Extreme Sleeps book cover

Extreme Sleeps

After having to delay a hernia operation due to ‘flu’, I have now been ‘sliced’ open, stitched up again and am now recuperating with several appropriate books lined up to read (and a website to build).

The first book, that I finished on my hospital bed, is Phoebe Smith’s “Extreme Sleeps: Adventures of a wild camper” which I hoped would give me some ideas for personal ‘sleeps’ as much as ones with clients.

Extreme sleeps book cover
“Extreme sleeps” book cover available from you local bookstore (click the image to go to Amazon store.)

In this easy to read book Phoebe recounts her developing attraction for wild sleeps (sleeping in remote places away from campsites) as she undertakes a series of increasingly adventurous ‘sleeps’ taking her (roughly) from Lands End to John O’Groats in what started as a quest to show an Australian that the UK could offer adventures at least equal to those in Australia.

Every wild camper has to start somewhere…

“Back in the UK, if someone had asked me to give up a long weekend in the comfort of my own bed, to travel miles into the middle of nowhere to see a big rock [Ayers Rock / Uluru] and risk being bitten by a number of deadly creatures while I slept, I would have quickly told them where to go.” (p. 10)

…and Australia has way more creatures more deadly than the Scottish Midge (she gets to those at various points in her book); but it is a long way to go.

When there are  a great many places in Scotland you can get away from everyday life and slow down, why jet half way across the world to do just that? It is possible to really immerse yourself in the natural world of this country and discover something of the culture and heritage of the places you are visiting. This authentic experience goes way beyond the typical perception of a tourist ticking off the ‘must see’ highlights and brings a real understanding of the places you visit.

Many of my most memorable experiences have come when I can recall the taste of some new local food, I can hear the sound of the traditional musical entertainment and, what Phoebe Smith largely lacks, the laughter of companionship of friends – those I have travelled with as well as those I have made on the journeys.

In these contexts, time takes on a different reality. Your body begins to relax into natural rhythms; rhythms driven by natural forces. You begin to count not the seconds or minutes, but the number of paces it takes to get somewhere. ‘Lights out’ means sunset and ‘bedtime’ means you are actually tired and ready for sleep. As Phoebe Smith puts it:

“That’s the funny thing about walking and camping, time works differently away from houses and wall clocks. Here your body begins to get sleepy when the light in the sky begins to fade.” (p.250)

Whilst Phoebe generally eschews the obvious Scottish wild sleeping accommodation – the bothy – in favour of tent, bivy bag, caves and even aircraft wreckage!, the underlying trends of remote locations, human powered effort to reach the destination and a reward that is measured by the effort, experience and memories run through all chapters of her book.

There are certainly some ideas that I have already begun investigating to see if they are possible on the Ardnamurchan and Morvern Peninsulas… So watch this website for more details to come and Otter Adventures establishes itself.

I won’t spoil any of the stories in the book for you in case you wish to read it yourself, but as her sleeps move north and into Scotland, they do indeed get more remote and more rewarding for her – The Isle of Jura and Cape Wrath being two of her most ‘wild’ sleeps.

Later in the book she introduces a friend, Georgina, to wild camping and in doing so she manages to express why wild camping (and slow adventures, canoe journeys, etc.) is something I consider to be integral to my journeys and something I will include as soon as possible:

“Yet seeing the look of satisfaction on Georgina’s face as she began to drift off to sleep, and hearing her talk earlier with undoubted self-confidence to our bothy mates about what she’d done to get there, made me glow with the kind of pride a parent gets when seeing their child perform in a school play. While the expedition was no longer so extreme to me, it had clearly shown her a side to herself that she didn’t know she had, and definitely proved that despite her reservations she could venture into wild places and actually enjoy (at least parts) of the experience.” (p.266)

Once you have read the book you may well find yourself longing for your own ‘wild sleeps’. If you do, get in touch with us and see what we are up to as we will be offering both land and water based journeys with wild sleeps built in very soon…