Steak & Eggs & A Side Splitting Doss

Christmas & New Year 2018/19

A couple of (cough) 'microadventures' bookended my festive two weeks off work. One was fairly wholesome and involved a long day of woodland walking and cooking, whilst the other was frankly just silly.

Let's get the silly one out of the way first. It was Friday evening, 21st of December, and I had just finished work for the holidays a few hours before. I was at home enjoying a nice dram or two of Jameson's and kick starting the festivities with a family Chrimbo film. All very nice and civilised, and no plans to be outdoors. Until I popped into the back yard as everyone was going to bed and saw a huge full moon illuminating a slightly misty and beautifully still night.


Now, I don't have a lawn to pitch up in, but at the back of our house is a playing field, and in the middle is the unusual feature of a 6 foot high raised 'island', with reasonably flat grass and a rather grand tree growing out of it. Local kids like to climb up onto it in daylight hours, and I had recently thought it would make an interesting stealth camping spot - despite (or perhaps because?) of it being under the noses of the whole estate.

The 'island' - taken on a different night

Well of course fueled by festive cheer, nice conditions and whiskey I decided tonight was the night. So just after midnight I was traipsing the 100 yards over the field in the dark with my fully packed rucksack. There was still a bit of noise and commotion from the nearby working men's club, which was seemingly on a late one tonight, but otherwise there was no one about. The weed smoking yoof who seem to gravitate to every toddlers' play area in the land after dark had even turned in, thankfully.

My only obstacle was that wall. I had climbed it on numerous occasions before, and knew it isn't the easiest. There are a couple of small holes that a toe can fit in to give a leg up, so I went for it with gusto. Thing is, I was wearing my big silly walking boots and they were too big, so just as I was raised as high as I could go the foot slipped out and I crashed my ribcage down on the jagged edge of the wall, on my right side. I felt a searing pain but managed to push myself (and the heavy rucksack still on my back - why hadn't I taken it off and chucked it up first?) high enough to swing a leg over. I realised straight away that I had damaged myself in some way but tried to ignore it and carry on.

The Offending Wall...

The screeching drunkeness from outside the working men's club finally subsided as cars raced off (I hope to God the drivers were sober at least...) whilst I busied myself with the sleeping arrangements. Tent was soon up and made homely, and I climbed down from the island to grab a photo or two.


Once this was done there was little to stay up for, so I hauled myself back up the wall (this was now a real struggle with my injury) and I hit the sack. I left the tent door open so I could see the moon and feel the night air on my face. I dropped off very quickly, not surprising given the hour and the booze.

I was woken up an hour or two later by droplets hitting my mush - it seemed it had been raining for a while! I zipped up the flaps and snuggled back to sleep. Right in the middle of my deepest bit of sleep I was semi stirred by a feral, guttural, snuffly/growly sound emanating from somewhere near my head. I assumed it was a fox, more unlikely a badger, or possibly a somnambulist’s dog. Either way, I groaned 'f#*k off’ and ‘shoo’ and it went away. Only with a considerable amount of hindsight can I now conclude that it was almost certainly the sound of my own snoring...

Waking again around 5am I was starting to feel very uncomfortable around my right chest area. This coupled with an increasing worry that any neighbours out walking dogs first thing would be freaked out by my presence,  I decided to get home way before dawn. So with a thick head, soggy tent and dodgy ribcage I packed up in the drizzly gloom, trudged back home over the now muddy field, dumped everything in the front porch and climbed into my memory foam mattress bed around 6am for another couple of uncomfortable hours. I started to feel very silly - there had been pleasant moments for sure, and it was quite exciting - but really, what was the point, especially given the fact that I'd knackered myself in the process?


The injury got more painful over the whole holiday. It was painful to breath in too far, breathe out too far, to cough, to laugh, to lift anything, and to lie down. Sneezing was so painful I saw stars, and it felt a little worse everytime. I didn't go to the doctor as I had exactly the same thing happen on the other side of my chest a few years ago (I damaged myself exercising that time) and it lasted many weeks, months even. The doctor sent me for X rays when it lingered on, but all they were checking was that my lung hadn't partially collapsed (it hadn't) and they weren't interested in finding out what I'd actually done. My guess then and now is that I has strained the intercostal muscles (the meaty bit between your 'spare ribs'...). At the time of writing this, two and a half weeks later, it has just started to ease off a bit thankfully, but I have a feeling it won't be right for a good while yet. 

I was talking to a friend about this a couple of days ago, recounting the story, and pointing out the irony that the supposedly more perilous option of a solo winter wildcamp on a Welsh mountain went perfectly safely, whereas I did myself a proper mischief 100 yards from home. 'Ahh' she said, 'that was down to the alcohol though'. She's right of course - booze had given me the 'dutch courage' whilst also compromising my decisions and physical abilities. I had really made Christmas uncomfortable, not just for me, but for my family who had to suffer my constant moaning and groaning. What an idiot... lesson learned!
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Two Fridays later, with New Year over I had a whole day to play with. I would have liked to do an overnighter but didn't want to risk it with the ribcage thing. Plus I was feeling like I needed some healthy exercise so a daycamp on foot in local woods made sense.

It was a good chance to try out a few little Chrimbo pressies too. One was from my wife - a Laplander folding saw (I'd dropped plenty hints, bless her...). Another I picked up in Sports Direct the day after Boxing Day - a cheap and nasty Karrimor rucksack for 20 quid. I've been needing a smaller day pack now for a while as the 65 lire Vango is a bit overkill if I'm not lugging sleep systems around. I also want something a little more 'bushcrafty' in appearance. I will eventually get a decent one when I can afford it, but I'm hoping this could tide me over in the meantime. Whilst it's really small and flimsy, it does have MOLLE webbing loops all over it, which allow me to fasten plenty of other things to it. So far it's held up well, fully loaded on a few long walks, and is really comfortable.

The third is a little carrier for transporting raw eggs to camp - 3 quid well spent! And it meant I could now have steak and eggs in the woods - the missis having kindly bought me a nice thick rump for just such an outing.

So on the day itself I was wide awake by 4am (I can only put it down to excitement and a bost rib) and left the house into the still but icy -3ºC air at around 6:30. I headed towards Keele woods, unsure about what spot I would settle for, but anticipating taking a few dawn photos before setting up camp ready for the steak n' eggs brekkie. On the way I was spooked out by the horrifying screams of foxes from nearby dark woodland, and felt glad I wasn't camping solo overnight with that blood curdling racket going on. Dawn was a bit of a wash out though unfortunately - despite the crisp cold, it was overcast as I traipsed through Keele Uni campus.

Keele Campus, pre dawn gloom... too early to catch a glimpse of the lesser spotted Neil Baldwin

'Dawn' from Keele Bank. Often spectacular sunrises but not today!

Photos done, it was into the sticks. There followed around 3 hours scouring every inch of Keele Woods trying to find a decent spot. It was a bit of a nightmare... there was nowt appealing.  Some were pretty perfect, open evergreen clearings, but near to well worn paths - a snooty lady had told me off when I set up a tarp there for a couple of hours back in November, and I didn't want the hassle today...

A few places were flat and clear and a little off the beaten track - but every single one of these had disgraceful litter, evidence of previous camps. Beer cans, bottles, furniture, out of control fires, fast food containers, plastic bags galore, even a discarded tent... it was very unappealing, quite depressing, and made that snooty lady's attitude completely understandable. Bloody students! I vowed to go back to some spots with bin bags and tidy them up one day, not least in the hopes they may remain clean long enough for me to enjoy one or two. It's potentially a beautiful and extremely varied woodland (there are even Giant Redwoods in there) that is tragically a bit of a tip - mainly due to 'wild camping' of various sorts.

Towards the end of the morning I was investigating increasingly desperate, hard to get to bits of the woods and settled on a place that was less spoiled than the others, although far from pristine.


Despite being tired from the early start and walk I set to work copying the actions I'd seen a hundred times during my bushcraftin' Youtube binges : clearing the area of leaves; using the new saw and a penknife to cut tent poles (and a makeshift camera tripod!); getting the tarp up as a shelter; gathering and splitting the firewood etc etc.  I was absolutely ravenous by now, especially after the hours of walking - so it was time to light the fire and get that steak and eggs on...


Despite a broken yolk and a slightly charred-yet-still-raw-inside steak with bits of woodland floor stuck to it, I ate it like a man possessed, giving up on the penknife and spork and tearing into it with my teeth like a caveman. Bloody lovely! A brew to wash it down, then a wee dram of JD (nothing silly, just a tot) and before I knew it I was in the last hour of daylight.


I was so pleased with my tarp shelter (wasn't cold once, despite the air hovering around freezing all day) it was tempting to think about making it an overnighter. I considered asking the wife to drive nearby with my sleeping bag, blow up mattress, and newly acquired waterproof bivvy bag to give it a go (maybe the drop of whiskey was working it's 'magic' again...). But I was sensible, thought of my poor breadbasket and packed up just in time for the darkness to kick in. A shame though, as it was a very satisfying little living area...


The great thing about being on foot was that I could make a stop or two for refreshments on the dark walk home. All in all, despite the sad feeling I got from the piles of rubbish in the woods, this was a particularly long and pleasant day out right on my doorstep, and I was chuffed that I'd tried some new skills. A woodland overnighter in similar, tidier circumstances is surely on the cards some time soon...


© Rich Lane 2019

Comments

  1. Nice camp! Sorry about the steak

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    1. Bit of dirt won't hurt Malcolm... thanks for reading!

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