The short answer is: Yes!
I have always found the idea of wild camping romantic. In my head the story goes something like this: I throw my gear into an overnight rucksack, and head off into the hills for a night of adventure. I find a spot with a fantastic view, alongside a pristine stream to set up camp. I grill my juicy steak and toast marshmallows over the campfire, before dozing off into a peaceful sleep under the starry sky.
In reality it is never quite as good as that. Nobody seems to mention the slugs, spiders, ants and ticks which also happen to live in the grass that you are lying on, or the clouds of biting midges if you camp too close to the water. They do sometimes tell you that the murderer you think you can hear lurking about in the dark is really just a rabbit or a fox – that bit is true!
We have only been on three bivvy bag wild camps, but I hope to provide an honest account of our very limited experience of them. Our first was in a woodland near a reservoir. We laid our bivvy bags out in a convenient dip with a tarp strung low overhead. It was like our own little fortress. I later realised it was a bad idea. If it had rained we would have been lying in the bottom of a small duck pond. We heated up some baked beans & sausages using a Swedish Army Trangia, before managing to grab a few hours sleep. We woke up covered with slugs, there was even one on my head net. Although it was scary, and I don’t like slugs, it wasn’t terrible for a first attempt. So I began to think of ways to make it better.
The next time, we returned to the same woodland, avoided the dip in the ground and chose a more suitable site. It was getting dark so we set up the camp, with the tarp for shelter and a groundsheet plus bivvy bags underneath. The groundsheet doesn’t really do much to keep the bugs away, I’m not sure why I thought that would improve things. We were all set up, when a dog walker wandered past. Then I began to worry. What if he reports us for camping here? He knows our location, what if he comes back in the night with an axe? It was difficult to put out of my mind. All that worrying made me need the loo. I scraped at the hard ground with my backpacker’s trowel, barely able to dent the surface. I couldn’t wait any longer and just had to do my best to cover it over with some soil, sticks and leaves. Oh dear, am I being too honest here?
We’d decided to light a small campfire: Ray Mears says you need one to feel as though it’s home. We fashioned two pronged forks out of fallen branches and cooked sirloin steak over the fire. We felt as though we were living in the forest in ancient times – that was the good bit. I was careful to extinguish the fire before bed, but it was a shock to be plunged into sudden darkness. We only had a small wind-up torch which was useless as it didn’t illuminate anything beyond my own feet. We wriggled into our bivvy bags but before long I developed the most awful migraine and had forgotten to bring any tablets. Perhaps I inhaled too much smoke from the fire? We both lay awake until sunrise before gladly packing up, and carefully erasing all trace of having been there. Once again I found slugs on my bivvy bag. The woodland is pretty noisy at night: there were owls hooting, and all sorts of animals wandering about, branches snapping and falling off trees. Or was that the psycho dog walker? duh duh duh duh.
That experience put me off for about 2 years actually, until recently when we came across #microadventure on twitter and we subsequently bought two new bivvy bags to give it another go. Inspired by an interesting article about finding a camping spot within a mile radius of your house, we ended up near to our local cricket ground. The view over Rapeseed fields was pretty and we could hear the church chiming in the distance. It all seemed good until a lively group of lads decided to have an alcohol fuelled party in the nearby wood. They were laughing and shouting until 3.30am, so we lay there unable to sleep. It wasn’t exactly a peaceful experience, and we spent the entire night trying not to let our fears and imaginations get the better of us. I briefly enjoyed seeing some stars in the gaps between a light scattering of clouds. By 4am it was getting light and was time to get up so we went home to go back to bed. I felt like I had a hangover.
After returning home I found I’d picked up a couple of deer ticks which I had to remove from my leg with tweezers. All in all, I think we’ve finally decided it’s not really all that much fun. The romantic idea, and the reality are two very different things.
We will stick to tent camping in future…
or will we? 🙂
(Think I’ll keep those bivvy bags just incase)