What I did to take some time out, completely alone from my hectic life and not only did I survive but I loved it.
I am a 41-year-old mother of two surly teenagers and a secondary school teacher to 12 classes full of surly teenagers per week. I walk at the weekends in search of peace and quiet and as a way of avoiding the piles of ever mounting marking – if I can’t see the folders they are not there. I sometimes think that walking is the only thing preventing me from being locked away in a padded cell. My 40th birthday present to myself was a solo walking holiday following Wainwrights Coast to Coast path, the only downside was that, the hordes of other people doing the walk felt sorry for me being a woman walking on my own and I didn’t get the remote experience I was after. I had chickened out and made the mistake of staying in bed and breakfasts so I could have a nice long shower at the end of each day.
Felling unsatisfied that I hadn’t got the remote and wild experience I was looking for, I then decided to go wild camping alone, for the first time. I had wild camped lots before but never alone. I forced myself to do it by booking a train ticket to Windermere with enough supplies for three days and only enough money to get a bus to the Travelers Rest Inn near Grassmere, where I began my three-day expedition. It was amazing and scary but liberating being back to basics and alone. I did meet some strange characters along the way, one man tried to convince me to swim naked with him in Red Tarn, I politely declined his over friendly offer and continued along Striding Edge feeling like a snail with the huge pack tightly gripping my upper torso, planning in my mind how I would ditch it if I had to run quickly. I knew I couldn’t, it had everything in it I needed to survive for the next few days.
On the first night I pitched my tent on the banks of Angle Tarn and fired up the Jet Boil after a delicious meal of freeze dried carbonara and a mini bottle of prosecco (I couldn’t resist it when I went into the Spar in Glenridding). I laid back on my rucksack and watched the sun set, I thought to myself that this must be heaven. Peace and quiet, spectacular views, no noise pollution and my iPhone had no signal. I had the best night’s sleep I think I’ve ever had, once I had got over the fear of being alone and told myself I was being ridiculous to think the naked swimmer had followed me. It dawned on me that I was probably safer here than I was in my own home. I did get worried about the sheep nibbling around my tent but after assuring myself that there were no flesh-eating sheep in the Lake District I relaxed and enjoyed the solitude.
My remote walking adventure took me on a 50km trek which ended coming down High Pike into Ambleside where I felt like a frightened rabbit in the head lights seeing those strange moving metal boxes on wheels and the crowds of people. I had truly taken a break from civilisation albeit for two nights and three days but it had changed me, I was relaxed and calm. My children and husband were waiting for me in the Youth Hostel at Ambleside and they didn’t recognise me as I entered the reception area, they said I looked positively feral. I didn’t care I had camped wild and alone and survived, I felt stronger for it and proud of myself.
I couldn’t forget the feeling so it wasn’t long before I took off again just a few weeks later I went on a five-night trek and completed the The Paddy Buckley Round in Snowdonia. Yes, there were times I let irrational fears creep in, but I learnt to fight them off, as even though it was pouring down with rain for 70% of the time I was having the time of my life.
Don’t let fear stop you, you can do it!
Top Tips I have learnt along the way.
- Pack as light as possible, you will need less than you think. One set of dry clothes for inside the tent and one set of clothes to walk in.
- Invest in a light tent and good quality sleeping bag.
- Smother your feet in Vaseline and wear a pair of liner socks as well as your walking socks, this will prevent blisters
- Treat yourself to the added weight of a home comfort, I take a little bottle of lavender oil to drop on my pillow at night. A friend of mine always takes sachets of filter coffee and a proper mug.
- Ear buds are great for nights when there is a storm.
- If you feel the cold, fill a Nalgene water bottle with boiling water and put it in the bottom of your sleeping bag – you can drink the water the next day.
- Plan so you can’t back out by talking yourself out of it – buy a bus/train tickets have a plan A, B and C when plotting your route.
- Check the weather forecast regularly and have plans in place for whatever the weather throws at you.
- Have a backup map and spare compass in your rucksack – I learnt this the hard way on the top of Moel Siabod. I placed my rucksack on top of my map case which my compass was attached to. I then pitched my tent in the dark it was lashing down with rain, I got into my tent and dragged my rucksack in forgetting about the map. The next morning, I had to retrace my steps and go to the Siabod café to buy another map. Luckily, I had a spare compass.
- Don’t let anyone put you off. Of course people will think you are mad but don’t let this stop you.
- A large rucksack between 35 and 65 litres:
- Small tent or bivvy bag
- A portable stove – Don’t forget the gas or fuel
- Waterproof Jacket
- Warm clothes, pack a fleece and avoid jeans – which are a nightmare when wet. I wear my walking kit and then just pack a pair of leggings and a warm top as tent wear, I wear my socks to bed and they dry overnight
- Cutlery: cup/plate/spork
- Sleeping mat
- Sleeping bag: Something appropriate to the season. A dry sack or bin liner will help keep your sleeping bag dry
- Head Torch and spare batteries or even a spare torch
- Large water bottle
- Food and drinks and snacks: High energy snacks such as nuts are good.
- Water purifying tablets. (I boil fresh running water for around 10 minutes to purify it but this can carry health risks.)
- A dry bag: keeps your clothes and sleeping bag dry. Bring a few if needed.
- Insect repellent: Stops the midges making your life miserable and wards off ticks.
- Gloves, a buff, a warm hat, sun hat with a cap.
- A whistle.
- A first aid kit with the addition of a tick remover.
- Camping Pillow or you can always roll up clothes.
- Small trowel, the best way to dig a hole in the event of needing the loo. Wet wipes and hand sanitizers are also useful.
- Sunglasses, sun cream.
- Toiletries and any medication kept in a dry bag, if you need to use soap, please ensure it is biodegradable to avoid any negative effect on the environment.
- Walking poles – I take them when carrying a heavy pack as it reduces the impact on my knees.
- Pen knife.
Where to Wild Camp
Wild Camping is allowed in Scotland and Dartmoor National Park. All land in England and Wales is owned so technically you should gain permission before camping. However, wild camping within reasonable limits is often tolerated in many upland and remote areas, particularly in Snowdonia and the Lake District.
Minimising the impact when camping in a remote mountain location.
- Camp high and off the beaten track on open hills away from houses and farms.
- Pitch your tents later in the day and leave early to minimise visual presence.
- Leave no trace that you have camped. This is how long it takes for some items to decay, a banana peel – a month, paper – a couple of months, a wool scarf – 1 year, a hard-plastic container – 3 decades and a rubber boot sole – 7 decades.
- Don’t light any fires.
- Toileting should be at least 30 m away from any water source or path, and waste buried at least 15cm deep and covered over. Carry paper and any sanitary items away with you.
- Leave no litter; take away all rubbish and food scraps with you.
- Do not pollute the area with any non-eco-friendly detergents and you must not use streams and rivers for washing with soaps or other washing products.
- Choose your pitch carefully and avoid digging ditches, trampling plants and moving rocks and stones for your tent.
- Be quiet.
- If possible, use unobtrusive coloured tents that blend in with the scenery.
If you are nervous about wild camping alone, go on an expedition with a Mountain Leader the first time to give you the confidence you need to go solo.