How To Sleep In A Tent: A Story 11 Years In The Making

Ravenscar.

The last time I was here I was desperately searching, with the help of my dad (long suffering telephonist for round Britain cyclist) for Ravenscar youth hostel.

As darkness, rain and sea all closed in on the cliffs below me, I despaired, and threw my bike, my bivvy bag and myself under a bush for shelter.

Shame that the bush was a gorse.

The Great Gorse Of Ravenscar. A familiar sight.

I’m sure I can do better this time.

As the cold drops colder with the fading sunlight, I find myself surrounded by an abundance of excellent camping spots and frankly astounded that my younger self managed to get it so horribly wrong all those years ago.

I’m in the abandoned quarries for the Peak Alum Works on the edge of Fylingdales Moor.

The industry has left the ground nicely levelled out, a quiet copse of trees sheltering a cinder-soft, gorse, thistle, branble and nettle-free clearing.

Tucked away from the path, but still in earshot of the waves swooshing against the rocks below, the silver birch form a merry band, their leader volunteering to snuggle up with Martin II (AKA King Duncan I) for the night.

It’s so perfect, in fact, that I sleep until nearly 8am, a full ten hours.

For anyone wondering: yes, camp sleep can be that good.

The unfavourable juxtaposition of my two experiences at Ravenscar illustrates two developments in my wild camping strategy.

Three if you include the inspired suggestion (by a dog walker on the Isle of Wight in 2020) that I use poo bags, but I’ll save that discussion for a time less close to lunch.

1. OS Maps

Smartphones are a double edged sword for the general population and no more so than for the wild camper.

But what I risk losing in disconnection – that sense of always being elsewhere, of app-watching, media monitoring, and even just listening to the radio of an evening – I gain in knowledge.

OS Maps are a boon, not for touring navigation, but for quickly finding likely spots for wild camping.

Yesterday, for example, I cycled straight past the perfect wild camping spot. On the coast, in full view of the ocean, a short trundle off the path, but with easy access, a clutch of picturesque ruins for shelter and a drystone wall to shield me from view.

As hard as it was to drag myself away, I refused the lure. From OS Maps I could see that this was private land, on a likely busy footpath.

I couldn’t be bothered to cycle a circuitous route to the farmhouse to ask permission, so I looked further ahead on my route and pinpointed an area of flat open access land right on my route: the abandoned quarry.

But, looking out over the landscape, I was even more reluctant to move on. To me, it looked like a mess of woods, gullies and gorges. But I decided to trust the map. And was rewarded.

Funnily enough, I think I camped only yards away from the gorse that I threw myself under 11 years ago.

The difference between these two camping experiences, of course, is daylight and confidence built on a foundation of years of experience.

There is nothing like the unexpected discovery of the perfect camping spot, but on long tiring days, OS Maps has become an invaluable tool.

2. A warm mattress

This could be broadened to include the whole sleep kit, but the mattress is so often overlooked and, in cold temperatures like last night, often the most important element of a warm sleep kit.

Most of your heat will be lost to the ground, not to the air.

Did you know that your sleeping bag is only as good as your mattress? And that camping mattresses have temperature ratings exactly like sleeping bags?

Nope, nor did I until a couple of years ago and now I won’t shut up about it.

Published by

David

David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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