I remember the day well. It was a glorious sunny day in December, with a similar forecast for the day after – a beautiful break in the weather right after a period of heavy rain and horrendous floods. I had a burning desire to be back in the Yorkshire Dales but with commitments in the diary until early afternoon, I knew that by the time I arrived at my destination it would be dropping dark.
That’s when the urge hit me to dig out my bivvy bag, tarp, sleeping bag, head torch and stove so that I could sleep out on the hills and get an early start for a walk the next morning.
It was a brilliant plan, the weather was perfect and I just had one of those feelings inside that this was a great idea – you know those ones where everything slots into place. Gathering all my kit, I headed off to my meeting and then pointed my car towards the Dales.
Arriving at my destination just as dusk fell, I grabbed all my kit and then made the horrible discovery that I’d forgotten to bring the gas converter for the stove. That was when my first doubt hit. I’d brought a flask of hot water, so could still get a warm drink, but there would be none of the hot soup I’d planned for my meal. I caved and phoned my husband working a few hundred miles away (who at this point had no idea what I’d been planning) figuring that if he told me I was being an idiot, I’d just go stay with a friend or family in the area.
I married well! His only response to this piece of crazy news about his wife was to suggest that I borrow a flask of hot water from a friend a few miles away and get my arse up onto the moors for the night.
Back on track, I hauled my rucksack onto my back and set off up the hill. By the time I made it onto the moors, it was getting pretty dark. Unsure whether I would suddenly freak out at being alone in the middle of the night, I decided to set up camp at a place where I knew a fairly easy walk in the dark would take me back to the safety of my car.
With my bivvy bag between 2 rocks (so I knew there was no way I would roll off the hill and over a cliff), I spread my tarp across the gap and made a brew. It was around 5.30pm, pitch black, my camp was set up, it was too early for food….and that was when it hit me.
I’d decided to do this in the middle of winter and it was going to be a very long, dark night. I couldn’t even get merrily drunk on wine as I wanted to be in a state to drive home should things get too spicy. It looked like an early night was on the cards.
It took me a while to find my big girl pants and take off my walking boots to get into my sleeping bag. Honestly, my thinking was that while ever I was sitting in my boots, I could quickly make a run for it if something scared me. Eventually I got brave and by 6.30pm I was tucked up and cosy. Oddly, despite the early hour I fell asleep. However, I was awake again by 8pm. The irony did not escape me – still 3 hours before normal sleep time.
The wind had picked up, making my tarp snap, and the rain had started falling – and that was when I realised my big rookie error.
I might have checked the weather forecast for that day and the following one, but I’d completely forgotten to find out what was going to happen overnight. With the recent poor weather, it was entirely possible that I would be facing gales and torrential rain.
Smartphone in hand, I texted my husband back in his cosy Somerset B&B (I was starting to think of it as base camp by now) to ask for a weather check. It looked like nothing worse than the current levels of wind and rain were forecast to hit, so I decided to stick it out for the night.
Attempting to fall asleep again, my mind started running through the various terrors of being alone on the moors at night. Was there an axe murderer or rapist wandering the hills? Were there any marauding cows on the moor about to trample me in my sleep? Would the sheep try and curl up with me thinking they’d found a dry cave to shelter? Were there any ghosts up here on the moors? Or, my personal favourite, was an alien spaceship going to fly over and abduct me?
I’ll be honest, it was a pretty disappointing one. Expecting a glorious sunrise (and the sense of achievement at having slept out to see it), the morning was dull and overcast – it just sort of got a bit lighter, but there was no myriad of oranges, yellows and reds to greet me from my slumber.
Packing up before the first walker arrived and making sure I left no trace, I headed off for a morning walk before a well earned late breakfast at the cafe.
Had I slept? Well, no, not really – but I was buzzing with so much energy from the experience that it really made no difference.
Having car camped on campsites for years, going wild camping opened up a different experience – it seems much simpler and I’m much more connected to the environment around me. I rarely sleep well when wild camping, but that never seems to matter. The experience and adventure of it gives me enough energy to take me through to the next evening when I can curl up in my own bed.
I enjoy spending time with other people, but the solo experience gives me something extra too. I’m relying on my own resources (smartphone and basecamp not withstanding) and that gives me a real sense of achievement and empowerment when I return to the real world.
Since my first wild camp, I’ve often been asked for tips or information by people – so my next post will be a list of some of the things I’ve learned from experience (or more likely omission).
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