Wild (or not so wild) camping in Wiltshire
The Wiltshire countryside doesn’t exactly conjure up endurance or hardship. It is a county full of thatched cottages, rolling hills and pretty villages. Having ditched Dartmoor for the closer option of the Clarendon Way, I was initially down-hearted at the thought of what I was expecting to be a gentle stroll.
I packed the same kit, planning to be fully self-reliant; enough warm kit to tackle the March weather, dehydrated food and my one-woman tent. My travelling companion Sue was bringing her map-reading expertise to the party. I haven’t read a map for hiking for years and what I’d done has been mainly classroom-based.
We set off at the start of the Clarendon Way, planning to make it to the 15-mile point by evening, with everything bundled into my Kitmonster http://www.snugpak.com/outdoor/rucksacks/kitmonster-65 (I swear I had enough kit for weeks in the wilderness).We passed red phone boxes, horses out for the hunt and tiny post-offices. Sue treated me to an ice cream at the first village, as I had brought no money with me (note to self, most places in the UK are within striking distance of civilisation. And the morale that comes from an ice cream cannot be underestimated).
Sitting outside the shop, having dumped our packs, it was like stepping back in time. Villagers coming to the post office passed the time of day, the sun came out through the fog and it was all rather wonderful.
I thought I’d done quite well on the map reading, and Sue was quite happy for me to take the lead and follow the route through copses, over fields and streams. I was actually able to identify features, track where we were on the map, and find our way. It felt pretty good, and I was confident I hadn’t messed up.
My kit was becoming heavier with each mile (of course it wasn’t, it was the same – or even a bit lighter as we ate our way through some of the contents), but it was a blessed relief when we stopped by a pretty stream to eat gingerbread and play pooh sticks (I did say it was like we’d stepped back in time!).
We reached our destination at around 1600, and there was time to grab a cold drink at the local pub before establishing my micro-adventure camp for the night. I’d recced a suitable spot well outside the village on the way in, and as the light started to fade, I said goodbye to Sue and set off back up the hill. I wanted to get my tent up before nightfall.
There are certain things which add comfort, and a large dose of morale, when you’re out in the field alone. Although I’ve been tempted by tales of travelling light and sleeping under the stars in just a bivvy bag, my lightweight tent, set up with my sleeping bag and roll mat, was inviting and cosy.
I know a tiny sheet of canvas will offer little protection from determined axe-murders but I still feel much safer inside my little domain. I don’t think about it often, concluding that it would have to be some extremely patient opportunist who wandered about in the hills hoping to come across lone travellers.
The spot I’d chosen was under a hedge, offering a tidy wind break for cooking supper. I pulled on my ML9 (http://www.snugpak.com/outdoor/clothing/ml9-softie-smock) as it’s surprising how quickly you cool down once you stop working. When you’re outside, most things taste amazing but my Expedition Foods pasta was actual food, and was as good as any I’d tasted.
After that, to conserve phone battery, I read a few poems from a book I’d borrowed from the pub. Having walked for seven hours with my kit, and having completed my tent routine for the night, I didn’t mind going to sleep, even though it was only about 7 o’clock.
As predicted by the met forecast, the rain pluttered lightly on the tent from 4 am, and I was thankful again that I’d brought my tent with me. It’s one of life’s great pleasures; being warm and dry inside your tent while the rain falls outside. I drifted off till dawn, when I woke and made a hot breakfast. Packing away in just the right order to keep everything as dry as possible till the last moment takes some practice, and not a little time, so an hour after I woke, I was fed and packed away ready to go.
Amazingly, even now I was alone, I managed to read the map – it must be something like how we feel as children when we realise we can read and the answer is right there in front of us. I could identify to the nearest 50 metres or so where I was, which meant I didn’t get lost. It sounds so simple when you say it like that, but I was chuckling to myself at my luck at knowing exactly where I was.
Things I should have brought: money, something to read (I promise I’ll take the book back).
Lessons learned: fablon your map! Pointing at your map with a blade of grass (for accuracy) makes you look like you know exactly what you’re doing.