…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
It seems only too fitting that I should finally write this post while sleeping in my home reminds me of the weeks I spent sleeping in my tent earlier this year – I meant to write about it earlier, of course – but yeah, the roofers took the roof off my house and replaced it with big blue plastic sheeting… and since they took the windows out of the roof, and even though I had to sleep on the sofa (in a sleeping bag) on the floor below, with heavy rain and 50mph winds, it sounded just like I was in a rustling tent; and the amount of sleep I got during those nights is evidence of this.
Anyway, yeah, wild camping.
Earlier this year I cycled to and up through Scotland from Wales. It was my second actual cycle-touring trip, the first being a five-day affair a couple of years ago within Wales. I didn’t actually come across the term ‘Wild Camping’ until this year’s trip when I had already made it the 700 miles/10 days or so up Scotland and was part the way back down, at a loch west of the famous Loch Ness. Here I met a guy from Holland who had driven here in his old Fiat Panda, and he was sleeping in it too; it was his camper. He was telling me how ‘wild camping’ was more accepted where he was from. We also talked about the state of our roads in relation to cycling; it was a very informative conversation. We both then turned in for the night beside Loch Linnhe.
It wasn’t until I was safely back home a couple of weeks later that my uncle then informed me that wild camping is actually illegal in England (but not Wales or Scotland). I didn’t even know this!
Personally I think it would be a silly law to impose on an individual; we were all born free on this planet and should have to have inflicted on us where we might choose to sleep each night; we should be able to roam freely as individuals, after all, wild animals or the smallest of insects have such freedom to a large extent. Why not us?
I leave every place either in a condition that would show next to no indication of me having been there, perhaps a little flattened grass, but certainly no litter, or I’d clear up some litter that was already there and therefore leave somewhere looking better.
I say I didn’t know it was illegal to wild camp in England, but I felt like every night that I pitched tent on a bit of hidden away abandoned ground and wasn’t paying anyone for the privilege, I was doing so secretly; trying to not be noticed, partly because I didn’t want any trouble (I must have expected trouble), and trouble is the last thing you want when you’re tired from cycling all day and it’s getting late; the last thing you want to be told just as your shoving in the last of your tent pegs and unrolling your camping mat is “you can’t camp here”. I actually envisaged this scenario many times, not only throughout my trip, particularly as tent-pitching time approached each day but also during the days weeks and months prior to my trip, whenever I thought: “Where will I sleep on this night?”
During my previous short cycle-touring trip I had paid to camp at a camp site each night and in doing so I discovered the varying costs of camp sites, from £5 to £10, and the varying array of facilities, from cold showers, to hot, to none at all unless you pay extra. I also noticed a varying degree of friendliness. In a way I begrudged parting with my money, and I did so more on my Scotland trip.
For my Scotland trip I was keen to brave some ‘wild camping’ before I was consciously aware of the term; #1 I wanted to save money where I could, and #2 I was happy to be roughing it out in the wild. The cost of camp sites seemed like an unnecessary expense, my food bill was high enough; I’d generally cycle until I didn’t want to go any further and turn up at a camp site in the evening, I’d eat, shower if the facilities were available and to my liking, sleep, and be away early the next day after I’d had my porridge and packed things back up again. I only had a very small “back-packer’s” tent; and so to pay £10 or more per night just for the small patch of ground to pitch this seemed wrong.
Yes some camp sites offer more than what I was making use of, and also giving you a sense of personal safety, but for me I didn’t need any of this.
It turns out, as I have looked through my journal from the trip that I ended up wild camping half of the time on this trip.
For my first night, whist still within Wales, I actually had a camp site planned, but as I approached it, I read the big sign that said “Camp Site” except the place itself didn’t say “Camp Site”; I had similar experiences with cafes; some places had a sign showing what they were claiming to be, but they didn’t feel inviting at all. Therefore, on this first night, I found myself venturing off the road past the “camp site” and into a forest park overlooking the region; my first ever night Wild Camping, well, only if I would be brave enough to unpack my kit and pitch my tent.
My chosen spot was along a track where, early in the evening when I arrived, I was met with a few dog walkers and pickup trucks transporting mountain bikers from their activities in the woodland. I sat quietly on a bench and made myself some porridge, beneath some lightly pattering rain, while I waited for the evening to progress a little more; the darkness would surely hide me.
Actually a friendly dog walker greeted me and seeing my heavily loaded bike got the impression that I’d be camping and he politely asked if I would be camping at this spot this night. I confirmed I would be; and from that moment my evening’s plans were set, it was no longer just an idea in my head. Shortly after I locked my bike to disused gate, pitched my small tent in a little corner of ground and crawled in for the night.
For the next four nights I would be paying to camp. Again, this wasn’t planned and it was just how it turned out that I didn’t end up ‘illegally’ wild camping in England. One thing I did enjoy was socialising with other campers; there were other cycle tourers too, although twice I met with other wild campers and had great chats; paying to stay at a camp site didn’t guarantee I’d find other people to chat to, even some of the owners or staff at sites weren’t so sociable, or sometimes I’d just be arriving too late and leaving too early the next day to have an opportunity to mingle with others (even to pay on one occasion!).
Socialising with others on my trip was a new-found enjoyment; I was travelling alone and while I don’t mind this (I’m pretty sure I enjoy it) I recognise my need to chat at least to someone each day, even if only briefly. Camp sites, cafes, shops, tourist sites and on ferries, were all opportune moments for me; I even got chance to practice my German-speaking a couple of times.
My night with the best view was when I wild-camped within sight of Loch Ness.
The funniest night wild camping was perhaps when I found a small spot out of sight… just outside a camp site!
On one day I paid at one camp site to only use the showers, I then found a nice spot down beside a railway line… shortly after crawling into my tent and dozing off, I was woken suddenly but the scary sound of two deer calling to each other; one was pretty close by.
Some campsites have great views too, and such sites can make you feel like you’re getting your monies’ worth; but when you’ve been cycling through such scenery all day, why pay for a little more
I had this nice view from my tent one morning at a paid-for site, but had I paid for the privilege of a shower at this “holiday resort” it would have been my most expensive stay on the trip; some such sites were charging £12 or more for what to me was a “family-friendly” camp site, this particular one wasn’t so welcoming and was actually tucked away behind a housing estate; at least from one direction there was a nice view.
So now I’m back at home, and my house is like a tent, I remember fondly those varying nights, the sloping grounds of the wild secluded spots, sometimes with rocks prodding me, or sometimes long grass giving me blissful comfort (even if my tent was too small), or on the paid-for sites with hot showers and cafes just a short hop away, some grounds with lawns kept neat to such an extent they were actually a little too firm!
Sleeping now on my sofa, for the time being, I’m short of space once more but at least I know where it is each night, and I don’t have to think about the next morning; what I might wake up to, or how far away it is to the nearest loo to take my morning constitutional! I don’t have to contend with a shower that might eat my money, or not, and if it does, then provide me with a predetermined (but undisclosed) length of time for which to wash under. I have places to dry my clothes, I have warm socks abound; no more squeezing my toes into cold we socks and trainers… just some rind and rain pattering on that blue plastic sheet and sneaking in round the edges, and down my walls on the roughest of nights… life is too easy!