I’s slept out before, minus a tent, at the height of summer, and the night sounds wove themselves into my dreams. Once, on the uninhabited islands off Sweden’s Bohuslän coast, I fancied that small giggling children were leaping over me, only to awaken and discover wild geese, flapping their wings just inches from my forehead. It was a moment that pretty much sums up the unanticipated thrills a night face-to-face with nature can elicit.
But I still had my doubts. I love being outside in all seasons, but wasn’t sheltering in a bivvy bag – a waterproof cagoule for a sleeping bag, which means you can sleep in the great outdoors – a little mad before the warmth of summer? What if fresh, crisp air turned to rain? Would the bivvy protect me?
My brother-in-law, who lives in Kent’s High Weald – a landscape of wooded, rolling hills and fields – invited me to sleep out in the woods overlooking the small lake on his four acres of land. I love visiting, as do tawny owls, bats, rabbits and herons. There are towering trees – oak, hornbeam, ash, birch and beech, as well as a thicket of conifers – which loom inky and haunting against the blue-black sky.
Beside the lake, I found a flat spot on what we know as ‘Bat Bank’. I lay down a groundsheet to foil the damp, then my sleeping mat and sleeping bag, wrapped in the bivvy. I covered my boots with my waterproof jacket and crawled into my bed and, at that very moment, fat drops of cold rain began to fall. I groaned, rolled over and tried to sleep. Not possible but, amazingly, I stayed dry.
Calming veil of dark
The rain soon let up and the night entered its second act. I heard an owl, its melancholic hoot strangely soothing. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed the white moon, high in the sky – a luminous and startling beauty. The silence that followed felt like a powerful, sentient, healing presence. I slept in fits and starts, roused by the wind on my face.
Then, I heard no creatures; no rustling; the stillness was absolute. Yet, I felt at ease with the night, which reminded me of the psychological barrier that a tent can present. I awoke with the moon on my skin. It was setting, and this was the first time I’d noticed its trajectory. To the east, the rising sun struggled to break through the clouds. In the pale half-light, a family of ducks sailed serenely past and I knew just how they felt: deep peace. My tranquillity lasted for days. Fortune favours those who overcome inertia.
Jini Reddy is author of ‘Wild Times’ (Bradt Travel Guides, £14.99), winner of best guidebook in the British Guild of Travel Writers Awards 2017.
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