News > Wild camping by Dan Aspel

Wild camping by Dan Aspel

18/04/2016

Wild camping beside Llyn y Fan Fach in the Black Mountain, Brecon Beacons National Park

Wild camping doesn’t strike most people as the kind of thing that’s entirely legal. But, a few caveats aside, it is. And it’s something that everyone should try at least once in their lives if they have any affection for the British outdoors.

To give it a clear definition, wild camping is exactly like camping in an official campsite. And also nothing like it at all (ok, that wasn’t even a remotely clear definition). Let’s try again: you’ll still be sleeping in a sleeping bag, on a roll mat and in a tent. But that’s where the similarities with regular camping will end. There won’t be toilets or showers. Or other people. It’ll be colder and windier. You’ll have to either eat cold rations or bring a rucksack-friendly camping stove with you. You’ll get to pick the exact little patch of ground that you want to call home for the night, and (the forecast all being well) you’ll wake up with the dawn amongst pristine landscapes as high up on your favourite mountains as you wish. It’s an addictive past-time, and the real joy of wild camping is that once you get a feel for it, you’re opening up a world of near limitless freedom. Suddenly you don’t have to worry about B&B costs or campsite opening times, or crowds, or even arriving at your final destination at anything approaching a sociable time. There are no consequences to tardiness beyond having to pitch a tent in the dark, and the plans are entirely in your own hands. And once you’ve got hold of the suitable kit (which can be as extensive as you wish, but is mostly based around a suitable tent), it’s yours to enjoy whenever you wish.

So let’s look at those caveats. Strictly speaking, if you plan to sleep wild in England or Wales you should seek the permission of the landowner before you do so. However, in reality, remote and upland areas are seldom the domain of possessive or finickity landowners - and if you plan to wild camp in areas such as Snowdonia, the Lake District, the Brecon Beacons, the Yorkshire Dales, Peak District or the Cambrian mountains, then a respectful and reasonable attitude will see you able to bed down in a spot of your choice without any need to seek specific permission. The National Parks website even has a handy guide to the reality of wild camping in those two countries, which gives the excellent advice of arriving late and striking camp early, leaving no trace of your stay and making sure to bury human waste at least 30m from any water source. The exception to this, interestingly, is Dartmoor - with large sections of that great granite upland actually being officially sanction for wild camping by the National Park. Which, combined with its natural accessibility and lack of impenetrable mountains, makes it a great place to enjoy your first wild camping experience. You can see a map of all the permitted areas (shaded in purple) here.

Ireland and Northern Ireland are slightly different again - with wild camping not being strictly legal, but being casually tolerated in the case of those that practice it sensitively. And then, of course, you have the inspiring example of Scotland - where, since 2005, wild camping has been expressly legal, thanks to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. You can find a handy guide to this well won ticket to camping freedom here.

To show how straightforward it can be, here are a few snaps from a recent trip to Cadair Berwyn (827m) - which sits in mid-Wales just outside of Snowdonia National Park. The entry point for most people to this high and spacious place is the striking waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr. It’s a beautiful and enrapturing sight, as torrents of silken water fall 73m to the rocks below, but head northwards up into the hills and this area becomes richer still.

A wild campsite on the shores of Llyn Lluncaws beneath Cadair Berwyn (827m). The tent is tucked into the centre right of the shot.
Looking down onto the shores of Llyn Lluncaws from near Cadair Berwyn’s summit. Even if the tent were still in place, it would be barely perceptible in this grand landscape.

Knowing that camp spots by pools and llyns often make the most scenic (as well as convenient for drawing water for cooking and drinking), myself and partner Ruth arrived at around 17:00 on a Saturday evening and started the hour’s wander up towards Llyn Lluncaws. Neither of us had been to the area before, but judging by the contours and features on the local OS map it seemed a sheltered and attractive spot couldn’t be far from the llyn’s shores. After circling it once, we eventually found a pitch flat and dry enough to house our tent.

The Force Ten Vortex Lite 200 tent (complete with excited user). This excellent geodesic tent (ie uses overlapping poles) is overkill for use in most wild camping situations, and a smaller, more affordable example is fine for most British non-winter use. Its strength is that it can survive high winds and can tackle alpine or expedition environments.
The author grinning inside. As you can see, suitable sleeping bags, sturdy roll mats and plenty of warm clothing are essential - particularly if you plan to camp higher up on mountainsides. Nights can be cold above 500m, even in the summer months. This April camp got down to 2 deg C inside the tent in the hour before dawn.
Views no money can buy - looking out onto the specific bit of land you’ve chosen to camp on is a priceless joy.

Another thrill of wild camping is that it can be as luxurious or as spartan as you like. If you want to go lightweight you can strip down everything you carry to just the bare essentials. Equally if you want to go wild “glamping” you can do that too - aside from some decent sleeping bags and plenty of warm hats and down jackets, we actually carried in a bottle of wine on this trip - decanted into a 750ml plastic bottle to save the unnecessary weight of the glass. Worth every gram.

Wild camping partner Ruth Jenkins, enjoying a walk on the Berwyn hills unlocked entirely by a tent and the desire to use it.
Spend the night wild camping in the hills and you’ll be able to enjoy views such as this one long before the rest of the world has made it onto the lower slopes.

With the shoulder months of May and June here - when the weather in the hills tends to be increasingly stable and pleasant - it couldn’t be a better time to try wild camping for yourself. Make sure to keep everyone at Lifesystems in the loop via the Facebook page and Twitter feed - we’d love to see what you get up to!

… and stay safe out there.

Dan

Dan Aspel is a journalist and Mountain Leader. You can find him at www.danaspel.com

Visit www.lifesystems.co.uk to find fire starter kits, water purification tablets, head torches, insect repellents and other tools to help you enjoy your next wild camping trip.