“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.”
Back when I was a ‘tenderfoot’ camping was all about keeping it light and keeping it portable. ‘If you can’t hump it – dump it’ was the motto. That is no longer the case. Today’s campers of the trendy ‘glamping’ fraternity like to have everything with them from air conditioned tents/lodges/yurts with fridges, TV’s, full Wi-Fi and ensuite bathrooms to swimming pools, on-site restaurants, coffee shops and delis. Canoes, trekking ponies and archery make a welcome addition
There is however a new and rapidly growing camping trend called ‘Wild Camping’ and about 20,000 people a year are trying it out. ‘Wild Camping’ means going out into open country with minimum equipment and absolutely no facilities to hand like toilet blocks, showers, cooking pits or on-site shops. The concept is to leave the car behind and wander off into the wild blue yonder as far from civilisation as you can get.
I once met an ultra keen wild camper who spent an entire Christmas under canvas and even cooked a turkey in a home-made camp oven made from a large flowerpot. When asked why he was spending the festive season in a tent he said that it was because his wife’s mother and her two sisters were coming to stay for a week and that was more than human flesh could stand. His sojourn under the stars was cut short by a severe case of food poisoning brought on by eating undercooked turkey.
Akela’s top tips on wild camping
- Although wild camping is broadly legal in Scotland this is not the case in England and Wales except for parts of Dartmoor. If you do see an attractive place in England to stick up your tent it is worth asking permission of the landowner before rolling out your sleeping mat.
- Have a map and a compass and a rough idea of where you are going and how you’re going to get there. Tell someone at home where you’re going to be and when you’re going to be back.
- Essential items – a tent, lightweight sleeping mat, a sleeping bag, a small stove and fuel, easy cook food, mess tins (for cooking in and eating out of), a mug and camp cutlery, a plastic water bottle, a small trowel for digging a toilet hole, a toilet roll, a towel and toilet items plus a torch, a warm jacket and a waterproof poncho or similar. Keep the gear light. (Top Water Saving Tip: – Take your morning bath by removing your clothes and rolling around in the morning dew. Towel off afterwards. If this doesn’t wake you up nothing will!)
- Although some ‘wild campers’ advise you to arrive at your chosen site as late as possible (and leave before other walkers are out and about) I would strongly caution against this. You need time and daylight to choose your site carefully, put up your tent, source drinking water if you haven’t brought any with you and generally get organised. Camping is about taking it easy, not falling over yourself in the dark.
- The site needs to be discreet, flat and sheltered. Pitching on skylines is a very bad idea unless you want to get chased out of your sleeping bag by high winds and bolts of lightning! The site also needs to be well drained and away from trees, paths, animals and other tents. Avoid lakes, rivers and streams. As attractive as they are they do have a nasty habit of suddenly rising up after heavy rain and flooding you out. Make sure the back of the tent is pointing into any wind.
- Although it might seem romantic to sit in the rosy glow of a campfire there are many reasons why you shouldn’t light one – a) first you have to find wood b) fires leave a scar on the ground c) a lot of places suitable for wild camping present a high risk of fire and you don’t want to be responsible for destroying acres of beautiful landscape and devastating ecosystems.
- Leave absolutely nothing behind apart from your thanks. There should be no clues that you were ever there.
- Finally – be considerate. Respect the privacy and livelihood of others; if asked to move on, do so, and keep away from main tracks and paths.
- Water: In truly remote areas it may be possible to drink water from clear running streams without any risk- but who knows what might be decomposing in the river bed just up around the bend. My advice is to always boil the water before you drink it…or find a mains tap!
- Toilet: Dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep in a secluded spot about 50 metres away from your tent and any source of water. Replace the earth once you have finished your business.
- Is it safe? If you have chosen your camping site carefully, pitched your tent properly and are mindful of the weather — and you’re away from well worn paths and herds of animals — you’ll be fine.
- Is it scary? I once hiked across the Caingorms with some fellow Scouts. The only alarm we had was when we were climbing up to the Wells of Dee and found ourselves in the company of a ‘Brocken Spectre’. Although we knew that it was only an optical illusion caused by the sun throwing our own shadows onto to a fogbank there was considerable anxiety in the trouser department!
Footage of a Brocken Spectre in the Lake District
— from Martyn Day