Tom Lawson packs his dry bag for a quick weekend of biking, wild swimming and bivouacking
I’m heading out of London with 12 complete strangers, none of us with any idea where we’re being taken. But it’s okay, it’s not a mass kidnapping, we’re on a secret adventure.
A taste of the country, just a bike ride from London | Secret Adventures
We cycle out of London heading north along the Hackney canals following Madoc Threipland, founder of Secret Adventures, a London-based travel company with a twist: participants sign up unaware of where they’ll be going or what they’ll be doing.
Running since early 2014, the aim is to reawaken what Threipland calls “a dormant sense of adventure” in people. From kayaking under Tower Bridge to concerts in underground caves, each trip offers something unusual or unexpected.
I’m on the first ‘tiny island’ adventure, and was told I needed little more than a bicycle, bivvy bag and dry bag. All I knew before setting off is that at some point we were to swim 50 metres and that we’d spend the night wild camping on a secret island (technically illegal in most parts of the UK, but we’ll leave no trace). The idea alone had me bubbling with excitement.
The ride along the canal is gentle, flat and almost all off road, giving the group the chance to get to know each other. Most are London professionals seeking escape from busy schedules, and
we range from beginner cyclists and weak swimmers to experienced adventurers.
Soon the grey city landscape morphs into green countryside and as the sun begins to set we pull onto a grassy track. “That’s our island,” Threipland announces with a pointing arm. We’re standing by a small lake somewhere in Essex, looking across in fascination at a greeny-brown mound perched on the water, our home for the night.
A dry bag, bivvy and bike – all that’s needed on a tiny island adventure | Secret Adventures
We leave our bikes in the undergrowth and prepare for the swim, packing our dry bags and hoping for no leaks. As we ease ourselves into the lake, groans and squeals fill the air as the water chills our skin. But soon, all that remains are gentle splashes lapping against our bags as they drift alongside us. It’s strangely liberating to have all I need for the night floating with me as I swim.
By the time I’m halfway across, there’s a fire burning on the island, lighting the way. One by one, we pull ourselves triumphantly out of the water and check our bags. I’m relieved to find mine bone dry, but some aren’t quite so lucky and the crackling flames dry both clothes and bodies.
Roughly the size of half a dozen tennis courts, the island is dotted with willow trees and scraggly bushes, nothing more. It’s small, unimposing and simple. London’s glow sits on the horizon and occasionally a plane or train rumbles by, pleasant reminders of just how little we’ve had to travel to feel cut off from normality.
A spicy stew is rustled up and we share stories around the fire as we eat, before climbing into our bivvy bags for the night. Without a tent, I become aware of how exposed my senses are and fall asleep with a breeze on my face and the sight of stars peeping through the towering trees.
Home for the night | Secret Adventures
In the morning we pack up, swim back, and catch the train into central London. Stepping from the platform back into the vast, busy city, it’s hard to imagine that just a few hours ago I’d been a temporary inhabitant of a tiny island, a secret little world of our own.