The delights of Great Langdale from the point of view of a newbie

The Langdale Pikes from Lingmoor Fell, Lake District National Park
The Langdale Pikes from Lingmoor Fell, Lake District National Park.

I’ve got to admit, that the Lake District does have something special about it. Having spent a few days there last week and into the following weekend I’ve succumbed to it’s charms all over again.

In truth not a lot of mileage was covered as I had planned to film a short promotional video for Vango/Force 10 in the Langdale Valley. Even so, spending some time around this breathtakingly beautiful landscape didn’t disappoint.

When me and a friend arrived, the weather was considerably foul it has to be said but fortunately over the coming days conditions improved markedly. It was also the first time my guest and model for the video was to spend a few nights out under nylon in the great outdoors too.

I was also saddened to learn that the landlord of the Sticklebarn Tavern has recently sold his public house off to the National Trust. His name was Terry (no joke) and had been there for a good 8 years or so. He still lives on site round the back but the new tenants of the pub have let standards slip somewhat (to put it mildly). All said and done, the ale was still in good nick anyway.

Alas, on that note I shall leave you be and hand you over dear reader to my friend Stuart to read his thoughts on the trip and his experiences of wild camping for the first time as I prepare myself for another excursion this week. It’s back to the Peak District for me….

*Note, some photos were taken on a mobile phone, compact camera and DSLR

Terra Nova Competition Tarp 1
Stuart relaxes at camp making breakfast.

“Wild Camping”. Two words, “Wild” and “Camping”.

The connotations of each single word open up a boys own excitement in grown men. Together, they conjure an almost irresistable desire to break out the plastic and buy yourself a tent.

But as you and I both know readers the modern man is more ‘Mixed Grills’ than ‘Bear Grylls’ and more ‘Ray Fears’, than ‘Ray Mears’. So for most people it never happens. A mortgage to pay, a wife to say “no”, and perhaps consequent accusations of a mid-life crisis! We’ve all heard them.

So it was a real twist of fate that drew me out into the Lakes with my friend Terry for my first wild camp experience.

Training for a 100km London to Brighton 24-hour walk, followed by a Snowdonia marathon – two tough events during 2012, I’m naturally drawn to a challenge and training time is at a premium with a 9-5 job, a wife and two young children to consider. I’ve known Terry for many years (since secondary school in fact) and have had little or no opportunity to share his interest in the great outdoors. I’ve just never got round to the idea of giving it a go despite his passionate ramplings to me when we hook up in the local pub. So when he explained that he needed someone to help him out with a video for the Force 10 Helium 100 tent, it was too good a request to turn down.

Vango Force 10 Helium 100 Lake District wild camping
Vango’s Force 10 Helium 100 tent on the flanks of Lingmoor Fell.

Fuelled by the excitement of a weekend away in the glorious mountains of the Lake District with good company and a little bit of ale I quickly explained myself to the wife and children before buttering up Terry for a kit loan. This is my first wild-camp and although I have running paraphernalia – footwear, drinking equipment and outdoor-wear – it’s pretty obvious much of it is  nowhere near suitable for what my wee endeavour.

So as the time drew near, the realisation of what I was looking at, and a few pre-trip jitters led to a frantic phone call to Terry. I began to feel a little apprehensive about the whole trip but thankfully his usual ‘overwhelming’ enthusiasm was as infectious as ever, and soon I was back on board and packing the loo roll!

And that’s the first problem. Loo roll: a whole roll, or just a bit? If just a bit, HOW MUCH is the right amount? I’ve never needed to consider such things, but here I was, weighing up the right amount of loo roll; planning how many times I might – you know, need to do some business.

Baby wipes Terry tells me, are imperative. I throw in a packet of Pampers specials. Terry mocks my naivity. I hadn’t given any consideration to chucking in a large family pack of the bloody things. Even so, despite my friends chuckles – I can take it.

Food: chocolate, pasta meals……my list was exhausted. Luckily, again my friend fills me in with further details and mocks my naivity. I can still take it.

Clothing and shelter – between Terry and my another friend who heads out backpacking with Terry from time to time, they kitted me out a treat and I was ready for the trip.

Terra Nova Competition 1 Tarp
Stuart takes shelter under a Terra Nova Competition 1 tarp.

Obviously, I was excited. Terry warned against underestimating the places we were going to explore. Noting how some people feel unsettled by the silence at camp at night or how dark it can get. Things he was keen to make me appreciate how it may make me feel and consequently learn to deal with. He meant well and he was right. I’ve never given it a thought as to how dark such rural areas can be being somewhat of a suburbanite. Or how I may have been subjected to ‘white noise’ living in a urban area.

Despite such wobbles and concerns when I finally reached the summit of a glorious English mountain with all of the beauty and awe that comes with it I found myself thinking there’s nothing else like this. And it’s free!

Even though we hadn’t walked to far or climbed that high, for me the dawn of realisation of participating in such an activity and the sense of freedom it gave was overwhelmingly liberating.

Reaching the beautiful Langdale Valley for the first day was easy enough, more so as we ventured into the Sticklebarn Tavern, and were welcomed warmly by its new landlord. Sober, he was and a friendly gentleman. Drunk – a little later – he was consequently rather a disgrace. Curling up on the floor beside the bar and completely ignoring his dogs from bothering his very own customers trying to eat their food. But such observations are for another story.

Terry and I fared only a little better I have to admit when at 8.30pm we decided it was probably sensible to find a place to camp. The weather was awful that day hence we spent some time relaxing in the local hostelry. Casting our bleary eyes up onto the hills dowsed in clag seeking a pitch for the night I couldn’t help but think that to my eyes a spot Terry had chosen looked to be a mere jaunt up a steady incline.

I was wrong of course. First lesson learnt, don’t underestimate the inability of a drunken man to navigate, or make sensible decisions. As the sun set beneath us, the thorns, brambles and general thick undergrowth I led us into was becoming overwhelming. Terry’s experience pulled us through it and he soon found a more sensible route to our camp following sheep tracks through the mire. Again I was rib-tickled but it’s okay. I could take it.

So, with headlamp adorned and in the darkening night, Terry took the lead in erecting the shelter for the night. Stoves came out and nightwear replaced daywear which was feeling the effects of a hard slog uphill in wet and soggy conditions. Suddenly my running (non-waterproof) footwear was seeming like a schoolboy error but for once Terry did not mock – he suggested the benefits would be felt in the coming drier days ahead.

Vango Helium 100 tent, Terra Nova Competition 1 Tarp wild camping Lake District
The weather improved markedly the following day despite some poor conditions forecast by the Met Office.

And there I was, at the summit of Lingmoor Fell and looking down into the gorgeousness that is our English landscape. It was a bit dark by now, to fully (or even remotely) appreciate the view but that would surely come by morning.

Pasta cooking by the silence of a Lake District night, water pouring into stove. Waterfalls in the distance and the breeze. The only sounds in the whole world. Sobered by the walk and by the experience, I was completely at peace when I went to sleep. I wasn’t unnerved, I was thrilled. Boys own adventure stuff!

The following morning I unzipped the tent and the weather had significantly improved. Rain, but what did you expect? As I emerged from my slumber, it was to another new experience. Keep your camp sites, your caravans and your arranged day trips. Keep your tourist office and your open top bus. This is how to wake up!

The day ahead was completely new to me. Filming was of course,  and the only commitment we had that day but the world felt like it was my oyster. I’ll enjoy this. I’m here.

Waiting for the rain to pass, my guide and I sit beneath his tarpaulin, make some tea, eat, talk and wait. Not much happens but the scenes appeared to change repeatedly – only not for long enough for Terry to to take advantage of with his video equipment. Within minutes Spring, Summer and Autumn pass us by. But the overwhelming victor in this seasonal relay is the
Autumn… rain, wind, bluster, clag. Too misty to film, too wet, too rainy. So we wait. And as we do so, my city (towny) brain kicks off. It gets bored within a few minutes! I begin to feel restless. I need to do something!

“Relax!” Terry says to me. “This is what it’s all about. Switch off. Enjoy the world as it is and not how we make it.”  And he’s right. Within a few minutes, I’ve chilled out a little and within a few more it’s gone from 7.30am to 12:25pm!

I find myself amazed that so much time has elapsed. The passage of such time made me feel about 7 years older, I felt as though twenty minutes had passed but in reality it had been five hours.

Where-did-that-time-go? Terry mocks me as I tell him my season analogy. He’s heard it a hundred times before and I’m sure many of you readers have too – and I can see why. I’m happy to live in this wide-eyed sensational place where everything is new and amazing. I never wanted it to end. And Terry appears pleased that I’ve reminded him. He talked about how even he with all his time spent in the outdoors likes to be reminded not to take it for granted.

wild camping Lake District
Stuart tries in vain to warm up his wet and cold feet with a glove!

We got some filming done. In fact, we’re very much pleased with the results and head for a pint to celebrate. We’re sensible and stick to our quota of two drinks before heading back to find another camp this time overlooking Blea Tarn for the following days location shooting.

My walk is filled with the excitement of setting up camp again and seeing more of what the Langdale Valley has to offer. It’s no disappointment as we turn our focus to Blea Tarn and notice a bunch of photographers huddling for a shot across this most scenic of valleys. They give up, and head back to their cars. Cars. No place for them up here, I state. Terry mocks my “old hat” undertone, reminding me of my single nights’ experience. No problem. I understand. I’m excited and new to this and I can take it.

Wild Camping Vango Helium 100 tent
Stuarts second night out on the fells.

Vango Force 10 Helium 100, wild camping
Dummy camp on the flanks of Pike O Blisco for the video we were working on.

Terra Nova Competition 1 Tarp, wild camping, Lake District
Terry’s bed for the night. A Terra Nova Competition 1 Tarp.

Blea Tarn, Lake District National Park
Blea Tarn in the Lake District affords some sublime views.

Langdale Pikes, Lake District National Park.
Stuart takes in a fine view of the Langdale Pikes from near Blea Tarn.

So camp was made. Food once again cooked and eaten, we then headed up the hill nearby, looking for reception to “call in” on the family at home – once again ruining my self-claimed
image of wilderness seeking wild camper. A man has responsibilities! The walk up is fine, and well navigated but upon returning to camp, everything is a muddle. Have we been burgled? A stampede? A stampede of sheep? We conclude a freak gust of wind has engulfed our camp and blown our kit into a muddle of “yours” and “mine”. But a quick inventory with head-torches, establishes no harm done. So we push the pegs back in, load them down with rocks from a nearby stream and settle down once more. And once more, it’s worth it! Like Loreal. Or is it Maybellene?


So what’s the overwhelming memory, coming back to town after an experience like this? It’s hard to say.

I didn’t feel lonely, as I suspected. Not seeing people mattered, not a jot. I missed my girls like crazy but I’d hope that’s a standard reaction from the family-man. A mountain rescue teddy doggy for each of them from the Old Dungeon Ghyll Folk Festival settled those scores though. And to boot, Terry got to meet an old hero of his. We were enjoying a pint of Theakston’s Old Peculiar in the garden when Lakeland legend Bill Birkett sat on the next table.

Bill Birkett and terrybnd
Terry gets to meet a Lakeland legend – Bill Birkett.

I felt proud. Proud to have taken the bull by the horns. Proud to have “had a go” at something entirely new. Proud to have enjoyed it. Proud to have finally understood that thing about my mate Terry that drives him on in such places and spend an amazing few days being inspired by what it is he does and no doubt many many others too. I hope the video he filmed of me came out well! I did feel a little camera shy initially but any inhibitions soon faded with time.

I’ll go again that is for certain. It makes for the most pleasing of tonics, make no doubt. For those of you who have been, who have experienced it, you’ll understand why of course. For those who have not, you can read, watch, listen and question other people’s accounts. But you can never see it for what it is, until you go. So go! Don’t take my word for it. Go!

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