If you want a real back to nature experience, then nothing
beats a night wild camping in the UK. Don’t get us wrong, campsites are great,
but if you don’t mind foregoing some of the comforts the modern world affords,
being out in the wild offers a raw authenticity that a mown, grassy meadow covered
with kids just can’t compete with. Campsites are on the map, they have
signposts, websites, telephone numbers, hell, we’ve even written guidebooks
about them! Wild camping, on the other hand, is wonderfully undefined. The
power is in your hands and, provided you follow a few simple steps, you have
the chance to truly create your own unique camping location. Grab a map and
head for the hills, here’s what you need to know…
There’s a great history of walkers and mountaineers camping
out on the hills and, in Scotland, this has thankfully been preserved. It’s
also allowed in Dartmoor National Park in Devon but across the rest of the UK
wild camping is technically illegal – or rather, you’re supposed to ask for the
landowner’s permission before sleeping on their land. The good news, however,
is that some places still tolerate wild camping and in many of the UK’s national
parks it holds enough tradition to outweigh the rules. After all, the very
point of wild camping is to tread lightly and blend seamlessly into the
surroundings, so if you’re doing it properly no one should notice anyway.
Take the usual precautions – tell someone where you’re going
and what time you plan to be back – but otherwise, yes, wild camping is
perfectly safe, especially when compared with nights wandering around a busy
city. You won’t be the only person who gets scared by the sound of the breeze
in the bushes or a rabbit scurrying through the grass, but embrace the great
outdoors and remember those rabbits aren’t going to hurt you!
It’s easy to take too much when wild camping. If you’re the
type that likes a four-man tent and a big blow up mattress, then it’s probably
not for you. The essentials are a tent (or shelter), sleeping bag, sleeping
mat, torch, cooking gear, food and water, plus plenty of warm clothing. The
lighter it all is the better, since you should be aiming to walk a little way
off the beaten track in order to be well hidden from roads or footpaths.
A good wild camping spot should be flat, dry and sheltered
from the wind. Anything after that is an added bonus; look for soft grass and
moss that might add some extra comfort. It’s always handy to have water nearby,
it means you can carry less for cooking and, if you have the ware with all to
purify it, drinking too. But don’t camp too close; the edges of rivers and
streams are likely to be boggy and wet and the water level may change while
The simple answer is no. Never build a fire on vegetation
(dead or alive) or surround a fire with a ring of stones. The first rule of
wild camping is to leave no trace and a big black scorch mark on the ground
definitely counts! Carrying a stove means there should never be a need to light
a campfire anyway. The one, rare, exception is if you find gravel or sand such
as a beach or beside a river. Even then, all wood should be burnt down to a
fine ash and then scattered and mixed into the sand when you leave.
Aim to arrive late and leave early so that you don’t impede
on the experience of other walkers and try to avoid camping too near to
footpaths. The idea is to have a minimal impact on the site you chose, so aim
for shorter grass and vegetation that will bounce back in the morning when you
pack your tent away again. If you move twigs or stones before pitching the tent, remember to scatter them back again afterwards and do a thorough check that you
haven’t left any litter as you leave. From a short walk away it should be
impossible to tell anyone has even camped there.
✓ If possible, always ask the landowner’s permission.
✓ Don’t be scared, there’s nothing unusually unsafe about wild camping.
✓ Take time to find a good pitch that will cause minimal disturbance.
✓ Remember the golden rule: leave no trace.
✓ Try to arrive late and leave early.
✓ Don’t light open fires.
✓ Keep groups small. Only one or two tents.
This Cool Camping article was originally written by James Warner Smith for the GoOutdoors spring/summer magazine.
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