Robin Hood’s Bay

This is one of my first overnight excursions and it took place in February 2015 with a good friend of mine. In fact its the only over-nighter I’ve done where I was not alone. He lives in Robin Hood’s Bay which is a beautiful place just outside Whitby (therefore I hate him!). He also had made friends with someone who owned some land and allowed us to camp overnight and have a fire (therefore I hate him more! :))

After a day seeing the sites at Whitby Abbey (where Dracula landed in Bram Stokers book) and purchasing Jet/Fossil pendants for a certain someone’s birthday We hiked up to the spot which was a small way over hills and roads. He navigated with his ordinance survey map. We were inexperienced and carrying way more kit than we needed so it was a good workout. He even brought some coal from his home (its a coal burning area with a working steam train so the smell of it is everywhere).

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We where ground dwelling with him in his British Army Goretex Bivvy bag using multiple yoga mats as insulation from the ground. I was using a multimat inflatable pad, the heaviest tog sleeping bag I could buy from Argos (which was huge!) and a gelert treated nylon Bivvy bag.

We set a fire and spent the night drinking and chatting (with me drinking rather more than him I’m afraid to say)

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I made an attempt to make a fire reflector as per the SAS survival handbook. It was a paltry effort made of twigs – I know know this is supposed to be made of logs and more like the wall of a log cabin! I was certain I could feel the benefit but my companion was not so sure.

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I’m sure that coal is not a normal wild camping accessory but it was greatly appreciated.

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At the time I was still using a milt-tec GI canteen with aluminium cup – in fact i had brought two. I have subsequently ditched them in favour of the BCB crusader kits because the Aluminium cups are to hot to hold or drink from when the contents are heated. Also eating from Aluminium is not a good idea anyway. Furthermore the bottles weren’t BPA free and not rated as food grade plastic (!WTF?) and they leeched into the water and made it smell and test bad. It was early days….. I also cooked canned soup on the fire by placing the can directly in the fire.

We were in a nice spot high up overlooking the bay but also close to a road so we’d see a double decker bus roll past every now and again 🙂 I was thrilled to walk to the road and see that out fire looked like a pixel in the darkness – we weren’t attracting any attention.

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After a while the cold and lack of things left to consume got the better of us and we went to bed. I don’t remember being too cold but am convinced I had a bad nights sleep – my companion assures me I was snoring like a werewolf within seconds and stayed that way all night.

I was first to awake and there was a heavy frost on the ground. Note that my sweaty feet had ‘breathed’ out of my nylon bivvy bag and frozen!

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The thermometer showed we were around -2c which is pretty impressive for people who don’t know what they were doing and using improvised kit.

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Still – putting my crunchy boots on was entertaining;

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I have no photos to document the kerfuffle but this was the first time I encountered the Trangia burners resistance to actually doing anything useful when cold (seriously aren’t these designed for use by the Swedish military??!!?!). I spent much time with the burner in my armpit and repeatedly trying to light the meths as my companion looked on with an increasingly weary look on his face.We had entirely broken camp and packed up before I managed to get a cup of water boiling. Not what you want for breakfast in these temperatures. For the sub zero morning cuppa I think its ok to use a lighter and a hexi tab = it just works! Use a stick stove if you want to be more of a purist but you deserve that morning beverage damn it! And of course the final kicker was that we were drinking from Aluminium cups – which meant we couldn’t actually put out lips to the rim without burning them until the drink was cooled down. Bit of a waste of energy.. this is why I love the pattern 58 Osprey plastic cup with the BCB crusader cup. You pore the boiling water into the plastic cup and you can actually enjoy a hot drink right when you need it most.

On the way back my friend decided to hike past the beach to show me the boggle hole. For all my big talk all I did was moan about how tired and cold I was, how heavy my pack was, how Ill fitting my boots where etc… I should imagine this is why he hasn’t been quick to reorganise another excursion 🙂 besides he lives there so is used to the hills, acclimatised to semi mountaineering anytime he needs a pint of milk. A lovely part of the world to walk through though;

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The Boggle hole

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After hiking all the way down to the beech we then had to hike all the way back to the top of the hill to get back to his house. Where I showered and passed out! While he proved himself the true alpha male by not only staying awake but also engaging in building work! wow 🙂

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Scotland – Day one

I had occasion to spend a weekend in Scotland which was awesome as they have the laws up there to support wild camping. Check out the Scottish Outdoor Access information.

Id flown into Edinburgh before but this was my first time driving on my own. I had about 48 hours to get stuck in.

The first night my intention was to get to the Galloway forest park due to the amazing starlight photography Id seen. Its an area known for its low light pollution levels. Unfortunately it was cloudy when I was there so I didn’t get to see much of the night sky.

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I saw quite a lot of campers as I traversed the roads through the park. Family’s in tents and individuals. It was quite busy actually. There was also a lot  of traffic and the issue became finding a spot out of the way that would be safe for me to park and pitch.

Safety was a concern because the open access rules means everyone knows you will be camping here. Its not some inaccessible highland, its a big park with roads running through it where people drive to spots and then camp nearby. I stopped my car at one spot and went down the hill 10 yards to check out the area and a guy drove past, stopped, reversed and got out of his car. I was already walking back to the car as he was looking through the window to see if there was anything worth nicking. I coughed loudly enough to let him know I was there – he didn’t look at me or say anything he just immediately returned to his vehicle and we both drove away in opposite directions at the same time.

In the end I followed a logging road up to the summit of a hill where a lot of logs had been stock piled. It was the end of the road and also an ugly industrial scene. So I went back down the road a while till I came to a nice scenic spot with a place to pull in and park the car. I figured it would be a safe spot as if there was nowhere to go via the road then surely there would be less traffic? This proved to be untrue 😉

It was a lovely spot with a treeline on the edge of a lake.

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There was an existing fire pit so I had no qualms about starting my own fire.

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There was a couple of nice trees right next to the shore that were perfect for my hammock;

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And there was a great view from the hammock too

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I was lucky with the weather. There was no rain and the clouds cleared up in the early evening – it was warm and sunny. This I had not expected for Scotland! I got a bit of a tan…

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As a consequence I didn’t set up the Basha, besides I wanted to see the stars at night. I had my 3 season bag and British Army Goretex bivvy bag with me if it got wet. I used the Vango Aero Standard self inflating mat to insulate the underside of the hammock.

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As the sun got longer and the fire got bigger the scene and colours changed constantly. It was very beautiful. There were no bugs out – or if there were the fire kept them at bay

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At one point a convoy of cars pulled up and stopped. They all got out and looked at me as they discussed matters between themselves. As far as I could make out it was the lad’s birthday and the family and friends had come out to camp and have a party. He seemed dismayed as it sounded like he’d been to all his usual spots and this was the last one he knew of that might be available (like I said it was busy!) I felt so guilty I was about to pack and leave when they all just drove off… so I stayed.

I continued to enjoy the colours as I got dinner underway.

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Using the BCB cook kit as intended – boil in the bag food then use the water for a brew. No mess, no cleaning. Dispose of the waste on the fire;

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As the evening wore on the brew made way for the sour mash 🙂 (nb the cans in the picture where not mine and I made an effort to tidy up when I left).

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Time to get the head torch ready before dark

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As per Lofty Wiseman in the SAS survival hand book I always put my batteries in with one turned the wrong way to break the circuit. This stops the torch from accidentally being turned on in your bag and draining the power source;

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As the night drew in I decided it was time to attend to another important function of the camp

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By which I mean the Latrine! I have a tiny fold up trowel I use to dig a hole that can be filled in afterwards. Its better to dig the hole before you need it I’ve found 🙂 Place the hole near a tree so you can hold onto the tree as you squat over the hole (and thereby miss the clothing around your ankles!). Its a fact of life and in the middle of no where the facts of life require more thought than at home. Certainly only a heathen would do their business in such a way that others might have to deal with it in future. The trowel was next to useless. One of these days I’m going to get an entrenching tool! Digging sticks are a waste of time. Also there were millions of spiders in the grass. They had massive white bodies and even as you walked hundreds of them would run out from under your foot fall. I wouldn’t want to ground dwell here.

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It was getting dark and the whisky was gone…. so I had to use my hip flask 🙂

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It was about this time that I heard a load of screaming and tires tearing up the road. It sounded like a big gang of people making a right noise… and they were heading right for me! It occurred to me that sitting at the end of a single lane – dead end road hadn’t been the best idea as I now had no where to run to!

It took about 30 seconds for me to untie the hammock and get my kit in the boot of the car and I hovered with keys in hand listening to work out what to do.

After a while I realised they had stopped some way down the road and seemed content to make their noise down there. I decided they were just out for a good time and I should stop worrying about it. Besides drinking and driving is not a good thing – which is something to consider when wild camping – once you open the bottle you are pretty much commuted to whatever happens.

So I set the camp up again and got into bed. I stayed awake as long as I could watching the sky to see the stars but I couldn’t see much due to the cloud cover. Oh how I long for a night time camera setup…

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I woke up once about 5 as the mat had moved beneath me and I was cold. If you read my post about underblankets you’ll understand that this is something to be aware of with hammocks. I took some snaps of the early morning sky and then fell asleep again

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It was a very warm night and maybe it was the highland air – or the vast quantities of JD! but I didnt wake till 1400hrs!!!!!! Ive never slept that well camping before.

This  wasn’t a great thing as I was actually awoken by dog walkers. Seems my off the beaten track spot was actually a very popular walking spot. It made me wonder how many people had walked past me as I snored and how lucky I was none of them had nicked my kit or car or had a go at me. Lucky they weren’t all like the guy who checked out my car the previous evening. lucky will only get you so far though…

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It was a balmy afternoon though – very warm and peaceful

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It was time for the (ahem) “morning” brew. No point building the fire so I deployed the bushbox folding stove. Its a great little stove that you can use with hexi tabs/gel or a trangia burner. Or , as in this case, as a stick stove by making a small fire with twigs and some cotton wool in petroleum jelly to catch a spark and get it going.

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When its new I found it hard to assemble and dissemblance because the way it was machined meant it seemed to get jammed on the joints. But once you get it right and use it once its easy to put together right because the sides of the panels that face  the fire become blackened. The only downside is when you’ve finished you wont be able to touch it to pack away for a long time as it retains heat for ages.

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I spent some time taking in the scenery and then broke camp (and filled in the latrine!) I picked up all the rubbish left by previous people (adhering to the open access rules!) and left. But its not hard to pack when your car is 100yds away 🙂

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There was an enormous bug on my car as I left

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On the way out I followed the road to Culzean castle (which I’ve been pronouncing wrong apparently)

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It was excellent – I was so lucky with the weather, west coast of Scotland and I felt like I was in St Ives!

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It was a great place to chill and try and work out where to sleep on night two.

Lake District

It was later October, I had 24 hours to myself and I decided to do an overnighter. Id never been to the Lake District so I decided to go there. I left around 6am and I found somewhere to sleep just as night fell. The next day I had time to watch the sun rise before I had to go back home. It was a pretty full on driving trip.

I did a whistle stop tour of the Lakes – I only managed to hit Bowness on Windermere, Windermere and Keswick really. First impressions after 20 minutes in each town was that it was like the touristy bits of Wales – like Betwys y coed, very pretty but chokka block of tourists and you could waste the whole day looking for parking that you would then pay through the nose for.

The lack of time and preparation offered by my window of opportunity worked against me as I had no idea where to go to strike out on a hike to the really scenic parts. As the night crept in I was resigned to only finding a spot to sleep, which was all I really wanted to do after driving all day. This was more of a reccy for future excursions than anything.

As per usual the problem was where to park – there aren’t that many roads in the Lakes as far as I could tell, so those that exist are well used. There are the odd off road parking spots but they are exposed and easy prey for any ne’er do wells. I had read that you can stay overnight in most car parks – you pay up till 1900hrs and then add an extra £1 on to stay overnight but you aren’t permitted to sleep in the vehicle. That seemed fair enough but i kept on pushing north while the light was with me till I reached Buttermere .  There was a camp site at Syke Farm that allowed you to pitch when you arrived and pay in the morning. I seriously considered staying at the camp site but I had gone with my ground dwelling kit and didn’t have a tent. It was pretty awesome as campsites go full of interesting rock structures and some trees (where someone had pitched a hammock – along with didgeridoo) but I thought me in my bivvy bag in the middle of a field of tent dwellers would be a bit odd. Besides I had come to ‘wild camp’ not ‘boring camp’.

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So I went for plan B. I left my car at the camp site and then struck off towards Lake Buttermere to sleep – telling a fellow camper that I had to leave as I had no tent – they looked at me oddly as I walked away, I got that a lot though as all the people I met where wearing £600 of brand new hi grade scientific walking gear and I was wearing £100 worth of battered wildcamping kit and army surplus – I felt like a vagrant or swag man and I liked it 🙂

There were so many places to pitch a hammock – but I had decided not to do the hammock this time. I wanted to ground dwell. I was interested in seeing what it was like (Id only done it once before at Whitby, and partially at Thrapston) and I was interested to see how little I could get away with. I’m looking for the most minimal kit configuration possible and in the spirit of the microadventure this means getting by with a bivvy only. Ultimately id like to get everything I absolutely need in a 30l rucksack or smaller. One wise sage on a bushcraft forum said you should be able to get by naked with only a knife – to which another retorted you should be able to get by naked with nothing 🙂 that’s a tad extreme for me though..

The main issue I had was finding a piece of earth that was flat! I’m spoilt with hammock camping as I can sleep anywhere! I could pitch a hammock on the side of a volcano with lava flowing underneath but finding a flat piece of earth 6 feet long and 4 feet wide is like looking for unicorn doodoo in some parts it seems.

In the end I lay my head on the shore line of the lake. I found a spot with a good view as I hoped it would be a beautiful site to wake up to (like any one night stand I suppose).

I had been inspired by Paul Kirtley’s article “bushcraft on a budget” as I consider it a bit of a go to for the ideal loadout (its missing only latrine and food) so I had arranged the following equipment;

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from top left;

1. Small tarp from the pound shop as a moisture barrier
2. a PLCE molle pouch that I can put 24 hours food in. Normally this will be a couple of boil in the bag rice packets, some “look what we found” boil in the bag meals, a packet or two of beef jerky or biltong, a couple of cereal bars, some coffee sachets and my 8oz hipflask full of sourmash!
3. My modified BCB kit. I have the mk1 and mk2 kit. I decided that I dislike the Mk1 fuel crucible as its not multi-fuel, I dislike the mk2 crucible as its too big and I think it sits the Trangia burner at an inefficient distance from the cup, I like the mk2 mug size but I find that its too efficient at transferring heat so its as if it cools down as fast as it gets hot – as a consequence I’ve had times where it just wont boil, or full trangia burners run out of fuel before the water bubbles (ive never heard anyone else complain so maybe its just me). So my solution is the mk1 cup, osprey bottle and cup, the steel heavy cover lid and a bushbox folding stove with the BCB handle (which turns the mk1 cup into a billy can);

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It packs small into the original PLCE size pouch and gives me the best of all worlds, its multi fuel as I can use the stove as a stick stove or with hexi tabs/gel or a Trangia burner, I can cook on embers or I can use the add on handle to hang the cup over the fire Billy can style. I have a stowaway pot and look longingly at the Swedish m40 mess kit online but I cant escape the logic of the BCB kit. Instead of carrying my canteen and cook kit as two items I carry both as one nested item. Genius.

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4. A Kleen Kanteen flask. Paul Kirtley’s article advocated carrying 2 litres of water and I know how quickly one osprey bottle runs out. So another bottle is a must. I went for this item as its surgical grade stainless steel which means it wont leech into the water and I could purify the water in this bottle by boiling over the fire. Honestly if they made a stainless steel osprey bottle Id buy it in a second and the plastic one would be gone! Im aware of the pathfinder stainless steel canteen as a replacement for the osprey.. may be..one day….. The Kleen kanteen bottle is 750ml so im just under two litres here.
5. A Blacks 3 season sleeping bag. I do own the Czech army bedroll in Paul’s article but it is big! This was a sleeping bag rated to 2c for comfort and -14c for extreme. I cant remember its name but it was on sale. I keep it inside a British Army Goretex Bivvy bag and inside a 15L compression sack I bought from go outdoors. It can be a struggle to get it all in but once accomplished the compression sack works well and nearly halves the pack size.
6. Tools wrapped in a bandanna. The bandanna is used for lots of reasons including as a pre-filter for collecting water you intend to purify. I mainly use it to wrap up my Mora companion and folding pruning saw. The rational is that if I’m caught carrying an offensive weapon I hope that I can demonstrate that I’m carrying it for a useful reason and that I have made it inaccessible and therefore I’m not intending to use it as a weapon. I’m not sure how far that argument will get me.. It also contains my head torch. Its just a cheapo energizer torch. When I was camping on the lake there were some people on the other side with head torches and one of them was like a spotlight – it was illuminating the tree line on my side of the water. I’ve no idea what make it was but it was about a million lumins! I also keep a small first aid kit, a knife sharpener and some paracord in this bundle.
7. A tarp wrapped in Bungees with some paracord. Sticking with the bushcraft on a budget theme I left my basha out and went with this old tarp. I’ve wrapped it in bungees as compression straps but also to make it quick to deploy like the British army infantry (according to the ex-colleague and ex-infantry man I bought my actual basha from)
8. A vango Aero standard self inflating mat.  This was my main driver for going to ground. Id originally bought it for the hammock and always regretted it. But I had guests staying and there were more guests than beds. I used this for one of them on a hard floor and they said how comfy it was. I tried it and was amazed! it was a lot more supportive than any other mat I had, including my beloved nato closed foam mat. Its more like a mattress than a mat. with any other mat I would feel the floor on my hips or shoulders if i slept on my side but not with this one. On the web site they show it being deployed direct onto spiky rocks so I guess they are saying its durable too 🙂

The only thing not shown was the tissues I took for Latrine purposes. I was going to put it all in my newest rucksack the Swedish LK35 from militarymart.co.uk

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It has a metal frame and a single bucket canvas pouch. Its simple and can be heavily overfilled. Its very well designed. the weight sits on your hips and the straps are a doddle to adjust. The sinch straps on top can be used to hold a lot. Its also a great size. My British army bergen can accommodate almost anything – but the temptation it to fill the available space. I like the l35 as its a ‘sane’ amount of space. I always try to stick to myself imposed rule of strapping NOTHING to the outside. If it doesn’t fit in the bag it doesn’t go. It wasnt grade a so only cost about 12£ – it had some wear but…it was 12£!! 🙂

Having said that – I actually took a satchel with me with additional provisions – Bread, cheese, sausage and beer, classic Hobbit food.

There isn’t much to show for the evening as I got there at night fall and slept pretty quickly. I wish I had a camera that I could use at night because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. There was no moon but the valley was lit by starlight and the occasional light from cottages on the other side. The stars were reflecting in the water and I watched the great bear slowly move across the night sky while I ate bread, meat, cheese and quaffed ale. My night vision adjusted pretty well. I elected not to make a fire because I was exhausted, It was the Lakes and it seemed inappropriate. Also I was trying to stealth camp and I was sitting on a shore line (so I would have stood out for miles). I took a quick flash photo of the pitch though;

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There was no rain forecast and even if it did rain – I wanted the experience of trying to get by with just the bivvy. As such I didn’t setup the tarp. This also meant I could watch the stars, which is another reason to go with as little as possible. I watch a lot of fellwanderers vids on youtube and he talks about being stuck in your bivvy if its raining. There is obvious benefit of a having additional shelter – but if you can get away with it then open sky is always the way to go. Camp like a cowboy!

It was cold but not freezing. There was no wind. The entire valley was very peaceful and still. I could hear only an owl and a distant waterfall. Pretty soon all they could hear was my snoring! That’s a bad thing about stealth camping for me. As soon as I fall asleep I sound like a Trex chewing a chainsaw! I woke quite a few times during the first part of the night was I was sleeping horizontal to the water line, as there was a slight slope to the beach I keep feeling like I was tipping or about to roll. Eventually I changed the angle so I feel like I was sliding feet first instead…….. Every time I checked my compass it was always 4c – I never saw it dip below this. And it was the temp shown on my car read out when I got to it in the morning.

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gav_october_2016_lakes 230.JPGI cant remember the name but I’ve wanted one for a while. Id hoped to get one in Russia but didn’t get the chance. This one was cheap as chips but worth it. Not quite a balaclava but the straps can be fastened under the chin so keep your ears warm and it acts like a scarf too.

The mat held up really well and it was very comfortable indeed. I cant see any detail about temp ratings for it so I guess I need to sleep in the garden in really cold weather to see if it can cope.

I woke at around 0730hrs and it was still pitch black but I figured it was time for a brew before I broke camp and watched the sun rise. I used the Trangia burner.

One thing I’ve learned about these burners is that when you need them most they don’t work 🙂 This is because for a device invented in Scandinavia I’m always amazed that they don’t like being cold! A trick is to put it in your pocket or hold in under your armpit for a few minutes before you try to light it. I believe it because the meths need to have vapour because its the vapour that burns not the liquid. I know they make a priming pan for cold weather but this involves heating the burner with (wait for it) ….meths which would surely have the same problem? This one lit without too much trouble, not having a lighter I did have to use my firesteel to light some cotton wool and then light a twig from this to use as a match. The meths just weren’t taking the sparks from my tiny Bear Grylls key chain firesteel. Thanks to the heavy cover lid (the most expensive part of the kit next to the extortionate bushbox!) I soon had a rolling boil. And because of the plastic osprey cup I could enjoy my hot beverage instead of having to wait for it to cool down like a metal cup (so as to avoid third degree lip burns). BCB cook kit – you know it makes sense! (just please make a stainless steel osprey bottle)

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The way the sun rises it peaks through this crack in the mountains and sends a beam of light across a small section of the lake – its amazing!

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So a real shame I didn’t actually get to do any hiking or view the landscape from one of the summits, but I was ill prepared. I was only there for five minutes and no actual bushcraft took place.  It was, however, definitely worth the trip! The stillness was indescribable.

As I walked back to the camp site to get the car I could see all the campers waking up with their chairs and tables and tents and kettles and bowls and cutlery and radios and I just thought “they don’t know what they’re missing being a tramp” I drove up to the tea house the farm runs for breakfast and such, paid for my pitch and headed home.

I wonder if they heard me snoring.

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Salcey Forest

This was an August over-nighter in Salcey Forest Northamptonshire.

Its the largest forest in the Northampton area but is still quite small and criss-crossed with public footpaths, roads and bridleways. As a consequence its quite busy. Also its right next to the M1 motorway so if you are looking for peace and quiet you wont find it here..

Id been advised not to stay there because there is apparently a lot of crime in the area and its a regular place for urchins to pull into lay bays and have a party. But I wanted to get out and there aren’t that many options in this area.

I was using the a small kit list that fit into a 30L Tresspass rucksack. It was a false economy as I still needed a satchel to carry my food.

My kit was;

  • DD camping hammock: small and simple.
  • 1 season sleeping bag: This bag has been subsequently humanely destroyed as it was too cold even in the summer months – never save space by making yourself cold!
  • Gelert treated nylon bivvy bag: Ive used this bag in -2 and + 18c temps. I like it because it packs away to nothing (its an ant compared to the elephant size of my BA Gortex bag). I’ve seen it has mixed reviews saying there is too much condensation. I’ve never had this issue, but have noted its treated on one side only – so perhaps those who had issues used it inside out?
  • no tarp – no rain was forecast and I hoped to be protected by the bivvy if this proved wrong. I love seeing the stars and tree canopy from the hammock when I can.
  • Alpine stowaway pot – the famous seagull pot. A locked lid stainless steel marvel that acts as my cooking pot and bowl.
  • Trangia kettle – because I like to keep the water boiling and food heating roles separate (which is why I like the BCB boil in the bag system for space saving and ergonomic reasons)
  • Wood Gas stove – a copy of the famous original but it does the job and nests perfectly inside the alpine stowaway pot for storage.
  • Kleen Kanteen Bamboo stainless steel flask. This is a food grade steel flask that is safe to heat water in. Its beautifully designed but not quite a litre in size – I gambled it would be ok for an overnighter. I use this with the famous solution of fish mouth spreaders to turn it into a billy can to heat over a fire. It nests into some old rubbish aluminium camping mug I’ve had for years.
  • Assorted tools such as head torch, mora companion knife and milt-tec folding saw, a £1 folding trowel for latrine purposes, hand gel for the same and to act as a fire starter (it catches a spark from a fire steel!) cotton wool seeped in petroleum jelly as a fire starter ..etc..

There is a village nearby the forest where I found a place to park – stealth parking is an art. You want to park close enough to the destination that you can get back quick if you need to, but you have to look like you live there or are visiting – while also not stealing someone’s spot and trying not to get your car stolen or damaged. Most importantly you want your card to be safe and you don’t want to come back to a ticket or for it to have been towed away! I found a spot so there was only a small walk (I wouldn’t even call it a hike) to the woods.

Once I hit the forest I kept walking along the foot paths until the general public and dog walkers thinned out. I had to cross a few roads for this to happen. I’m always dismayed at how few wild places we have left in Britain. There are one or two local woods that are starting to come on due to the woodland trust planting them 20 or 30 years ago – but there is very little on my doorstep as its been swallowed up by roads or agriculture. When I spend time in Wales or Scotland I’m always blown away by the nature they have there. I recently had occasion to travel to Russia for work. I was staying in Domededovo outside Moscow. I was struck by how wild it was, its like in the UK we cut the forests down and then built on them, in Russia it seems like they built the cities inside the forest! The translator I was with was very proud of where he was from and said he was into camping and this was a normal pastime in the area. He tried to describe to me what shelter he used but had to resort to a google image to explain it – and guess what?… it was a hammock 🙂 He didn’t have a clue what DD hammocks where though, but I suspect Hammock camping is probably quite and ancient activity. It certainly the only thing that makes sense to me in a deeply forested area as far as I’m concerned..

I kept walking until the path was blocked by overgrowth – at this point I concluded I was far enough off the beaten track to consider making camp.

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The ground was full of debris so I wouldn’t want to have to clear the floor to ground dwell – also it would be inappropriate. Luckily with a Hammock that really isn’t an issue! I also found a spot that had an existing fire scar. So that’s bad form for the person who left it but I always think an existing scar is fair game. I assume they were engaged in similar activities as myself as I saw no other debris. It was right next to two tress at the right distance for my camp too. So I setup and started making dinner while i collected my own firewood.

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As night fell I ate and built my fire. I drank the contents of my hipflask and sharpened my knife. It was a fairly uneventful night I’m afraid to say. I chilled out and didn’t do much to write home about. While the environment was beautiful I could always here the traffic on the M1 which was disappointing. I enjoyed the night and watched the stars and tree canopy from my hammock.

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I slept well and was warm most of the night – I think I was disturbed once around 4 due to the cold – but it was August!

The morning was amazing – its such a fantastic thing to wake up to the forest and see it waking up too. To hear the birds and the insects, I saw a couple of Hares run through my camp. I lay there from sunrise till about 9 just watching how the sun rise filtered through the tree canopy and how the colours changed . Beautiful.

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I had a mellow breakfast then broke camp – attempted to fix the fire scar and then made my way home. The kit was small but I didn’t need much. Shame about the M1!

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DD underblanket

I’ve been using various pads and mats with my hammock for a few years trying to find the best combination of warmth and pack size. You need insulation underneath you in a hammock as you loose a lot of heat on your back as the air passes underneath – it wont take long (even on a warm day) to feel this effect.

The NATO closed foam mat is by far the warmest and works well with a hammock because it conforms to your body shape, the downsize is it packs big. You pretty much have to have it on the outside of your pack. I don’t like this because I want everything inside my pack. In this way I can use packs that don’t look like I’m intending to sleep overnight – this helps with the stealth aspect of wild camping. If you have a small pack that looks like you are on a day hike then its less suspicious than wandering onto land with a fully packed Bergen and mats strapped to the outside. Also its just easier to carry and I like to set ceiling limits on what I carry as that’s kind of the point of this game.

Inflatable mats work well as they can it inside your pack but they are vulnerable to punctures and ‘system failure’. Also the problem with all mats is that they move during the night so you often wake up cold and have to try and readjust the mat while lying on it (not easy).

Another downside to mats is they only provide warmth underneath you and not on the side. My preference is to use a wool blanket in the hammock because its easier to get in and out of the hammock, also the wool blanket feels more hardy and I care less about it getting wet or dirty or damaged by fire. You can use (and I have used) a sleeping bag in a hammock but they aren’t easy to get in and out of the hammock with and the zips (especially on mummy bags) are difficult to fully zip up when inside – I’ve also used the famous Czech Army Bedroll (which I love) but you have to be a contortionist of houdini’s ability to get it into the mummy configuration once in the hammock , and woe betide you if you have a sudden need to go to the toilet! You can use a sleeping bag inside a bivvy bag so that you can stand up to get into it and then lie down but if you are using a Tarp then  this can become tricky too (depending on the size of the tarp and how high it is above the hammock), I have a Yugoslavian army blanket (100%) wool which is good and thick but isn’t that wide. So its difficult to have a full wrap of single layer wool without feeling the cold on the sides somewhere. The blanket works well doubled up on top – this is almost too warm! but again you get the cold on the sides.

For all of these reasons I decided to try an underblanket and pulled the trigger on a DD underblanket. An underblanket is basically a sleeping bag that you attach to the underside of hammock so the air that gets trapped underneath is warmed by your body and kept there. Its also a wind barrier. The reason a normal sleeping bag on top of the hammock doesn’t work (as you will hear in every youtube post on the internet) is because sleeping bags rely on loft to trap your body heat – you produce the heat and the bag conserves it. When you are lying on the hammock the bottom of the sleeping bag is compressed, so loft is lost and heat too. In Scotland in August I was blessed with good weather, but even in a 3 season bag and bivvy bag with a Vango inflatable mat I still woke up cold because the mat had moved and the sleeping bag was compressed under me. By placing the underblanket beneath the hammock you dont lose loft so the problem is addressed. Also the underblanket fully surrounds the hammock so you get warmth on the bottom and the sides. Therefore using a wool blanket (or hammock quilt) is more viable.  The other attraction is that they can be compressed so they pack small. because I want to have minimal kit id be essentially swapping my pad for the underquilt – which means its less likely I would ground dwell but I will always want to find someway of using the hammock in preference to ground dwelling (who wants to sleep on the floor in the rain?  or on an incline? or on the pristine forest floor? or where dogs or other beasties are likely to come and check you out?). Besides I recently acquired a folding German mat from Combat Cellar in Northampton which folds tiny – its thin – but it would do in a pinch.

The underquilt comes with 4 bungy type cords that are tied off to the bag and have carabiners at the end. These ties offs are loose so you can retie them and adjust the rigging to your liking. DD say that every hammock after 2012 has loops that should accept these underquilt ties but I’m not sure about that. I bought my second DD camping hammock this year (because simplicity is divine) and it doesn’t have these loops. It doesn’t matter though because by adjusting the lengths of the tie-outs you you can use 4 at the head and 4 at the feet to clip onto the webbing at each end which bring the side of the quilt up flush with the hammock. You need to tighten the draw string on the sides, head end and feet end to make sure there is as little of an airgap as possible between you and the quilt. I like to sleep low in the hammock but you need enough clearance to keep the quilt off the ground. Im lucky enough to have two trees in the garden and I have slept outside for the last two nights as a test. I think its generally wise to test kit in the garden rather than Dartmoor 🙂 Its later September but its an indian summer and the coldest I saw it at was 10 degrees Celsius. There was wind chill though and last night it rained heavily around 5 am.

This is the basic setup (before I adjusted the rigging);

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Here is some detail of the bungy rigging

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Here is the hammock rigged with the Basha – you can see I’ve got it very low so trying to get in and out of this with a sleeping bag would be a nightmare! with the wool blanket though its a piece of cake.

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On both nights i just wore a tshirt and trousers. the first night I slept with no Basha as no rain was forecast – and I like to look at the stars whenever I get the chance! I slept with the blanket in a single layer on top and tucked in on the sides, I wore no hat. I woke up all the time because I was cold! but not from the sides or bottom, I was cold on top and on my head because of wind chill. Also when using the quilt you don’t sleep diagonally as easily so I was in a straight line, and because you cant use your arms as pillows at night (because its cold) my neck was aching. But the quilt was great! The second night rain was forecast so I rigged the Basha and this time I trusted the quilt to do its job and doubled up the blanket on top (the quilt can keep my sides warm). I still wore no hat but there was less wind because of the cover from the Basha. I also brought my inflatable travel pillow out of the garage. Very comfortable and warm nights sleep and the only time I woke was during the rain and that was only to smile to myself at how awesome it is listening to the rain hitting your tarp 🙂

So yes – a success! its going in my pack for the next trip to test it in anger. I might look at a DD tarp though. The Basha is awesome but its small. The very top and bottom of the hammock gets wet and there isn’t much space so if you were stuck in a downpour for any duration you wouldn’t have much space to move around/cook/brew etc..

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cheers!

 

 

 

Thrapston

This was both a planned and unintended over-nighter.

By which I mean I had every intention of staying out overnight, but the way in which it happened was unexpected: it seems that honesty goes a long way!

Sick of buying things speculatively online I had been looking for an army surplus store for a while – It seems that those that exist aren’t always great at having an online presence and as I’m not in the know it took me a while to find one locally.

The one I visited was in Thrapston in Northamptonshire UK, just outside Kettering. I bought a BCB crusader cookset (mk1) and was keen to try it.

It was later July and I had time off work.

I had an untested overnight bag in my car that I’d specced out for the summer months.

this consisted of;

1) a cheap mil-tec molle patrol pack from Amazon
2) a DD camping hammock
3) a Vango inflatable mat (on sale from go outdoors)
4) an apline stowaway pot (the seagul pot)
5) a british army basha (from my colleague at work who was ex-infrantry)
6) a no name wood gassifier stove from amazon
7) a mora clipper companion knife
8) a no name folding pruning saw
9) a tarp/moisture barrier from the £1 shop
10) a gelert adventure treated nylon bivvy bag
11) an ancient storm-shield X-700 one season sleeping bag
12) a head torch
13) a hygiene kit (alcohol lotion/loo roll/a cheap trowel etc..)
14) a satchel for food

It was supposed to be a low weight single bag with only food consumables not accounted for in the packing. This was possible because of the small pack size of the sleeping bag.

I filled up the food satchel at the local supermarket and I decided to drive around the local countryside till I found a good spot to do a spot of stealth camping.

After while I hadn’t spotted the right combination of site and secure parking to I pulled up at the entrance to a field to have a snack.

I was shortly disturbed by the farmer who was exiting the field.

He saw my kit in the back of the car and asked what I was doing – I was honest with him about my intentions.

To my surprise he was quite receptive and commented that I seemed to know what I was doing (I wouldn’t go that far but maybe he concluded I ‘probably’ wouldn’t burn his farm down).

He then said that I was more than welcome to use his land over night and gave me directions to a field he would prefer I used! He even told me where best to park stipulating only that he couldn’t guarantee my vehicles safety and that I needed to leave clearance for the farm traffic. What an absolute gent!

RESULT! my first ever over night stay with landowner permission 🙂

I parked up and started the short hike towards the designated field.

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The area was remote but was a working farm and made up of maintained agricultural land.

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So once I got to the destination field I was drawn towards the tree-line as I’m a hammock camper and like to be in the woods. However to do this I needed to cross a fenced boundary and this made me feel uncomfortable as I wasn’t sure who’s land I was on and I didn’t want to betray the kindness of the farmer. To mitigate this I setup as close to the edge of the wood as I could.

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I decided to use the wood gas stove and not have an open fire as I felt this would be taking the mickey a bit (all things considered).

I rigged up the basha and self inflating mat while I set my dinner cooking;

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Im still new at this game and I always need to refer to source material – in this case I had to join two pieces of paracord together to get the right length. Thankfully the pro-knot wallet reference came to my rescue.

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For my dinner I intended to make a beef stew from parsnip/carrots and onion and i was going to use beer for the stock;

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This may sound delicious but it was actually pretty gross – I’m a terrible cook and it was very bitter tasting – despite the excellent beverage used in its production 🙂

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As  I sat down to eat I noticed how dark it had got in the woodland – but it was still coming up to sunset in the fields. Why should I hide when I have permission to be here? So I ate my dinner in the open field.

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and watched the sun go down – it was blissful!

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The sky was so beautiful and I still felt a pang of guilt about crossing the field boundary when the farmer had specified this field as where I could camp. So I decided to break camp and sleep in the field. I packed up all my gear away and got ready for some ground dwelling  – no rain was forecast so I didn’t need a shelter. I intended to lie on my back and gaze at the stars.

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The part of Thrapston I was staying in is equidistant between all the major dwellings in the area – as such there was no light pollution and no traffic noise – in the UK that is a rarity – all I could hear was the sound of my own breathing and the owls and deer in the woods.I was very lucky!

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I could see so many stars and made an effort to photograph them on my iphone – obviously this doesn’t work very well 😉

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But this is when my untested pack proved to be unfit for the task! I was wearing full clothing including my fleece lined coat and a thinsulate fleece hat, I was on the mat inside my sleeping bag with a sleeping bag liner and nylon bivvy – but despite it being mid-july I was absolutely freezing!! Not life threatening but certainly uncomfortable and teeth chatteringly cold. I guess this tiny sleeping bag was a false economy – I decided at this moment never to skimp on the sleep system to save space in future!

Ordinarily I would light a fire – but I was in the middle of a well maintained field and I would not have been very decent of me to leave a massive fire scare on the farmers land when he had so kindly let me stay.

So I went to plan B……. hipflask! 🙂

I sank the entire contents of my Jack Daniels filled 8oz hip flask and basically drifted in an out of chilly sleep all night enjoying the thousands of stars I could see in the pitch blackness.

In the morning I deeply appreciated the simplicity and reliability of the crusader cook set as I waited for my (desperately needed) morning coffee – see how shiny an unused crusader mug looks :).

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In the past Id used aluminium cups and heated them on fires for the morning brew – but they take so long to get going, then when the water is boiling you cant drink the beverage because the cup is too hot and when the cup has cooled down enough to put it to your lips, the coffee is cold 😦 using hexi tabs feels like a cheat but the British Army knew what they are doing – it just works! and you get to pour the boiling water into the plastic cup that comes with the Osprey bottle – which you can then put to your lips without melting your face and you can actually enjoy a sustaining and revitalizing hot cup of joe right when you need it most! Marvellous! I haven’t looked back – and because we’ve established that I cant cook I’ve moved to the whole boil in the bag concept – sure if the apocalypse hits ill need to cook from scratch but for wild camping its a no brainer! Boil in the bag food – use the water for a brew, eat out of the plastic bags, no washing up and dispose of your rubbish on the fire = genius!

I think I packed up around 7 and went driving around to find the farmer and thank him but I couldn’t find his house. I never learned his name and will probably never be there again – but it was a very decent thing for him to do and i really appreciate it. What an unexpected and un-deserved thing to have the luxury of acres of open land at your disposal without fear of being accosted.