The Pennine Way Shakedowns 2 Sleeping with Ghosts

As I lay here, its cold. On the last walk with Dale, I got into my sleeping bag and began shedding clothes.  Not this time, I’m putting them on. It’s actually incredibly hard to put on a fleece whilst in a sleeping bag. This whole walk has been dominated by a cold North Wind so far.  It’s been lovely when we’ve got out of it, especially when we’ve had a little sun, but it’s been cold most of the day.  In fact, it’s led me to my sleeping bag earlier than I might have done otherwise. I know full well, it’s easier to stay warm than it is to get warm and old enough/sensible enough to place that need above Lloyds need for sociability.  Even above the fact that I know with the aches and pains that can come with age and spending the day carrying my world on my back, resting on my shoulders to write, read or do anything on my phone will also lead to discomfort. So pretty much sleeping is the only activity then. Especially wrapped up in my bulky cocoon.

Mind, that’s OK. One of the things I learnt early on in my (our) walking/hiking experiences was that when on the road like this you have to have a different routine to the one we normally have in our modern technologically filled lives. Wake early, usually before six, probably because the bladders got you at its mercy, possibly because the dawn chorus is more amazing in a tent in the woods than anywhere else. Blackbird, wren, woodpigeon, dunnock, green woodpecker, the yaffle, and maybe a buzzard overhead, to name a few, nevermind the fact that if you went to bed at eight, eight thirty, you have had eight hours and some by then. Get up, have a wee, put the kettle on and celebrate where you are. Breakfast, break camp and walk. At the end of the day, make camp, eat and hit the sack.  It’s a very pure, simple life that we have forgotten.

We are in Derring woods near Pluckley, Pluckley is alleged to be the most haunted place in England and Derring woods, the most haunted of woods. As a person who is very spiritual by nature, I don’t believe we have anything to fear from spirit, so I am more than happy with Lloyds suggestion. Having grasped the shakedown walks philosophy with great enthusiasm and his tendency to over research everything, he has prepared us a walk that meets all my requirements, mainly, ten miles a day and has programmed it all into his phone. I am off the hook for directions, and very happy to let him navigate.

There are often strange noises at night in the woods, different creatures come out and live their lives nocturnally. Owls, particularly the Tawny are one example. Incidentally, it takes two owls to make the twit, twoo, we are so familiar with. The male goes twoo and the female twit. Funny that. Often small rodents are more active at night. When out with Dale, a mouse (I suspect) began scratching about, a few minutes after I hunkered down to sleep. So, there are going to be different noises at night, and with less background, or foreground noise for that matter, we are more aware of them.

Lloyd doesn’t have the same trepidation about sleeping in the woods at night as Dale did, or at least if he does he’s keeping them to himself. However, with both of them, I suggested getting used to the sounds of the woods in daylight and then when they occur at night you’ll already be familiar with them.  The sounds of branches and trunks rubbing together or banging into each other. The sounds of the wind, varying in speed and direction between the ground and the canopy, rising and falling, as well as the afore mentioned animals and birds.

Incidentally, the wind can be very useful for finding direction, its usually blowing south westerly in the UK.  That means its coming from the southwest.  Often trees in the open will demonstrate this, having shorter branches facing the south west and longer ones facing the northeast, as a result of the pressure from the wind.

To survive a cold night in a tent there are two very important things to consider.  The first, a pillow. It might sound stupid, but trying to sleep without a pillow is a sure-fire recipe for a bad nights sleep, unless you are able to go to sleep on your back and stay that way. A blow-up pillow costs less than a tenner and deflates to almost nothing. Vital when trekking. The other, a decent sleeping bag.  They come in ratings of seasons. Mine is a three-season sleeping bag. I figure in the UK that three seasons should be enough, we don’t have cold winters anymore. I rarely camp out in the winter any way, although I have woken up feeling cold, looked outside my tent and found its frosty. My bag should keep me warm throughout three seasons, spring, autumn and summer, hence the description. I have gone to sleep in it with all my clothes on before though. And did on this night as well.

The other thing about a sleeping bag for hiking though is that there should be a pull chord around your neck to keep in, the heat you generate.  Tight enough that it does what its designed to do, but flexible enough that as you turn during the night you don’t strangle yourself. Another valuable part of the hiker’s equipment.

In my case a woolly hat really helps too. Having no hair to insulate the top of my head, this also helps to keep me warm. Doesn’t matter how much I keep the heat around my body if it’s all escaping from the top of my head. So, three things then.

I would also recommend turning off your phone at night. I don’t know what mine does at night, but mines gone from 80 -90% at the beginning of the night to 20% ish in the morning.  All the effort to keep shutting apps down during the day and make sure the solar panels are OK during the day is wasted.

The ghost, never saw or heard him, she or it. Either having done all this prep I just slept really soundly, or they really are benevolent, or as is most likely, they just weren’t there.

At least not on that night.

Simon Pollard    Urban Countryman June 2024

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