Recently I lost an elderly friend, Paddy. My favourite memory of Paddy was when she participated in Wild Night Out, albeit a few days before the official date so as to coincide with her birthday. Even in her 80s she had active outdoorsy ambitions.
When I told her in 2014 that I’d just signed up to walk an ultra (that’s 100km or 62.137 miles), she said she wanted to do it with me. I gently told her I needed to do it on my own and dropped the subject. She continued walking laps of the garden at her care home.
Then shortly before her 88th birthday they were making their bucket lists at the home. Paddy put ‘sleeping under the stars’ on hers. My Mum, who was part of the activity session, brightly piped up that she knew someone who could make that happen - me. I frequently sleep out in my bivvy bag with friends so was definitely up for this.
So on Paddy’s 88th birthday, the summer solstice, no less, we made this happen. The staff at the home chipped in, a friend lent me her sleeping bag and bivvy bag for my Mum who had to join in the fun. I brought a load of kit and the staff at the home brought a fire pit and wood for roasting marshmallows.
As a group (staff, residents and us three hardy campers) sat around the fire drinking hot chocolate, eating biccies, singing campfire songs, listening to poems and toasting those marshmallows. It was a lovely gentle social group with stories and laughs.
As the non-campers drifted off, we three settled down for a cozy night, wrapped up warm. I’m not sure Paddy slept a wink. She clung onto my hand most of the night with excitement, looking up at the stars in wonder. She slept the whole of the following morning to make up for her sleepless excitement!
This is what Wild Night Out is about for me. It’s giving people who wouldn’t normally take the plunge the confidence to spend more time outside in nature, whether that be a late night feast on a hilltop with head torches or camping out in the wild, miles from anywhere. It’s about expanding our horizons and engaging with nature, reaping the psychological and physical rewards.
By Astrid Shepherd