Tuesday 18 May 2004

Asleep in the wild

Dartmoor was large enough to swallow up two thousand keen teens, eight hundred volunteers and enough Army helicopters to re-enact the Falklands War plus assorted ramblers taking advantage of the hottest weekend of the year and still leave a little corner quiet and free enough for four of us to wildcamp in peace.

We picked a spot on some flat grass in the elbow of a river bend, sheltered from the light breeze by high banks. The suntrap formed by the topography was warm enough to keep us in shorts and t-shirt until the sun finally fell below the rocky lip of the surrounding landscape. With the sun's rays gone we pulled on fleeces and down jackets, hats and gloves, cooked up noodles, and, when conversation had run out, retired to bed before it got dark

The bright red Gore-Tex tube of my bivi bag looked like it wouldn't keep out a light breeze, let alone the sudden chill of an early May night, but lined with Therm-a-rest and sleeping bag full of 800g of goose down it was cosy enough to warm my cold body even as the dew started to silver the grass.

It was warm enough to sleep with the hood open; lying on my back, face exposed to the cool night air and the light of the stars. Deep in the silent unlit hills, no light pollution to clutter the spacey black of the sky, I became vertiginous staring at the constellations. My stomach suddenly swooped and the flecks of starlight were no longer arrayed above me, but pinpricks of light scattered on a distant black floor far, far below. No longer stuck by gravity to the assuring solidity of the ground, suddenly aware of the tininess of Earth in the vast vacuum of the universe, I grasped at the sides of my bedroll to stop myself from tumbling endlessly downwards into the firmament.

I slept in short but restful bursts, tracking the passage of time asleep by the movement of The Plough relative to the silhoutted crags of the hills, until I was finally woken by the sun rising above the line of hills to pour gold onto my eyelids and into my dreams.

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