A Quickie in a Hedge After The Pub


Friday 14th December 2018

Don't get too excited now.

This was about as last minute and effortless a wild camp as you can get without using your back garden. It didn't even involve the Vespa. What prompted it were :
  • Clear skies early evening
  • The news promising the Geminid meteor shower
  • A chance to practice some better night photography on account of the above
  • The urge to try a local, walking distance 'stealth camp' (having found a potential spot recently)
  • A new Petzl headtorch which arrived midweek
  • A couple of post work pints spiked with Friday night 'weekend starts here' mania 
  • Half a bag of Home Bargains kindling wood
This leftover fuel was what remained of an extremely pleasant day in some local woods one week previously. My employers had very kindly given everyone last Friday off, mainly as a way to help them tackle Christmas shopping outside of the weekend. Did I fancy a bustling shopping centre though? Did I bollocks. Off to the woods I scooted. Although the weather was dry, everywhere was very wet, and without any bushcrafty woodcutting tools (axe, knife, saw etc - all on my Santa list) I brought a bag of kindling so I could stoke my little Honey Stove with ease, allowing me to cook and warm up under the tarp. It was a lovely, solitary few hours with only the sound of scuttling squirrels, creaking evergreens, and squeaking buzzards for company, and did me the world of good.

One week previously - a few hours in the woods

Tonight was going to be much colder though - at most 0C - and I thought the tarp would be a faff in the dark, so burning the remaining wood could be just the ticket before crawling into the bivvy tent.

As it was only a week off the winter solstice it was dark before I'd even returned from work, and I didn't fancy a full 16 hours, especially as I wasn't really anywhere 'special'. Plus the extra frisson of being seen and caught by villagers and thought of as a vagrant (rather than a hiker in a more tourist area) made me realise I had to pitch when there was no risk of any late night dog walkers etc. So I thought 'why punish myself unduly - lets spend the first chunk of the night at the pub'.

So, after tea I get myself sorted. Not having to think about cooking food made it loads easier. In I pop to my local at around 9pm with a fully loaded 65l rucksack. Luckily I managed to smuggle it into the corner immediately, and not enough people noticed to prompt any awkward questions about why I had it. Nicely settled and still very much open to calling the whole thing off I supped a pint or two.


At 11 I settled my tab and headed off, still not convinced. For a start, the bloody clouds had completely obscured the sky, so the metoers and night sky photography where off the menu. I decided to walk the long way home via the potential camping spot, so at least I could try out my new headtorch. I may even sit by a fire for an hour or two, supping the bottles of Belgian beer I had tucked into the rucksack - and who knows, the clouds may suddenly break and I'll get some shots, before toddling off home in the wee small hours.

In ten mins I was at the spot, the headtorch doing its job well. Luckily I had done a recce of the place in the dark a few days back, so I was prepared for the 3 massive horses which live in the field. When I first came across these I shat myself - in the light of my old headtorch I just saw what looked like a glowing ember around two foot off the ground - perhaps a dog walker's fag end in the gloom? Then this fiery dot rose up to about 6 feet high and was joined by another. Turning my head, I was surrounded by more of these ascending Will'-o-the-wisps. At first I was relieved when I could see the huge outlines of the horses surrounding these cat's eyes in the gloom. That relief soon subsided though when I realised that they were like something from a horror game - they stood still as long as I faced them, but as soon as I turned my back to move they trotted with some speed towards me, like a cross between Doctor Who's Weeping Angels, the Boos off Mario games, and the Ringwraith's horses from Lord Of the Rings. They also had a tendency to go off on mad gallops together. Very disconcerting on my own in the dark.

At least this time I was prepared for them, if still somewhat apprehensive. I tried my best horse whispering voice, and turned my torch on to its more animal friendly red LED setting, which enabled me to get close enough to pet them a bit, uttering reassurances. They were all very big, and quite wary at first, but seemed to warm to me a bit. I found what I thought were a couple of secluded spots around some large fallen trees, where I thought they wouldn't venture. I was wrong - the cheeky buggers wanted to know everything I was up to, and one even started nibbling at my rucksack and coat! Luckily there was a very small spot completely surrounded by fallen branches, effectively giving me a play pen which they shouldn't be able to get into, so I parked myself there. It still didn't stop one from trying!

Mar Mate. (Mare Mate?)

Eventually he (she?) lost interest and went to join her mates further afield. Small ground sheet and arse pad out, I made myself as comfy as I could. I decided against a fire as it was obvious it would draw too much attention, and I was worried what the horses would make of it. Once more I was sat out in minus degrees, yet just wasn't cold - the combo of new wooly hat, insulated coat, occasional movement to take a photo (the skies were still overcast, sadly) and the fact that the branchy, leafy coop was a very natural shelter all kept me perfectly comfortable. 

My hedgerow wild tucker skills have yet to be honed, but fortunately the missis had been to Marks & Sparks earlier to order the chrimbo roast, and picked me up a couple of treats, making me feel like I was in a cold beer garden on me todd. 

I'm no Bear Grylls but I can mek meself comfy

Maybe it was the middle class scratchings, or my favourite Flemish loopy juice, but as the witching hour arrived I thought 'sod it, I'm here now - I've done the hard bit, lets camp'. I messaged the missis (long since retired...) to let her know. I reckoned I could just about get the Ionosphere tent pitched inside the playpen, which was fairly flat and just the right shape for it. I could then sleep easy, safe in the knowledge that Black Beauty and friends wouldn't inadvertently trample me to death. This wasn't the easiest thing to do after a mild skinfull, and the ground was pretty hard to get pegs into. But I managed it.

Pitched up, by the red stealthy glow of the headtorch

Sat on the pad by the doorway I stayed up a little longer until the beer was quaffed, then crawled into the bag some time around 1:30am. What followed was perhaps the best night's camping kip I've had yet, with only one get up for a wee, absolutely no chilliness whatsoever, and little wind rattling the tent (despite the trees around me howling as it picked up into the morning).

I woke up around 7, which this time of year is a good hour before dawn. I was anxious to get the tent away early as I was surrounded by a village full of dog walkers. The familiar boom of shotguns from nearby woods bounced around the hills as the greyness crept up. It wasn't the prettiest morning, and once I stepped out of the play pen I was aware of how sheltered I had been, as there was a strong, icy south easterly wind - the beginnings of Storm Deirdre. I did want to get a pic of the camp in daylight though, ever aware that the first walkers would be arriving any minute. I managed to snap one whilst I brewed up using the meths fueled BCB stove sat on the soldering mat to protect the ground.

Pretty stealthy eh?

For once, pack up was relatively quick - way under 30 mins. Not having the huge tarp helped a lot - right faff that is! But also, being very local, I cheated a bit. I brought a folding co-op bag for life with me and just stuffed the tent (as it happens, really dry thanks to the wind) into it as one big clump, rather than having to spend ages folding/rolling/stuffing it into its sack. This would be light and easy to swing next to me in one hand on my return walk. Despite some evidence that this field had been used for camps before (tell-tale scorch spots mainly, although who knows how old they were - years probably), as ever I made sure every last bottle top was cleared away and taken with me.

No trace left in the playpen

The horses were back as I left, although strangely more wary of me in the day - they recoiled a little as I tried to pet them. I don't blame them, I had just slept rough in a hedge after a night on the pop. A 15 minute icy walk and I was home,  just before 9am.

So, overall, how did the experience compare to my other wild camps? All through the next day I admit I didn't feel the same buzz as I got from my more scenic camps in The Peak and The Berwyn Mountains. I didn't have the flush of feelgood endorphins a good hike inspires, and actually felt a little grubby and slightly daft, not helped by a mild but persistent hangover and headcold. Why had I done that? I could have had pretty much the same experience - the pub, the night walk, the horses, the booze - taken a third of the weight, and still not broken the law into vagrancy by simply walking home afterwards like a good boy. It's weird how pitching a bit of canvas for a few hours when no one is around turns you into a vagabond. But is that my problem, or The Law's? I really don't know yet. I don't think I hurt or inconvenienced anyone or anything by my actions, but the law abiding citizen in me still struggles with the idea, especially so close to home. In fact, hypocritically, I don't really like the idea of other folk, local or otherwise, camping in that same spot, as I don't trust them to do it properly and responsibly.

Responsibly... says the man who dossed in a hedge midwinter, drinking extra strong beer, for no other reason than choice. Most people who do the same up and down the country have little of that. It must be very horrible when you are forced, and don't have expensive kit as I did.

So, in a selfish act of guilt management, I made a donation to Street Aid, a charity that helps rough sleepers. If you like, you can donate too.

Merrry Christmas one and all. Stay warm! x

©R. Lane 2018

#wildcamping #stealthcamping 


Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading this. The thought of sleeping in a field near home at this time of year doesn't really appeal to me I'll admit.

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