The Big Sleep 2015
“Spend a night under the stars, raise money for Cumbria Community Foundation’s Winter Warmth Appeal and help keep older people warm this winter” that was my call to action.
There was a lot of dithering when it came to The Big Sleep 2015.
How could I persuade other people to do it, when … I really didn’t want to sleep under the stars for a good cause.
You see, last year, I slept on top of a mountain with a few members of Penrith Mountain Rescue Team, one from Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team, MP Rory Stewart and the Chief Executive of Cumbria Community Foundation, Andy Beeforth. We did it to raise awareness of the first Big Sleep and to encourage people to sign up. We slept in a stone bothy on Cross Fell. One of the coldest places in England, where temperatures had been recorded as low as minus twelve degrees. It wasn’t minus twelve that night, but it was really cold. I appreciated that sleeping in a cold place was … err cold. I realised that I got cold. I stayed cold. And I didn’t want to be cold.
I tried to convince myself that sleeping in a field behind the Low Wood Bay Resort in Windermere was different. There’d be a film and food and music and it would almost be like a festival… but colder.
So. The day arrived. For some reason, my ten year old thought it would be a great adventure.
I thought we’d both be cold. My husband thought it would be a good bonding experience for the two of us. Our seven year old thought we were mad.
(Cue: finding stuff to keep us warm while not giving away my lack of desire to sleep out).
I found the two man tent. I found two blow up mattresses. I found the pump. I found two roll mats. I found two sleeping bags, I thought the two fleece blankets would be a luxury. I thought the 15 tog feather duvet was overkill.
I gathered lots of food and made hot vimto.
We drove to Windermere and I figured that if my son changed his mind we could be home again for supper. He was as keen as mustard. Dammit.
He helped put up the tent. But not as much as Gav from Rather Be Cycling, who, in fairness, put up the tent.
I sorted out the camp. I lay the mats, blew up the mattresses, and piled the fleece blankets, the sleeping bags and the duvet on top. I did look at the duvet and wonder if we’d need it.
More than 200 people had pitched tents or arranged a bivi spot and everyone was in jolly good spirits. One girl turned 13 that morning and celebrated by donning a onesie and handing out her birthday sweets to the other children. There was a 70 year old man camping for the first time. There were children as young as six. There were lots of dads and sons, there were couples, families, workmates and teams. All raising money to help keep older people warm in the winter.
There was a wifi hotspot by the wall of the nearby Low Wood Bay Resort Hotel where tweeters and facebookers and instagrammers huddled to share their experiences beyond the field. Bay Radio was broadcasting from the site and invited Big and Little Sleepers to talk about why they were supporting the event.
I ate Cowboy Stew, a surprisingly tasty mix of sausages, potatoes and baked beans. My son decided he could survive on the hot cross buns and dried mango we had brought with us.
I drank the most delicious proper coffee. Carvetii Coffee came and set up their machine and supplied free hot drinks to the campers with a smile. Gareth did coffee art in every cup, even when it got really late and Angharad didn’t stop smiling.
We listened to the music (Sing Owt and Sessionistas), we watched the film (Raiders of the Lost Ark), we went to the loo and then to bed.
We lay in our sleeping bags on top of the air beds, under the duvet.
The air I breathed in through my nostrils was the coldest air I had ever breathed in.
It was icy.
I had let half the air out of my blow up bed because there wasn’t enough space in the tent and my face was too near the roof. The canvas, that would get cold.
So, we went to sleep. Or the ten year old did. I lay there. My shoulders and hips too big and bony. It felt like I was lying on the pavement. I seemed to be awake all night. I tossed and turned. I looked at my precious son, I wondered if he was ok. I figured as he was ‘snoring like his father’ that everything was ok. At one am when he was awake and cold, I told him to put his hat on and in no time he was away again. Asleep.
I went to bed wearing a vest, two merino wool tops, a jumper, a down coat, two pairs of trousers and two pairs of socks. The little fella went to bed with a base layer and a long sleeved top and long pants and two pairs of socks. He slept. I watched. I contemplated whether I would be warmer if I took some clothes off.
As I lay there I was thinking how grateful I was to Rather Be Cycling for organising all the practical stuff. I wouldn’t have liked to try to cook in the cold. Or find a loo. And how kind it was for the Berry family to let Cumbria Community Foundation hold the event in the field beside the hotel. I tried not to think about the hotel and its warm beds. Or any warm bed. Especially not my warm bed at home.
But then I got to thinking about why the hell I was in a tent, in a field, in February. And as I saw my breath make clouds in the darkness, I remembered. There are older people who sleep like this in Cumbria. Every night. There are people who only heat one room in their house. There are people who will lie in their bed in their house and watch their breath as I watched mine. I felt really sad.
I did sleep. Not a lot. Not comfortably. Not particularly warm but not freezing cold. I was definitely asleep at 6.03am when the women who had set up camp next to us got up. They had slept inside a plastic bivi bag and awoke soaked in their sleeping bags from the condensation.
A bacon roll and another fabulous coffee fired me up and spurred me on to pack up camp. The inner layer of the tent was ok – but the outer layer was covered with frost inside and out. It was a finger numbing experience packing it all away, even with gloves.
By nine, we were in the car and ready to drive home, I checked the temperature on the dashboard and it was minus three! Just how cold had it been the night before?
Oh and what was the point of it all?
Well, Cumbria Community Foundation works in partnership with Age UK to make sure the money raised from The Big Sleep and the Winter Warmth Appeal goes to elderly people who can’t afford to heat their homes. The grants of £125 or £250 go a long way towards their winter fuel bills.
If you want to know more, you can watch this film.
If you want to help keep an older person warm, could make a donation to the appeal.