Rollercoaster Mum: A Night to Remember - the RSPB Big Wild Sleep Out


Saturday, 28 June 2014

A Night to Remember - the RSPB Big Wild Sleep Out

This time last week Bigger Miss and I were excitedly preparing for our RSPB Big Wild Sleep Out at Farnham Heath Nature Reserve. The Big Wild Sleepout is in it's second year and it is all about spending a night outside to raise awareness and money for nature. Last year Bigger Miss and I slept out in our garden which was great fun but this year we found out that there was a chance to do a sleepout on a nearby RSPB nature reserve which sounded like an opportunity that was too good to miss.

the Big Wild Sleep Out for the RSPB

And so it was that on a gorgeous sunny evening on the day of the Summer Solstice (and the longest day of the year) we found ourselves meeting up in a car park with about 40 other people all excited about spending a night out in the wild.

Farnham Heath Nature Reserve is in an Area of Outstanding National Beauty and is particularly renowned for the experience of listening to the 'churring' of the nightjars. It is an example of heathland restoration in progress as the RSPB have cleared the dense rows of pines that were part of an old commercial plantation to restore the valuable heathland habitat with it's purple heather, golden gorse and wildlife such as Grayling butterflies, woodlarks, nightjars and sand lizards.

#BigWildSleepout camp Farnham Heath
The campsite through the trees in the setting sun.
We were very lucky as we were being allowed to camp in a part of the reserve not normally open to the public and there was a palpable air of excitement as we stashed all the camping gear in the truck to be driven to the campsite (thank goodness we didn't have to carry it, I seemed to have packed enough for about a week, let alone one night!) Whilst our stuff was ferried to the site we had a pleasant half hours walk along the edges of the heath to the wooded camping area. 

RSPB #BigWildSleepout hammocks, Farnham Heath

I'm really not sure what I was expecting but it was safe to say that expectations were exceeded. The campsite was in a pretty clearing, surrounded by trees on the edge of the heath. Hammocks (for the brave) and some tents for the RSPB volunteers leading the camp were already set up. A camp fire was already lit, with plenty of logs around to sit on and barbecues and fire pits were readied for the cooking of sausages. Tents were pitched and beds made as quickly as possible and after a slight hitch with the barbecues everyone was soon sitting around the camp fire chatting and munching away on their sausages and picnics.  

Farnham Heath cattle
The friendly herd of cattle thought we were fascinating and by far the best thing that happened to them in days.
Unsurprisingly it was all the kids that finished first and they went off exploring, den building and wildlife hunting with one or two of the RSPB volunteers whilst the grown ups tidied up. Before we knew it it was 9.30 and Mike the warden of the reserve had gathered us for our late evening walk on to the heath to hopefully hear nightjars and see bats and maybe some other wild creatures. The children followed him like the proverbial pied piper and he soon had them hunting for tiny wild strawberries and even eating nettles. As we made our way out on to the heath, he explained how and why it was managed the way it was and we were even joined by the herd of friendly cattle (there to help control the scrub and allow the heath to regenerate.)

sunset over the heath, RSPB Big Wild Sleep Out
The sun setting over the heath.

Farnham Heath nature reserve
My pictures don't do justice to what was a very special walk where we heard and saw nightjars, owls and bats and even glowworms.
It wasn't long before, with our ears cupped, and tuned in we heard the call or churr of the nightjars. I had never heard one before and my best description is that it was a bit like a very loud cicada or cricket or maybe even a bit like and electric drill! They are extraordinary and rather rare summer visitors with great huge mouths and silent flight. They are nocturnal and they used to be called 'goatsuckers' as people believed they stole milk from goats at night! We also heard and spotted owls, bats (with the aid of a bat detector) and even glow worms. 

Male nightjar in display flight
Nightjar - photo courtesy of the RSPB. Although we did see them as well as hear them, my camera isn't that good! 
toasting marshmallows, RSPB #BigWildSleepout

By the time we returned to camp it was dark, the fire was roaring and there was a welcome hot chocolate to go with the obligatory marshmallows over the fire. The kids also tried making 'smores' - melted marshmallows between two chocolate digestive biscuits - bit too sweet for me though! Eventually little heads started to nod and it was time to turn in - well it was after 11pm and Bigger Miss for one was waaay past her bedtime! We snuggled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep to the call of a Tawny Owl and the distant revelry of a village do (well it was Surrey after all!)

Farnham Heath RSPB Big Wild Sleepout

exploring, RSPB BIg Wild Sleep Out Farnham Heath
Off for a walk - the next morning after checking the moth trap we were allowed to do as we pleased and much exploring was done by both adults and children and it was easy to find a spot to be alone if you wished.

RSPB Farnham nature reserve, Festoon Moth
The rare Festoon moth (top left) that was caught in the moth trap laid last night and some of my other wildlife spots on my little photo wander in the morning including the web of a nursery web spider.
The next morning dawned another beautiful sunny day and the camp gradually uncurled, stretched and woke, everyone keen to make the most of our wild sleepout, Bigger Miss and I surfaced at about 6.30am reasonably refreshed and I was glad of the cup of coffee waiting for me. It wasn't long before there was bacon and eggs sizzling on the camp cooker and everyone was enjoying breakfast around the camp fire. After breakfast there was some time for some more exploring, I wandered off to take some photos whilst the kids ran around in the woods, exploring and making games. But all too soon it was time to pack away the tents, tidy up, tear the kids away and slowly wander back to the car park. 

RSPB BIg Wild Sleep Out Farnham Heath
One of the lovely things about the whole experience was that the children could just run off exploring and den building by themsleves.
It really was a magical night to remember and even though it was only for one night both Bigger Miss and I felt very odd driving back through a town on the way home. We felt like we had been in a wonderful, peaceful, nature driven bubble and the town really jarred our little bubble. By 11am we were back home with Little Miss and Rollercoaster Dad and it was back to real life with a bump. 

sunset from camp, RSPB #BigWildSleepout
I leave you with a picture of the setting sun, taken on a magical summer solstice - what a perfect way to spend the longest day of the year.
We will definitely be trying to do it again next year and I want to thank all the RSPB people who helped make it a truly special night. If you get the chance to do something like this it really is worth it and if you can't make it to one of the special events why not camp out in your back garden - you don't even need a tent - some people slept in summerhouses, on porches, even on trampolines. It is all about experiencing nature and raising some money to help it. Take it from me - I don't even like camping usually! 

Linking up with the lovely Coombe Mill for Country Kids (you could definitely camp there I'm sure!) 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 


  1. What a wonderful way to experience and appreciate nature. It sounds like you had a fantastic time and the weather was kind to you as well. Thanks for linking up and sharing with Country Kids.

  2. Oh wow this looks like you had an amazing time!! My kids would love to do something like this, I really must arrange xx

  3. Wow! This sounds an amazing experience for all the family.I really love your photos especially of the Nightjar.

  4. This looks like great fun and very near to me. I will definitely be looking out for this next year!

  5. sounds like a lot of fun and a great way to experience nature, we take it all for granted sometimes.

  6. This sounds and looks amazing... the fire, the tents and especially the relaxing in the hammocks part :-)

  7. Oh my gosh this looks amazing and so much fun .x

  8. Wow, this sounds amazing! I can't wait for my kids to be just a little older and take part in this.. they'd love it! The hammocks look so relaxing and your wildlife photos are stunning x

  9. I think this looks like the most amazing night, not something I've heard of before but a real treat. Thanks for sharing, Mich x

  10. What an amazing experience - it's great how one night away can be so restful and restorative.

  11. Wow, jealous. Looks like it was a great experience, and lots of firsts.

  12. Wow that looks amazing. I'd be too scared because I'm petrified of anything that buzzes, crawls etc etc Popping over from #LAB


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