I have tried all manner of tripod substitutes, ranging from table top tripods, to gorillapods, to the zipshot, to simply finding a ledge and hoping for the best, and while you can often make do with a (strong) table top tripod/gorillapod in cities as there are usually places for you to place the tripod on, in the countryside that doesn't work so well. That said though, even in cities, nothing can really replace a real tripod, as the ledge method severely limits your potential angles.
Also, bear in mind that you're there in fall/winter, so the days are quite short. In Cambridge, in winter the sun sets around 4pm and rises at around 8am... so there's quite a lot of darkness to deal with. Further north would be even worse, I was at the arctic circle during the winter solstice, and there was only 2 hours of daylight.