I spent last night sleeping in a bivi bag on the side of a hill. My first camping trip since February. It felt good!
The Covid 19 lockdown has been difficult for everyone, so I’m not looking for any special sympathy when I say how much I’ve missed being able to head for the hills with everything I need on my back. It helps me to clear my head and renew my enthusiasm for life. I’d missed out on three planned trips, including the 2 week TGO Challenge, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I found May difficult; my mood was very low indeed. I’m sure people have written better than I can about the sense of loss that lockdown has generated. I realised a few weeks ago that it was as if I’d been through a grieving process for the loss of my freedom. So many mixed and negative emotions before I arrived at acceptance and was ready to move on.
Living on the Wirral peninsula, the North Wales hills are my usual destination for overnight camps. The Clwydian range is less than 30 miles away, which is closer than the Peak District, and I can easily get there by car and (less easily) by train. However, one noticeable lesson from the Covid response is that the UK is not as United as I had thought, with the 4 nations all having their own rules. I’d tried to find out whether an overnight camp in Wales was now allowed but, of course, it would be surprising to find any legislation or government guidance which specifically mentioned that lying in a bin bag on the side of a hill was permitted. I relied on the fact that the 5 mile limit on travel had been relaxed and that people could now stay overnight in self-contained accommodation. Entering Wales, a matrix road sign advised me that “Welsh Covid rules apply” and I hoped that I wouldn’t meet any hostility.
Parking in a place I’ve often parked before, my mind flashed back to my last visit when I’d found myself up to my chest in freezing water. On that occasion I’d been grateful for a pot of hot tea in the community cafe but, on this trip, I’d have to be fully self-reliant; partly because I’m not yet comfortable with the idea of eating in a cafe and also because it seemed to be closed.
I headed North up Offa’s Dyke Path as I knew there’d be a choice of grassy hills to camp on. Chest height bracken has thwarted my plans in the past. I also wanted an exposed pitch where the breeze could scare off the midges; a reason I don’t often camp in the Summer.
Despite the thick cloud I could see quite a long way with Snowdonia just visible. I imagined how crowded the honeypots would be.
Throughout lockdown I’ve been for a walk every day. These have varied from a quick dash around the local park all the way up to a 15 miler with packed lunch. However, the Wirral is relatively flat and Offa’s Dyke Path isn’t, so I soon experienced the suprisingly pleasant feeling of being out-of-breath and having wobbly legs!
I had a couple of locations in mind for my camp site but had also planned to stop early if I found somewhere good. At one point I wondered if there might be a patch of clear ground amongst the heather so I left the path and made my way over the rough ground. It was a fruitless search, though, and I eventually turned back and continued on my original route. Actually, “fruitless” is the wrong word as the hillside was covered with those little blue berries which I never know the name of. Blueberries? Bilberries? Blaeberries? Whatever they’re called, they were very tasty.
At around 8pm I found somewhere to camp, blew up my mattress and put the stove on for a coffee. I was down the hill less than 10 metres from the path but I’d only seen two people and their dog all day and was confident I’d not be disturbed.
Dinner was some home-made Veggie chilli and pasta which I’d brought in a tub and only needed to warm up in my pan. For an overnight camp there’s no need to bother with lightweight dehydrated food. I was starting to feel chilly and it was good to get some hot food inside me as I watched the last shafts of sunlight fall on the hills ahead of me as the sun set at my back.
I woke a few times in the night, as usual. One thing I like about not having a tent is being able to immediately see what’s going on around me. Sunset was officially at about 9:30pm and I went to bed after the 10 o’clock news but I could still see quite well until 11-ish then, next time I woke up, it was dark. Sometimes when I woke there was a large patch of clear sky with millions of stars. At other times the cloud had spread back over and only a few brighter stars were visible. I saw no moon.
Sunrise was due to be just after 5am but the sky was getting lighter not long after 3.
At home I struggle to get up early but this morning I was having my breakfast at 6 and was packed up by 7.
The only photo I took of my campsite was this one when I had nearly packed up. No, my mattress hadn’t burst; I was just about to roll it up.
I took a different route on the walk back to the car and saw nobody until after 8 when a couple of cyclists went past. Back on the ODP I encountered a herd of cows, or possibly TWO herds as they were on both sides of a fence and blocking my access to the gate. I’d walked though several fields of cows already but had been able to give them a wide berth. These beasts were clustered either side of the gate and I had no choice but to walk towards them and hope they moved [or mooved]. I’ve heard horror stories about cows and walkers but I hoped that a confident approach, whilst not getting between mother and calf and keeping my eye on escape routes, would work. They were curious and a few stepped towards me but extending my arms and softly calling “G’wayyyy” encouraged them to step back. Once I’d gone through the gate and rejoined the path the cows seemed to lose interest in me.
Back at the car just after 9 I ate Breakfast No 2 whilst catching up with Twitter and was interested to see how many Likes I’d received for a poor quality photograph of the patch of flattened grass where I’d spent the night. An indication, I believe, that the majority of us who spend time in the hills do camp responsibly and care for our environment.
I was back home before 11 and, after a much-needed trip, I even enjoyed airing my kit and putting everything away. So nice to be finally able to do something so normal and which is such a positive part of my life.