[Firstly this is not a post about how to wild camp. People have already covered that in detail online. Google it or email me if you want my advice. Secondly, I’m not advocating that you go trespassing. OK.]
I’ve never actually slept in a hedge, though a friend of mine at university once failed to make it home. In a mad effort at self-preservation, he crawled into a hedge outside a bank’s office tower-block near in Birmingham. He snoozed for two hours and revived or woken by confused birds, he made it home for dawn.
Now, I would classify that as extreme spontaneous wild camping. My own experiences tend to have been driven less by drunken necessity and more by economic and personal desire.
Let me be completely honest, there is something deeply satisfying about sneaking in to somewhere you are not supposed to be, and bunking down for the night, with the field mice, the crickets and an owl. It’s a mild form of deviancy, but one I take pleasure in. All of us find our little ways to break out of societal rules, and I think this one is far less damaging than the more common weekend revelry which I enjoy from time to time.
BUT, the big question.
Isn’t it scary?
Aren’t you afraid of sleeping out alone by yourself? Ive been asked this by a few people. As far as i can recall, this question has come exclusively from women. I wonder about social conditioning and gender norms at this moment, but all I can say is that:
Yes, I’m always a little bit afraid.
Forests scare me in a primeval way. I fear the stranger lurking in the undergrowth with a knife, who just happens to be waiting on the off chance that a late night wild camper should show up!
Or, perhaps this is when I will discover folklore contains some truths. A vampire, a werewolf or some other kind of beast. Perhaps those stories aren’t just conjuring’s of our collective psyche. A little bit of shadow, rustling and bird screeching goes a long way at the right time of night.
Next, I fear the noises I can hear. Is that owl going to swoop down and pluck my eyes out, leaving me grasping for a tree. But oh no. I fall down onto a sharp broken branch and slowly bleed to death. You see, my imagination is quite macabre! Thanks for letting me watch 999 with Michael Burke parents!
Finally, I wonder if there is a local pagan death cult based nearby. North Yorkshire seems friendly, but then thats how those friendly neighbourhood cannibals get you isn’t it! Is this the night of their midsummer sacrifice? Sounds like I’ve concocted that idea too. Thanks Midsomer Murders. After a few minutes, Ive found a spot, the hooting has lessened and I’m more concerned about finding flat ground to sleep upon.
Fields make me fear for farmers with guns, and ticks in the long grass. Am I too close to the road? What if a truck ploughs through the hedge in the night? Leaving a solitary mangled battle scene of bike, body and truck?
Am I too close to a city? Does this feel like a place drunk teenagers would come to hang out? Are there cigarette butts about? Traces of other humans?
If so, I will tend to look elsewhere.
Is the land exposed to the elements?
So yes, I am always a bit afraid, but after a few moments, a tranquility usually comes over me.
It’s just me and the woods, or the field with a nearby lane. Alive with its inhabitants, who are certainly more put out by my presence. Once I am in my tent or more likely just my bivy bag, we all settle down into slumber or nightly chores of nocturnal creeping and crawling. There is no more to fear here if you choose wisely and prepare adequately than you might encounter at home. And there is so much to gain, whether alone or with friends. Falling asleep under the stars and waking up with the birds and the dawn is a special thing. Every time.
I’ve only encountered anything dangerous once. Camping with a friend in a little wood. We were woken by squealing and something rushing around us in the undergrowth. We later rationalised that it was probably not a wild boar, but an escaped pig gone rogue.
At the time it was a great hell beast, about to annihilate us. We did not wait to meet it. Hopping over a gate sharpish, we slept in a damp field of pasture. We never did meet that boar and it didn’t keep us up all night.
Cycling makes you too tired to stay up, even if the apocalypse is sipping on a Cointreau in the corner of your living room, telling you about how work has really been crazy lately and how big data has really changed everything. It may be melting your sofa, spewing toxic fumes over Aunt Berrel, but if you’ve cycled for 8 hours, you really wont care, Sleep finds a way.