13th July 2018 | Words by Jack Hart @ WildBounds HQ
Were it not for the birds singing around us, I’d probably only have slept for a few more minutes anyway; the forest was waking up, which meant we were too. Sunlight gleamed through the canopy as I checked my watch, gently swaying in the hammock: 05:00. Earlier than I’d ever usually dream of waking up on a Sunday morning, but I felt rested as I looked around our impromptu campsite. As far as mornings go, this one had started pretty damned well.
We were camped out in Fineshade Woods, just 10 miles or so south of Stamford, Lincolnshire. The previous day, we’d set out from the town’s cobbled streets in search of somewhere wild to camp the night and happy to hike through the midday sun to get there. Our walk would take us through fields, across rivers and via village pub gardens, avoiding roads where we could and moving at a leisurely pace. We had nowhere pressing to be.
This wasn’t our first wild camp but, for me at least, it was the first real microadventure: venturing out close to home to be spend the night camping outdoors. It’s an idea coined by Alastair Humphreys and is often done in the 5-9 period after work, but weekends work just as well, particularly when you’ve summoned two brothers from opposite ends of the country to join you. It’s a fantastically simple idea: you don’t need to trek into extreme, wild places to find adventure. All you need is some countryside, one free evening and the will to get outdoors.
I’d planned our route south following the local Jurassic Way, making our way to the River Welland and then roughly following it down towards Fineshade Woods; we’d actually pass through these and continue south to Kings Cliffe before retracing our steps to camp. A little research beforehand had identified a local brewery serving craft ale - it seemed rude to not visit if we were so close by. This was true middle England territory: rolling fields, stone buildings and classic cars motoring past en route to a show.
The laidback feel to our hike was testament to just how easy microadventures can be. We’d brought little with us beyond a hammock, sleeping bag, Bushcraft Essentials stove and food to eat, all fitting easily into a 40l Bergen that was light to carry. Once we’d heroically seen off a few pints of ale, we headed back into the woods and scouted out a decent spot to sleep.
Camping wild is often the part of microadventures that people get nervous about, usually for fear of being found, or ‘caught’. Here’s the crux: wild camping is illegal in England and Wales. You need the landowner’s permission to sleep on their land and every bit of land is owned by someone, even a scrap of woodland in east Rutland. The thing is, though, it’s still worth doing. For a start, there is an unbelievably slim chance that the landowner will be walking through your campground after dark; also, most people are perfectly happy for you to camp on their land, providing you don’t damage it and clear up after yourself. It’s something that Humphreys preaches: leave no trace. By respecting the land you’re on, not damaging the environment and burying any ashes, you’re not harming the land. Half the fun of camping wild is picking somewhere far from paths and prying eyes, then leaving before the world wakes up.
With that in mind, we opted to take a small, winding path from the main thoroughfare through the woods, then abandon the track entirely and make our way into the trees. It didn’t take long to find a spot suitable for hammocks and before long we were sat cooking food on a Bushbox, passing around a hipflask of whisky. After a day outside, walking in the sun, and a comfy hammock waiting, we hit the hay as darkness fell, ready to break camp early the next morning and hike back to Stamford, feeling far better for sleeping under the night sky.