This morning my wife woke up to nobody sleeping beside her. When she got up she found me on the sofa in the front room with the dog asleep draped across my stomach. I actually went to “bed” early (for me) last night, but it was the first time I had tried sleeping outside in my bivi bag. At 49 years old, I can still try new things.

If you don’t know what a bivi bag is then think of a large waterproof for a sleeping bag; it’s a lightweight solution to travelling and sleeping outdoors. I’m not really sure why I bought one, perhaps it to live my dreams of my youth of distance cycle touring, but the thought of sleeping under the stars appealed to me, mainly because I find looking at the night sky fascinating. It sounds quite romantic when I write that.

I have wanted to look at the night sky since I was a boy. I even got a toy telescope for Christmas which was very exciting until I came to use it and had no idea what to do (this boy could only look at the moon so much in those days through the glass window in a lit room …). Patrick Moore floated in and out of my consciousness through my childhood too and occasionally if I saw the “Sky at Night” in my adulthood but it was the BBC’s Star Gazing Live that finally reignited my interest a few years back. I subscribed to the BBC magazine, dug out my sailing binoculars and started learning about the stars and constellations in the sky. Trying to identify things in the sky is cold work, and time consuming and the inability to know when to set aside time meant that sustaining interest was tough. I bought a telescope after much angst deciding what to buy, but found it much harder to use then the binoculars, and not really any more rewarding. My interest waned until it was pretty much left to reading magazines and watching the results of the latest missions on the news.

Last night was an equipment test both of my camping stuff and me. I wasn’t really sure how sleeping outside would go, I don’t really like sleeping in tents and the practicality of how to get ready to bed and what I needed to sleep required investigation. I assumed my basic kit: sleeping bag, bivi bag, sleeping map and then thought about what else I might need. I was wearing shorts, a long sleeved shirt and sandals so I though a spare top and lightweight jumper might be an idea; I also picked up a head-torch, Tilly hat, and eye cover things. I toyed with the idea of putting my thicker sleeping bag near the back door but decided that would need too much rummaging around the room my wife was sleeping in. I also decided not to take ear plugs.

After bunging everything into a large Tesco shopping bag, I said goodnight to the dog, and went into the back garden and after some consideration, locked the backdoor. It was not too cold out, but the grass was already wet with dew which initially surprised me. I lay out the bivi bag, opened up my sleeping mat and put it inside the bivi. At least I tried, it didn’t go in as easy as I thought it would, and I also remember that I should probably have left the mat to inflate a bit before sleeping on it; too late now. I wasn’t sure whether to climb in my sleeping bag first and then slide into the bivi, or put the sleep bag in the bivi and crawl in. I decided I needed to take my shorts off and briefly wondered if any of the neighbours were watching this song and dance. I took my sandals off, stood on the bivi in my bare feet, dropped my short and stuffed them in the Tesco bag, and pulled the sleeping bag on before sliding into the bivi. That felt remarkably fine, though I need to sort out my head cover and pillow (wimp I know, but it is a travel one).  I was sorted.

I look then into the sky. I could see stars, which was a surprise, and as I stared I noticed a satellite going from east to west. I could see the Cassiopeia constellation in the east and waited for my night vision to kick in, it takes at least twenty minutes to acclimatise. Within the first few minutes I had seen a number of “shooting stars” caused by meteorites burning up on atmospheric entry and thought that I really must make an effort to see some showers. High attitude planes flew by, as did a low attitude turboprop. In general it was very quiet, with only a few cars to be heard in the distance. I began to see my detail. More stars revealed themselves and I played around practising using my peripheral vision to see more detail still. I couldn’t tell if I was able to see nebula, but assumed that it must have been high level cloud. I picked out Ursula Major and Polaris, the current pole star and noticed how the field revolved anti-clockwise so that the big dipper dropped behind our cherry tree whilst Perseus appeared under Cassiopeia. If I waited long enough I would see the Pleiades Cluster, my favourite nigh-time object. I left my gaze to wander, and I wondered why some stars seem to attract my attention more than others.

I was also aware that some bits of me were feeling cold. My feet had warmed up but basically where any bare patches touched the sleeping bag, cold was seeping through from the bivi layer, I thought this is probably due to the dew forming on the bag, caused a refrigeration effect as it evaporated through my body heat. I pulled down my shirt sleeves, put a jumper over my legs, and the spare top over my chest; I pulled the strings on the bivi and sleeping bag tight so that only part of my face was visible. I put my hat over my face. I slept fitfully, occasionally trying different positions.

The sky was blue when I woke up and removed my hat; I had obviously got some sleep. It was near sunrise, there were some golden clouds in the east but the sun was not yet up. I felt pretty good, so I thought I would go inside, it was just past 4.30am when I looked at my mobile. I knew the dog might bark when I unlocked the back door, and was relieved to see he did. Well relieved in that I have often wondered how our door would greet a night time intruder, a bark or a bouncing waggy tail greeting. I was also a bit dismayed he might wake the household up. He didn’t; I’m not sure the barking is much good then. I grabbed a few blankets from the bedroom, and moved to the front room sofa to avoid disturbing my wife and in doing so made the dog very happy by letting him jump on my tummy.

Will I continue the experiment tonight? I’m not sure, I need to check the weather.

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