A beach bivvy by train
I usually give helpful location instructions for my train adventures but I’m not going to this time. There are plenty of beaches out there but if we all end up at the same one, we might unwittingly cause some damage.
Station: One near the coast or a meandering river
Travel time from London: As long as you like
Travel time from Bristol: Probably quicker
Author’s adventure tip: Don’t overpack, you’ll be carrying your rucksack further than you expected because you’ll be keen to find a secret spot. Make sure you know what time sunset will be and plan to stop walking or cycling just after.
Practicalities: If you’re bivvy camping near a toilet, you’re probably too near civilisation so take toilet roll and a bag to take it home in once you’ve used. Burying poo in sand isn’t very friendly so you might choose to take that home too.
You won’t have a tent to sit in so prepare yourself for an early night. Make sure you check the tide heights and times before you decide where to settle.
Tips for solo bivvy camping
Pack your bivvy bag and sleeping bag together
This one’s a tip from my bikepacking husband. He usually bivvies in the Welsh rain, and knows first hand, how quickly rain can impregnate sleeping bag.
Before you leave home, put your sleeping bag inside your bivvy bag, then stuff the whole lot (closed end first) into a dry bag.
Wear a hat and gloves
If you choose to sleep in a bag, your hands and head will inevitably spend at least some time outside it. Gloves can really make a difference in the bivvy game, I keep a spare pair in the pocket of my sleeping bag.
I prefer wearing a hat (and often a hood) to snuggling right down inside my bivvy bag because I tend to panic if I can’t immediately find my way out again.
Spread out instead of curling up
A bivvy bag can be surprisingly warm (sometimes warmer than a tent) but this warmth relies on air. The parts of you that are pressed tight against your bivvy will feel the coldest. Avoid these and you’ll feel much warmer.
It took me years to work this one out because my natural instinct when I am cold is to curl up. In a sleeping bag this leaves my bottom and knees cold because I compress the insulation in those areas, and they lose their access to warmed-up air.
One of the issues with being stealthy is that nobody knows where you are. When I arrive at a wild camping spot, I try to tell at least one person my location but I never publish my destination on social media before I go.
If you do require emergency assistance, and are in a remote location, first consider whether or not you can safely stay put until morning. If not, phone 999, and ask for the Police as they coordinate remote rescues. If you are by the coast, you should ask for the Coastguard.
Mountain rescue England and Wales have some great advice on looking after yourself outdoors.
Leave no trace
This to my mind is the biggest plus to bivvy camping over any other kind. Arrive, unpack, get in your bag, sleep, get out of your bag, pack, go home.
Please note, the sleep element above is optional.
Bivvy camps, especially solo ones, leave no holes in the ground, indeed no evidence you have been there at all. To my mind bivvy camping is the stealthiest and least invasive form of camping there is. Some dictionary definitions would suggest it isn’t camping at all.
Especially if you don’t use your torch or stove!
‘I want to come home.’
Were the words I messaged my husband as I sat, huddled in the dunes, contemplating the deserted post-sunset beachscape.
Was his response. It might read as harsh to you but it was exactly what I needed to hear. I was there for the night, out to prove that a woman can bivvy camp on her own.
He knew I was up to it.
And besides. There was no way to get home.
The ultimate digital nomad?
My decision to bivvy instead of seeking more user-friendly accommodation had been both pragmatic and idealistic. I needed to reach a location, research a walk, eat some food, and find sleeping quarters, all on a limited budget. I also wanted to prove that a solo bivvy adventure by train was possible for a woman.
It was. But I would have slept better at a hotel.
One issue with combining work and backpack wild camping is that, unless your work is in Scotland or on Dartmoor, wild camping isn’t really permitted.
And I’m usually a stickler for the rules.
There are plenty of other reasons that sleeping in the open air, protected only by a bag, might not be conducive to work productivity. No plug, no laptop, no warmth.
And in this case, far too much sand.
But I did manage to research my walk and get some notes recorded.
Solo in the sand
What else did I expect from a beach bivvy? Although my quickly developed boot-foot-sand protocols prevented my sleeping bag from being filled with the gritty stuff, the same thinking didn’t seem to work for my noodles.
Which I cooked hastily in case anyone spotted me.
In fact I felt so guilty about trying to sleep somewhere I probably shouldn’t, the whole night turned into an exercise in stealth camping.
- I kept walking until the last dog-walker had gone
- I cooked the quickest meal possible
- I didn’t use my torch
- I wished I hadn’t picked a full moon night
- I panicked when my camera flashed
- I jumped at each stone the sea turned over
- I packed up well before sunrise
This last one wasn’t early enough to avoid the first dog-walker of the day but I did get to giggle at myself hiding behind a patch of grass like a character from Dad’s Army.
Things that go wee in the night
Overnight I heard plenty of weird noises.
Mostly because I was up six times in the night needing the loo. I never go that many times at home. I put it down to nerves because I was being too stealthy to make my usual night time cuppa.
Stoves can be very loud!
The one noise that really got to me was around midnight, at which time I had already been in bed for five hours. There’s not much else to do on your own in a sand dune.
Especially if you don’t want to use your torch.
I had just wriggled back into my sleeping/bivvy bag combo for the third time when I heard two girls giggling. They sounded really close but couldn’t have been. The road was ages away and surely I would have seen their torches or heard their stoves if they were camping.
Will I bivvy on my own again?
That is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The fears and quakes of solo fortune,
Or take to the dunes amongst a sea of troubles.
Let’s be clear here. At no point during my solo bivvy adventure was I concerned about shuffling off any mortal coils. I was far more worried about waking up to an indignant circle of offended locals. So I did what any sensible camper would have done.
I rehearsed my explanation story.
As it turned out, all the locals I met were really friendly.