Location: Central Park, Plymouth
- Date: Thursday 23rd March
- OSGrid: SX471563 (E247122 N056314)
- Travel: 20 minute walk
- Style: Tent
This week, neither Joe nor Paul were going to be available – Paul on a training course up country, and Joe about to embark on a three week holiday across the world! Meanwhile, I was just going about my daily business, and so it came to pass that this week was my first solo camp on Wild One Nighters.
My usual business, at the moment, includes training for an unofficial Ironman Triathlon, Wild One Nighters, running the school’s programme at the Aquarium and finding a girl who’ll let me hold her hand, so this week is perhaps best described as ‘A Wild One Nighter for the average 9-5-city-living-single-sociable-thirty-something-Ironman-triathlete-in-training’ – Yes, it is possible!
Olly Reed is a really interesting chap. He’s the marketing assistant at the National Marine Aquarium, where I work, and the bassist of Plymouth based rock group, Patrons. We’d been in the pub for something like an hour and half when I remembered I was booked in for a gym class a couple of miles away at the Life Centre. 25 minutes later, (at the top of a very big hill), I joined the other gym goers in the main hall for an hour of free-weight training… I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the hall to come straight from the pub, but fortunately I’d sweated out at least a pint into my work clothes on the run up so was probably well on the way to sober by the time we got started.
After class I popped back to my place, just a few minutes from the gym by foot, showered, made dinner and checked in with my friend Dan. I’d had an idea for the camp tonight: it didn’t take long to get my stuff together, and I was all ready to go by the time Dan got back to me to politely turn down my offer of camping in the park. If he was going to get involved with this project, he was going to do it somewhere grand like the Chapel from last week’s adventure, or the top of Staple Tor, not down the road in the park!
I was determined though – Wild One Nighters is about uncovering hidden adventures and new experiences in all manner of places, old & new, near and far; you never know what it’ll be like until you give it a try. So I set off into the urban wilderness.
By the time I arrived at the park, I was feeling a little trepidatious, firstly, unauthorised camping in the park isn’t allowed. There are no signs up saying so, but, like nearly everywhere in England, it’s owned by someone, and I didn’t have their permission to camp there. Secondly, although I arrived after 10pm, the park populated by little groups of people milling around in the leisure centre car park, using the skate park or cutting through to the other side of town.
I made myself take a little walk around before deciding where to pitch the tent. I know the park really well, but wanted to check out a few different options, and walk off my nerves a little before trying to pitch up. Eventually I settled on a spot on the edge of a football field adjacent to the leisure centre. Far enough off the path to be hidden in the shadows, but in a nice open area. From my little spot I could clearly make out the main path through the park on the other side of the football pitch, the lorries and fences of the newly arrived Easter Fair, and the glow of the leisure centre sign, but was reasonably confident no-one using these facilities could see me.
I determined the best approach would be to pitch my tent without using my torch. It was just about light enough to see what I was doing, and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself unnecessarily. A couple of times a group of noisy, excitable young people walked around the edge of the field on their way to and from the car park. I’ve trained as a youth worker in the past, and know that not everyone out after 9pm is a violent anti-social criminal, but somehow the darkness and sense of being somewhere I shouldn’t be set my heart beating a little faster each time until the noise and lights faded again. I can only imagine how terrifying it must be to have to spend night after night living on the streets for real.
Tent all pitched, I got inside and bedded down for the night. The good thing about sleeping on a well maintained football pitch is that it was incredibly flat and comfortable! …the less pleasing thing, was that without being able to see beyond the confines of my tent but still able to hear people around me in the park I had no idea how close people were coming. Fortunately , as far as I know, no-one knew I was there. Certainly no-one came close at any rate.
The next morning I woke early. I love wild swimming and will definitely be bringing it in now the clocks have gone back, and the light arrives early and lasts longer, but on this occasion I’d planned to hit to swimming pool and the leisure centre first thing before work. It’s fair to say that the receptionist gave me a peculiar look as I walked in in my pyjamas with a giant camping rucksack and roll mat asking what time the pool opened, but I was in the pool by 6:30am (amazingly not even the first person in there!).
Another step closer to being ready for the triathlon, and another WON under the belt I set off into town invigorated by adventure of the unknown and excited to take on whatever challenges lay ahead. I love this project.
Stu. It might not be the most sensible thing to do on a Thursday night, it might not have been in a far off land, or in a beautiful setting… the photos won’t inspire the jealousy of hundreds of estranged friends on social media, but it was an exhilarating experience and when I woke the world and possibilities within it felt a hundred times what it did 24 hours earlier. Recommended? Abso-flipping-lutely!
Top tips from the trip
Pitch your tent without using your torch to avoid attracting attention if you want to keep a low profile
If camping in a public place, arrive late or just enjoy the site without pitching your tent until it goes quieter
Everywhere has potential. Don’t write anything off until you’ve tried it