Camping has become huge over the last few years…massive, enormous and humungous, so much so that it has diversified into categories:
Glamping: hunter wellies and short shorts, yurts, tipis, gigantic gas ranges, slick fire pits, shitters with a view to die for and a heftus price tag to boot- strictly for media types, Cotswolders, Chelsea wenches and people with money to burn looking for a “wild” experience. Having said that, if you are going to pimp it up in the great outdoors, this is mutt’s nuts and I should now…I teach foraging at just such a place (wouldn’t mind living there actually!). Foie gras for starters followed by chateaubriand on the barbie and a few bottles of Petrus 2005…darling.
20 sec timer on a moonlit Safari Britain.
Caravan clubbers: The great British holidaymakers, frame tents, toilet blocks, plug ins for the TV and most horrific of all: no fires?! These campsites have more restrictions than a nuclear power plant; you’d be better off canoodling with your “free-spirit” in a prison cell. Fact. Or simply try camping in your back garden as opposed to a crap, cramped version of your house.
Happy Campers: a farmer’s field with permission from the farmer, virtually no amenities apart from a tap and a blocked toilet. Campfires often allowed, minimal noise and average sized groups catered for. Quite often a bunch of harmless young folk on a surf mission with stupid sized tents with up to 5 different compartments. Expect Jack Johnson in the form of a tone-deaf toff with big hair trying to impress any females unfortunate enough to come within earshot or pose the question “what school did you go to?” But of course they’re not all like that.
Me, Fake Beard, Cider,and all my mates (or lack of) Happy Camping. Mount Folly Farm, Bigbury, Devon.
Survival Camping: a piece of string, a knife and a Billycan and a millbank bag. The more extreme among us go in search of a challenge and take nothing with them save the bare essentials. Comfort isn’t important. Probably quite good fun until the amateurs eat a plant/animal/vegetable/mineral that disagrees with them and end up shitting through the eye of a needle with only dock leaves to clean up with.
And finally, wild camping…my personal favourite and what this post is all about.
So what kind of camper are you?
When you think about it, man isn’t designed to live in a house, certainly not the houses we live in today, perfectly flat floors feel weird beneath the toes: our feet our able to bend and flex in conjunction with the terrain we walk upon, or is that just me? I like crooked dwellings, uneven floors and the sunken patches of tiles on old farm cottages. These days, it’s all about the perfect level: We have taken upon ourselves to shape our abodes in our own image, well why not? We can can’t we? Well…
Why do we have such a draw to going back to nature, an almost ecclesiastical attraction to big open spaces, green things and remote places? That must be part of the human psyche that has remained the same for thousands of years like-wise with fire provoking a “stare on” amongst the best of us. Clearly we are well programmed to adaptation (see urban jungle), but certain parts of the human brain have not been updated just yet.
So what is wild camping, what defines this style of back-to-nature activity? Well, before I go any further, forget about canvas and lay to one side the lightweight nylon taffeta tents. Wild camping lies somewhere between camping and survival camping. The key ingredients to throw into the mix are ‘nouse’ and ‘comfort’, unfortunately money can’t buy the former...imagination is key.
There are those that will hike up to the top of Scafell Pike and camp there for the night with their tents that fold up to the size of a napkin and lighter-sized gas stoves and chow down on dehydrated foods, army rations etc. It is wild camping because you are in a wild place fair enough, but it isn’t really lording it up, is it? Everyone is entitled to there own interpretation of a subject with no exact definition and perhaps that’s the beauty of this type of camping.
For me (I would just about consider myself experienced enough to comment on the subject and perhaps throw my meagre weight about), Wild camping involves the following:
Shelter: Tents are out of the question…they take up too much space. A tarp will suffice, as long as you have a few metres of Para cord to peg down the corners with a few cunningly whittled pieces of wood (or carry a few tent pegs), you can keep dry. The best way to use your tarp is fixed within a shelter constructed from natural materials, or on the outside. Think childhood camp/den building, but more efficient, as in: you have to spend the night in it. There is so much available in the wilderness, assuming you are in one, let Mother Nature give you a hand. Turf, bracken, dried leaves, branches, rocks, the list is endless. Half the fun is constructing an A1 shelter to sleep in. Sleeping bag and roll mat (inflatable ones are the best- if a tad bulky), but anything flora you can lay underneath you for insulation is a bonus.
Early, sketchy days of digital photography...before I mastered the self timer.
Fire: Essential for both warmth and cooking as well as a genuine “stone age” atmosphere. This is a risky one, certain remote areas you may choose will be rich in peat (most upland areas- peak district, Scotland etc), very bad idea to light a fire on the moors as this can get the peat underground smouldering that will gradually spread unseen and pop up a few days later destroying acres of land. If you must have a fire (I consistently rely upon them) camp by a river or stream and use a rocky meander to site your hearth. On such expeditions I always carry a old Berocca tube full of cotton wool and a envelope of birch bark for making fire, a flint and steel is the best tool to carry as it still works when wet. Take a lighter for back up. Personally I like woodland, all the fuel you need and less wind.
Water: there was a time when any spring was drinkable, but with the rambling of livestock these days (some of which meet a grizzly demise by falling into a burn/stream) you can never be too sure. Its worth taking a bit of water with you but for cooking needs and even drinking, just boil the bloody stuff (a rolling boil for at least 10 minutes). Why fanny about with iodine and campden tablets? As if caveman Dave had them back in the day! In some places you will find water you can take straight from a stream- as long as it is fast flowing. If in doubt, ask the environment agency their opinion on where you are going. They should be able to give you a concise answer…we fork out enough cash on rod licences in this country!
Food: A joyful experience always: don’t ruin it with Kendal mint cake (although a grand source of energy) and ration packs! Now, you can go two ways here, pack your own feast or take a couple of staples such as flour rice or pasta and rely on the wild larder for the rest. Wild camping, I think, must involve the consumption of wild produce. Take along a culinary survival kit (to see mine click here), a collapsible fishing rod or nightlines and catch your own supper. Think of all those tasty brown trout waiting to be your breakfast in those upland streams! Foraging will always be a fine source of food anywhere in the country, Take a book with you to point out the good stuff if you are unsure. I would say I am beyond amateur status, but I still take one! (I would recommend the mini Collins Gem Food for free by Richard Mabey).
As for Meat, I take rump steak when I go camping and don’t fancy hunting or trapping. You can eat it raw, it won’t go off for a couple of days un-refrigerated and you can compact it by rolling it tight in cling film. Although trapping is illegal in Britain, It doesn’t hurt to take snare wire just in case- I always keep it in my tiny first aid kit (yes officer, it’s for medicinal purposes…) Speaking of which, a hip flask of whisky goes a long way. Even if you hate the stuff you will be thankful for having it one day.
The Pot hanger with billycan...would have Ray and Bear in ecstasy.
Entertainment: I always make sure I have fishing stuff, which often keeps me busy. Books are always a source of infinite pleasure (one or two will suffice), wind up radios are super too, especially BBC Radio 4, a constant barrage of fine banter. An I-pod with a solar charger is always useful- I would recommend a hefty dose of audio books (Blackadder and Alan Partridge are always welcome, even Just William can be quite pleasant). It is worth having such things as back up, but to be completely honest being in a wild place, with all its sounds and serenades is more than enough. As the boy scouts say, “always be prepared”...I never made it past “Beavers”, I found going it alone with the SAS survival Handbook was way more fun!
Ok...I might be a big kid at heart.
As for other essentials on the kit list:
A decent fixed blade knife: (Go to Moonraker knives for a grand selection- I use a Helle Eggen, affordable and practical, the Mora Training Knifes are also exceptional…for £10 a pop!)
Hatchet, Foldaway saw. Machete optional. It down to you and the environment you are venturing into. Personally I favour the Hatchet for most tasks…although having said that a machete feels rather pleasant in the hand (must be Martindale Brand- mine is over 30 years old from when my parents lived in Jamaica- still going strong!).
A bivi bag- a waterproof sleeping sack if you like- makes any weaknesses in your shelter a minor worry.
Billycan nest- a set of three that go inside each other, like them Russian dolls. Wouldn’t want to be caught with my pants down without them.
Fishing kit- a roll of 5lb line (you might catch a whopper), some size 12 hooks and some AA weights. Worms for bait…get digging.
A mug- the Enamel type you can get in camping shops will suffice. I have never purchased one myself I managed to cling on to mine courtesy of the Channel 4 Shipwreck days! Still going strong.
Candles- a few cheap economy jobs will do just fine, nothing beats reading by candlelight, I spent 6 months doing it up a tree and still do in the bedroom these days!
Head torch- I don’t fell this one needs explaining.
So there you have it: A rough guide to wild camping. Beyond a basic kit and a few pointers, Imagination is the critical element- you choose where you want to go and go, adventure is right on our doorstep- you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to find it. Trust me.
There is one other rule that is the most important of all- make sure you leave the spot exactly as you found it…and if you see someone dropping litter, its worth kicking up a fuss, even if it comes to duelling pistols at dawn, you will still be in the right…perhaps.
For a wild camping experience from the archives, it was a good'un, click here.
Rigamortis can be a bitch.