Wild Camping in the Lake District / by Neil Alexander

Overlooking Alcock Tarn in the Lake District

The weekend just gone I was up in the Lake District again but with a slightly different plan than usual. I really do love it up here but sadly I just don’t make it up as often as I’d like.
I get so little time in this glorious corner of our wee Isles that I often tend to shoot from the side of the road but I’ll also happily walk a mile or two to make a photo.  I’ve never really been a massive fell walker. I’m not a Wainwright collector that’s for sure and in the past, it’s often felt like time spent walking is time not shooting, so I’ve tended to plan all my locations with ease of access in mind. That was until this weekend.

I’ve been reading Phoebe Smith’s Wild Camping experiences, in particular her 3 Peaks Sleeps Challenge for which she has this hair-brained scheme to hike up Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis and kip on the top. It’s a fascinating series of tales which leaves one thinking that she really is completely bonkers.But it did get me thinking. Surely my chances of getting better photos of the Lakes' peaks would be significantly improved were I to be  a) up much higher and b) in position for both the sun setting and rising the next morning.
In fact so inspired by her was I, that I spent days and days planning a trip high up into the wilderness to try and see if the photos I could make were significantly better than those I regularly make much lower down. I’m no stranger to camping. Did it regularly as a young ‘un and as a family we’re huge fans though mostly our gear is for fairly moderate weather.

A quick inventory of my gear showed that I had pretty much everything I’d need for a solo trip, save a much warmer sleeping bag and a pretty substantial rucksack to carry everything I’d need. But as I tried to “test” pack a couple of days before leaving, I started to get a bit panicky. My pack, containing my Vango Beta 250 two man tent, sleeping bag & matt, stove, food, water, torch, waterproofs, and some camera gear came in at just under 30kgs and felt extremely awkward on my back. And even then I was concerned that I hadn’t enough supplies.

Cloudy Easedale

I was to go for two nights but the closer it came to departure date, the worse the forecast got. This eased my apprehensions slightly. I decided that as this was to be my first “wild camp” I’d only spend one night actually under canvas and the other night in the car.

Leaving home just after midday on the Friday, I was in the car park for the climb to Alcock Tarn, my planned sunset location that evening, by mid-afternoon. I sat in the car for 30 minutes or so munching on sausage rolls and biscuits whilst the rain hammered down relentlessly. Once satiated I decided that I needed to get my backside out of the car and up the hill, whatever the weather - it would be better higher up, right? Donning full waterproofs and with water pouring off the rain cover on my Clik Elite backpack I hiked up the hill. Not a particularly difficult walk, I was up there inside an hour, which gave me a good couple of hours to decide on my composition for the upcoming setting of the sun. But it didn’t happen really. I eventually climbed up behind the tarn a bit and settled myself on a little mound surrounded by tall bracken and bold sheep. The banks of cloud just kept rolling on up the valley. One minute I could see right across it to the Pike of Blisco and the Tilberthwaite Fells, the next I could barely see the edge of the water just a few feet below me. The sun was only notable by it’s complete absence. Climbing back down the slippery stone path in utter darkness, my little Petzl head torch helping to keep me from falling on my touche, I wrote the evening off and vowed to move on to Saturday’s dawn location.

Autumnal Derwent Water shoreline

I headed over to Derwentwater, all my wet gear stuffed into the passenger footwell with the heater on full, my plan being to shoot some of the jetties over the smooth early morning water, and parked up for the night. Driving a car the size of my ageing Discovery does have it’s many advantages as well as many dis-advantges; Sainsburys car park can be a real pain in the bum, but it is plenty big enough for me to lie the back seats down and get a comfortable night’s sleep, even with the rain hammering down on the roof all night.

Awaking to the sound of my alarm at 6:30, I peered out into the gloom to find it still raining aplenty. But I didn’t came all this way just to be beaten by a few spots of water. Gearing up again in full waterproofs I headed out to the lake shore. But it just didn’t stop. It was relentless and whilst I’m comfortable using rain hoods or even shower caps to keep stuff dry in a mild drizzle, keeping everything, in fact anything, completely dry in such torrential conditions was just too much. When the water is pouring off your hood right into the camera’s viewfinder, it makes it a little tricky to make photos. So I didn’t really get any great shots that morning either.

Back to the car, dry off, and find somewhere warm and dry for breakfast.

Then, it was time to select my route for my wild camp.
More next week....