Homeless or just bivvying?

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James Higgins

Member
Oct 4, 2014
30
1
Nottinghamshire
Hi I'm quite new here but I'd like to share an experience I had whilst bivvying in Cornwall recently.

I had a pleasant few days or so moving around the South West Coast path sleeping at times on cliff tops, the beach or at times discreet places in small villages. After my sojurn of destination-less wandering I decided it was time to head back home, so I made my way to Truro bus station to catch a bus back to London. I arrived at the bus station in the evening, only to be told there will not be another bus until the crack of dawn the next day. I can't remember if it was because it was a Sunday or bank holiday but I found myself in the middle of Truro in the evening having to wait for a bus the next day. So what to do? I had been sleeping in nature for the last few days completely gratis and was bummed to find I would now have to check into an pricey hotel just to wait for a bus. I had noticed on my walk down to the station a small patch of shrubbery/wooded area on the side of the bypass, so I decided to go and check it out to see if it was suitable for a free night's sleep. Indeed it was. I had to cross the busy road to reach it which was a bit tricky as there was no dedicated access to this small wooded plantation. It was on the side of the road backed up against a very high wall with no pedestrian or bicycle access so it was very isolated and proved to be a great spot to sleep without disturbance.

I went back into town confident of being able to snatch a free night's sleep in the city of Truro. I dumped my pack on a bench in the square, sat down and pulled out a sandwich for dinner. By this time I was ready to go home. I badly needed a shower, my clothes were dirty, hair was a mess, and I was looking forward putting the kettle on. Not too long after I was approached by a rather scruffy looking elderly couple carrying plastic bags. They asked me if I was ok and said that they "had not seen my around here before". A bit puzzled I replied I was "fine, thank you". They then went on to tell me where I could get a hot meal for 50p just round the corner. I thanked them for their consideration once again. Upon leaving they asked me if I would go over to the garage across the road to buy some alcohol for them as they had been banned from most of the places in the area. I politely declined their request and then they moved off.

Quite clearly with my backpack on the bench looking scruffy had attracted the attention of the homeless community. This combined with the prospect of sleeping rough in Truro for the night gave me my first experience of what it must be like to be homeless. I have never been homeless or ever wanted to be, but having the bivy gave me this experience. If I did not have the bivy there would have been no rough night in Truro, and instead of being sat down in the town square maybe I would have been looking for a hotel and missed the interesting encounter with the homeless.

I love the freedom of the bivvy and being able to sleep in the open nature. But more than this it has freed me from the norms of society of having to pay pricey hotels and b&b's just because you are in the city. Call me a squatter but the bivvy has done that to me!
 

woof

Full Member
Apr 12, 2008
3,647
5
lincolnshire
More likely they were "chatting James up" so he'd buy them the drink they wanted, well done for declining to get it for them. So did you get a peaceful night in Truro, I quite like the place, but have only roughed it in our caravan there.

Rob
 

NS40

Nomad
Nov 20, 2011
362
4
Scotland
I've had a couple of experiences of being homeless at very different points in my life. The first in my teens, the second only last year. Both were completely unexpected and brought their own unique difficulties.

On both occasions I was in employment but still struggled financially (having to start to rebuild everything I'd taken for granted and suddenly lost), faced the uncertainty of where to live and how to continue to work while having nowhere to call home and generally found the whole experience exhausting and depressing.

I've also been rather impolitely moved on from a few bus or train stations when backpacking and not particularly looking my best and simply wanting to get in out of the weather until my bus or train arrived.

A few years ago, I also had the experience of being looked after by a group of homeless folk who'd squatted in a large empty house in a rundown seaside town. I was away on a course, accidentallygot locked out of my B&B late one night on one of the foulest, wettest & windiest nights I've ever seen. Seeing me sheltering in rather 'inefficient bus shelter' they invited me in and I had possibly one of the most surreal but enlightening experiences of my life. We spent the night chatting, sharing jokes and telling each other our life stories. The following night I came back with a bundle of pizzas and we had another cracking night before I returned to the B&B, even more grateful for a warm bed and a welcome fry up the next morning.

While my own experiences of homelessness were traumatic enough to stay with me they have, added to the experience above, given me enough insight to avoid a lot of the prejudices some folk develop when it comes to homeless people. I also really appreciate what I've got, realise how fragile our lives can be and how quickly things can change.

Sitting on a comfy couch, sipping a spiced rum at the end of a long working day, my wife, kids and hounds around me I'm just intensely grateful and try my best not to moan about the little inconsequential irritations in life.
 
Jul 30, 2012
3,571
224
westmidlands
I think they are more alcoholic than homeless, and maybe drunk at the time.

Edit

I just recalled something similar. Having been up snowdonia and having to get the train back from Bangor I dossed by the sea round the side of the country house at the outskirts as it's quite close to the train station. I found out it was the haunt of local kids who decided I was there new best mate and ended up smoking fags with them.
 
Last edited:

James Higgins

Member
Oct 4, 2014
30
1
Nottinghamshire
woof said:
So did you get a peaceful night in Truro.

Rob

Actually yes. And it has given me confidence to sleep in towns and smallish cities. I have not had chance to try it again so maybe I might encounter some difficulties finding a suitable location but i suppose that comes with experience. It rained hard that night which is no problem in.a bivvy but I didn't see a soul. Definitely got lucky with the location. From the side of the road i could see the traffic but there was no chance it could see me in a dpm bivvy in the dark.

Safety could be an issue in some rough places but I would tend to avoid those. I think the key is to scout around for a suitable location during the day and then you can pass the evening/night in a pub and then move on to your free bed for the night, lol

The couple who approached me did seem genuinely kind and helpful, but still I suppose they did see me as an opportunity to get some booze. I doubt they would've asked the man in the suit nearby!
 

mousey

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jun 15, 2010
2,210
253
39
NE Scotland
..... Safety could be an issue in some rough places but I would tend to avoid those. I think the key is to scout around for a suitable location during the day and then you can pass the evening/night in a pub and then move on to your free bed for the night said:
This is what I did in my youth when walking around, look on a map to discover green areas near a town walk to/through them scout around a bit find a suitable place, remember it, go into town get a meal and a couple of pints, head back out to my chosen site. Then again in most villages / smaller places where a pub has a garden [a proper one with grass] then they'll usually let you kip in the back after closing.
 

xylaria

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Having to sleep in a bus shelter or train stop overnight isnt unusual in rural areas. Thankfully I have never had to do it in a urban area. I slept over in a bus stop in the isle of yell that had heating, double glazing and flush toilets. The bus was turning up at 7 in morning and we would ofmmissedit if we hadnt slept there.
 

Macaroon

A bemused & bewildered
Jan 5, 2013
7,116
271
70
SE Wales
I've had a couple of experiences of being homeless at very different points in my life. The first in my teens, the second only last year. Both were completely unexpected and brought their own unique difficulties.

On both occasions I was in employment but still struggled financially (having to start to rebuild everything I'd taken for granted and suddenly lost), faced the uncertainty of where to live and how to continue to work while having nowhere to call home and generally found the whole experience exhausting and depressing.

I've also been rather impolitely moved on from a few bus or train stations when backpacking and not particularly looking my best and simply wanting to get in out of the weather until my bus or train arrived.

A few years ago, I also had the experience of being looked after by a group of homeless folk who'd squatted in a large empty house in a rundown seaside town. I was away on a course, accidentallygot locked out of my B&B late one night on one of the foulest, wettest & windiest nights I've ever seen. Seeing me sheltering in rather 'inefficient bus shelter' they invited me in and I had possibly one of the most surreal but enlightening experiences of my life. We spent the night chatting, sharing jokes and telling each other our life stories. The following night I came back with a bundle of pizzas and we had another cracking night before I returned to the B&B, even more grateful for a warm bed and a welcome fry up the next morning.

While my own experiences of homelessness were traumatic enough to stay with me they have, added to the experience above, given me enough insight to avoid a lot of the prejudices some folk develop when it comes to homeless people. I also really appreciate what I've got, realise how fragile our lives can be and how quickly things can change.

Sitting on a comfy couch, sipping a spiced rum at the end of a long working day, my wife, kids and hounds around me I'm just intensely grateful and try my best not to moan about the little inconsequential irritations in life.

That's a very good post. You make an extremely important point and you do it well; there's an awful lot of people in the world who could do with learning this lesson. Well said, sir :)
 

British Red

M.A.B (Mad About Bushcraft)
Dec 30, 2005
25,596
497
Mercia
I will add do show sense in how and when you engage with the homeless. Of course the homeless are people too (I speak from experience) and must be treated accordingly. However bear in mind that there are large proportions of people who are mentally ill and / or substance abusers amongst the homeless (and bear in mind most abuse substances because they are homeless, they are not homeless because they abuse substances).

Some homeless people are great and friendly people. Some will rob you. Some will attack you. A few will kill you. Many are just desperate and will do a lot for the amount of money and possessions that most of us carry.

Please, always remember the homeless - and if engaging make eye contact - it matters to us. But also do not be naive or put yourself in danger.

Red
 

James Higgins

Member
Oct 4, 2014
30
1
Nottinghamshire
This is what I did in my youth when walking around, look on a map to discover green areas near a town

Good idea. Look on the map! Otherwise it may take a while randomly searching for a suitable location. Have you ever had a pub refuse you? and have you ever slept in a pub garden withtout asking?

It occureed to me recently that church entrances are good places if you were desperate to get out of some bad weather. I have noticed in many rural locations that many churches have an open porch entrance which could be useful if the weather was unbearable. Nobody goes to a church at night, even less so if it was lashing it down. I think the only issue with this is the fact of sleeping near a graveyard at night!
 

xylaria

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
The is a huge gulf between what is ok in rural and what is ok in urban. A london church you would be either fighting for a spot or getting washed with a bucket of cold water. Rural wales if you were caught you would most probably get a offer of somewhere warmer.

I went to school and the nieghbouring church at the back of kings cross station. The parish nun Sister emelda used to go out in middle of the night and administer to the poor. She got battered by a pimp one night because she would help his victims escape by telling them about out reach schemes. The thing is there is gravity of amoral scum preying on the homeless in urban areas. If I was ever stranded in london I would walk to hampstead heath and sleep there.
 

mousey

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jun 15, 2010
2,210
253
39
NE Scotland
Good idea. Look on the map! Otherwise it may take a while randomly searching for a suitable location. Have you ever had a pub refuse you? and have you ever slept in a pub garden withtout asking?

It occureed to me recently that church entrances are good places if you were desperate to get out of some bad weather. I have noticed in many rural locations that many churches have an open porch entrance which could be useful if the weather was unbearable. Nobody goes to a church at night, even less so if it was lashing it down. I think the only issue with this is the fact of sleeping near a graveyard at night!

Funnily enough no pub has ever refused me sleeping in there garden, maybe I only ask in pubs that look like they'll say yes, also having a meal and a few pints your at least giving some money to them.

Also graveyards are some of the quietest and peaceful places, on account of folks thinking they are scary eerie places full of the un-dead....

One time in a quite village I was sleeping in a dis-used bus stop - well build stone with a slate roof walls on three sides and a bench along the back maybe 4x3 metres in size [maybe it was something else before a bus stop] anyway in the morning I heard a couple of dog walkers coming up the road having a debate about the bus stop and how it should be knocked down because nobody uses it. They walked passed to see me sitting up in my bivi bag with a brew on the stove waving smiling and saying good morning - made me chuckle and made them very surprised.
 

James Higgins

Member
Oct 4, 2014
30
1
Nottinghamshire
I'm looking forward to testing out the pubs. Abandoned bus stops seem like a good one if you can get a brew on first thing! I was thinking of planning a trip early next spring for a week or so. Not sure where yet.

On extended trips the subject of hygiene becomes an issue. Usually I just find a campsite and mostly they will allow you to use the facilities for a fee, or I just camp over for the night, but sleeping on a campsite in a bivvy seems like overkill so I've been thinking about ways to get around even this cost too but it's not so easy.

If you are on the coast in the summer then no problem, just dive in with a bar of soap, lol. But apart from this there is not much you can do (unless you can find a deep forest with fresh running water to heat and plenty of privacy!) Maybe public swimming baths in towns? I really don't know. I was thinking if you have a gym membership at a big national chain, then you could just walk into the gym at the nearest town. Not sure how much a gym membership is nowadays but maybe its worth the cost for a year if you have access to clean hot showers.

I've digressed a bit here but some of the posts above have made me think about pushing bivvying to the limits of cost-cutting adventure . Or just plain tightness!
 

mousey

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jun 15, 2010
2,210
253
39
NE Scotland
Membership of the youth hostel association is a good thing for showers and a drying room, even if you don't pay to sleep there. I was a member a good while ago and used to dive in to get a shower wash stuff and get it dried.

I've been thinking of getting a life membership for me and the kids as I'm still young enough for it to be good value [although I feel the prices of rooms have risen quite a lot - you can get a bnb for near enough the same price in some youth hostels these days.]
 

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