All day the weather man had been forecasting rain, but at 4.30pm the sky was clear and the setting sun looked glorious… perfect for a night hike microadventure.
We met at a little muddy car park down a quiet lane, three car loads of kids and adults. Armed with head torches, flasks and packets of Haribo (can’t beat a bit of bribery when the going gets tough!) obligatory big sticks were chosen as walking aids and mud was flicked about, before we set off up the lane and into the woods.
We were following a route we were pretty familiar with. The exciting part was the setting sun and darkening, lengthening shadows. Up a steep hill we followed a muddy path. Fortunately there were ample opportunities en-route for the kids to stop and play at hair-raising rope swings and woodland camps, plus the steep wooded slopes to run and slide down on bottoms. This broke up the journey considerably, making the climb less irksome for little legs.
As we approached the end of the wooded area towards the top, the vista opened out into rolling downland with the last light of the day beautifully colouring the sky. Stars were starting to peek out. One was particularly bright (was it Venus we wondered?) and a brisk wind whipped over the hilltop. This felt like a proper adventure now!
We pushed on to our goal; the wooded circle that crowns the top of Chanctonbury Ring. Almost 800ft above sea level, it is place of historical significance. It was once a hilltop fort dating back to the iron age. Local legend reports it was created by the devil, who will be summoned if you run around the ring seven times anti-clockwise. It certainly has an interesting atmosphere. The kids spotted their target and raced off into the download dip that precedes the summit.
On reaching the circle of trees, we found a sheltered spot out of the wind and stopped for hot chocolate and biscuits, gazing out over the lights of the surrounding villages and feeling ridiculously pleased with ourselves. What is it about this kind of experience that is so satisfying? The immediateness of nature, answering a calling of our more primal selves maybe?
Having refreshed we set off now into proper darkness for the return journey. A string of flashlights and excited chattering voices striding back along the ridge before plunging once more into the now very dark, wooded downhill track. The camp we visited earlier was now even more atmospheric with an owl hooting, lit up by our torches. We were a far too noisy group for any proper wildlife encounters, but we managed to get the kids to stop for a moment of quiet and listen for any night time activity. But only the whispering wind and rustling branches could be heard. I’m sure any wildlife in the area would have heard us coming half a mile away and scarpered.
We slid down the last of the chalky clay and back along the lane to our cars, kicking off muddy boots and exchanging happy hugs and goodnights. All agreed it was an awesome microadventure, enjoyed equally by kids and adults. Tired and content we trundled home to warmth and food as the rain began to fall outside in the dark.
If you’re thinking of trying something similar one little piece of advice I’d recommend is to walk the route yourself beforehand, as everything looks really different in the dark and it wouldn’t be hard to get lost on an unfamiliar route. Also allow double the amount time it takes you to do it alone; the kids will want to stop and examine stuff, play and get muddy along the way! Have fun on your night hike!