It seems like such a long time ago, especially having been working from home due to coronavirus for a year now, but I sitting at my desk at work, I happened to mention I fancied going wild camping. I work with plenty of brilliant people, two of whom are Angela and Beth. As it turned out, they also fancied a bit of wild camping and so we had the start of a plan! After synchronising diaries, and geeking out over the OS Maps app (ok, that was mostly me), we had a date and location in mind. Now it was time to prepare.
After setting up my old backpacking tent in the garden, it became clear that it wasn’t really that waterproof anymore. It was time for a new one. Now, I get claustrophobic. Before learning to ride a motorbike, I had to sit in the living room wearing my crash helmet watching TV to get used to it (and even then, the visor was up in all but the foulest of weather) and so this needed to be taken into consideration.
First port of call was trying out a few in Go Outdoors (remember when you could go in Go Outdoors). After rolling out of a tent in a panic because it was so small and close to my face, it was clear I need something with a bit of head room. I researched, read reviews and finally opted for the seemingly Marmite, MSR Hubba Hubba It was lightweight, but had a really spacious feel inside, so hopefully, there would be no waking up in the middle of the night, full of terror, thinking I was buried alive or some other nightmarish scenario.
It was a very exciting day when Bumbleturtle (for that is his name) arrived and I wasted no time setting him up in the living room.
Our original weekend came and went, along with our second date – a storm scuppering our plans. Third time lucky – we weren’t going to let the slightly rainy forecast stop us, else we could end up waiting forever.
The night before we were due to go, I laid everything out on the floor. The amount of gear looked pretty foreboding but I managed to pack in all inside my rucksack with nothing strapped to the outside – no losing my tent on the way to our spot for me. Honestly, it was pretty hefty, but I was sure I could manage it. And yes – that is a frying pan. I had great plans for a fake-on barm in the morning. The stuffed dog was staying at home though.
Once everything was ready, I chatted to Rick about where we were hoping to camp, and how I may not have signal on my phone to contact him, but I would ring when I got to the Lakes and again before we drove home. He was all good with this, and I SHOULD have lodged his reaction in my brain.
Morning came, and the three of us loaded our gear into the boot of Toothless to head to the Lakes for the start of our adventure. After a lovely dinner at Kat’s Kitchen in Keswick we made our way to the car park, not forgetting to make use of the last toilet for a day or so. We hefted on our rucksacks and after some huffing and puffing, and general exclamations of how heavy they were, we crossed the car park at Honister Slate Mine to start our walk.
I’ve only been wild camping once before, many, many years ago (which was why I already had some gear). Back then, my rucksack had been far too big and heavy for me and the route to the camp, far too long and steep. I was slow, tired and may have cried a number of times by the time we reached the tarn. I had just enough energy to eat my freeze dried tea before I fell asleep till morning. It hadn’t put me off though. Being outside had been amazing, and waking up in the hills had been just beautiful.
This time, however, it would be all about the camp. We had planned a site with not too much climb, not too much distance and with other potential pitching locations close by should we arrive and our intended spot be taken by other adventurers.
We followed a fingerpost that led out of the car park and began to climb. Our trekking poles quickly became our favourite possession in the world as we realised just how beneficial they were in getting us, and our homes for the evening, up the hillside. It seemed weird heading out when we would normally be making our way back, but that just added to the excitement.
As we reached the top of the pitched path, surprisingly still with energy, the views opened up all around us. We continued along the old tramway passing the mountain bothy, Dubs Hut.
Our route now began to descend towards a stream, swollen after all the heavy rain. From our position on the path above, it didn’t look too bad. We even watched a couple of people skip, gazelle like, across. Should be fine. Least that’s what we thought.
Making our way closer, it became clear that we had reached the Lakeland equivalent of the Ford of Rivendell. One wrong step could have us swept away like the Black Riders chasing Frodo. Not wanting to meet their fate, we padded up and down the side of the raging torrent, looking for potential safe stepping stones. The gazelle folk’s crossing spot looked much more treacherous than it had seemed from above and we feared our wild camp adventure was over before it really started. But eventually, we found what looked like our best chance – some slippery looking stones poking from the stream as water rushed over them. Again, the trekking poles came into their own as we poked them down to the bed of the stream for balance. We reached the other side feeling like total heroes and not a wet rucksack in sight. In hindsight, I wish I had got some photos, but my camera had been tucked away in case I fell in and standing at the other side as Beth and Angela hopped across, waiting for a You’ve Been Framed moment didn’t seem like the right thing to do. After basking in our heroes glow, we began a short climb up some rocky steps.
The relatively short distance meant we could stroll along and take in the views, and they were glorious. But I could feel a niggle starting to grow in my mind. We’d had no phone signal at the car park, and still had none now. Would I be able to say goodnight to my little lad at home? Was Rick going to be worried?
Cresting another hill, we found our home for the night, we were the only people there and it was perfect. Yet despite this, I had a huge wobble. Even though I had phoned Rick when we arrived in Keswick, I had convinced myself that he hadn’t heard me tell him that I may not be able to phone from where we were camping, that he would be worried, and that Rowan would be upset that I hadn’t said good night. It sounds so daft as I type it but in my defence, Rick would agree that he does have some “say yes and hope for the best” moments. In reality, it was me that had built it up in my mind and it had become huge.
Angela and Beth could tell something was wrong, and with a frog in my throat, wobbling chin and tears in my eyes, I explained my worries. They could not have been more awesome, talking sense to me – that Rick knows what the Lakes is like for phone service and that him and Rowan would be having a great boys night, but if it was really bothering me and I couldn’t relax, they were happy to go back – they’d already had a lovely time. I really have great friends. I truly didn’t want to go back, and was still looking forward to the prospect of camping. The process of speaking my worries out loud, talking it over, and their calm understanding quelled my overthinking. Feeling better, we set about making camp. By the time the tents were up, I was back in excited mode and ready to get the water filter out.
Looking across, I spotted the most amazing sunset. I trotted over to get a photo, and as I did so, my phone pinged – I had signal. I quickly phoned home. Yeah – they hadn’t been expecting me to phone till the next day, were just having pizza, then the boy was staying up to watch Bumblebee – I was basically interrupting their boy’s night in.
The call dispelled any lingering worries that may have crept their way back later that night. It was now time to enjoy the place, and use my water filter! The excitement was just as apparent as it was on Bowfell, as me and Beth collected a couple of bladders of water from the stream. I love a bit of kit! Returning to camp, we spotted we had some neighbours across the tarn. We changed into thermals and waterproofs and got set up for tea, and maybe a beer but not before one last photo of that sunset. Talk about a room with a view!
It was starting to get dark as we prepared our freeze dried tea and had a brew, before cracking open a can of Brew Dog and just chilling out, chatting and laughing and enjoying just being in the mountains. It was a perfect evening – so relaxing and freeing. Eventually, it was time to settle into our sleeping bags for the night, and listening to the wind and the rain on the flysheet, I drifted off to sleep.
Waking in the morning, I poked my head out of the tent. It was grey and the cloud was low, but I was cosy, so I nestled back into Bumbleturtle and listened to the rain pattering down a little longer.
But eventually, we had to make a move. It was a heavy down pour by now, so breakfast outside was out. Time for plan B. We packed up as much as we could from within the warmth of our tents. Everything seemed to have grown overnight. My soggy tent was packed into its bag and strapped to the outside of my rucksack (very securely). We surveyed our spot to make sure we had left no trace then started our walk back. Dubs Hut for breakfast!
We reached the Ford of Rivendell to find it even more swollen, but somehow easier to cross – probably to do with breakfast calling and being absolutely soaked already. Downstream, a small waterfall thundered over the rocks as we made our way up a path towards the bothy.
The Friday before we had set off on our adventure, I had watched the Ritual again. It’s a good film – perfect viewing for when you are spending a night under canvas in the wild (if you like a scare anyway). But with that in mind, it was with a little trepidation that we approached the door of Dubs Hut. What would we find inside? It was late enough in the morning that people should be awake, and hopefully there would be no Old Norse monsters, so we gingerly opened the door. Inside, we found last night’s occupants getting ready to set off for the day. We chatted as we made breakfast – possibly the best fake-0n butty I have ever had and the frying pan worked a treat. It was well worth the extra weight carrying it.
After breakfast and a brew, all that remained was the short walk in the rain down a gravel track to the mine, passing a herdy taking shelter under a slate table as we went. Toothless waited with towels and a spare set of dry clothes. We’d had a brilliant time. Roll on next time!