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Interview with wild-camping expert Phoebe Smith

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We spoke to wild camping expert and author Phoebe Smith, who told us about her experiences of pitching up in the wilderness and gave us some great tips for anyone planning on giving wild camping a go.


1. How did you become interested in wild camping?

It started when I was travelling in Australia many years ago. A friend persuaded me to go on a trip to the Red Centre and sleep out under the stars in a swag (like the character in Waltzing Matilda!). What surprised me, is that I said yes! Until that point I would never have done anything similar back home in Britain but because I was travelling I was prepared to push myself and my boundaries. That night, separated from the Outback's deadly spiders and snakes by only a thin piece of canvas, I decided that if I could do it there, I should do it once I went home and made a promise to explore more of the UK.

I started by walking in the mountains, which I loved, then progressed to wild camping. The moment I became a wild camping addict was after my first solo wild camp, and since then my home-grown adventures haven't stopped.

2. What are the best, and the worst, experiences you've had while sleeping out on the hills?

Best - waking up after my first wild camp on my own, in the middle of the mountains in Snowdonia, knowing that I'd done it, I'd relied on no one but myself. It felt great.

Worst - I once pitched up in the Lake District at night in bad weather. I could barely see in front of me. I thought I'd pitched perfectly, but when I woke the next morning I soon discovered I was surrounded by DofE kids on a practice expedition! We all saw the funny side...

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3. What advice would you offer to the novice wild camper?

First off, enjoy the experience and you're more likely to want to do it again. Choose good weather, take warm clothes and a favourite treat with you - whether that's chocolate or half a bottle of wine, whatever - and you'll remember the wild camp for all the right reasons. Then go to a place you know well, or at the least recce the site in the daylight first to make sure it's a suitable spot (things look very different in the dark).

Secondly, one tip I always offer those who want to explore the wild is to have what I call a 'Go Bag' ready packed at all times. It's basically a rucksack I keep, either by the front door or in the boot of my car, filled with all the essentials for a night's wild camping. That way, if the mood takes me or the opportunity arises I have no excuses. I am ready for a wild weekend.

Finally, go for it!

4. What is the essential kit needed to spend a night on the mountains?

Shelter - be that a tent (tunnel designs are typically lighter with greater headroom though can be tricky to pitch) or a bivvy bag, basically a waterproof covering that cocoons your sleeping bag. Or try sleeping in one of the many bothies or mountain huts that dot the UK's hills.

Sleeping bag - the main thing to remember when choosing your sleeping bag is to trust yourself. Don't opt for a model because your brother/best friend/ that girl on the Met Office blog likes it. Go with what's best for you.

Sleeping mat - either the cheap, simple roll-up foam offerings, or the inflatable variety which are generally more expensive but better quality. I have to recommend the Therm-a-rest NeoAir, which packs down smaller than a beer can.

Camping stove - for both heating your meals and purifying water, this is an essential. Remember you'll need to carry fuel, so look for gas stoves that are small and easily packable. I really rate the Jetboil, but there are other stoves available!

5. Is it legal?

Yes - in Scotland (everywhere apart from the shores of Loch Lomond) and in Dartmoor (due to an old byelaw). Elsewhere you are supposed to ask the landowners permission first. However, this is very impractical and sometimes even impossible to establish who that is, so the best thing you can do is follow the basic wild camping etiquette i.e. arrive late, leave early, take all rubbish with you. In wild places it's usually tolerated as long as you do the above.


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6. Can you really sleep in a cave?

Yes! There is a cave called 'Priest's Hole', hidden on the side of a Lakeland fell called Dove Crag that provides a terrific speleological sleepover. Be warned though, caves can be quite damp so it is a good idea to take a bivvy bag to protect your sleeping bag, plus some tarp for extra insulation.

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For more inspiration on where you can have a wild weekend in Britain, including full mapping and step-by-step guidance, check out Phoebe's new book Wilderness Weekends: Wild Adventures in Britain's Rugged Corners (Bradt; 2015). Get 25% off throughout May by visiting Bradt Guides

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