The First Camp of the Year

I’m sitting here, as are many, wondering when I will be able to get out for a camp. A camp, any camp, and it doesn’t even need to have much of a walk to get to. What’s clear is that it won’t be anytime soon. This set me to thinking about past years and the pattern of camps then, and in particular how early in each year did I break my duck ? In addition, did the timing of the first camp of the year have any influence on the pattern for the rest of the year ?

In this post, I’m looking back over the first camps of the year, for all years where it seems relevant. I’m ignoring those (largely pre-wild camping) years where camping was really just a summer family event on a “normal” campsite. I’m really just interested here in backpacking-related camping.

This means that 2007 is included, being the year I can first recognizably be said to have been backpacking in some form. The years 2008 to 2011 aren’t included as the only camping done was the summer family holiday type.

First we’ll look at each year, then the patterns, and look forward to what 2021 might look like.

2007

2007, and my first “proper” backpacking trip started in April, at the start of my 3 month work sabbatical. All of the camps, though, were Tame camps using “proper” campsites. In this case, the first night being at Coniston Hall, moving on later to Buttermere. This was also before I routinely took photos of my pitches, so the best I can do is a picture of the general area of the campsite.

2007 went on to inaugurate the Official Annual Birthday Camp, which originally begun as an exercise in escaping my daughter’s birthday party, which that year comprised a house full of shrill 7 year old girls. The boy and I legged it to Wales. I returned to the Lakes in June to round off my sabbatical, this time basing myself in Langdale, where we also returned as a family for a week’s camping later on.

In all, 2007 yielded 14 nights camping, spread over 3 months, all of which were “tame”.

2012

A brand new Scarp 1 pitched for the first time in the garden

An improvement of sorts for 2012, with the first camp of any kind being in March, although it was in the garden. The occasion was the testing out of my new tent. 2012 was the year I concluded that wild camping was going to be needed to finish the Wainwrights, especially with my rule about doing them car-less. I also concluded that my Decathlon tent probably wasn’t going to cut it, and so the Scarp came on the scene.

The very next camp that year was my first wild camp in May. I went on to rack up 9 wild camps, 5 tame camps, and to camp in 7 months of the year.

2013

Wildcamp #010: Little Carrs

2013 again started in March, but clearly was up a notch from 2012. My first winter conditions camp. The year saw every camp being a wild camp, although the total itself was a relatively modest 15. It was spread across 7 months, so it was several small trips. I would say 2013 was the year I actually started to enjoy wild camping.

2014

Wildcamp #025: Little Mell Fell

Another March start on a Lake District fell. Actually a whole week earlier than 2013, but what a difference in conditions. I went on to score 14 wild camps plus 13 tame camps spread over 7 months. The number reflected a relatively light work year, so more time for backpacking.

2015

Wildcamp #039: King’s Tor, Dartmoor

2015 took everything up a level, with the first camp being in January. Not just January, but the first week. This was the start of the tradition of the New Year Dartmoor trip. 2015 was also a year that I set myself the challenge of camping in every month. This resulted in 20 wild camps with a further 3 tame camps. The total itself isn’t especially spectacular, but this reflects a heavier work year and less big trips.

It also featured the first time I camped in December, marking the achievement of my challenge. It’s also the year with the greatest time between first (6th Jan) and last (29th Dec) camp, or in other words my longest camping “season”. I’ve beaten both those dates individually, but never in the same year.

2016

Wildcamp #059: “Clay Corner”

Back to the previous pattern in 2016, with a March start, and even that was only a local one. Again this was driven by work patterns. Things improved from the spring onwards, and I notched up 30 camps, of which 26 were wild, and covered 9 months – so every month from the first one up to November. These highest ever, so far, totals were fueled by a competition with my daughter: she was doing a lot of camping with the Scouts.

2017

Wildcamp #085: Shelstone Tor

2017 pulled back the start date record by a few days with a 3rd January camp at Shelstone Tor on Dartmoor. Notable for its coldness, and a small conflagration inside the tent, which didn’t actually make it noticeably warmer. The year went on to be my most prolific year yet for total camps (32), of which 26 were wild. I covered 10 months. The total was massively helped by my first TGO Challenge.

2018

Wildcamp #111: Essex Way

2018 set the record for the earliest start, and it’s a record that can’t be beaten. I headed out so early on New Year’s day that people were still making their way home on the tube. I eventually dossed down in a meagre strip of woodland alongside the Essex Way.

Another 10 month year, yielding 31 total camps, of which 30 were wild – a record that hasn’t yet been beaten. Again the TGO Challenge had a significant influence on the result.

2019

Wildcamp #141: North East Essex Coast

Another January start and the conclusion of the project started the previous January – the Essex Way. I just failed to complete it within the calendar year. 2019 went on to cover 7 months and rack up 21 total camps (18 of which were wild), the totals again being massively influenced by the TGO Challenge. Indeed, remove the effect of that and it would be considered a poor year – again this reflects work patterns.

2020

What can I say.

2020 started in March with the first of many camps in the garden. So 2 lost months in hindsight, although I suspect if I’d got out properly in January or February, it might have made being restricted to the garden feel much worse from March to May.

Not surprisingly, I did a total of 13 nights camping in the garden in 2020. I didn’t get out for a wild camp until July, and then managed to notch up 10, of which 7 came from my only two “proper” backpacking trips of the year to Dartmoor.

In total 7 months had a camp, although 4 of those only had garden camps. It was very much a year to make do with what you had.

Patterns

This small number of years isn’t really enough to draw proper statistical conclusions from. But there are some clearly observable patterns of behaviour.

It goes without saying that years in which work commitments are lighter result in more backpacking trips and more camps. It doesn’t really affect the split of wild and tame camps – when more committed to work, it is much more likely that I’ll nip out for a weekend stealthy overnighter locally. When working I’m much more likely to seek out a wild camp than be content with a tame campsite.

Months where the first camp is January tend to lead to me camping in more months overall – unsurprisingly. They’re also the only way I ever seem to make it to a February camp, as I have never started the year in February. I think this is simply the additional motivation that comes from starting early and the desire to maintain the momentum.

Years with January first camps, equally unsurprisingly, also tend to lead to higher camp totals for the year. Even so, the effect of my work pattern is greater, as even in years where I start in March, I can still achieve decent numbers of camps through the greater opportunity of a lighter work schedule.

2021

It’s very difficult to make predictions for 2021, for obvious reasons. But I can at least apply my past behaviour patterns to the current situation and come up with some idea of what I think might happen in camping terms.

We’re pretty much guaranteed to remain in lockdown until the end of January, so there will be no wild camps. I also don’t expect lockdown to ease in any significant way that will enable wild camps in February. Even March is in question, especially if I employ my rule to leave a couple of weeks after restrictions ease before venturing out – simply I’d rather let the nutters get their orgy of new found freedom out of their systems before I head out.

If I do make it out in the first quarter it’ll be a local stealth overnighter, along similar lines to my last pre-lockdown camp (above). I don’t expect to hit the hills until April at best, and possibly not until May, when I’m really hoping the TGO Challenge goes ahead. And that could be a real challenge, given fitness levels will be severely compromised.

Notwithstanding all of the inherent challenges this year, I have set myself the goal of camping every month, which clearly means some pretty cold camps in the garden to start the year off. We’ll see if I’m able to extrapolate this into a full 12 months of camps out. Certainly, public health matters aside, I expect to have a favourable work situation for wild camping in the second half of the year, and if the stars align, it could yet turn into a productive camping season.

I’m also hoping that a little lockdown project I’m thinking of doing will further enhance my camping mojo and help get things back on track. But more about that at a future date…

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