Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Camping adventures: the joy of really wild nights

Update : 16 Apr 2013, 08:21 AM


Beach? Or old building? Old building or beach? It's not a question most people ask themselves when choosing a place to spend the night – but it's a fairly common one for me. At one particular moment I was standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking Sandwood Bay in Scotland's remote and wild Wester Ross region. Night was descending and the wind was whipping itself into a blustery frenzy, while native deer watched me curiously.

I had my trusty tent strapped to my backpack so setting up camp on the sand would be straightforward enough, but I also knew that the four stone walls – albeit slightly dilapidated and certainly not heated – of a bothy (a disused building maintained by volunteers for walkers' use) were just a couple of kilometres away.

There, I could make a fire and unpack. Here I would have to figure out a way to secure my tent pegs in the sand. I looked over towards the boggy ground I would have to tackle should I choose the bothy, then towards the blistering purple sunset just beginning to erupt along the horizon beyond the beach, and made my decision. Beach. There was no way I could shut that view out.

This is my world of extreme sleeping – travelling to some of the wildest places in the UK and spending the night in them. While some people have tried wild camping once or twice, for me it is an obsession. I go out as often as I can, at least once a month if possible, and I keep a "go bag" in the boot of my car ready with all my camping gear on standby should I get the chance to sneak off. Sometimes I'll stay under canvas, at other times I sleep in bothies, under a tarp or in a cave, and sometimes (if I'm very lucky with the weather) I'll manage with nothing but a sleeping bag. That night, with sand flying through the air like gritty rain, it would be my tent.

I chose a spot far enough back to escape the waves and slightly sheltered from the wind. Once the tent was up I sat inside it, my weight anchoring it to the ground, and made a hot chocolate on my camping stove. It was the perfect mix of modern technology and simple pleasures: my little cooker making a warming drink while, at the end of my toes there played a natural panorama that looked like a CGI backdrop.


Am Buachaille, a rocky sea stack, stood guard-like to one side, the giant grey slabs which cut into the sea were bathed in frothing waves, and the dim glow of the Cape Wrath lighthouse sent out a muted white beam beyond the cliffs to my right.

For a minute it reminded me of New Zealand's most northerly point, Cape Reinga, where the Maori believe the spirits of the dead enter the underworld. But here in Scotland there are legends too. Like the one of Alexander Gunn who, in the early 1900s, swore he saw a mermaid on the rocks I was now gazing at. There are rumours of shipwrecks buried hundreds of metres below where I was pitched, and tales of Vikings turning their ships in a nearby bay to redouble their efforts at invading Britain.

I can trace my obsession with extreme sleeping back to when I was travelling round Australia and spent a first proper wild night at Uluru. I slept in a swag – basically, a glorified sleeping bag cover. Despite my worries about snakes and scorpions, the glory of waking up to the sunrise in the Red Centre got my adrenaline going like never before.

I was an instant addict. From there I camped along New Zealand's coast, starting at Cape Reinga, went on to sleep out on beaches in Fiji and Tahiti, bedded down on ledges in America's national parks, slept by the fireside, Bedouin-style, in Wadi Rum and under a lavvu – a traditional Sami tent, a bit like a wigwam – in Finland in -40C.

Once I got back to the UK, I was infatuated with finding similar adventures here. And over the past few years I haven't been disappointed. I've "extreme slept" my way up and down the country, from the clifftops of England's south coast, to the wilds of Dartmoor. I've slept under snow in Norfolk, in caves in the Lake District, in the wreckage of a crashed 1948 B-29 Superfortress in Derbyshire, on mountaintops in north Wales, beside giant boulders in the Cairngorms and in bothies all over Scotland. And each offered a thrill to rival the last.

My first solo UK wild camping expedition was to Snowdonia. There I got sunburnt, was bitten by a tick and chased by a sheep, and ran out of water, but I made it. Since then I've picked up a lot of tips – such as taking a tick removal tool, always packing sun cream and carrying the means to purify water. And there was one golden nugget of advice: filling my drink container with the remaining water from the stove to use as a makeshift hot water bottle.

And the great thing is you don't need to be Bear Grylls to enjoy extreme sleeping – it really is something anyone can do. You just need the right kit (warm layers, a good sleeping bag, a decent tent) and a sense of adventure. It's a good idea, on your first go, to head somewhere you know well, so you are familiar with the landscape. Remember never to start a fire, try to arrive late and leave early, take all your rubbish away with you, and camp well away from civilisation (it's called "wild" camping for a reason), and you'll soon see how many adventures you can pack into your weekends – all completely free.

At Sandwood Bay the light had been swallowed by night. The sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline was making me feel sleepy. I snuggled down into my sleeping bag. With my eyes getting heavier I crawled inside my tent and positioned myself so I could watch the stars. I knew from experience that the best bit was yet to come – being woken by the morning light and watching the sun rise in one of the wildest places in the world. I soon fell into a deep sleep. But before long, the creeping daylight stirred me awake.

I opened my eyes to see the pristine beach glistening in the clean dawn air. A gull cawed overhead to cry good morning to this strange tented visitor, while the sea whispered in the distance. There was not a single footstep on the sand … but I would soon be the one to change that.

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