Persistent readers will no doubt be aware that for the last few years, I’ve had a camping out competition with my daughter, who does quite a few camps due to her involvement in several sections of the Scout movement. We did it again this year, but with 2018 being A Level year, it was pretty obvious I’d almost certainly win. In the end I won convincingly and broke a record in the process.
Ever since I began wild camping in 2012, the number of camps has been on an upwards trend almost every year. I’ve now camped out around 31 times a year in the last 3 years (30, 32 and 31 respectively). Of these 2016 and 2017 both featured 26 wild camps, reflecting me forcing myself to camp out at least once a month in 2016, and doing my first TGO Challenge in 2017. In 2018, however, 30 of my 31 camps were wild, reflecting both the conversion of tame camps to wild on the 2018 TGO Challenge and the lack of social camp meetups. In terms of stats alone, 2018 would rank as the best year for camping yet. But was it really ?
In the equivalent round-up last year, I mentioned that I was quick out of the blocks with a camp on 3 January, but I surpassed that in 2018, heading out for a walk and camp while New Years Eve revellers were still travelling home from their debauchery. I started 2018 by starting the Essex Way on 1 January, with the first camp that evening.
This camp reminded me of one thing – much as I loved my Snugpak Ionosphere, which is a great tent for stealth camping in the lowlands, it’s a terrible choice for winter camping. You can’t sit up in it on a long winter’s night, so you either freeze sitting outside or spend 16 hours horizontal. This camp proved to be the last outing for this shelter and I moved it on shortly afterwards. 2018 has seen me embrace camping comfort whole-heartedly. To that end, I replaced the Ionosphere with a Wild Country Helm 1, which I picked up from the seconds bin direct from Wild Country at a good price. Camp number 2 of 2018 and the second section of Essex Way was its first outing.
So much better. I could sit up in this. But it came at a price, being 300g heavier than the Ionosphere, and it is now my heaviest one man tent. But this is largely irrelevant to me as it really doesn’t matter to me how heavy a shelter is for my lowland walks. I loved this tent immediately.
Camp 3 saw me on a quick getaway to Dartmoor in an attempt to kickstart TGO Challenge training. A night at arguably my favourite (if judged by the number of times I’ve been there) camp spot on Dartmoor in my trusty Scarp 1.
January done and already 3 camps to the good. Rebecca also managed two camps with the Explorer Scouts, so the game was very definitely afoot already.
A further 3 camps followed in February – firstly a local overnighter in the new Helm 1:
Then the next chunk of Essex Way, again with the Helm 1:
Then finally I cracked and took Rebecca on a local camp out, knowing it would shrink my lead due to our scoring system:
The score now 6-4 to me in points (6-3 in camps), I set about building a bigger lead knowing Rebecca was now fully in the throes of A Level revision. I headed back over to the North Downs:
Then Cath and I, both childhood (and truth be told, adulthood too) fans of Arthur Ransome’s books, we set off on a pilgrimage to Secret Water, which is really Hanford Water near Harwich in Essex. A frosty night on the north sea coast ensued with snow falling on the walk into Harwich next morning. Again my new toy came out to play.
April now upon us and TGO Challenge prep stepped up a gear with a solo Lakes trip, using the overnight coach to maximise the time available. A route from Coniston to Keswick gave me 2 nice camps and plenty of distance and ascent.
Then the TGO Challenge was upon me, with the blow delivered by Paul a couple of weeks before – he pulled out, leaving me to do our joint route solo. A shame as some stunning camps were to be had:
May gave Rebecca 3 camps, leaving the post-TGO score at 20.5 – 7 points (21-6 in number of camps). The TGO may have effectively have won me the competition by itself, but it also broke my health. Hitherto dormant asthma rose up and overwhelmed me between Dalwhinnie and Braemar. I got to the end just. I didn’t get on top of it until August, which slowed down my camping over the summer. I did make a point of getting out, though, in part to test how I handled it.
By now I’d taken the decision to part with my Hexpeak and Duomid and to just have an all year-round mountain tent (the Scarp) together with a summer / fast and light lowland tent and a winter lowland tent (the Helm 1). The Stealth 1.5 made its debut on the shores of the Thames on my first post-illness camp in late June. A statement of intent, if you like, of getting back down to things. A meetup with Colin to walk the first bit of the Saffron Trail followed in July.
With the asthma seemingly stabilised, it was time to tackle somewhere more demanding, so I headed to Dartmoor for first some daywalks with Paul and Cath, then a crossing of the moor from north to south. This 3 day / 2 night backpack showed things were under control. It wasn’t without incident though with the discover of a dead Dartmoor pony in a stream!
This trip just further confirmed that the Scarp 1 is by far my favourite shelter whatever the conditions, and triggered the offloading of my excess tents.
August was over and so was Rebecca’s competiton (final score 16 points from 15 camps). With me on 26.5 points from 27 camps, I wasn’t quite done yet:
First a local camp at a spot I’ve used before, and which is likely to be obliterated when the lower Thames crossing is built.
Then, desperate to get to the Lakes after an intensive couple of months doing art stuff, I walked from Silecroft to Rosthwaite, using the sleeper train to maximise the time:
Looking back, it has felt like I haven’t been out much, but this is overly coloured by my health issues over the summer reducing my walking and camping significantly, and then leading into a period preparing for and holding art exhibitions. A storming first part of the year, actually made it a statistically quite a full year. So what were the highlights ?
Best camp sunset/sunrise and best camp view – there can be only one contender for this: the camp on Rannoch Moor on the TGO Challenge. I was gutted for Paul that he missed out on this. He was really looking forward to walking through this view.
Highest Camp of the Year – Allen Crags, just east of the summit, so altitude of about 775m.
Lowest Camp of the Year – Higham Saltings, approx 2m above sea level.
Stealthiest Camp of the Year – My 3rd Essex Way camp where due to not finding a spot where I’d hoped I ended up walking further and pitching in the corner of a field near Coggeshall in the dark.
Best Performing Shelter this Year – Scarp 1, with an honourable mention for the Helm 1.
Overall Camp of the Year – well it has to be Rannoch Moor, doesn’t it.
And so another year of camping draws to a close. It’s difficult to believe I’ve now got 140 wild camps under my belt. I’m looking forward to pushing that number a bit higher next year, helped of course by my third TGO Challenge (this time hopefully with Paul making it to the start line). But it will be tricky to fit them in outside of the Challenge, due to a pretty full year of work commitments. This will likely see a lot more local one night camps and less camps in the hills. And with my art activities growing ever bigger, this will further restrict the opportunities to sleep out. At the same time the need to get out for a camp is likely to be strong, as a diversion from all of those other things. It will be interesting to see if I can maintain the pattern of recent years.