Last week I had the perfect opportunity to practice what I preach: the idea of brief adventurous escapes. I had just spoken at an IT conference in Scotland and the boss of the company had taken the stage after my talk to do her very best to drain away all the fun, enthusiasm and positivity I had been paid to inject. On and on she droned, death by PowerPoint, death by cliche, way, way, waaaaay past her allotted time. The clock on the wall moved with glacial slowness. I watched my watch and waited.
At last she shut up! And I was free. We were all free. I bolted for the train station eager for a microadventure. I unfolded my map and made a plan. Stepping from the train into the peace of a Lake District evening I bundled my suit into my rucksack and began charging up the nearest mountain. We think nothing about jumping on a train for a day away, so why not use it for a night away? There are 16 glorious free hours between leaving work at 5pm and returning the next morning at 9am.
It was dark by now but I didn’t care as I stormed uphill as fast as I could (microadventure doubling as ramped-up South Pole training regime).
It was a warm, still spring evening. I unrolled my sleeping bag and bivvy bag on a patch of grass beside the summit cairn. (If you haven’t got a bivvy bag one of those orange plastic survival bags will do perfectly well for a short trip to the hills). Far below me was the small cluster of Grasmere’s lights. I had slipped the surly bonds of Earth and left the boring bits well behind.
Sleeping on a hilltop is normally a guarantee of uninterrupted sleep. But that night I was delighted to be disturbed by the team taking on the Bob Graham Round as part of The Epic Tri challenge. This is one of the most impressive, hardcore British challenges I have heard of and definitely merits a look at their website and a donation to their charitable fundraising. After waving them through at 4am I slept until first light.
Dawn is the “Wow” moment, if you have not already felt it, when you feel vindicated in deciding to sleep on a hilltop. Waking early but refreshed, with a view more uninterrupted and magnificent than any five-star hotel, on top of the world. I’m aware that microadventures are no panacea, no solution to genuine woes and unhappiness, but they really do have a power. To put things in perspective, to infuse a serene, calm sense of well-being and happiness, if only for a short while.
Only for a short while because the point of this particular microadventure is that you can be back at work on time in the morning. You might look a bit crumpled if you used your suit as a hilltop pillow, but who gives a damn!
So I stuffed my sleeping bag back into my backpack and hared back down the hillside, making a slight detour for the reflective, calm waters of Grisedale Tarn on the way. A ball-bracing cold swim, a hot cup of coffee, and a mad, grinning, whoopee-charge down the grassy fells and I caught my train back home.
Commuter trains have a knack of crushing any feelings of well-being. But as I type this in an over-hot, over-expensive, over-crowded carriage, I know that the memory of waking alone in the silver-hazed silence of sunrise, and plunging into that lake will stay with me for a long time. Elbow were on the right lines singing “One day like this a year’d see me right“, though I’m greedy and am looking for one a month to see me right.
Sleeping on a hilltop is a very cheap, easy route to a quick burst of refocussing, reprioritising, refreshing gratitude, serenity and happiness. It seems that a sleeping bag and a Scotch egg on top of a hill are all I need to make me happy. I hope you will try it for yourself. Please let me know if you do.
Finally, here is a short video I made. I hope you enjoy it.