Anna McNuff, Summer Solstice Microadventure winner, came up with a great idea to gather together like-minded Londoners and help them get out on a microadventure – within Greater London itself. I asked her to share what happened… Thank you also to @davidaltabev for permission to use his pics.
Life as an adventurous soul in London can be tough. Traffic, pollution, noise, concrete, concrete, concrete… and the people. Oh my! There are people. Everywhere. And yet, as an adventurous soul living in London, I now officially beg to differ. Wilderness and peace and emptiness is closer than you think.
For the past two months, myself and a team of Londonites have been conducting ‘field research’ in the form of the London Series Challenge. That is, to do one mid-week overnight microadventure in each of the six counties surrounding London. Having successfully slumbered our way through Essex, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Berkshire and Surrey, last week we set out to take on the microadventure mothership – a sleep-out in Greater London itself.
Sleeping with Strangers
As the weeks passed, I have become well-accustomed to (as one friend put it) “spending my evenings sleeping in bushes with strangers.” For each of the counties I visited, I mentioned my plans on Twitter and invited random people to come and join the fun. We always went as a group along with a few people that I already knew, so it was not actually dangerous or risky.
But “The Greater London meet up” took the idea of stranger danger to a whole new level. I put out an invitation on Facebook, and on the Microadventures page. It might have been because we started in the centre of town and offered up the option of just popping down for a drink for anyone who wasn’t quite up for sleeping in the wild. But the Greater London gathering went a wee bit viral. Come 7pm on Wednesday, 40 fully-employed, self-respecting, city slickers with perfectly decent homes to go to had assembled in the cellar bar of a West end pub. It was great to have a couple of beers with all these folk and exciting to share adventurous ideas with like-minded people.
Dividing and Conquering
By 9pm, we’d managed to convince 19 brave souls to go the whole way and join us for a sleep out. Our bellies bulging with pub fare, we split into small groups and prepared for journeys to Primrose Hill, Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park and Alexandra Park.
The scene that followed, in the alley outside the Pontefract Castle pub, would have made any big corporate’s HR team-building department dribble with delight. Groups of relative strangers huddled together over smart phones, browsers open on TFL, Google Maps and Sainsbury’s store locator, discussing how to make their way to their assigned location, where they would sleep and (crucially) where they might stop to buy an evening drink and a croissant for the morning.
We wished each other luck, and the four groups split up to make their way to their chosen microadventure spot.
Meanwhile, in N22…
I headed up a North London elite squadron of three. It was long past dark by the time the two Andys and I settled down on a hill in front of Ally Pally. Nestled on a camping mat, a jet boil-brewed coffee in hand (Strongbow for the lads), we sat and chatted for three hours on that hill.
Staring out at the spikes and curves of the skyline, we identified all the London landmarks as best we could. There was a long debate about what the semi-jagged, mid-height, slopey-thing was, way out to the East, and every now and then social media would offer up a glimpse of what other groups were up to.
Team Hampstead Heath seemed to have gone a little OTT on the refreshments (it was like a mobile wine store up there), there was a wonderful night-time vista shared from Primrose Hill, and it seemed that Team Richmond Park had experienced quite an adventure already, just trying to find and enter the park.
Greater London: A Critique
I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to some subtle differences between a camp out in Greater London and our previous, more rural, locations. In North London at least, the soft rustle of wind through tree leaves is frequently disturbed by a twenty-something chundering in the bushes. The stars are partially dampened by light pollution, and it’s probably wise to travel in a group as well as waiting for the two fifteen year olds making out next to you to call it a night before setting up camp. But this is London – warts n’ all. And with every sunrise and sunset I take the time to witness, I grow ever fonder of its flaws.
It may seem an odd place for a microadventure, but I’ll argue that’s what makes it worthwhile. There is a deep sense of triumph and satisfaction to be had from finding even a modicum of serenity in an area populated by 8.3 million people. For that evening, we did something out of the ordinary. We were naughty little scamps, out late on a school night, without a care in the world.
In a time when all-too-often our daily lives are unwittingly filled with activities that don’t stay long in the mind, Microadventures make memories. There’s no cheaper and more accessible way to re-instill a sense of wonder for local places that you’ve foolishly convinced yourself to be wonder-less.
No Grandad will ever sit a toddler on his knee, offer up a Werthers Original, and tell of the time he went home from work, collapsed exhausted into a chair and flicked on Season 4, Episode 3 of Game Of Thrones. (Daenerys Stormborn will set her dragons on me for that, but it’s true.) But that time you went to Hampstead Heath, chatted idly with a group of new friends as you drifted off to sleep in the long grass beneath the stars…? Now that; that might just make the cut.