Setting out from the car park at 7.30pm, the early darkness soon enveloped us. I brought my youngest with me, which made me brave as we walked along the path and into the field below the ridge. I’d been hoping we wouldn’t see anyone, but we approached a man alone, which made me cautious. It turned out they were walking their dog, and that it was a dog (and owner) we knew – the advantages of microadventures in your own city!
We slipped through the gate and onto the path which ran parallel to the ridge. In the dark, we could see the lights of the city below us to our left, and a shallow pool cast from our torches. The night closed in around us and we chatted loudly and even sang to distract ourselves from the solitude. Everything looked different – I’d wild camped there before, but it must have been a summer’s evening, as I was struggling to spot the place where the path opened to the right and up the hill. We eventually found it, and started to climb. This was better – some primeval instinct in me felt much more comfortable higher up.
I’d remembered the best spot was beyond the trees and almost round the other side of the ridge, and we found a good place backed by high brambles but overlooking the city and the countryside beyond.
Pitching the tent and filling it with warm kit was the priority, as even though we’d warmed up nicely on the way up, we’d quickly cool down – I estimated the temperature to be maybe 3 or 4 degrees. Midwinter’s night was predicted to be cloudy but as we arrived the sky cleared and we could see the moon and stars, and the wind had dropped – the perfect midwinter’s night! There was a feeling of elemental contentment being out on the shortest night, knowing that we’d embraced it, not hidden away from it, and I had a big grin at the thought of everyone else wrapped up inside. We knew that we’d made it, that we’d soon be seeing longer days and lighter nights.
I’d parked on a slight slope, so we spent a bit of the night sliding down our roll mats, and I didn’t sleep much as the wind picked up in the night, but we were very cosy inside our sleeping bags.
I knew I needed to get up and catch the train back into London the following day, so – for the first time on any camping trip ever – I set an alarm. It was still dark as we worked to strike the tent, set the cooker going for breakfast and tea, and get everything packed away. Nothing tastes better than hot food for breakfast and we enjoyed porridge with blueberries with some very civilised vanilla tea. Suitably fortified for our descent (and a day’s work in London), we picked our way down again just as the light was creeping over the hill.