Wild camping is something I always love the idea of – getting out into the wild, being totally removed from everything and being in the great outdoors. When it actually comes down to doing it, I often hit a bit of a block. Last weekend’s adventures in UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lake District, saw me wrestle with motivation, struggle with knowing I’d lost my fitness and still do it anyway. Read all about it…
The excuses can flow so easily when you want them to. You know, the weather’s not great or I have work to do in the house… they can pile up and before you know it you’ve talked yourself out of it altogether. This past weekend I was so close to doing just that. I felt truly exhausted on Friday night and Saturday morning – to the point of almost abandoning the trip. I’d changed my mind about exactly what we were going to do multiple times already. It was a horrifying realisation that I’m just not as driven to do the things I know I love anymore – such as hillwalking and camping. Only a few years ago I’d have been out the door as soon as I finished work on the Friday night and you wouldn’t have seen me for the next couple of days.
Does that sound familiar? Well, I managed to push past it and overcame the feat that is trawling through OS maps to decide where exactly I wanted to walk and camp in the first place (by the way OS maps online makes this super easy #notsponsored), packing all my equipment up and getting it loaded in the car. Once we were actually in the car though, dog and all, and driving towards the Lake District I felt complete relief that the decision had been made and we were off!
While umming and ahhing over where I wanted to camp, I’d come up with a few different options but some routes included a bit of roadwork, which I wanted to avoid if at all possible. After peering at many different routes and deciding what I wanted from this trip I settled on St Sunday Crag – a new Wainwright for me but one I’d seen while crossing Striding Edge on Helvellyn, which runs parallel to the fell.
Why did I choose this? Well, for one I decided to make this trip easy on myself. I wanted to go to an area that I vaguely knew – at least what the facilities were like at the bottom. It was also much quicker to get to from home than my original choice of Coniston…
Pulling into Glenridding car park, and after we’d had our usual faff of toilet stop, making sure we had everything – realising we’d forgotten dog poo bags and then sourcing them – and examining the map, we set out. So, I knew that this walk would include a tedious bit of walking to get to the start of the mountain in the first place – but in the morning it would allow for us to avoid the road altogether.
The first 30 – 45 minutes were thus taken up with gentle climbs, descents – you know something to warm the old legs up on before the real climbing started. We passed Lanty’s Tarn on the way to the bottom of St Sundays Crag, which felt like a little oasis, hidden in amongst the bracken and fir trees, before we crossed the river and took the path along the bottom of Thornhow Crag, circling around and climbing up over Thornhow End…
We had originally planned to set out early Saturday morning (actually, Friday evening after work) but due to feeling pretty tired we decided to have a more leisurely start. Checking the forecast again we realised it was actually pretty hot for Flo, who doesn’t seem to have any capacity to realise that she needs to take it easy. To try and avoid the heat of the day we opted to start in early evening.
But back to the walk… we were really glad we’d waited as even at 5pm it was stiflingly hot on the climb and I had to call Flo to heel to keep her pace steady. Regular breaks were needed – I’d like to say because it was just so hot but in truth I think it’s because I’ve lost all my hill fitness and I’m not used to carrying a larger pack anymore. Needless to say it took a while to get over the first part of the climb.
Many people who know me seem to think I have this unending love of the outdoors but honestly, when I’m sweating my ass off, struggling and unfit I question why I do it at all. I knew as I sat on the sofa that morning that I would go through this stage of doubt – questioning everything and could I really be doing with the effort – but in some ways knowing that I’d go through this process made it easier to just keep on going on the climb up. I knew the feeling would pass and that gave me huge strength to keep on going. I suspect that’s where people new to hill walking and wild camping may struggle as until you’ve done it a few times it’s hard to remember why you put yourself through it in the first place to want to keep coming back.
Unsurprisingly as we reached Black Crag and it levelled out, taking the pressure of the rucksack off, I felt so much better. The walking was easy for a while – legs now very much warmed up from the climb. We could see the summit and knew it wouldn’t take that long to get there and we’d made good time. As we hit the summit and looked out at the view around us, saw how far we’d come and as I felt the sun on me I knew we’d made the right choice to come.
I’m still not sure what I though of the summit of St Sunday Crag. At 841m it’s a pretty decent height and (in the end) it was a climb I really enjoyed but the summit was broad and although it had some rocky detail it felt a bit bland – the interesting parts were definitely in the climb. There was plenty of space though and although you’d think that’s great for setting up the tent there were few patches without rock.
I’ve been kindly gifted a tent (the Tempest Pro 300) to use by Vango as I’ve been determined to get back into wild camping more regularly and I had been on the lookout for a tent that was roomy and secure enough for Flo to be in too. I was pretty damn impressed by it to be honest and even carried the whole thing myself – a three man tent. So, the weight for a three man wasn’t bad at all but it was also very straight forward to pitch (having never done it before – oops totally should have tested it before carrying it up a mountain…). I’ll do a couple more camps in it to get a good range of tests going before I write up a review but my first impression was very good.
Despite how wide and apparently grassy the summit was there were few good places to pitch a larger tent but I did find one and it was reasonably sheltered with a few outcrops protecting us on a couple of sides. Once pitched, we sat and chilled. We ate dinner and drank some wine (living the life). We then listened to a Harry Potter audio book (we’re so cool) while we watched the sun gradually sink into the horizon. Once it had disappeared behind Helvellyn, we decided it was time for bed.
Waking again just before 5am I realised I’d missed the sunrise. Although a bit gutted as I lay there snuggled in my sleeping bag, I realised that Flo had crept up to curl up between the two of us in the night. Cheeky minx! She was obviously loving the life of camp dog and was taking full advantage of it.
Unzipping the compartment door and then the outer door we sat and looked out into the morning. As it turned out I still had some form of sunrise as clouds had obscured the horizon and as I sat there it peaked its face out over this bank. As you can imagine I was super happy about this and scampered out of the tent as soon as possible. Morning light is my favourite kind of light and as it touched the surrounding fells I felt utterly content. Waking up into this little world, away from everything and experiencing the magic of early morning was worth it. I guess I just needed to remember that.
As I’m looking at a computer screen all day in work this blog has fallen a little to the side but I was so determined to get this particular blog out – I want to remember. So on those days when I’m run into the ground and exhausted I can look back and know that these escapes are what heals me.
We quickly packed up the tent, made sure we’d left the place as we’d found it and set off on our homeward journey. Although I would have loved to have taken our time, real life does get in the way and we had jobs to do at home. The camp and rising with the sun allowed us to experience the hills and revitalising feeling of being outdoors while still allowing time in our day to do the essentials. The descent from St Sunday Crag along Deepdale Hause was fun. The walking was easy and like a rollercoaster rolling bump over bump on the way down.
Following the path down to Grisedale tarn we were astonished at home many tents there were lining the water. Seeing the clusters of reds, greens, greys and blues I was happy we’d camped where we did. It felt remote and daring – not like a campsite (not that I have anything against campsites)… Only a few were stirring as we passed, swinging around to walk back down the valley. On the descent we’d seen the path etched into the side of the opposite fell, a little white line clearly marking the way to go. I love walks where you can see where you’ve been and where you’re going – it’s satisfying tracking how far you’ve been.
The descent was easy and gentle on the knees – ideal as we’d forgotten walking poles. It was six miles (according to Strava) from the St Sunday Crag summit to Glenridding car park, which was a satisfying start to the morning. Strolling up to the car around 9am, we loaded up before deciding that breakfast would be great. Having walked past Helvellyn Country Kitchen as we’d walked through the village I had remembered going there after my last wildcamp on Helvellyn and it being an awesome little place. The day was already pretty warm and they had a few tables and chairs out the front of the café so we settled ourselves down for a coffee and cooked breakfast. It was so welcome!
I guess to round this off I need to stress (to myself as well) that if you want to do something just go and do it. Forcing myself up the stairs to pack, up that first part of the mountain with my legs burning was worth it. I came out the other side feeling like a stronger, more wholesome person and the start to my week has been so much better than of late. So if you are thinking that you’d like to go hillwalking or have a go wild camping then do it (of course, doing your research first helps or taking someone who knows what they’re doing helps so you don’t get stuck…). Either way, I hope this blog inspires you to push past that little voice of ‘can’t’ and just go do fun stuff. Let me know if you do!