It’s 4.30 in the morning. I’m in a beautiful nature reserve in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, in what should be very peaceful surroundings for sleeping out beneath the night sky. However, reality at this time was not quite that serene and rather than being snug in my bivvy bag and sound asleep, I found myself up a tree instead. Oh the joy and adventure of the great outdoors!
How it all began…I’ve been a fan of sleeping outdoors for quite some time now. Laying there beneath a canvas of stars, with nothing but a couple of layers of material and my face exposed to that deep dark blue night sky, with a cool sweet breeze upon my face. My idea of bliss.
I used to do all my wild camping in tents; it was great fun and cheaper than staying in hostels and b&bs but then I discovered the bivouac. This was at the break of Spring in 2014, and I haven’t looked back since that first undertaking. I developed such a bug for it that I have now slept outdoors without a tent 132 times (not that I’m counting or anything).
My passion is for long distance walking which consists of a linear route that lasts 5 to 10 days. During these trips a bivvy at the end of the day can be very rewarding and usually guarantees a good night’s sleep. It’s always good to escape the city for a while, leaving all that mayhem behind and allowing yourself to reset. Obviously living and working in London means I can’t always get away when I want, so a couple of years ago I thought why not bring the adventure to my doorstep and try bivvying in London itself. At that time I thought this was surely a terrible idea and probably not possible but one late august evening I decided to give it a go; venturing out with a friend to Hackney Downs to attempt our first bivvies in London. I went into this thinking of all the things that could go wrong; the sheer population of London, the state of some of its’ green spaces, and a general fear of the unknown. Upon waking up in the morning I was pleasantly surprised to find I had had an undisturbed sleep and possibly one of my best bivvys to date which ended with watching a beautiful sunrise over a sleepy East London skyline.
This experience gave birth to really experimenting with what is on my doorstep and led to a 30 night challenge of sleeping outdoors in London for the whole of September. Each evening I bivvied at a different location and also woke up in some of London’s famous green spots in the likes of Hyde Park, St James Park and Hampstead Heath. It was a truly eye opening challenge and gave me an immense appreciation of just how green London is and the richness it has to offer in terms of open space. Places right here at home, where you can still achieve a calm and peace, completely clearing your head and recharging your soul.
After completing this eventful experiment I was hungry for more and decided that I would walk the London Loop; a 150 mile circular route around Greater London, very much like the M25, but which acts as a green corridor around the city instead. I wanted to do this during my working week so decided to undertake it as a number of night rambles ending with a bivvy in whichever area I found myself in. It took 12 nights in total during the winter season and even saw me go on a date with my now girlfriend (we were third date in). It took me to areas of London that were completely unknown to me; such as Barnet, Hounslow, and Bexley which was another wonderful insight into how much there really is to play with and escape to within the Capital. As well as this, I realised that the landscape of these green spaces in the city are so varied as I have been able to hammock as well as bivvy in woodland, marshes, fields and even a cemetery.
Now I’ve always liked collecting things; whether it be postcards, football stickers, or national park bucket lists, I think they’re important fragments of what makes up our individual identity. Having worked out I’d slept outdoors in 23 of the 32 London Boroughs, I realised my latest collection would have to be bivouacking in all of the boroughs and so was born my idea of ‘borough bivvy bagging’.
And so back to why I found myself up a tree on a Thursday night in the middle of Dagenham. I had had a solid sleep until I was awoken at 4.30 in the morning to the vibration of thuds not too far in the distance. Trying to get back off to sleep was put on hold, as they got closer, and seemed to have multiplied. Low and behold, it was only a band of wild horses that had landed at my little camp area. For the next 15 minutes it was a game of figuring out each others intentions and evidently freaking each other out, which resulted with me seeking higher ground and climbing up the nearest tree. My actions were odd enough to send them packing to the other side of the stream from which they had come and for me to slowly make my way back down to my bivvy bag with a little less pride than the beginning of the night. I lay back laughing remembering how each bivvy in London has been unique whilst witnessing another beautiful city sunrise. That was another borough bagged and ticked off the list.
I will be moving out of London in 6 weeks time and relocating to the Peak District. I’m cutting it slightly fine but I fully intend on completing the challenge before I leave. What Brent, Ealing, Croydon and the other remaining 3 will offer I don’t know. But I do believe that every little corner of London has some form of space to get lost and rediscover yourself in by escaping and enjoying the simplicity of sleeping under the stars. It hasn’t let me down so far.
26 down, 6 to go! And surely I need to complete the challenge with a final bivvy in the City of London (technically not a Borough) as a kind of icing on the cake. That or finally get moved on by the authorities or picked up by the police.
I am a firm believer of making the most of what’s on offer right in front of you, and achieving a sense of thrill and excitement by working with what you have and turning restrictions into opportunities. It’ll be an odd mantel but one that will live with me forever. So thanks for having me London.