My first wild camp took place last night in a wooded area on the edge of the Peak District National Park. It is illegal to wild camp in England and Wales with the exception of the Dartmoor National Park, without the permission of the land owner. So I sought permission from the land owner. As this was my first experience I ventured out at 6pm and walked for an hour until I found a suitable spot, quiet, out of the way, and protected from any wind. The spot was below and away from a rock outcrop, within a wooded area that was set above the main landscape and gave fine views across the valley, whilst maintaining privacy from unwanted visitors. I have to admit to being a little nervous and somewhat apprehensive about being found by young revellers or worse people up to no good. So being out of the way was important. I found a nice dry flat area protected by large rocks from the wind, which only needed a little clearing of twigs, then I set to work putting up my Terra Nova Laser Photon tent, which after a little practice earlier on in the day, went well. There are a few things that could be improved with the tent and I will review these in a later blog on equipment. The next step was to make a good brew with the Jetboil Flash and this provided a nice cup of tea. Then it was off into the tent as the light was fading.
This produced the first problem. How to get into a sleeping liner and a sleeping bag. First take off boots and socks, this proved to be relatively easy despite the limited head room in the tent. Then into the sleeping liner and bag. This meant some flexible movement of limbs, which I am singularly un-equipped for, and after much grunting I managed some semblance of the right pose with most of my body, but not all in the bags. I was laying on top of the Thermarest NeoAir mattress, which seemed strong and did provide good insulation. I had taken a book, radio and earphones as well as my head torch, so settled down to read for a while as it was a little too early to sleep.
I first noticed the thumping of bass music when I took my headphones off and was immediately ripped by fear the youth had arrived and I was about to be discovered and unsettled. Nothing happened and slowly it dawned on me that I had spotted an outdoor wedding function taking place across the valley and in the night air the music must be coming from there. Eventually sleep overcame me and I must have slept for a few hours although it was uncomfortable at times and seemed to be a little lacking in space. I suspect this is my lack of experience and i do not yet have the skills to have a prolonged nights sleep under canvas.
The weather was kind with only a slight drizzle in the morning. I boiled water for tea and sat looking out over the valley drinking tea and feeling rather pleased and changed by the whole experience. I seemed to have walked through a door that led to calmness. It was strange, moving and likeable all at the same time.
It took less than an hour to break camp and I walked through woods and across fields to reach a small village where my wife collected me. So a successful learning experience with good knowledge gained for the next step which will be a two day hike with overnight stay.
It’s the end of August 2012. The big news is that this summer has been the worst for rain, lack of sun and cold, for 100 years. No news to those who have been out and about walking and climbing. As I write this on the last day the sun is shining and there is a coolness in the air, the heather is in full glorious purple bloom and I am starting to think about purchases of winter walking clothing. All of which portents autumn just around the corner. Looking at my walking log I see that I have completed just short of 150km of walks with 5100 meters of ascent. I’m quite pleased with this, and how my body is starting to respond to all this exercise. Following my little mishap in February whilst descending Levers Hause in the Lake District National Park, (you can read about that here), my body has slowly and sometimes painfully rehabilitated itself to its new way of walking. More importantly my mind also seems to be growing stronger as there was a time when I was very apprehensive about where my feet went and probably made things harder for myself mentally. With lengthening and ever more adventurous walks this mental attitude seems to be receeding, replaced by a more robust “can do” attitude which is more useful out on the hills.
I have had the good fortune to be assisted in my recovery by my wife Alison who has been a tower of strength and superb support and by friends who have accompanied me sometimes on walks. The Peak District National Park Ranger Service of which I am a volunteer has also been crucial in helping me along the road to recovery.
I started the month wanting to put together a series of walks that were both challenging in length and terrain, not necessarily within the same walk, but certainly extending the boundaries on a progressive basis. I looked at some of the National Trails and was enticed by the Yorkshire Wolds Way & Cleveland Way as both are reasonably near where I lived, but time was a constraint so I looked around for a trail that offered distance along with the ability to do it in sections on a come and go basis. I settled on the Derwent Valley Heritage Way which is much nearer my home and is reasonably flat, meaning I could put in some mileage to strengthen my muscles, whilst at the same time not have to worry about ascents and descents. I have now completed the first 2 sections totalling 30km and have to say I have enjoyed the route tremendously so far. I will post a more comprehensive account of the walk when it is completed. Following the injuries there was a great deal of muscle wastage in my ankle, knee, leg and lower back as a result of being laid up, coupled with a refusal of the NHS to provide physio, due to cut backs and the fact that I was active before the accident and therefore capabale of getting myself active again in recovery. So walking distances over reasonably level ground is fine but doesn’t stretch the joints to produce strong ligaments and tendons. The answer for this is moorland walking over rough paths and across moors with no descernable route other than through tussocks of grass, heather, bracken and bog. Add a good ascent and descent and you have enough ankle, and knee turning opportunities, thigh building and hamstring stretching movements to strengthen any wastrel.
My walking log says that there have been several Peak District National Park Ranger Service patrols across moorland and up narrow cloughs, crossing streams, swearing profusely and generally regretting my choice of route. But it is having a beneficial effect with muscle build up, strengthening of ligaments and tendons and a reduction in body fat which built up over the period of incapacity. There is still plenty of room for improvement and muscle tone is still seriously lacking but confidence is increasing and this has been a serious issue, especially on descents, down rough paths and tracks. The walking has brought with it it’s own issues especially pain in the knee joint and lower back, this has lessened over the weeks with ongoing use but still flares up if I extend a walk beyond the limits my body has become used to. A day or two after is then required for recooperation. I am fine with these bouts of pain, they are nothing compared to the weeks of inactivity and I have learnt about vitamin (I) or Ibruprofen.
On a recent walk along Derwent Edge in the Upper Derwent Valley I was showing a walking friend the trig point at Back Tor. You have to climb up on to the top of a gritstone rock to get close, which I managed to do with a little grunting. I noted that my body was not helping the climb by being out of balance and instead of leaning into the rock which sloped upwards, it seemed to over balance backwards. I managed to correct this but it was a tense moment and a little fear reared its ugly head. On the descent there was a greater problem. How to get down? The rock seemed to move in my eyes and my mind could not grasp where to put my feet, there being no real handholds a very real panic started to gnaw at me and I could visualise myself falling. My friend asked if I needed help, that’s how bad I was. I ended up sitting myself down and shimmying across the gritstone until I reached a ledge I could use for a descent to ground level. It was disturbing to note how my mind had very quickly built up a doomsday scenario.
My body was responding to exercise and progressing well with good ascents being made in reasonable time. Descents were a little more precarious, both poles being in use and a heel pronounced gait very active in evidence. I needed to add a little more toughness to the walks and was finding it hard to achieve that in the Peak District, so we booked a few nights over the bank holiday weekend in the Lake District. Opting for Langdale as a base I prepared two routes, Coniston Old Man and Pavey Ark. I use OS maps and compass to plan out each leg of the route, noting times, distance and ascent. All this then goes on to a route card which also carries contact information, start time and most importantly when we would expect to return. Preparing the card helps me focus on the area and highlights any problems we may encounter. The card would be left with the National Trust campsite manager so should anything untoward happen help would be at hand. Monday came and brought rain, wind and a flat battery, so a walk up onto Pavey Ark was in order. It proved to be quite a testing walk in more ways than one, and was both good for the soul, mind and body. I will write it up later, but suffice to say the experience had all the elements of a thriller. Due to the flat battery we did not continue our holiday and so did not get to Coniston, something I have to put right.
So that has been August 2012 and the rehabilitation programme is in full swing. The muscles, ligaments and tendons are building strength, perhaps next is to increase the range of movement. What is more important or worrying depending on your point of view is my mental strength. I am still hesitant, not entirely trusting my body to stay upright, something I think will recede with time and effort. But there is also a degree of fear that was not there before, it can show itself when crossing the top of the stairs and I look down, the image of what could be flashing through my minds eye. There are also the dreams, which wake me up in a sweat, heart racing as I look around to find I am in the safety of my bedroom.