“Wild Camping: A New Concept Begins”
12 minute read
If you had to describe camping in just one word, what would it be?
To some people it may be relaxing, to others it may be exhausting, and to some people, perhaps most in fact, the word would be pointless.
Their argument for this is that to pack up your things and then go and have a night of broken sleep in a field when you have a perfectly good bed at home seems completely nonsensical. And when I write it down like that, their argument does make sense.
But that’s only one side of it, and despite any of the challenges or pitfalls, the one word that I’d always use to describe camping is freedom.
Here in England though, camping is anything but freedom. Unfortunately, due to the laws of the land, camping is something that is housed behind the walls and fences of designated camp sites. We leave our neighbourhoods in search of something new, yet all we actually do is trade one set of walls for another.
Same shit, different smell.
When I think of camping I think of rolling hills, waterfalls, wildlife, and enjoying the sounds of nature under clear and starry night skies.
In reality though, what happens is that we arrive early at a camp site, set up a nice little tent pitch, cook a burger on a disposable barbeque, and then begin to enjoy some peace and quiet.
But then about an hour later some doofus drives up in a car which is full of their moron friends who put a tent up about six feet from yours. They start a barbeque, open the beers, cheer each other on and make jokes about how their hot dog looks like a penis, and then they proceed to get completely shit-faced and keep you awake all night.
The following day you wake up with puffy eyes and a headache, and then you drive home and vow never to go camping again.
This is the frustration that I encountered again and again until the day I heard the term; wild camping.
Camping is a bit like Marmite; you either love it or you hate it. You either get it, or you don’t.
Many people love the camp site experience; particularly if it’s planned as a group outing or you have children. And some people like the reassurance that there are facilities at hand and that their car is nearby should you wish to leave at any point.
But for me and for many others out there, we need something a little different. We need a challenge and we need to be fully immersed in camping, in the way in which it was originally intended.
Camping has taken on a number of different forms over the years; it’s been a part of long pilgrimages, it’s a fundamental part of being in the scouts, and it’s been a traditional bonding experience that’s been enjoyed between father and son, offering them a rite of passage towards manhood.
The stories that we read in books and the images that we see in movies never present camping as something that takes place in a camp site. Instead we are treated to locations against clear blue lakes, high up in rugged mountains, and deep inside heavily wooded forests where the birds sing their songs and animals roam free. There’s not another person in sight, and man has his opportunity to reconnect with the land, with nature, and to feel connected with the ways of living that were once the norm for our ancestors.
This is the ethos behind wild camping; to experience the land as we once did, because deep down in each and every one of us is a Neolithic flame that continues to burn. It’s about remembering where we came from, and it’s about paying respect to a world that has given us so much.
Or at least this was my motivation. I wanted to get out there and see my country through different eyes, I wanted to be humbled, and I wanted to do this without restrictions. I didn’t want to be told where I could go and what I could do. I would respect private land, I would keep my movements discreet, and most importantly, I would leave no trace of ever having been there. I would be a ghost.
And with these rules in mind, I set about planning my first wild camping adventure.
Now before I delve too deeply into the story I feel I should answer a question that will be on your lips right now. I know this because every person that I told about my trip asked this very same question.
Is wild camping legal?
Well that all depends upon where you are in the world, but for me, here in England, the answer is no, not really.
But it’s not quite as simple as that.
Before setting off on my trip I spent some time researching the subject, and it’s ambiguous to say the least. There are endless amounts of websites and books available, and the history that surrounds the topic goes back almost a thousand years to 1066 when the Normans conquered England. What followed, after William the Conqueror took to the throne, was a land grab that ultimately resulted in large pockets of England being owned by a small number of people. In fact, even to this day, 70% of our land remains in the hands of less than 1% of the population.
It goes much deeper than this, but you’ve not come here for a history lesson. What it ultimately means for me and my fellow wild-campers is that wherever we decide to lay our heads, we are likely to be considered trespassers. While this is not an act of criminal law, it is breaking civil law; which means that if they so wished to do so, private land owners are within their rights to take us to court.
But this is where we enter some grey areas.
Yes, wild camping is technically illegal, but does that mean you shouldn’t do it? Not in my eyes it doesn’t, and there are many reasons as to why.
Let’s take a look at the ‘code’ of wild camping and of some of the Do’s and Don’ts that appear wherever you look into the subject…
- Knowing which land is private and which isn’t can be difficult, but there are times when land is unmistakably private, e.g. farm land and walled-off fields that clearly demark a boundary line. In these distances, do not even consider setting up camp – you wouldn’t want somebody to come and camp in your back garden would you; so don’t do it in theirs
- However, if you do need to camp on land that is private then do whatever you can to locate the owner and to ask their permission
- If you were to set up camp and were then approached by a landowner, be respectful and polite at all times – if they ask you to leave then respect their wishes. Or, explain your position and ask politely if you could stay (maybe even offer to make a small payment if necessary). If they’re adamant that they want you to leave, then pack up your things and go.
- When picking a spot for camping, ensure you’re well away from footpaths and where people are likely to come walking by – remain completely out of sight
- Wait until dusk before you set up camp, and make sure you leave at dawn
- When you need to go do a ‘number two’, ensure you’re at least 50m away from water sources, e.g. streams, and make sure you bury your muck (take a trowel – honestly, I’m being serious)
- Do not light any fires – not just to avoid cosmetic damage to immediate land, but also to avoid the potential for the fire to spread
- Keep to small groups – no more than two tents, and keep the tents small in size also (e.g. bivvy bags, tarps, hooped bivvies, and one man/two man tents)
- Move on after one night – don’t take up residence at your chosen location
- Don’t leave any litter, don’t cause any damage – in simple terms, leave the land exactly as you found it, and if anything, leave it in better condition (take away any litter you may find, even if it’s not yours)
This is the absolute list of basics, and if you read between the lines then the rules here are very simple; respect the land, respect nature, and respect other people. A little common sense goes a long way, and it only takes one or two disrespectful people to ruin things for everybody. Don’t be one of those people.
In fact, if you want to make it sound really cool and even a little bit bad-ass, when you go wild camping, be like a ninja. Get in and get out without being seen, and don’t leave any trace of having ever been there. Doesn’t that sound awesome!
My personal opinion is that the legal position surrounding wild camping is antiquated and not conducive to the messages we get fed. We see images of wild camping in movies, we read about it in books and see it on television, and we love to see Ray Mears (one of my heroes) sleeping out under the stars.
So what’s going on here? Are we being sold an image of committing illegal acts? Are we being shown something incredibly enticing and then being told not to do it? Like a lap dance, you can look but don’t touch.
I feel the reason why wild camping is kept under the umbrella of being ‘illegal’ is purely to keep it on the down low. The fear of breaking the law is enough to put most people off and while numbers are kept to a minimum, the risk of land being abused is also kept low. This makes complete sense, and I would also like to do whatever I can to protect the land. But I don’t want this to mean that I can’t go out into the wilds, to be free, and to sleep in solitude under a bright night sky where there are no noisy neighbours and no light pollution.
Is that really too much to ask?
Not all laws make sense, and when you start looking into it, there are some extremely bizarre laws that remain in place to this day.
For example, did you know that it is actually illegal (under a law made in 1839) to knock on somebody’s door and then run off? I didn’t know that when I was eight years old and was knocking on the door of no. 8 and running away laughing.
Did you also know that if you live in London it is illegal (under a law made in 1839, again, I mean seriously, what was going on in 1839) to go outside and shake your dusty door mat after 8.00am?
Here’s a law that we’ve all unknowingly broken. It is illegal to sing Happy Birthday in a restaurant because Happy Birthday is a copyrighted song and so to sing it in a public premise is in violation of copyright laws. Mind you, this is a law that I’m happy to have enforced as I hate singing the Happy Birthday song. I mean, have you ever heard me sing?
And finally, did you know that if you happen to find a beached whale or sturgeon (something that’s never happened to me) then you’re supposed to offer it to the reigning monarch? I’m sure Queen Elizabeth would love it if I turned up at Buckingham Palace with an Orca taking pride of place on the back of a flatbed lorry.
So there you go, and I had great fun researching those. But I digress.
Anyway, back to the main topic, and just to add further confusion it seems that even at an official level the lines are somewhat blurred.
In parts of Dartmoor National Park, wild camping is legal. In Scotland, wild camping is legal – bless you Scotland, I’ll be visiting you many times for sure. On some official websites, wild camping is actively encouraged on the basis of it being an educational experience, just as long as the unofficial rules are followed. And in the Lake District, wild camping is ‘tolerated’ just as long as visitors obey the code and head up into the hills and beyond the highest fell wall.
After spending hours and hours reading about the subject and taking as much advice as I could, my decision was made; I would take my chances and begin my wild camping adventures.
But we cannot forget that this is the Concept Adventures section of Lossul.com and so that means there needs to be a concept. And the concept is very simple. I would begin wild camping and I would continue wild camping, and I would take it beyond England and encompass the whole of Great Britain. But if I should ever experience a particularly bad encounter with a disgruntled landowner (unless I’m able to talk my way out of it), or if I should ever cause accidental damage to the land and therefore fail to live up to ‘the code’, I would then have to stop.
What am I aiming to prove by doing this? I am aiming to prove that wild camping is a beautiful thing and not just a romanticised ideal that we see in movies. I am aiming to prove that there is much to be learned from the natural world that surrounds us. I am aiming to prove that it’s good to cut off from the trappings of the modern world every once in a while. And I am aiming to prove that it’s easy for each and every one of us to create adventure in our lives.
Most importantly, I am aiming to prove that respectful behaviour wins out.
And so on one cosy Saturday afternoon in late April I gathered up my road atlas and my diary and sat down on my sofa to begin the planning. After a little research I knew what I needed to buy and I’d set a date in my diary; now all I needed was a place in which to begin my concept.
I took a sip of my coffee as I gave it some thought, and then it came to me. My very first wild camping experience needed to take place somewhere in which I didn’t have to worry too much about the law. In many ways it was going to be a trial run in which I’d get to work out how best to pack everything, what equipment was essential and what could stay at home, and it was about finding out what works and what doesn’t.
Then it came to me; the Lake District. It was a beautiful part of the country and far enough away from home to feel like a decent trip. Most significantly, wild camping is ‘tolerated’ there, and so as long as I obey the rules then nothing could go wrong.
Do you have any thoughts or opinions on this subject? Have you ever been wild camping and would like to tell us about your experience? Do you have any top tips to get the best from wild camping? Can you add any other important Do’s and Don’ts to the list I’ve made above? Or do you have any questions of your own to ask that either myself or my readers can share an opinion on? Then please feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll begin a conversation.
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