A Winter’s Tale

We had a special camp-out session weekend just gone.

There was a good reason for it – a close friend (Stu) is getting married and moving to Australia. The three of us have been camping out in the woods for over 20 years now (!), so this would be an opportunity to say ‘farewell’ before he left for a new night-time sky to sleep under.

We got to our campsite early in the day. The weather had been raining for the previous couple of days, and we’d been keeping an eye on the forecast. But In the end we decided to go for it, regardless of the weather. This would also be my first ever Winter camp-out (always happy to admit to being a fair-weather camper). It was drizzling when we arrived, but soon stopped and by the afternoon the sun came out.

The Gods of camping had looked out for us.

Both Paul and Stu were in hammocks, and I was ground-hugging. Paul is a veteran hammocker now, but it was the first time for Stu (I think he’ll be getting some kind of under-blanker). I was in a Polish army lavvu tent that I’d got from Essex Army Surplus for just £20. I think they really look the part. They’re ideal for one person (but meant for two!). I rigged mine up without the central supporting pole, but with the apex attached to a pole we’d strung beneath two trees (I’d modded the tent by fixing a ring to the outside apex so it could be strung-up without the pole, and also fixed a ring to the inside so I could suspend a candle lantern inside for light and heat).

We were in some terrific woods. We made our camp in an area of pine trees with the ground covered in bright green moss, but there are also areas of deciduous, coppice and mixed woodland.

We set about getting the camp in order. We had a fire-pit with a heat shield behind it. Paul carved an adjustable pot-hanger and we had some fallen logs and stumps for seating. We also chopped up a good supply of firewood and put some of the logs around the fire so they would dry out. I also brought a bag of seasoned logs with me to help get the fire going without too much smoke. Then it was time for lunch and a beer – Paul had brought some salami and tomatoes and made those into kebabs. After that we set out to explore the woods a bit more thoroughly.

We’d been in these woods before (Stu and Paul had a two-dayer last Summer, making a great camp in a shallow dip amongst some bracken and ferns. I visited them during the evening but couldn’t stay because I had to be at work next day). The woods have several herds of deer, and we saw some as we wandered about. We also saw a large bird of prey, but it was gone before we could identify it (sparrowhawk would be my guess – it was a good size, but not massive). Other wildlife included finding a badger’s sett with fresh footprints near it. We went back there at dusk, staying downwind, hoping to see the badgers come out. No such luck though.

Inside the woods the sun went down and it started getting darker. As the evening wore-on the moon and stars came out. It was a clear night, which meant it would get colder, but the light of the moon coming through the trees was startling, and that and the many stars were a fair trade-off.

 Dinner was a curry, so Stu and I started chopping veg and Paul got cooking (Paul’s our little bush-chef, and does most of the cooking). We had the curry, had a beer and chatted around the fire, trying to ignore the chill.

But finally that time had come – time to bed down.

Come morning and I was first up. It was still only half-light at 7.30am, but those lazy sods needed to get up! I got the fire going and we put a kettle of water on the boil for a brew up. Breakfast was a two-course affair – bacon and egg sarnies by Stu, and fruit and nut bannock by me.

Time to break camp, heave those packs on to shoulders, and head off.

Anyone saying those candle lanterns heat up a tent are talking shit. It certainly did provide a nice gentle light, but no warmth! Whilst I certainly wasn’t too cold, it was certainly on the cusp between the two. Still, you live and learn.

OK, what did we learn? For Stu I reckon it’s the need for insulation when Winter hammocking. For me, it’s probably the need for a 4-season sleeping bag (I only have a 2-season one, which I thought would be adequate inside a tent with – what I now realise to be – a useless candle lantern). I was OK in that tent with my bag, but only OK. Paul seemed to be doing just fine, but he often makes comments about carrying less and lighter stuff, so maybe he needs to think what he really needed and what he didn’t. But he seemed to have a warm, comfy night, and he managed to carry it all, so maybe he’s got it right anyway.

One thing I noticed, and what I rather liked, was how each of us had a slightly different approach. Stu is ex-forces, and you can see that in how he looks and how he approaches camping – much more stealthy and ‘tactical’ and precise. If it wasn’t for Paul and me he wouldn’t even have a fire (I know – travesty!). Paul has a level-headed and learned approach – happy to mix old and new techniques and equipment. I think I have more of a base-camp approach.

I really like that diversity we have – all three different, but all compatible.

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4 Comments

  1. ukbushcrafters said,

    February 14, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Excellent piece Steve; that really was a cracking night on reflection.

  2. Dark Horse Dave said,

    February 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Looks like fun! Nice to reflect of what you’ve learned too.

  3. SBW said,

    February 25, 2011 at 9:48 am

    I’ve visited before and it’s really good to see you keeping going with this blog. I’ve added you to my blog roll.
    Regards
    SBW

  4. Alex said,

    January 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Hi there,
    Great write up and photos! Any chance you could tell me whereabouts you were camped please?


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