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Wild Nights: Camping Britain's Extremes by Phoebe Smith

Cover image © Shutterstock.
It’s been nearly two years that I’ve been talking about my desire to go wild camping. So far I’ve bored my parents intermittently and failed to convince any friends to join me.

I chanced on an article on the Guardian’s website by Phoebe Smith and realised that wild camping was an actual thing that people actually did. In my own inimitable style, I set about obsessively researching experts, equipment, locations and guides – a process that is still continuing at the time of writing.

With this in mind, I looked up Smith’s book Wild Nights: Camping Britain's Extremes. In the book, one of a few that she has penned on the subject of wild camping, she documents her own personal challenge to sleep in a number of extreme places: furthest points of the compass on the UK mainland, the highest/lowest places above/below sea level and the remotest in terms of distance from any roads.

Her story begins in Glencoul, Scotland with what should be a beautiful, if innocuous hike to a bothy (an empty, off-grid house open for anyone to sleep in). As it transpires, the weather turns against her and soon she is struggling in freezing cold, waist-high water trying to get across a swollen stream.

For me, perhaps the most interesting experiences described in the book are Holme Fen (the lowest sleep in her challenge), the remote bothy at Craig, in Scotland, and her attempt to sleep in the middle of nowhere, somewhat ominously known only as Grid Reference NH02020 77000.

Her conversational style makes her adventures quite easy to engage with for the casual reader or inexperienced wild camper, devoid of all of the jargon that may be tempting for such a writer to fall into. Furthermore, although there is the general narrative arc of the challenge running through the book, the chapters are, in reality, quite episodic – much like reading a travel blog.

An archive picture of one of the last times I went camping. Pile of chopped wood: near Cheddar, Somerset.
Crucially, for lovers of nature, there are enough moments of richer description to act as an inspiration for seeking new adventures, even if it isn’t as poetic as I’d usually like my nature writing to be.

I’m hoping that my adventures will start in earnest during 2019. Whilst writing this brief review, my Black Friday purchase of an OEX Phoxx EV1 tent has arrived – a tiny one man tent ideal for going undetected in the wilds of the UK.

It is safe to say that Smith’s book has played a small, but significant, part in finally getting my plans off the ground. In other words, to stop talking about it and to just get on with it.

If any of you are mad enough to want to join me, just let me know!

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