On 1st October 2011 it was warmer in the UK than in Barbados. What better excuse to head out into the Peak District for a full and varied microadventure…
Several years earlier I had been lucky enough to go on an outdoor activity day with Endeavour. One activity was ‘the wormhole’ – involving a crawl through a narrow 50 metre passageway in the rock high on the cliffs in Stoney Middleton. Under the guidance of an experienced group leader, and following closely on the heels of the person in front, the wormhole was an exciting albeit safe and controlled experience. Since then, I have longed to return and explore those narrow passageways without the large group – and without a group leader to show the way. This was finally to be the day!
However, en route to the wormhole we came across at opportunity that, under the spirit of microadventuring, could simply not be turned down. Bridge jumping! As we drove over the River Derwent on the approach to Calver, a group of lads were enthusiastically demonstrating the ample depth of the river. It would have been rude not to follow their example. Luckily we had been planning a wild swim anyway so the swimming shorts were quickly donned and a jubilant hour of bridge jumping followed.
I have watched numerous documentaries involving wild swimming with the protagonist proclaiming wildly about the bitter cold of the water. I have swum many times in the surrounding seas of our great isle. But nothing could prepare me for the bone chilling shock of plummeting into that wild British water… in October. But almost as soon as my body had registered the pain from this cold water assault, I had become an instantaneous drug addict. Endorphins – what blessed little things they are. The body’s natural defence against pain, released on mass to combat the stinging of your skin when wild swimming. I was hooked. Not content with the short drug infusion resulting from the plunge and swim to shore, I embarked on my first ever proper wild swim in a British river. An experience to be repeated at every possible opportunity. If you want to know more about the health benefits of wild swimming click here.
Although we could have happily spent the day jumping and swimming in that idyllic spot, time was conspiring against us if we were to complete the wormhole and then watch the sun setting on that glorious autumn day. Still buzzing from the natural high, we climbed up the Stoney Middleton cliff edge with unusual ease and entered the mouth of the wormhole. Waterproofs and torches on. Two, somewhat unconvinced, friends following closely behind…
Almost immediately I missed the reassuring guidance of a group leader. We were faced with a choice of two identical looking passageways. Against my better judgement I chose to lead us left. After a short crawl on hands and knees the tunnel quickly narrowed so the only way to proceed was flat on our belly, inching forwards using our elbows. This continued for what felt like an eternity, the tunnel occasionally widening to provide brief respite, occasionally narrowing yet further so we could only progress by stretching out fully and painfully wiggling our way past the obstacles.
It had reluctantly dawned on me that we had taken the wrong tunnel. This route was far too long… and far too narrow. But once again, in the spirit of microadventuring, it would have been wrong to turn back. We knew that if we could go forward, we should be able to go back. So we ploughed on, deep into the heart of the mountain. The iciness of the river now replaced by the stale heat of the cave. After many more twists, turns and forks in the tunnel we reached, gratefully, a small chamber where a further two tunnels led onwards. We were quite appreciative that neither of these appeared to be passable so now had no choice but to return along the path we had come.
An indeterminate amount of time later, we emerged back at the entrance of the wormhole and faced another dilemma. Exit back into the light we were yearning for or take the right hand passageway into the actual wormhole. Exhausted, a little shaken but utterly adrenaline fuelled we, of course, chose to complete our original challenge. The wormhole itself turning out, in comparison, to be a rather short, open and easy tunnel to navigate. As we emerged triumphant on the other side, grins from ear to ear, we reflected on that bizarre experience. Exciting? Yes. Memorable? Yes. Risky? Possibly. But we felt more alive in that moment than at any time we could remember.
But the microadventure was still young. Now to find a suitable spot to watch the setting of a quickly descending sun. Looming in the distance was Curbar Edge, what better place. A short drive and scramble later, we sat, beer in hand, in front of our barbequing dinner and a vista few could have matched on that divine October evening. All too quickly after sunset, with nothing now to keep it at bay, the autumn cold descended upon us. So we cocooned ourselves tightly again, this time in the comfort of sleeping bags welcomed by our red raw elbows.
It was not the most comfortable night’s sleep, but it was certainly invigorating. Lying there looking up upon countless stars, feeling the crisp wind on my face, inhaling genuinely clean, fresh air, hearing the sounds of an alien natural world. Sensations all too easily forgotten when living in a city.
The following morning we woke naturally with the sunrise. And what a reward for our early rise. The sight of that majestic array of colour appearing over the hilltops is one I will never forget. There was no hot power shower awaiting but I was more than happy to settle for a showering in the sun’s generous warm glow.
A simple but wonderful breakfast of tea and porridge was eagerly consumed amidst the rather startled (and I suspect slightly envious) stares of early morning walkers. Then, given we had risen at 6am, we had chance for an early morning, tourist free, deer laden stroll around the grounds of Chatsworth House before we were reluctantly required to return to the hum-drum of Sheffield. But, of course, not before a cheeky paddle in the river to top up on those endorphins…
This weekend was a brilliant example of the rewards that can be found when opportunities are seized. It did not require money (maybe £5 each for food and petrol). It did not require much time (the whole experience less than 16 hours much of which was spent sleeping). All it required was the will to get outdoors in search of adventure; something that lies, all too often latently, within us all…
Special thanks to my good friends Chris and Ollie for, as always, whole heartedly embracing the spirit of microadventure.