Have you ever been spellbound by a fantastic view on a walk, but been forced to leave it behind because of the long and arduous return hike that awaits? Or found and idyllic spot to watch a sunset but been forced to beat a hasty retreat from the hills before the sun stoops below the horizon? I have, countless times, which is why I got into wild camping with a passion.
By planning to stay out on the hill, I can enjoy the peace and view for as long as I like. Not that I’m a meticulous planner of trips – I tend to go with the flow because of the shift patterns I work, and because it seems more in keeping with the spirit of pitching a tent on the tops. In the back of beyond I’m free to wander off beaten paths and explore for a potential pitch, enjoy views you and I wouldn’t normally see, get closer to the landscape with it’s flora and fauna, study rocks and their formations and even watch fish leaping out of tarns.
When I find a sheltered spot with a water source nearby, I love watching for hours the ever-changing moods of the mountains as the sun goes down, and the clouds race or creep over the summits, all in perfect peace and solitude.
The good news is that wild camping can be enjoyed by anybody. It’s not that different to using a campsite. Sure, you have to carry all that you need for a night or several, but the feeling of self-reliance and sense of freedom is truly liberating. It’s pleasing to the soul and every trip makes for an adventure and a happy memory. It’s addictive! Besides, soft turf on the hills makes for a comfier night’s sleep than the manicure lawns of a proper campsite.
One wild camp that sticks in my mind was near Crinkle Crags at the head of the Lake District’s Langdale Valley. Exhausted after a 12-mile hike I happened upon a secluded spot that overlooked Great Moss, Eskdale, Duddon Valley and more. I watched as the sun slowly go down over the Isle of Man as the Scafells became crags of fire, morphing into what appeared to be molten lava. It was truly breathtaking.
Sitting there with one of my camping luxuries, a mug of port (I carry it in a hydration bladder), mist filled the dark valleys below while I savoured the warmth and glow of the distant setting sun. In the morning I awoke to see a blood-orange sun rising over Windermere with a cloud inversion, too. Money cannot buy you moments or scenes like these.
The joys of getting out and immersing yourself into the landscape can get a bit hairy, mind. I still have chilling memories of a night on Red Screes summit, watching the roof of my tent contort in unimaginable ways, and lying below my candle lantern as it swayed as if on a storm-struck ship. Wandering off for water at night and losing my tent is another persistent laugh.
So, don’t be too surprised to chance upon a tent on a summit one evening. It might be me! So, what are you waiting for? Pack your rucksack and get out there! Your home will be wherever you choose it to be. You’ll not regret it!
Wild Camping and the Law
In Scotland, wild camping became legal with the Land Reform Act 2003. As a general rule this type of camping must be done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. As it can affect the local environment. You can wild camp wherever access rights apply, but you must be considerate to sensitive landowners, local populace and of course nature in all it’s forms.
You can find more information here:
In England and Wales it’s a different matter altogether – wild camping is not permitted and is EXPLICITLY prohibited on Open Access Lands (those orange shaded areas you get on Ordnance Survey 1:25 maps or a sign with a brown figure walking). However, places like Dartmoor does permit wild camping for one or two nights following similar guidelines to those in Scotland.
In the Lake District pitching your tent on the hills above 450m is tolerated so long as your trip entails only one night stopovers and with a maximum of two campers (that’s what the national park authority say at least), leave no trace of your presence and are well out of sight of the nearest path – consider this when you next see tents pitched by well known Lake District tarns and please learn not to follow suit.
Elsewhere including Wales you need permission from the landowner. This of course is not always practical but wild camping may again be tolerated so long as you follow all of the aforementioned points.
Where’s the toilet?
Remember too – no fires, litter, dispose of human waste carefully. The latter by digging a hole in the ground several inches deep. Do your business, bury and replace the turf. And please don’t forget to not have your quiet special moment near any water sources! You or anyone else may use this water for drinking and cooking! So, ensure you are at least 50 feet away to be safe.
Search online and you can view stats from water testing in the Lake District at well known tarns – it was discovered the water contained more contamination from human waste than livestock in some tests.
Water – the source of life
You’ve purchased a Source bladder or some other water carrying device and once packed you realise it adds a shed load of weight on your back. H20 – we all need it but it can weigh a fair bit and slow you down when hiking. So, what do you do to make things easier?
Much of the world’s freshwater carries a significant risk of contamination by various forms of pathogenic (bringing into being) organisms and of course some toxic pollution.
The latter might stem from agricultural fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and so on or even just naturally occuring minerals and salts. This is worth bearing in mind when near farmland.
Bugs and nasties? There are three main types you really ought to eliminate from your drinking water. You’ve got parasites (such as Giardia and tape worm), bacteria (e.coli being one) and viruses (viral diarrhoea etc).
Some bugs are inside you right now but due to their limited number you will come to no harm. But if you increase that number you’ll become ill. Furthermore there are some bugs that you just don’t want in you at all – put quite simply, you could die.
Sounds extreme and to a degree it is but a little knowledge does no one any harm.
So, it’s worth paying attention where you source your water from and how you are going to make it safe to ingest. Most free flowing streams will be fine above a certain altitude to drink from (just check there are no dead animals further upstream) but this isn’t always practical. And given the amount of rain we get here in the UK it’s surprising how in some places you can struggle to locate a decent stream for water.
Sometimes you’ll have to make do with a murky pond – if you didn’t collect water from elsewhere. Bearing in mind all the above what choices do you have from safe drinking, delicious H2O?
There are three main methods:
- Disinfection – subjecting bugs and nasties to chemical agents. Only some chemicals are considered safe for use in the field and these can come in many shapes and forms. A main drawback of this method is the unpleasant aftertaste one often has to put up with. You can get neutralisers but there is a considered dose and method to all the above – so it’s not ideal.
- Boiling – subjecting pathogens to high temperatures. This is the simplest and one of the most certain methods in making water safe for consumption. However, fuel consumption for boiling can be costly and some bugs require some time to kill upon reaching boiling point. Personally, if I deem a water source to be well oxygenated and clear of pond life – I boil it for consumption.
- Micro-filtration – this is the physical removal of most contaminants and bugs. Sourced water is passed through a filter via pores smaller than most nasties and sometimes with the addition of chemical treatment. This method can be slow and there is no guarantee bugs will be removed (though any additional chemical treatment should make things safe).
- Ultra violet light – UV light destroys DNA and therefore prevents microbes from reproducing. This system works quickly, leave no aftertaste and renders bugs and nasties harmless. They’ll be there in the water but will cause you no harm. But these devices require batteries – so not always ideal and not particularly good for the environment.
I use a mixture of boiling water and micro-filtration. I’ve mentioned already why and when I boil water – but using a filter? I prefer this method because it not only removes nasties but can remove sediment and other substances.
There’s only one device I personally recommend – in my opinion the best on the current market – the Sawyer filter. You can find more information about it below:
SAWYER WATER FILTRATION
It’s cheap, small and light and will last you countless trips! So, there you go! Water treatment sorted – now you just need to pay attention to your map, keep your eyes peeled to the lay of the land and source your water.
In due course I’ll add more information to this page, for example sleeping bags and tents.