There is so much I adore about camping, and wild camping especially. Finding a little spot away from anyone, or anything of human consequence. Preparing a plot of ground I will call my home for the night. Setting up camp at sunrest, and waking up in the first blue light. It all means slow progress, but important progress, all the things that matter most when away from the rest of the world. Running water is sparse; washing takes time and has a different quality. Food isn’t a rushed affair, but a slow amble, an appreciation of flavours that comes from the combination of sore grass-stained legs and fresh air.
Back on the road, we’re on our way to the south west of England. In the boot, there’s some essential pieces: spare clothes, socks and shoes, a facecloth, a new tent that has so far only known blistering July days, an old sleeping bag as thin as a rag, a sketchpad for my ideas, and a bottle of rose wine for company. The most important things only!
On the way to just one spot on England’s wonderful heritage coast, I have chance to stop at one of my favourite locations en route. Dartmoor, a land of meteorological surprises. In a place where I’ve seen snow in June, I don’t expect much, but it delights and surprises me yet again with an astonishment of shining blue skies, only disrupted by a hurtling train of white cloud. My friend who is coming camping with me (and who has lived around the world in considerably hotter places) probably doesn’t believe me when I say it’s the most beautiful day I’ve ever seen on the moor. The winds are strong, a ripping currant across the tors, but that’s always how it is here.
Devon is left behind us with the turn of a steering wheel, and Cornwall arrives. Twists and turns into closed roads and diversions with no end, Vivian’s reverse gear in near constant use, the Cornish agriculture finally drops behind and we reach a small bay, sheltered in the cradle of the cliffs. Only a few people are here, all dogs and coats and smiles. We sling our gear over our backs and trek up to the head of the coastline. The first ten minutes, always the hardest; the next ten, getting better, getting into the rhythm; and then the pace is set.
At the head of the cliffs, the sea at an 145-angle all around us, I can tell that we’ll see a sunset and a sunrise at the exact same spot. It will be beautiful! To make the trek easier, we find a sleeping point and throw our tent, sleeping bags and wine under some concealed bushes. Exploring along the cliffs and the coastline becomes so much faster.
If I could remember every detail of our journey, the way the sunlight toyed on gentle gorse bushes, the touch of the breeze on our raised chins, I would have many peaceful memories for my mind to wander in colder and darker days. Instead, I just remember happiness, something that will remain as warm in nostalgic pining as it was in that moment. This – this is what I needed. Fear falls away from me with every step, and all I need, again, is the press of my feet to grass and the sound of the sea beckoning at one ear. We walk for a long time. Clouds cover the main spectacle, but that’s okay – instead we enjoyed the pre-sunset, or the curious phenomena – there’s probably a name for it? – of the pink of sunset, reflected on the opposite side of the sky. The solemn night chorus is creeping tenderly closer, and heavy clouds frown.
We find our hidden sleeping bags in the quickening dark. Originally we planned to sleep in a part of the field out of the way of any late night or early morning dog walkers but hidden thistles block our path, so we settle on the nearest soft ground we can find, softened into a strange sleep by a disconcerting bass tone of soft rain echoing all around. Why do I ever want to sleep anywhere but in a tent’s cocoon, warm enough to lull me into uninterrupted sleep, yet pressed against the earth, under the arc of the night sky, the wind and the raindrops reminding me I’m home, wherever I am?