With the Occupy movement still in full swing and the recent news of my own impending homelessness, my thoughts drift back to the summer where I spent a few months living in a tent in the Pyrenees, though my intentions were less politically motivated. Not unlike the Occupy movement, wild camping is the practice of pitching your tent anywhere where it really shouldn’t be, but unlike the Occupy movement the idea is not to be noticed. It’s been described as the ‘true’ camping experience, the thought of popping your tent up in true remoteness and waking up to the sunrise on the side of a mountain is a breathtaking experience. So why isn’t everyone doing it?
Firstly, it’s illegal in England and Wales. Well not illegal as such, but it’s a legislational no-no. The law states that it is ‘forbidden’ without the permission of the landowner previously, but this can be difficult in practice. After trekking into the remoter parts of the Pyrenees it’s not easy to try and find the farmer who owns the 6ft by 4ft square of land you are about to occupy. The only exception in England is Dartmoor, where the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act permits ‘bivvying’ (fabric domiciles) for 2 nights which is similar to some National Parks in the Pyrenees. In 2005, Scotland derestricted their laws and now permit camping for 2 nights as long as you’re at least 100m from any road.
The legislation seems almost a little moot considering the idea is to get as far away from civillisation as possible, which includes anyone in the position to quote the law at you. And if you’re careful and obey the rules, even if you can’t seek the landowners permission, the chances are he won’t find you, or won’t even care if he does. There are bigger things at stake, like where to stash the evidence.
Some of the biggest issues when camping away from shops and facilities is that you suddenly realise how dependant you are on the everyday conveniences. An unprepared camper can get 6km into a hike and then start to wonder where the nearest public toilet is. Preparation is key. Clean water is another must, especially if you are away for more than a day or so. Sometimes you can be fortunate enough to have a clean source, camping in the Trois Seniors the water is clean enough to drink straight out of the river, though filling a bottle and waiting for it to warm up is always a good idea.
In most places a pit can be dug for waste management, but if this is not possible you can always carry it in a ‘burrito bag’ until you find somewhere appropriate to dispose of it, again not an ideal situation but the idea is to leave no trace. Similarly lighting fires is off limits in most places, as well as drawing attention it scorches the topsoil and damages it. There are ways around this such as delicately removing the topsoil and replacing it afterwards but it’s laborious and time consuming to do daily.
For the young, broke, and possibly now homeless traveller, it’s a cost-efficient way of life. The only real expenditure is what you eat and drink and whether you spend any money on getting around. It’s also a perfect opportunity for anyone to see some of the most beautiful spots that are virtually untouched by modern development. For the budding ‘armchair survivalist’ it’s a great way to practice all the skills learned from the Ray Mears videos in the relative safety of being in the back garden of civilisation.
My only advice for anyone thinking of having their next holiday in Dartmoor or otherwise, is travel light. I made the mistake of carrying everything bar the kitchen sink in the middle of August and it makes moving around a complete nightmare, especially when you have to cross rivers and other treacherous terrain. If you’re smart, you can shave grams and pounds pretty much everywhere.
In this non-stop, internet ready, smartphone toting society, it’s a really grounding experience to get back to basics. Leave the phone at home and ask yourself whether you really needed to splash out on the latest Galaxy. The Occupy movement’s rows of tents are a strong visual symbol in itself and works as a welcomed reminder that in this all-consuming world we’ve lost sight of some of what’s really important.