Wild camping brings its challenges, but it can give you memories to last a lifetime….
I’ve been camping plenty of times. I grew up camping. It’s no big deal. You find a spot on a perfectly flat campsite pitch and you’re away. You have running water, and if you’re lucky the campsite shop has wood for a fire or gas for your stove. It’s more of an adventure than staying in a hotel, but it’s nothing to really get excited about. So when the Trail team proposed the idea of wild camping to me, I was intrigued to see if I would cope without the luxuries that ‘normal’ camping affords.
How often is it that you’re so far removed from everyday life that you have to think about cleaning your water, or even where you’re going to get your water from? There is no tap on top of a mountain, and certainly no shops selling food. While planning the trip it dawned on me that I have taken having clean running water for granted my entire life. I didn’t even know how much water I needed to carry.
Our starting point was a very still and sleepy Dufton – a small village in Cumbria’s Eden Valley and a popular stopover for those walking the Pennine Way. There was no-one around, and as we strolled out towards our destination spirits were high. It was looking like we’d be having the perfect weather for our camp.
An old mining road trundled its way up to the top of the valley, cutting along the side of rolling green hills. The new grass of the lowlands soon turned stunted and brush-like the further we climbed, giving way to a sparse landscape that reminded me of the Brecon Beacons back home in Wales: broad, bare and wild. Soon we hit cliffs that dropped down into High Cup Gill, giving us a first dramatic view of the valley’s end – High Cup Nick – where we’d be camping. However, we’d been advised that the best view was to be had from there, and to save our exclamations of delight till then. It was hard not to stop to appreciate the scene, but we had a race to get to where we’d be camping before the light went.
Arriving just as the sun sank out of sight, we hurried to put up the tents. It had been a glorious day of sun and blue skies, but with the sun gone the temperature soon dropped. Perhaps we panicked, but in our rush to set up we made a mess of the poles, threading them through the wrong slots. We had pitched our tents by the cliff edge, the flattest spot near the river, and so we had a spectacular view down the length of the valley. Left behind by a long-gone glacier, High Cup has a very distinctive U shape to it, like somebody had taken a giant ice-cream scoop and scraped it across the earth. Vertical cliffs gave way to the shallower rock-scattered slopes that formed the valley floor, and a river, small and calm, trickled out of the valley into the wider Pennine landscapes beyond. It was a view you could look at all day. And, indeed, all night.
With mats inflated and sleeping bags unrolled, we grabbed our stoves and set about cooking dinner. The first foray was down to the river to collect water. I’ve always been nervous about the idea of drinking from an unknown source, and it’s certainly something to be aware of, but with due care you can do it. This was also my first experience with Wayfayrer ready meals, and I was impressed: it doesn’t look like much but you cannot complain about having a hot, substantial dinner that’s ready in a mere seven minutes, especially when it tastes so good and there’s no washing up! It could be said that eating is one of my favourite pastimes, alongside walking of course, and being sat in the entrance of the tent, wrapped up against the cold, tucking in to hot, satisfying food with the impressive view of High Cup in front of me is a moment I will remember for a very long time.
With our torches off, the darkness was absolute. It was daunting being away from the safety of home, but it was undeniably beautiful out there. With nothing to restrict our view the sky appeared never-ending, and the longer you looked up the more stars you saw, layer upon layer of them. Clear skies meant that it was cold, however, and despite my many layers it wasn’t long before I had to crawl into my sleeping bag to try to warm up.
I didn’t warm up, though. I ended up getting colder and colder, until I realised I needed to change my clothes. I had got hot on the walk up, but in the panic to set up camp with the sun disappearing I had neglected to change out of my sweaty gear. Lesson learnt: damp kit makes you cold. Moisture against your skin ensures you lose body heat fast despite the base layers and fancy down coats; however once in dry clothes I enjoyed one of the best night’s sleeps I’d had in a long time.
Breakfast however was a frustrating affair. The wind had picked up and was insistent on blowing my stove out to deny me any sort of hot food and drink, no matter how hard I tried to shelter it. Deciding that a snack bar (or three) would do just as well, I gave up and started to pack away my gear.
There are moments in life that you just want to preserve, and this was one of them. There is a certain finality about packing a tent away, knowing that you are moving on from a precious moment and heading back to reality. I was already mourning the loss of the place, and we had not even left yet. As we walked away, the area seemed oddly empty without the tents there. But one day, I’ll be back.
WORDS HANNAH JAMES