Becoming one with nature on a wild camping trip. Sort of | Steve Canavan

About a year or so ago my friend and I decided to try and get into wild camping.

Friday, 9th July 2021, 4:19 pm
Updated Friday, 9th July 2021, 5:15 pm
Panoramic view, near Kirkby Stephen in the Yorkshire Dales. Picture by Shutterstock

I’m not sure why we decided this.

It’s the type of thing you only do if you’re, A, a bit of a hippy, or, B, you’re of a certain age, pretty fed-up with life, and want to escape your family for a few precious hours.

I wish I could say I were in category A but to be honest I’m not crazy about the idea of going vegan, growing a pony-tail, and taking part in a Greenpeace rally to protest against the decline in badger numbers across rural England, so I can say with some certainty I’m filed under B.

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Wild camping, for the uninitiated, essentially means pitching a tent in some remote and picturesque spot – usually on a sun-drenched mountainside, by a beautiful tarn (or at least that how it looks on the pics … every time we’ve actually got there, it has been throwing it down and we’ve spent the entire trip huddled miserably in a damp, slightly odd-smelling tent).

Wild camping is meant to put you at one with nature and be a wonderfully relaxing and fulfilling experience.

In fact, I’ve just this second googled ‘benefits of wild camping’ and the first site that came up claimed – as number one of six reasons why you should do it – that ‘actual medical professionals are recommending it’.

Really? I must say I’ve never been to the doctor for a prostate examination and been told: ‘Well Mr Canavan, I don’t think we’ll bother with tablets or any formal medication – how about you take a tent to the top of a mountain and stay overnight?

‘Now pop your trousers back on and have a nice day’.

Anyway, we tried it again at the weekend and my one job ahead of our trip to the rather beautifully named Wild Boar Fell – above a place in North Yorkshire called Kirkby Stephen – was to book a table at a pub.

My mate had spotted a place called the Black Swan, the idea being we could make sure we were adequately fed and watered before embarking on a tough two-hour trek to our camping spot.

‘It’s got great reviews,’ he told me. ‘The food is meant to be exquisite.’

He’d arranged everything – route, transport, location, light massage with a local Thai girl – so I said I’d book the table.

When I called the pub, the phone rang for a long time (a good sign – they were clearly busy, dealing with the hundreds of customers flocking to eat the superb cuisine) before a man answered.

He had a voice so incredibly deep he was either speaking to me from the bottom of a swimming pool or he was Brian Blessed’s twin brother.

‘Hello there,’ I said, in my best ‘I’d-like-to-book-a-table-at-your-restaurant’ voice.

‘You might already be booked up but I was wondering if you had a table for two available on Saturday evening, about 6pm.’

‘Book? Oh, you don’t need to worry about that,’ he replied, sounding taken aback someone would be so stupid as to think a pub-restaurant would operate a booking system.

‘Just turn up at six – you’ll be absolutely fine’.

‘Oh, okay, marvellous,’ I said, pleasantly surprised and I messaged my fellow wild-camper to tell him the good news.

My mate, who’s into his food, thanked me and added he’d looked at the menu and couldn’t decide whether to have the mushroom and truffle risotto or the seared scallops with pea puree.

Saturday arrived and we made the journey to North Yorkshire, feeling the kind of giddy excitement only middle-aged men leaving behind wives and small children for 24 glorious hours can feel.

We chatted about how fabulous the weekend was going to be all the way to Yorkshire, then found the pub and parked up.

The car park seemed busy – indeed it was full and we had to park on the road – and as I poked my head in the door I could see happy-faced diners all around me, crammed into every available corner.

The first pang of unease crept over me.

A young female employee approached.

‘Hello there,’ I said smiling and in confident tone. ‘Have you a table for two? I rang to book but was told it wasn’t required.’

She looked puzzled and slightly confused, and replied: ‘I’m really sorry. I don’t know who told you that but we’re booked up all night.’

I started to get a bit annoyed – I mean why the hell had they told me I didn’t need to book when the place was clearly heaving?

I glanced at my friend for support but he was glaring at me as if he wanted to if not kill me, then at least cause quite considerable damage to my face.

There was no other option but to slouch away. ‘I just don’t understand it,’ I kept muttering.

‘You definitely called the right place?’ asked my friend in aggressive manner.

‘Of course I did,’ I snapped back, peeved he was doubting me. ‘Look,’ I continued, and held up my phone to show him the website of the pub I’d called.

It was at that exact moment, on reading it a little more closely, I discovered the Black Swan I’d called was, in fact, in Buckinghamshire.

‘Erm,’ I said hesitantly, taking half a step back in case my mate swung for me, ‘you’re not gonna believe this.’

How he laughed when I told him.

To cut a long story short, we spent the next 35 frantic minutes driving round six other pubs in the area before, mercifully, we found one that could fit us in.

My mate didn’t quite get his crayfish risotto – just pie and mash – and I’m not saying he was bitter about it but when I later needed help putting my tent up because I’d mislaid a couple of pegs, he bellowed back, ‘sort it your [insert strong expletive here] self.’

Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all.