Monday the 21st June 2021 - Summer Solstice - Wild Camp - Dartmoor
When my 16 year old daughter overheard me and the misses planning our wild camp on Dartmoor, it was inevitable that she'd want to tag along. She'd have seen the perfect shots on social media, stood next to a mountain tarn in a bikini, the boots silhouetted in an open tent as the sun sets on a still summer's night. I can tell you, these pictures do not tell the whole story!
"Yesssssss, you can come".
"Can a friend come as well?"
"Here we go" I thought.
You all know my thoughts right now. Teenagers are good complainers. "My feet are hurting, I'm hungry, I'm not peeing over there!"
We wandered across some open moorland and then began the slog up to Widgery Cross (454m). We were all carrying pretty heavy rucksacks and two tents between us, stopping every few minutes to admire the glorious summer solstice sun on the horizon behind us to the west.
There was a slight northerly wind but we'd be using the huge granite tor as a windbreak from that.....or so I thought.
Tents pitched, bellies full, dog curled up on my sleeping bag, it was lights out at 11:30pm.
I took a while to doze off, listening to the girls giggling next door, but all was well. We were in situ for the perfect sunrise due at 5:30am.
All I can say is that either some of the tor which had been there for millions of years suddenly turned to dust or the wind changed direction. Time check: 1am. Shit. This is going to be a long few hours. The quite literally howling wind was pushing the tent inwards and onto our tired faces and the poles were bending like Stretch Armstrong's legs and the dog was just sat upright eyeballing me.
I got up several times, obviously to have an old man's pee (we'd had a pub meal and Jail Ale earlier) and to check for tent pole casualties. The new tent pegs I'd bought earlier that day were holding and the wind just became white noise as I got back in and eventually dozed off.
I don't know about the Longest Day, I can tell you it was definitely the Longest Night.
By 5am, we'd had enough, it was daylight, the sheep were talking to the grass and the skylarks were singing beautifully as always. Time to get the bugle out and sound Reveille, I thought. Let's decamp to the lower slopes for hot chocolate
We are quick to give teenagers a hard time these days, especially me. But were we really any different or do we just think we were?
It's not their fault the internet was created and social media platforms are their lives, but do you know what? If we can demonstrate to them and give them the tools to 'default' back to what we remember our childhoods were like, they do actually grab it, embrace it and dare I say it....enjoy it!
I am very proud of my daughter and her mate, they didn't complain once and were in good spirits for the duration. Until the next time!
WHAT DOES 'WILD CAMPING' ACTUALLY MEAN?
To hike into a location far enough from civilisation to be self sufficient for the duration of the camp. All kit and food should be taken with you and you must not leave any trace that you were ever there. Simply popping up a festival tent next to your car does not mean that you have wild camped!
Fairly straight forward but equally ambiguous, I'll leave it for common sense to prevail. My advice is simply "Get up there, get out of sight, don't make a racket and respect nature".
IS IT LEGAL?
In Scotland you can wild camp anywhere except the shores of Loch Lomond. In the rest of the UK, technically you should obtain the landowners permission which isn't practical in most situations so it's pretty much an unwritten rule that if you behave responsibly, landowners and farmers are happy to tolerate such activities. The exception to this rule is Dartmoor, where wild camping is officially legal.
IS IT SAFE?
Of course, but here are some basic pointers:
Don't pitch your tent next to a river in spate or where possible rockfalls may occur.
Is your equipment going to withstand any inclement weather?
Have you got enough high energy food for the duration and safe drinking water?
Know where you are at all times and let someone know your route and expected return time.
Don't venture too far on your first wild camp, build it up gradually.
TOP TIPS FOR THE BEST EXPERIENCE
Sunset and sunrise. Pitch your tent so the opening faces east, that way you'll get to see the sun rise from the warmth and comfort of your sleeping bag. For sunset, it's great to go for a short stroll with a brew or a beer and find a spot to enjoy that perfect 'sundowner'
Set off in good time and allow time for last minute changes. There may be others already set up where you'd planned to camp.
Pitch your tent on the flat and with plenty of grass, check it first by having a roll around!
If there's a prevailing wind, the higher up you go, the stronger the wind becomes. Pitching low in the lee of a mountain side may be a better option.
Rehearse your wild camp in the garden. Check tent pegs, guy ropes, the tent itself for rips or mould. Use your stove, headtorch, replenish batteries and fuel where necessary.
If you want to experience wild camping but you're still not sure, give me a shout.