Thursday, July 27

A Lakeland Tarn Wildcamp

I arrived late afternoon. Pausing to sniff the air, the freshening wind, looking for windward shelter from potential weather changes.

Backpack gratefully slid from the shoulders. Only now feeling the weight I've been carrying since early that morning. Wiping the sweat from my forehead I look around for a likely spot. Equal priorities - the view from the tent, but as important reasonable protection from the prevailing wind?

Wildcamping at any spot high above the valley bottom is always a balancing act. On the valley campsites, there is always the infamous fallback - the toilets. Should the worst happen, watching the remains of a tent blow off down the valley (and boy did those handwarming machines have some useful alternative uses, not properly part of their original design)

But as height increases there is an associated temperature drop, and the ever present breeze. A breeze that can rapidly change to become a 30 mph wind with driving rain. Or worse. Learning to tune in to the slight changes in the wind direction and intensity, smelling for rain as the wind shifts. Sometimes all the wind carries is sheep shit. Those are the breaks. Truly at times life can be shit, ask a sheep. Ahem!

Tent siting becomes more relevant when travelling solo.

If I screw up, helps a long distance away, and there is no companion to help me out. But the benefits far outweigh the risks, when properly assessed. For me the joy is in the challenge of living this way. The ability to peel away the cosiness civilisation, living on the land, moving over it at will. Dependant only on my own motivation and mental ability.

A small flat site is selected, one of 2 or 3 possibilities. Sheltered from the easterly breeze by a small rock outcrop, that I know from past experience the tent profile will hide away, behind sheltered by it's protection. Not near the foot of any serious crag, with the risk of rockfall. The spot looks barely large enough to lie two people together side by side, but for a solo tent it's more than enough. There's also the plus that passer-by on the path I used earlier won't even know I'm present.

Tent pitched in 5 minutes, the first brew of the early evening heating on the laughably miniscule stove, hissing gently to itself, using water freshly drawn from the tarn inflow, a few minutes walk away,

And the view? I sit looking down the valley for 20 miles or so, identifying small hamlets off in the distance, increasing in number as they join the larger town. To the east and west the profile of the hills appear to crowd in on themselves as the ranges stride off into the distance eventually merging with the far off cloud.

Cloud? Watchful of the size, shape, colours - what's the weather, and what is blowing towards me?

Brew in hand I walk by the tarn shore. Alone with the quiet. The scurrying day walkers have now disappeared from the hill, back to their homes and holiday cottages. Now the hills are as they always were. At times menacing, yes. Always challenging. Never really changing, but somehow never quite static with the water and air playing through the grass and heather.

The noise of the tarn feed stream carries to me on the wind now and then, as it's flow rises and falls with the shift in the water flow and the wind. That's one reason why I'm pitched away from it, the sound like that can keep me at the edge of sleep all night, especially during heavy rain when the playful tickle can become a deluge seeking the quickest way off the hillside. I only made that mistake once and the ease of water access just didn't make up for the strange dreams.

I lie in my sleeping bag, watching the sun fall below the hill range to the west. I lie down and slowly my eyelids droop as I continue watching the hill breathing around me. And the stars start to appear.

Night has come, and without the glare of streetlight, my eyes have automatically slipped into their night sight. Dark shapes move around me, and occasionally bleat. My neighbours for the night.

I check the location of my headtorch, still there poking out of my boots - just in case of the overnight emergency that has never come. And then. I sleep. At peace.

Never mind the Wainwrights and peak bagging.

A challenge I'd relish is spending a night besides every tarn over 750 ft or whatever arbitrary height I choose. That's the way to live the hills.

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Beautifully written and truly inspiring. What you describe here I hope to be experiencing very very soon.
Another great article, John, and very helpful.

What I can't understand, though, is why the book you link to (Backpacker's Handbook) is so bloody big! If you're going to write a book on this subject, you'd expect folk to be taking out on their trips, so why would you not make it pocket size?
obviously never seen "The Complete Walker" (Fletcher/Rawlins) Great book, but big enough to shelter under
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