East Anglian Wildcamping. (Vango Banshee 200)
I don't talk about my actual wild camps on here as a rule, as there are tons of people already doing that much better than I could. I thought that I'd document this one though as it would have answered some of my questions a few years ago, so hopefully it'll be helpful.
I live in Suffolk. It's in East Anglia and probably about as far away as any traditional wild camping locations as you can get. We have Thetford forest nearby but I wanted to try wild camping somewhere that was within hiking distance (about 10 miles for me). This is not an easy feat, as I was about to find out. Interestingly, the legality is the same as most places, but I guess if you're wild camping somewhere where it doesn't usually happen, you are much more likely to come up against people getting the 'wrong impression'.
At this stage I suppose I had better say where I stand on the whole wild camping rights question, and
I do have mixed feelings on that to be honest.
My Dad is a farmer by trade, so I've seen first hand how frustrating it can be to find that someone has set foot on your land, and knowingly, or unwittingly done damage. I remember times that my Dad would come back and be swearing about all kinds of trespassers. Interestingly, he used to say that actual organised ramblers were among the worst for litter, straying off of footpaths, and being super balshy when asked to keep to paths etc. So yes, I don't agree that trespassing, which is what wild camping essentially is, is always a good idea.
On the other hand, I'm far more of an open minded 'hippy' than my old man. I'm a firm believer that as I pay (in tax) towards their upkeep, and I've taken time to learn outdoors skills, and know where it is safe and reasonable to camp, I should, somehow be legally entitled to sleep the night on a piece of forestry commission land, or a beach. Someone owns virtually everywhere in England, but I don't believe that being born into a family name should give you the right to 'own' the land that really, is just wild countryside. This should be public owned. It's not 1750.
I believe that a good thing to do with regards to wild camping, would be to open up some suitable sections of the UK to campers, introduce a skills test (bit like a driving test), to show you can be responsible, and maybe a fee based license to wild camp, a bit like a fishing license.
These are my views and I realise others will differ greatly. Feel free to comment (constructively).
Whenever I camp, I plan everything as best I can, even in a local 'safe' environment. I like wild camping to feel spontaneous to an extent, but not planning for contingencies or weather, or walking route etc is just asking for trouble.
This trip was no different. I looked on Google Maps, and my Ordinance Survey for the area and found a likely bit of ancient woodland that looked large. I decided that I would go to that, wing it and find a spot from there.
Unfortunately, when I got there I noticed a lot of Game keeping equipment, hides, and general signs of activity. I decided that I would not camp here and walked on.
After what seemed like miles with nowhere suitable looking, and with a growing sense of desperation and the feeling that I might have to turn tail and go home, (so much for the afore mentioned planning) I stumbled across a rickety old gate, which had an overgrown footpath toward it. I checked the map and it was in fact a public byway. Not far down this, was a small area of dense woodland with an old track down the middle. There was evidence of old gamekeepers equipment here, but it was rotten, overgrown and very quiet. Absolutely no evidence that anyone used this land for anything. It was this, or go home so I bit the bullet and looked for a decent camping spot.
With Dog walkers being my biggest risk of detection, I decided to pitch my tent as late as possible. I got my cooking gear out, made a cup of tea and commenced eating. Camping and walking always makes me want to eat constantly and there is nothing nicer than postponing your gratification, knowing that in your rucksack you've got the means to make a delicious, hearty meal.
So eventually, I set up my tent. This is the first time I've used a Vango Banshee. And it's as good as I was hoping. It really is a mainstay of wild campers these days. It's not as light as some, but I haven't got hundreds to spend on anything technical. If I lived near Dartmoor, or The Lakes, I would no doubt have all of that, but going just a few times a year, to me it's not worth it. And as I've said in previous posts, I really don't see all of that expensive stuff as being totally necessary. In fact, for me it's part of the challenge to camp comfortably for less. I can't think of one item that's anywhere near top of the range, and I'm always super comfy. Maybe I carry a couple of extra kilos than some, but so what. I can hack it.
Anyway, the night drew in, and I set up my camp proper. This has to be one of the most serene wildcamps I've ever done. It was one of those nights where the sun set was almost red, it was warm but not too much, and literally all there was to hear were birds and rabbits rustling around. (at least I assume that's what they were). I quickly forgot my concerns about being caught and just relaxed. My main strategy for being caught doing this (I never have), is just to be honest with the person. Tell them I'm an outdoor enthusiast, that I know it isn't strictly legal but am responsible and will leave without a trace. Then if they are still shirty, I'll just go. I always keep a tenner on me in case its the landowner too. In this case, paying rent would be more than fair.
I slept solidly and woke up to a dewy cool morning. Not wanting to leave, I packed up and cleared the site. Another one done and I had that familiar feeling of tired achievement, with a hint of sadness that I had to go. It's waking up in places like this that really gets you thinking about what's important in life. Mainly this time it was how work was really getting in the way for me. Same for most of us I guess.
I walked home, and commenced relaying my adventure to my wife incessantly. She wasn't listening I could tell. I didn't care. The whole point of Wild camping for me is the personal experience, and that's now locked up in my head with all the rest.