February wildcamp: A lesson learnt...

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Barney Rubble

Settler
Sep 16, 2013
500
198
Rochester, Kent
Hi All, have recently returned from an overnighter on the North Downs Way in Kent. Storm Doris made things a bit interesting.

Feel free to check out my blog via the link below to see the photos. Note to mods: there's no advertising on my blog, simply my ramblings of the outdoors!

Whenever I'm travelling on the train to and from my place of work in London, I often find myself gazing out across the countryside near home and contemplating where my next adventure could be. For a while now my gaze has been drawn to one particular place. A small woodland atop a hill overlooking a valley of fields and forest. I kept staring at this place each and every time I went by on the train. I wondered what it may be like and whether I might be able to camp there.

I know the area relatively well, it’s like a hidden gem within the Kentish countryside. I spent much of my youth on my mountain bike exploring the trails and was confident that the chosen spot was within hiking distance. Needless to say I looked up a route on my ordnance survey map and begun to formulate a plan.

Hiking is a fairly new concept to me. Much of my 'wildcamping' is done within a mile or so of my car. I guess that's why I prefer to ‘bimble’, take my time and enjoy the surroundings.

The plan then, was to load my rucksack with my tent, sleeping gear, cook-set and food and hike approximately four miles to my destination. I hadn't done a recce of the site and wasn't sure if I could get away with camping there, but I was willing to take a chance and see what greeted me when I arrived.

I had some leave to use up at work so I scheduled this trip for a Wednesday. It felt satisfyingly odd going camping when I should otherwise have been sat in a dreary office staring at a computer screen!

The weather was set to be unseasonably mild for February, it meant I could remove some of the warmer layers that I'd packed in preparation for a cold winter camp. However, on the eve of my trip I learnt that storm Doris was to pay a visit bringing with her some 40-50mph south westerly winds. This was undoubtedly going to make life a little more difficult! That said, I couldn't help but smile at this forecast, my late Nan was called Doris and I figured she'd be looking over me and make sure everything will be ok!

So, off I went on my merry way. While everyone else was travelling to work, I was headed for the trails and another adventure.

It didn’t take long before the first problem reared its head. Being so naïve about hiking, I’d underestimated how hot and sweaty I was going to get walking with a heavy backpack. I realised that I’d made an error in my choice of clothing. My cotton t-shirt and shirt were simply soaking up the sweat like a sponge and I realised that they would take quite a while to dry out. As soon as I noticed this issue, I removed my smock and t-shirt, attached them to the outside of my pack and hoped that the t-shirt might air-dry as I walked. I now understand why experienced outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers famously label cotton as a killer! Ok, so that’s a bit of an overstatement for someone hiking a section of the North Downs Way but it did make life a little less comfortable.

With layers removed, I continued my walk through the local woodland, enjoying the sight and sounds of nature. Jackdaws and Magpies patrol the woodland as if they’re the class bullies while Robins, blackbirds, Goldfinches, Great and Blue Tits were calling out to one another. Loudest of all though was that familiar call of the wren. I’ll never know how such a small animal produces such a loud noise! There were also some bird calls that I was unable to identify – I’ve still so much to learn about nature!

The walk was more undulating and more strenuous than I had anticipated, I’d clearly not paid enough attention to the contour lines on the map. It’s all good exercise though and as lunchtime approached, I caught sight of my destination.

Having arrived at the small patch of woodland on top of the hill, I ditched the backpack and went for a scout around to see if a camp would be feasible. Unfortunately, as idyllic as the location appeared when I whizz by on the train, things were not looking good. The woodland had clearly not been touched for many a year, at least not by humans, as I discovered not one but perhaps three badger sets.

I’m no expert but judged that at least two were more than likely to still be active as the trails between the burrows looked to be fresh and also well used. This immediately led me to re-consider my options for I was not wanting to disrupt the badger sets. The second warning marker was that, being on top of a hill, the wind was blowing through the woodland and dear old storm Doris was set-to blow in overnight. The third and final warning came when I spotted signs around the perimeter of the woodland which marked it up as private property. I certainly wasn’t wanting to trespass on private land so I retreated back along the footpath from which I came and found a spot to set-up my hammock chair and stop for lunch.

I had some decisions to make and felt that stopping for a cup of tea and a pork pie would help me to consider my options. I had always contemplated that I may not be able to camp at my initial destination. I had therefore kept an eye out for other potential camp-sites on my walk. Happily I had passed by some spots which I initially considered to be good alternatives. It was at this point that the heavens opened. Not heavy rain, just that fine stuff that soaks you through! I quickly pitched my small tarp over the hammock chair. I very nearly left this tarp out of my pack but was oh so glad I didn’t as it would otherwise have ruined a very good pork pie!

I sat under my tarp for almost an hour, supping on a tea, watching the world go by and listening to the skylarks as the rain pitter-pattered on my tarp. My decision was made, I would head back towards the other spots that I’d seen and take a closer look. I did however choose to take an alternative route along some by-ways which I knew would be longer but slightly easier going.

The rain continued as I headed back along the trail and I had noticed that the wind was picking up a bit. The forecast suggested 20mph winds during the day which were to grow stronger overnight and into the next day. It helps to have some knowledge of the trees when looking for woodland camping spots. Some trees fair better than others in high winds. For example, the grand old Beech trees are notorious for dropping branches when the wind kicks up and I was most certainly not wanting to camp near them. Sadly when I reached the spots that I’d seen earlier in the walk, I’d noticed that they were surrounded by quite a few Beech trees. As with the original destination, I didn’t have a good feeling about these areas. My heart sank and I really didn’t want to abort this camping trip. I continued on my walk back towards my start-point and it occurred to me that there was a section of coniferous woodland a little further down the trail. In my experience, the tall and skinny pine trees fair a lot better in high winds and I felt a lot happier camping amongst them.

As I reached the coniferous woodland, I was elated to find a nice flat spot which had no dead branches (aka widow makers) hanging above. This was to be my home for the night!

At this point I had covered just over 11 miles and felt quite pleased to have covered so much distance in a day with a heavy pack on my back. It had proven to be a good test of my rucksack which had felt very comfortable throughout the walk. It had also proven to me that I was able to cover longer distances on foot without too much hardship. Despite the issues, it’s led me to consider that maybe one day I’ll take on a long distance multi-day hike.

With camp established, I cooked dinner on my Trangia stove. Tonight’s feast consisted of spam, potato, onion and baked beans – a meal of kings! It wasn’t just going to be Storm Doris that kicked up some wind on that night!

I had other plans for the camping trip such as whittling a spoon and practising some low light/long exposure photography. Unfortunately the additional hike and poor weather put a stop to that as I simply wanted to eat and relax (while my ankles stiffened up). After dinner I ensured my guy-lines were nice and secure and tucked myself into bed for the night with a cup of the old Darjeeling tea and Radio two for company.

I had a feeling I was going to be in for an un-settled night and was not disappointed. I awoke several times through the night to the sound of the wind blowing and the trees clattering into one another. Happily, my tent wasn’t moving an inch as I wanted to pitch it on the North-east side of a hill, knowing that the wind was going to be hitting the south-west side. Either way it’s still un-nerving to be sleeping under trees that are getting such a battering from mother nature. It pretty much summed up an otherwise challenging camping adventure, I packed up fairly early the next morning as the weather was forecast to deteriorate with even stronger winds during the day.

I’ve had many great camping trips over the years, but sometimes things don’t quite go to plan. This, unfortunately, was one of them! Never the less, I will value the lessons that I learnt on this trip.

Thanks for reading, here’s hoping the March camp is more successful!
 

Mike313

Nomad
Apr 6, 2014
269
22
South East
Nice article, well written. I could see your excursion in my minds eye.:)
I've had a look at your blog which is excellent too.
May I ask you, which 'model' of Berghaus pack are you using? And which boots? And have you any thoughts/lessons learned about the gear you carry?
Ta in advance.
 

Barney Rubble

Settler
Sep 16, 2013
500
198
Rochester, Kent
Nice article, well written. I could see your excursion in my minds eye.:)
I've had a look at your blog which is excellent too.
May I ask you, which 'model' of Berghaus pack are you using? And which boots? And have you any thoughts/lessons learned about the gear you carry?
Ta in advance.

Hi Mike,
Many thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoyed reading the blog.

I'm using the Berghaus Trailhead 65. I've not had it long (been out on 3 camps now) but it's the first non-military type bag that I've had and so far it’s proved to be so much more comfortable to carry.

My boots are cheapo Hi-Gear boots from Go Outdoors. I've only had them a month and to be honest I deeply regret buying them. It's not saying much as I've only ever owned cheapo boots but they're probably the worst boots I've owned as they're already starting to come apart at the seam (I generally got a year out of my karrimor boots!). I'm now saving up for a better quality pair. Am actually looking at getting a pair of hi-tec boots. I've tried some on and been very impressed by the quality and comfort.

In terms of lessons learnt, I'd encourage you to think carefully about the kit you buy and go with the best that you can afford. I have fallen into that cliché of buying cheap and now I'm buying twice! I'm now trying to save some money and buy better quality gear. By that I don't necessarily mean high end branded gear as the mil surplus kit is exceptional and also very affordable. Nor do I mean that you should spend hundreds on a hand made knife because there's nowt wrong with a ten quid mora. Just think carefully abut what you want to do and what you need to do that, then spare some time to trawl this good forum for tips!

Most important thing is to just enjoy and respect the outdoors, it's the best medicine!
 

Big G

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 3, 2015
3,144
0
Cleveland UK
Aye.. Good write up enjoyed it :)

I hope that pork pie was a vale of mowbray variety. I used to work at vale of mowbray pork pie factory.. my job was filling the hot pies with jelly after they came out the ovens.

I only worked there for a few months before xmas and i must of put 3 stone on! "who ate all the pies" :lmao:
 
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Barney Rubble

Settler
Sep 16, 2013
500
198
Rochester, Kent
Aye.. Good write up enjoyed it :)

I hope that pork pie was a vale of mowbray variety. I used to work at vale of mowbray pork pie factory.. my job was filling the hot pies with jelly after they came out the ovens.

I only worked there for a few months before xmas and i must of put 3 stone on! "who ate all the pies" :lmao:

Damn right it was, I'm not one to eat any of those wannabe pork pies. Well done though for being the jelly filler upperer! Im rather fond of the jelly.
 

Janne

Guest
Feb 10, 2016
12,368
2,282
Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
Good report, enjoyed reading it!

May I suggest you should avoid camping in woodlands if a storm is expected? Even very healthy tree can lose a branch. A dead branch can move sideways by the wind quite a distance, and more importantly, a tree can be uprooted by the wind.
 

Barney Rubble

Settler
Sep 16, 2013
500
198
Rochester, Kent
Good report, enjoyed reading it!

May I suggest you should avoid camping in woodlands if a storm is expected? Even very healthy tree can lose a branch. A dead branch can move sideways by the wind quite a distance, and more importantly, a tree can be uprooted by the wind.

Fair comment. I took a lot of time time to weigh up the risks when I got to camp and was satisfied with my assessment of the areas in which I'd chosen to camp. I had also taken into consideration the direction of the wind and my geographic position on the lee-side of the hill While the winds were strong. I also knew that the storm wasn't due to really kick in seriously until morning and I had already decided to be packed and gone before that time.
 
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mrcharly

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jan 25, 2011
3,246
33
North Yorkshire, UK
Boots, ah boots. I think I was lucky. Bought some in Oz that looked good, were ok for walking oz, terrible for the UK. My second pair were Scarpas, cost me £80 at half-price nearly 30 years ago and I have a feeling they will 'see me out'. It is worth buying good quality for your feet.

Cotton T shirts for summer only, I think they are just dead weight the rest of the year. See if you can get some old wool or pick up thin wool thermals. Even if they get well wet with sweat they are better to keep on you than cotton. Some synthetics are ok but they get stinky really fast.
 

Barney Rubble

Settler
Sep 16, 2013
500
198
Rochester, Kent
Boots, ah boots. I think I was lucky. Bought some in Oz that looked good, were ok for walking oz, terrible for the UK. My second pair were Scarpas, cost me £80 at half-price nearly 30 years ago and I have a feeling they will 'see me out'. It is worth buying good quality for your feet.

Cotton T shirts for summer only, I think they are just dead weight the rest of the year. See if you can get some old wool or pick up thin wool thermals. Even if they get well wet with sweat they are better to keep on you than cotton. Some synthetics are ok but they get stinky really fast.

Yeah, I've come around to your way of thinking re: the boots. Am now saving up for a good quality pair.

The problem I find is that walking boots are designed, not surprisingly, to offer comfort and support while walking off road. Conversely, on some occasions I'm often exploring areas that are well off the beaten track. Often doing a bit of bushwhacking through areas that are thick with brambles and bracken and, consequently my boots seem to get beaten up. I'm left wondering if the the same would happen to a decent pair of boots?
Given that on these occasions, I'm not usually covering lots of distance, something I've been thinking of doing is using a cheap but rugged pair that I don't mind beating up for the bushwhacking. And then keeping the better pair for when I do actually cover a long distance.

As for the cotton, I'm inclined to agree with you. I wore cotton because it's what I have and have never really had any proper experience of hiking. I might get some merino wool base layers next time they're in Aldi!
 

mrcharly

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jan 25, 2011
3,246
33
North Yorkshire, UK
I don't think brambles would be any rougher on leather boots than sharp-edged lakeland shale. My scarpas have had lots of shale slicing past them (there are gouges a-plenty).
 

Janne

Guest
Feb 10, 2016
12,368
2,282
Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
In my experience, all leather footwear is far more resistant to brambles and sharp stones than fabric.
Yes, it scratches, in worst case you get a deep scratch/shallow cut. Put a shoe/boot with a fabric outer in the same situation and it gets holed.

Instead of buying two pair of boots, I would buy one pair of single leather wall, of the highest quality as you can afford.
Well treated ( properly dried,cleaned, oiled and so on) they should last you for decades!

To own one pair for a long time makes them adopt to your foot and be as comfortable as a pair of slippers!
 
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