Choosing a Pitch

My personal choice for wild camping is always in and around Snowdonia National Park.

I don’t mind admitting I’m not fussed whether I am on Access land or not, so long as it’s somewhere secluded away from houses, farmers, dog walkers and the like, and livestock such as cattle and horses – I wouldn’t want a cow tripping on my guy ropes and trampling my tent in the night. Sheep are not a problem, though, other than making strange noises if they are grazing close by in the night, but if you have any conscience try to avoid pitching on their favoured overnight resting spot.

Even up a mountain I don’t want my lantern being seen from afar. At lower levels I’ll tuck myself out of sight on a bit of grass in a wood or forest, or in a corner of an ungrazed field.

However, if like me you don’t plan ahead for where you will stop, there will be times when you don’t have much choice. There have been two or three occasions when I have camped a few hundred yards or so from the lights of a property, even on the grass verge of a very minor lane once, while perhaps my most audacious was at the edge of a hamlet where I pitched behind hedges on the overgrown lawn of an empty cottage with a ‘For Sale’ board.

Dogs are a problem, they will know you’re there from half a mile away, when they’ll keep barking, and if they’re loose they’ll find you instantly no matter how well hidden you are.

Choosing a wild camping pitch:

1. Water. The most important requisite for me is a stream or pool such as tarn or lake close by. Towards the end of the day I am looking at the map to see what lakes or streams I should aim for.
The tiniest little trickle of a stream will suffice. There are always these around in Snowdonia, though it has not been so easy for me during a small number of dry spells.
It is handy to be able to walk a few steps to fill flask or billy can, though for occasions when I am not that close I carry a 10 litre collapsible plastic water container. I’ve just bought a new one cheaply on eBay, and I’ve seen ones in the 99p Store.

What you do NOT want is to be close enough to a noisy stream so that it keeps you awake, and you must be aware of flooding. Just because it is a serene evening doesn’t mean to say there won’t be a downpour in the night, when the water level can rise alarmingly.

You do not want to be in a shallow depression or basin, because if it does rain in the night you will find yourself in a pool. In fact, this could happen on almost any flat area. What you really need is to be on a slight rise above the lowest parts, and also out of the path of where surface water might flow.

Pools and lakes in Snowdonia usually have boggy surrounds. If you are lucky enough to find a dry place close by one, there can often be plenty of flying insects to annoy you.
Also, if the lake is in a hollow, colder air will flow down the hillsides towards it in the evening.

2. Shelter. The next most important thing is shelter from any breeze. Even when it seems reasonably calm, there is usually what I call an airstream in the uplands, that becomes a bit less than comfortable when you have been sitting in it for a while, especially when the temperature starts dropping at the end of the day.
At the same time, you don’t want to be kept awake by your tent flapping in the night. On the other hand, a little breeze is good, it means less condensation in your tent in the morning.

3. Level and Dry. The biggest problem for me is finding somewhere that is both level and reasonably dry. The least little slope and you will spend the night hauling yourself up from the end of of your tent or away from one side.
When deciding on a spot, I actually lay down on it to test how it feels before pitching my tent!
All too often the most level looking spots turn out to be squelchy underfoot. In such areas I look out for patches of Mat-grass, Nardus stricta, whose short whitish stems tend to indicate a dryer spot.
Heather generally grows where it is drier, and it is very comfortable to lay on, but there is a risk of the woody stems damaging your groundsheet.
I should add that I will kick sheep droppings out of the way if necessary, and perhaps trample any clumps of Soft rush that are in the way of the tent entrance or edges of the flysheet.

4. Privacy. Loosely coupled with shelter, you also want privacy from other walkers or the farmers themselves if they are about. Try and avoid being within view of a property even if it is far off; your light could be seen from a considerable distance, though I think it unlikely that anyone would want to leave the warmth and comfort of their home on a cold, dark night to tramp across the land to investigate.

5. Sitting, etc. Another thing I hope to have is something I can sit on, a level rock being the most ideal, failing that a bank or ledge I can dangle my legs over. This is far preferable to sitting on the ground either with your knees up or your tired legs stretched out on the grass all the time. Also consider the advantage of having a fence, five bar gate, branches or dry rocks nearby where you can air your sleeping bag or damp gear in the morning.

Finally, be prepared to compromise! You will rarely find every one of the above ideal factors in one place, at the right time of the day. You generally have to make do with the closest you can get.

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