Location: Mount Batten Breakwater
- Date: Thursday 16th February
- OSGrid: SX482532 (E248224, N053236)
- Travel: 5 minute walk, 5 minute ferry, 5 minute walk
- Style: Bivi bags
Having spent the first 6 weeks of the project on Dartmoor, we were all starting to feel the call of the ocean (especially since we work at the National Marine Aquarium, and spend all day looking at it before and after a WON camp!). Originally called Sutton, Plymouth, or ‘Britain’s Ocean City’, has a longstanding relationship with the water; it was from here, during in the 16th century that Sir Francis Drake set about establishing himself as one of England’s greatest heroes (and also pirates!) with his daring deeds on the high seas. In 1620 that the Pilgrim Fathers departed the UK, bound for the USA, from the same port, and today, it continues to operate as an important site for recreation, commercial fishing and the Navy.
Mount Batten, visible from the seaward edge of Plymouth is thought to have first been settled in the Bronze age, and served as a trading post for the Roman Empire. Today, its primary function is as a recreational marina, with a stone breakwater extending into Plymouth Sound popular with recreational fishermen, and as of last Thursday, Wild Campers!
Paul and I were just moochin about in the office at work, when we got a phone call from Joe – Where were we? Where were we?! – We we’re waiting for Joe! The last ferry was leaving in 10 minutes, and Joe, in fact, was already at the pontoon and was the one waiting for us! We picked up our stuff and ran out of the office. Fortunately for us, the whole trip from the office to our destination was about 15 minutes long – a short sprint to the ferry, a hop across Plymouth Sound, and a stroll along the water’s edge on the opposite bank and we were there.
The downside to starting a project like this in January, is that by the time we get to the site, its pitch black. Or at least that’s been the case so far. This week we were onsite well before sunset though, and managed to get more photos than usual, so checkout Facebook for the full spread, but even Joe can only take selfies for so long, so we broke for dinner and headed to the pub.
We’ve been experimenting with different meals over the last few weeks, and whilst they have generally been pretty tasty, there’s nothing quite like well-cooked veggie lasagne and chips and I’m not sure my campfire skills are up to that yet! The night was still young, so after food we cracked out the top-trump cards I found in a charity shop last week to pass the time until we were ready to take advantage of the other key benefit of wild camping next to a pub – Indoor toilets!
Even amid all this luxury, we still had plenty of the evening left, and resisting the temptation to return to the bar, we set out into the darkness to take a closer look at “The Castle of Dreams” (the Mount Batten Tower). When we visited this site before Christmas as part of our Reckie programme, the Tower was all wrapped up in scaffolding preventing access, but this time, the work complete, we were able to get up close and take a look. Without being able to get inside, there isn’t too much to take in about the tower itself, but the view over Plymouth is great.
The Tower isn’t the only fortification around Mount Batten. We dropped down the other side and found a couple of structures that have long since fallen into disrepair and ruin. A flat roof makes these buildings great viewing platforms, but their position atop what are now considered ‘unstable’ cliffs presents an even more enticing opportunity of its own, for the enthusiastic WONer; 15 minutes later and we’d collectively conquered the allegedly precarious climb.
Two mini adventures down, it was time to progress to the main course; “The Pier of Destiny” or, more conventionally, The Mount Batten Breakwater. We headed straight down to the end of the breakwater, where a little building that serves as a viewing tower stood overlooking the water – the perfect place for our first urban Wild One Nighter. There were a couple of fishermen on the end of the breakwater too, who were (understandably?) quite surprised to hear about our plans to spend the night without even trying to catch a fish. Their dog made it obvious that it didn’t think much of our plan either, by scent marking my pack!
It was to be Paul and Joe’s first ever night in a Bivi bag, and I’d chosen this location, on this night as the perfect introduction because I was confident we’d find a calm, flat, safe, local, easy-exit-if-it-all-went-wrong site… and it didn’t disappoint! Once we found a dog-proof spot up on the ledge we soon settled down to what might just be the best sleep we’ve had on the project so far!
Fishing is a hugely important part of life in Plymouth, both commercially and recreationally. During our night on the breakwater we had a chats with several fishermen, who all seemed perfectly contented to simply be out on such a beautiful night, and didn’t seem overly bothered about actually catching anything. Maybe there really is something special about simply being outside at night for its own sake, and maybe this project isn’t so crazy after all.
Paul: A surprisingly good sleep, a deservedly nice dinner, and fittingly dramatic title! This is an unconventional site, which turned out to be incredibly accessible and very worthwhile. I absolutely recommend it!
Stu: I’ve been really keen to get something like this under our belt since we started. It was so nice to do something so close to home. None of our camps take long to get to, but knowing that there is the option for realistically finding something so entertaining and beautiful so close has really got me thinking about other things we might have been overlooking all this time.
Top tips from the trip
Keep an eye on your bag when in the company of dogs!
A pack of cards takes up practically no room, but provides a lot of fun
Don’t be afraid to try something new. You never know, it might just be great!
You don’t have to be in the wilderness to be wild
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