Project Big Kid: A solstice sleepout in suburbia

tent tea

My life in London follows a basic rhythm: wake up, get the tube to work, sit at a computer all day, get tube home, sit in front of the TV/laptop/both, go to bed. It’s tame and predictable and involves far too much time staring at a screen. On Friday, I was still stuck in the office at 6.45pm, with little idea what was going on outside due to the building’s air conditioning system and window blinds blocking what should be a fairly stunning view of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Inspired by Alastair Humphreys’ Microadventures (the idea being you squeeze in an adventure in the wild between 5pm and 9am, read more here) and a wild sleepout a nearby nature reserve had organised (for children, alas), I decided I would camp in my own back garden to celebrate the summer solstice.

With minutes to spare, I sped out of my office to a camping shop where I wanted to buy a Scouting hurricane lamp that I’d had my heart set on. For a while it seemed like it might have been a wasted trip, but just as I was losing hope, the shop assistant emerged from the depths of the stock room brandishing the shiny red lamp, the last they had in stock! And as if that wasn’t enough of a sign that it was meant to be, they gave me the Scout discount because they found out I used to be a Scout Young Leader (thanks guys!).

I stopped off on the way home to buy vital s’mores supplies (see recipe below), then hopped on the tube to set up the tent.


I can’t claim that this was a huge challenge. Mama S helped erect the tent because I was so tired, I could barely remember what a tent looked like, and I retreated into the house for dinner. I slept on a proper camp bed with the back door key by side in case I needed to go to the loo in the night. But it sure was fun!

Before going to bed, I invited dad to my makeshift campfire (read: tealights) for a pudding of s’mores, which we enjoyed beneath a surprisingly clear sky, where the stars were just about managing to twinkle through the orange glow of the city.

cooking smores

With s’mores consumed, I crawled into my tent, which was made cosy due to the glow of my new lamp and my treasured camp blanket. I set my alarm for 4.30am (*shudder*) so I could wake up in time to climb to the top of a nearby hill to watch the sun come up, and quickly drifted off to sleep.

lights out

The dawn chorus woke me up at 4.10am. It was already fairly light outside, but the sun still hadn’t come up. I pulled on jeans and a jumper and crept back through the house and up the hill to the park. The birds were still bursting with song as I reached the top of the road, and wisps of pink cloud were beginning to emerge from behind the roof tops.

suburban sunrise

I climbed further into the park, marvelling at how empty it was, where the squawking magpies dominated the soundscape, blocking out the noise of roaring traffic from adjoining A406. I planned to take a circular route through the park, across the golf course and into the nature reserve where I would sit and quietly watch the birds and other creatures go about their business.

suburban sunrise

tall grass at sunriseThat was the plan. But as I crouched in the rough on the golf course, taking pictures of the tall grass waving in the wind, a man suddenly emerged from behind a tree and started yelling at me. I yelled back, so startled that I didn’t know what else to do. He carried on yelling, and I mean really yelling, so I decided to leg it. Through the park I ran, down to the Hanger Lane gyratory system where I paused for breath, thinking that if this man was going to try and kill me, there was at least a chance that someone might see and try to stop him.

After taking a good long look over my shoulder, I was able to appreciate the burning sun rising over north London, and silently cursed the man for preventing me from seeing it happen in a less tarmacked environment. Still, it was nice to see what is usually such a tumultuous landscape momentarily transformed by the beautiful summer sky.

sunrise over Hanger Lane

Checking back towards the park once again, I headed back to the tent for a well earned cup of tea, before crawling back into my sleeping bag for another few hours’ kip. What an adventure I had had, and right on my doorstep.

It just goes to show that you don’t need heaps of money or time, or even willing friends, to make fun happen. Just get on and do it.

morning tea


A word on s’mores:

Over the years I have had the pleasure of introducing s’mores to a number of friends and family members, who didn’t learn to make them at Brownies as I did. A portmanteau of ‘some’ and ‘more’, these delicious biscuit sandwiches of melted marshmallow and chocolate will have you in a sugar coma before you can say ‘ging-gang-gooley’.

Here is the way I was taught to make s’mores (American websites will tell you to use Graham Crackers. Forget it.)

S'mores recipe


To find out more about Project Big Kid, click here.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Pip, this sounds amazing!
    Will definitely be trying to do more stuff like this over the summer.
    Keep writing this Project Big Kid stuff – it’s gold!

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