On Saturday I leaped out of my comfort zone and, with the help of Adventure Queens Anna McNuff and Emma Frampton, led a group of first timers on a wild camping expedition!
I first met Anna in 2015 when I went along to a talk that she was leading all about her incredible solo running journey covering the length of New Zealand. I was hooked. I’ve followed all her social media musings and newsletters since and was ecstatic when she announced her Wild Night Out to encourage as many women in the UK and abroad to get out and experience wild camping.
I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the Adventure Queens leaders and given the task of deciding a location for a wild camp on July 1st, when over 50 awesome ladies around England would also be setting up camp. Anna had written a guide on how to find the perfect wild camp spot including everything from logistics on how to get there, what to look for during Google searches of an area, how to best utilise maps available and navigation skills, so once I’d narrowed down an area I plumped for Swinley Forest near Bracknell to explore.
After an initial email exchange and Whatsapp conversation, I met Jasmijn and Faye at Bracknell station at 7pm on Saturday evening. We’d all packed what had been recommended from Anna’s essentials list – a head torch, sleeping bag, sleeping mat (which I actually skimped on and survived) and bivvy bag (a cheap survival bag did the job) – as well as a few extras and we picked up food and water to tie us over til the next day on our walk to the forest.
I’d picked Swinley Forest as the area was completely new to me and I wanted somewhere to explore and when we arrived I was excited to see the stretches of extensive trails on offer under the canopy of tall pine trees, all deadly quiet on a Saturday evening. We scoured the maps at The Outlook Centre car park and set off on the hunt for a perfect spot to set up camp for the evening – under the cover of trees in case of rainfall but a view for a potential sunset and sunrise. After about half an hour of exploring we picked our spot, lay out our ground sheet (a saviour and I’d highly recommend having one to share in a group) and unpacked our kit, stuffing our sleeping bags into our bivvy bags to keep them and us dry. I hadn’t planned any activities or games so we just chatted and got to know each other, talking about past and present adventures, friends, ambitions, goals, hobbies and everything in between, until darkness fell and we retired to snuggle in our new beds for the night, wishing each other a restful nights sleep.
I was only woken, after a good 6 hours of blissful sleep, when the rain started falling loudly on my bivvy bag, and I realised that the others were also awake. We reshuffled our bags into the bottom of the bivvy bags to keep everything dry, including my shoes and change of clothes, and then went back to sleep again as the rain eased and the forest grew silent again. After another rain shower just before 6am, we decided enough was enough and began to wake, slowly coming back to life.
Poor Jasmijn woke with an eye that looked liked she’d been punched by a heavyweight boxer in her dreams, but was just an unfortunately placed mosquito bite that had swelled up and was sore and itchy. I thought I’d got off lightly with the insects until I realised on Sunday that both of my ankles were covered in bite trails, so next time we’re packing the repellent! Faye’s first experience of wild camping had been a learning curve and with little sleep she had learnt that sleeping mats need to be outside the bivvy bag for maximum comfort and that picking a camping spot on level ground, not a slope, is key! Next time!
After packing up we said farewell to our home for the night in Swinley Forest and headed back to reality and the train station to go our separate ways and enjoy the rest of our weekends.
Wild camping isn’t as hard as you think – just pick a spot you want to explore, borrow or pick up a few things in your local mountain wear shop if you haven’t got them already, choose a few friends to share your experience with and pack up and go. You’ll have an unforgettable time and learn so much, I’d highly recommend it!