, despite Nelly’s interest in all the wood. Guilty confession: I used firelighters, which is probably not allowed on an authentic microadventure, but mum had slipped them into my hand as we left.

The summer solstice is meant to be dramatic. Ours was cloudy. No fiery sunset, no blushing sunrise. Just the grey sky glowing more darkly into night. But then the clouds cleared, and there were stars — and a breeze, and the sound of the horses settling on the other side of the hedge.

And what about the actual bivvy bit? I wrestled into it, shuffled around, kicked my legs, and fell asleep. It was too easy — I forgot all about it, until I sat up in the middle of the night and the whole thing sat up with me.

Two blue worms on the hillside.

Morning: grey again. But we felt fresh, and ever so slightly changed from our night in the open. Everything a little more exciting, a new perspective for the day.

Heading home, with our all-terrain cross-country wheelbarrow.

We walked back home, intrepid explorers returned from the wilderness stinking of woodsmoke and ready for breakfast. Was there a fanfare? No. Everyone was still asleep. It was 8 o’clock and we’d been up for hours.

Still, the dog seemed pleased to see us.

UPDATE: this blog won a prize! I sent to Alastair Humphreys’ for his Summer Solstice Microadventure Challenge — and he liked it. Then loads of goodies arrived in the post, including this sleeping bag, which I put to the test immediately. Thanks Al!

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