Sleeping Wild: A Night Out in the Lakes
Ten hours at the office desk on a hot summer’s day. Instagram snaps of friends adventuring in Bolivia. The Pound Sterling 20% more disappointing vs. every other currency since Brexit. It was probably a combination of these three factors that saw me morosely prod something along the lines of *free UK adventure not in London* into Google one afternoon, expecting nothing more exciting than a groupon voucher to Go Ape! Milton Keynes.
Instead I tumbled down an online rabbit warren of blogs by explorers, endurance junkies and adventurers who had achieved all manner of crazy escapades, unusually, between the hours of 5pm on a Friday and 9am on a Monday. Unlike that breed of instabros/babes that urge you to quit your job to live in paradise (usually via the vaguest of funding options), these explorers live their own dream every weekend, in the UK, with their mates, and on the dirt cheap.
I was intrigued. Who are these fearless weekend wanderers? And how do I become one?!
The correct term, I have discovered, is *microadventurer*; a concept popularised by an explorer called Alistair Humphrey who wants to show that the wilderness experience is there for everybody to access. His premise is simple:
“Adventure is a state of mind”.
It is not defined by an exotic challenge on the other side of the world or proven by an exquisitely composed instagram photo. It is about getting out of your comfort zone to something you don’t ordinarily do: challenging your physical and mental limits! After reading through his blog and those of other microadventurers, I’ve come to realise that there are so many magical spots on the British Isles waiting to be explored. With that in mind, and inspired by the solo exploits of some pretty awesome gals (see here and here), this summer I decided to try my hand at wild camping and have some homespun adventures of my own!
For the uninitiated, wild camping means camping absolutely anywhere except at a campsite. Some sacrifice is obviously required (toilets, showers, tap water) but this is more than made up for by the promise of unspoilt views, total seclusion and the freedom of possibility that going wild brings. None of which, I should add, is usually delivered by the typical British campsite (think caravan generators and radios on all night).
The only teeny, tiny fly-in-the-ointment is that wild camping is technically illegal in England*, unless you seek the permission of the landowner before bedding down. Easier said than done, however, given land ownership information in this country is about as transparent as Theresa May’s sassy leather trousers. In the interest of avoiding a lengthy Freedom of Information Act saga, most wild campers choose to stealth it**.
Three years living in South London has not left me au fait with the art of stealthy badassery. So for my first wilderness adventure I chose to tag along to the family summer holiday in the Lake District, where wild camping is tolerated and actually promoted on the national park’s website. With some vague omission of detail, I also managed to persuade my brother and sister to accompany me on my wild camp. Together we chucked the relics of old Duke of Edinburgh kit into backpacks and headed off on our trek down the remote Ennerdale valley.
Ennerdale Water is the most westerly lake in Cumbria, accessible only by a maze of mostly single-track meandering lanes that make getting anywhere in a car an ordeal. Perhaps because of this, the few tourists that make it out here tend to be the hardened fell-wandering types. No brand-new-fluorescent-hipster gear out here please, think sheepswool jumpers, wooden walking canes and weather-beaten brows. Hardcore walking country, in other words, and I looked well out of place in my Nike running shorts.
Regardless of our city vibes, my sibs and I are actually alright walkers – between us having participated in a fair few walking expeditions (my bro walked all over China for a month!). So we made a decent job of the 9 mile trek into the wilderness, at least until the unexpected bouldering skills needed to scale the mountain of Haystacks at the end! After 6 hours or so, in which we saw all of 3 people, we finally arrived at our camping spot.
It’s a pretty unique feeling, having walked up and away from civilisation, to spend the night in the wilderness. The tarn we camped next to was very high, just below the summit of Haystacks, but was sheltered and had incredible views into the next valley. Aside from the boot worn path, there were barely any signs of human existence in sight: no buildings, no fences, not even the distant drone of aircraft. It was about as remote as I think I have ever been in England and it was spectacular.
After a warming dinner, hot chocolate and plenty of biscuits, the sibs and I bedded down at dusk, and read our books as the light faded. While I was drifting off to sleep, it suddenly struck me just how small the three of us were – bundled up in sleeping bags – amidst the mighty landscape that surrounded us. In our usual habitat contained within a roof and four walls, we domesticated humans are easily fooled into believing our grandeur as a species: standing tall and proud as the largest mammal in our controlled environments.
But spend a night out in the wild, wind buffeting your tent, night-time birds (I assumed) making ghostly night-time noises, vast dark skies revealing stars city folk can never see…. It’s the best possible remedy to remind one of one’s own reassuring insignificance.
The morning brought with it that distinct Cumbrian drizzle that we had done well to avoid thus far. So we hot-footed off the mountain as fast possible to the nearest village (2 hours away) where we met mum and dad for breakfast. Drying off with a steaming cup of coffee inside one of those fabulous Lakeland establishments that welcomes walkers, mud ‘n boots ‘n all, we relived the trip’s funny moments together. It was not a glamorous expedition, exotically located or fantastically difficult. But as we sipped our coffee together, I sensed the quiet satisfaction of an adventure completed, toiled in good spirits, and shared in the best company.
Next time: I’ll give the lowdown on my next wildcamp, in which I went by myself! Yes, I survived. No, I didn’t sleep. But it was still an experience I’m somewhat weirdly proud of?!
*With the exception of Dartmoor National Park, where it is permissible on most open moorland. Scotland, of course, are far more progressive than us wet Southerners and have enshrined into law the rights of everybody to access the Great Scottish Outdoors, including wild camping.
**The wild camping code promotes a considerate, responsible approach to enjoying the wilderness. Camping spots should be as remote as possible, out of sight of roads and other dwellings and never on farmland. It’s good practice to arrive late and leave early, and not to stay in the same spot on consecutive nights. Finally, best to avoid fires (especially in national parks like the Peak District where wildfire risk is prominent) and always carry your rubbish out. As ye olde insta-meme goes, “take only memories, leave only footprints”.