I love wild camping. It’s actually the bit of the outdoor experience that ticks my box. I lead groups up mountains, I teach navigation and campcraft, I traverse ridges, I can even be persuaded to tie a rope to myself and be pulled up a rock face, but it’s the camping or the “expeditioning” that I love. It’s the getting out and staying out. Somewhere on the expedition journey or more likely sometime in the night, a great big reset button is pressed somewhere deep inside my soul and I come down off the hill feeling like the world is a wonderful place and that everything will be absolutely fine.
I don’t care if it’s not true. I don’t care that it only lasts a few days. It’s cheap and its almost legal and it works for me.
Number One Son is six and has racked up quite a few nights under canvas around the UK as part of the family’s travels but had never been wild camping. But he has listened too, to my romanticised accounts of nights away spent in lonely corries, with skies ablaze with stars the milky way. He’s listened with wonder as I’ve talked about perfect mountain mornings, waking up on mountain top islands, marooned above an endless sea of cloud. It was bound to happen. I’m made up that it happened. He asked if I’d take him Wild Camping.
He’d mysteriously already got the kit. A bright green kid’s waterproof mountain shell had been accidentally bought instead of the obligatory fur hooded parka. A dueter 22l rucksack had also been picked up along the way - every kid needs a school bag right? At some point he’d acquired a snood instead of a scarf and hiking boots are always better than wellies aren’t they? Topped off with his Experience Expeditions cap he looked ready for ML training - It’s almost as if it’s his destiny?
So, with a reasonable, but slightly deteriorating, weather forecast we walked into the wilds. We picked a quiet path into the back end of the Scafell Massif and on our way in only met one other walker, descending. We walked through a farm and peering over a small stone bridge to see the stream we saw instead the giant back of a buzzard taking wing from beneath, shooting out directly below us, disturbed by our footfall. Leaving the stone walls behind, we climbed a couple of hundred metres on a steep path and after an hour or so we were out on the open fell side with mountains rearing up in front and that lovely sense of elevation as the valley fell away, behind.
There’s a real clarity and peace that comes with the rarefied air of the mountains. Stripped of the mental noise of the valley with all its visual, auditory and actual pollution, there is a mindfulness that descends on me when I’m in the company of these giant landscapes that is almost transcendental. Luckily this was kept at bay by the constant yattering of the son. The proportional rationing of haribo in his pocket, the best location for a wee, the origin of all the water and the subtle difference between being too tired to walk or too hot to walk (have a couple an hour, out of sight and away from water, rain running off the rock and take your coat off) and a thousand other questions and topics provided constant discussion. We fell into an easy pace and talked the walk for a couple of hours more. It threatened rain, but we beat the clouds to camp, just.
It had gotten cold and he was quieter and starting to shiver as we looked for a pitch so I sat him on his rucksack and made a shelter for him with my duvet jacket, tying the arms around his knees to seal the bottom. He peered out of the hood and we chatted just to measure how he was doing as I threw up the tent. He was good. The campsite was beautiful. Giant boulders litter the flat valley floor and a serpentine river pulls together the countless spouts, gills and ephemeral streams that pour down the ring of mountains that surround it.
Mats were inflated, boots pulled off, we snuggled down into lofted bags and kicked back, the day done. We relaxed into that slow motion living that tent life affords you; not much to do, nothing to check, nothing to watch, just some food, a hot drink, lie back, listen to the rain if nature has turned it on. It may not be heaven but I’m sure you can see it from there.
We woke before seven and breakfasted on dry muesli (milk was the item I’d forgotten on this trip) before setting out along a different route, walking in the cold late September shade of the mountains. We crossed the river where it ribboned and after half an hour we were in the sun, feeling the warmth instantly, glad to be alive. We dropped slowly away from our hanging valley with him leading the way and me showing him waypoints on the map. Losing height with every step we headed back to the car but not before our path traversed along a cliff edge worth bragging about in the school yard - for both of us. At the valley bottom we passed some walkers just setting off but I wasn’t jealous, in fact I’ll admit to a certain smugness; we’d had our adventure while they’d slept.
I really enjoyed it. As I mentioned earlier, I absolutely love wild camping and Son Number One? If you’ll pardon the pun, he simply took it in his stride, as is his way.
Just need to get that green Lifeventure Lexan Water bottle on order for his classroom water bottle…..