As the sun started to sink on a perfect March day, we packed the car with our Tentsile and sleeping bags, squashed blankets and pillows around the seats, and sped out of the city to find friends and trees. In the thick, new darkness at 7pm, we parked near the woods, the quiet wrapping itself around us as we shouldered our belongings and picked our way by torchlight. We peered through the shadows as our boots crunched dry leaves, looking out for firelight and the specks of moving torches we knew were ahead. When we found them, the light dancing up and down the tree trunks made the woods seem to grow and shrink around us, rekindling childhood fears and the hint of magic that travels with them.
In the fire light, two Tentsiles floated at shoulder height, welcoming us with the reflected orange glow. Inspired, we unpacked ours, letting it take shape quickly between three slim beech trees as we wrapped straps around their trunks, ratcheted everything taut, and finally, with help from the breeze, settled the fly sheet over the top to make our home for the night complete. Then, leaving our blankets in a heap in the middle, we returned to the fire and ate and talked, mesmerised by dancing flames as the wood smoke permeated our hair and weaved itself through our clothes, the smell of history and outdoor adventures already enjoyed and nostalgically missed.
The moon rose as we sat there, hanging shyly behind the trees at first, then, slowly, putting the fire to shame. We were wrapped up warm and sleep was hovering around our heads, so we called it a night and hauled ourselves off the ground, wriggling over the thresholds of our airborne cocoons with huge anticipation to make up for little grace. Sleeping bags arranged and blankets wrapped around us, we lay back revelling in comfort, and in the smugness that comes from being perfectly warm on a cold, clear night outdoors. The moon by now was high above us, bathing our tent with light so we could see each other's faces and our irrepressible grins. The wind picked up to sound like the sea, and we fell asleep beautifully quickly. Insulated and suspended, the tent moved with us as we turned over and stretched our legs, and the trees took our weight and held us safe. At 3am, we woke to a tawny owl calling, the excitement reaching our stomachs as it painted itself in our imaginations, a hunter in the dark.
In the morning, we woke up early and slipped out into the cold, reviving the embers of the fire to make coffee and breakfast, and to keep in the warmth we'd gathered in the night. We had lines in the trees, ready for climbing, and we had conversations from the ground to 25 metres up; ascending and descending, eating and drinking, enjoying the woods quietly and looking for signs of spring. The Tentsiles waited around us, ready for escape from the rain that threatened overhead, or for afternoon naps if the fire was soporific enough for that. When we packed up to go home, we brushed them down and folded them carefully, back into their bags until next time. We walked back to our cars through daffodils almost ready to flower and trees getting ready for leaves, and looked at each other knowing the Tentsiles wouldn't need to stay away for long.
All photos courtesy of Richard Symonds.