Monday, 16 December 2013

Strictly come camping

The perfect Saturday night for many people is to be wrapped up indoors in front of the telly watching Strictly Come Dancing. But for me it’s being out in my tent in a remote, wild place in the mountains. I love my tent and there’s no place I’d rather be.

I bought my first tent many years ago with my boyfriend of the time. He was from Fife and the tent was from Army & Navy. It was cheap and heavy, one of those old A-frame style tents that took an hour to erect and even then you were left with one section of pole that didn’t seem to fit anywhere. The first meal we made in the tent was fish and the aroma lingered for the rest of the tent’s days. But we lovingly christened it “The Receptacle” and had many happy nights under its stinking canvas.

Since then camping has become my passion. Of course it’s wonderful to climb a mountain or cycle the open road but the best part of the day is often finding an idyllic camp spot, getting the tent up and making a cosy little home for the night. There are obvious advantages to camping. It gives you incredible freedom to wander at will, knowing that you always have a place to stay and that you can change the view from your door every day. It also allows you to enjoy wild landscapes with minimum impact – no need for holiday resorts or ugly hotels – so you can leave the place exactly as you found it.

Being in a tent is great for getting closer to wildlife as well. It often happens that when you gently unzip your tent in the morning, there will be deer quite close or, as happened to me when camping in Australia, kangaroos! And I’ve had frogs, toads, hedgehogs and mice come right under my flysheet. Mind you, when I'm camping in bear country in North America, I don't want the wildlife to get that close! Birds are also more likely to come near as your tent blends into the natural surroundings. I’ll never forget pitching the tents with a friend by Loch Dochard in late winter as a flock of whooper swans flew right over our heads, their underwings catching the golden light from the sinking sun.

I think camping also fulfils a basic need in me; a need to leave behind the modern, cluttered world where life is made easy and comfortable by appliances and gadgets. In camping I can live, albeit briefly, in my own world where I have everything I need on my back or my bike; where I have to walk to the river and sometimes break ice to collect water; where I am out in the elements all day and all night. 

I camp all year round but love the winter best which surprises a lot of people who imagine it must be too cold. But the tent gives you a real sense of cosiness especially when the weather outside is foul or freezing. In winter you really appreciate snuggling up in your sleeping bag or scoffing hot porridge in the morning. The only difficult thing is plunging hands into icy water to wash the pot! I remember one winter weekend camping at Corrour, a remote train halt high on Rannoch Moor. So much snow fell that the Sunday evening train home couldn’t get through. In contrast to that, I recall another camping trip to Glen Derry in the Cairngorms during a period of hot winds from Africa. I woke in the morning to discover my tent covered with what looked like custard powder but was actually sand from the Sahara.

One of the most valuable aspects of camping is that it allows you to spend longer in the wilds and when you camp out overnight in the mountains, you get a greatly enhanced feeling of being detached from the modern world and all its woes. You feel much more immersed in the wildness and the mountain. I love that feeling when the tent is pitched and the light starts to fade and you know that anybody else who might have been out there has gone home and you have the mountain to yourself.  Nan Shepherd wrote in The Living Mountain, “No one knows the mountain completely who has not slept on it.” When camping in the wilds you can experience the elements, the landscape and the creatures that inhabit them by night, as well as by day.

But perhaps the best thing about camping is lying in your sleeping bag with the tent open on a crisp, clear night and gazing up to a sky full of stars sparkling like the sequins in Strictly Come Dancing.


  1. You do pick some fabulous places to camp!

    My first tent was a Vango Force 10 Mk3, also an A-frame but I could pitch it single handed in any weather in 5 minutes. Apart from the Akto I currently use, the Force 10 has always been my favourite tent, although it did weigh 20lbs dry and much more when wet, so not great for solo back-packing.

    I love the opportunities that backpacking and wild camping offers in getting close to the local fauna. I did once have a frog hop onto my face while I was asleep - I didn't appreciate that so much. And close encounters with Pack Rats and Porcupines on my first trip to the Canadian Rockies, when I'd only taken a bivvi bag, to save weight. Some Whooper Swans once gave me an early morning wake up call on a TGO Challenge. I felt something cold and thought one was poking its bill in my ear but it was the toggle on the sleeping bag.

    The de-cluttering and simplification to life (where is the path? where am I going to camp? what am I going to eat?), which wild camping brings is intensely satisfying and eating breakfast in the door of the tent, looking out across a mirror-glass loch or across to snow capped hills is unbeatable. I've never got the whole porridge enjoyment thing, mind you - I think you Scots are ever so slightly weird about your porridge ;¬)

    Have a great Xmas Pauline and lots of fab adventures in 2014.

  2. Thanks, Tony. It's always great to hear from like-minded individuals. If porridge is not your thing try Readybrek pre-mixed with milk powder and then add a film cannister of honey - yummy and no cooking, you just have to boil the water.

    Have a great Xmas yourself and look forward to swapping stories in 2014. Best wishes. Pauline