When I began to consider getting back into hiking and camping I was dreaming of a mostly forgotten past. I have definitely been on multi-day expeditions as a teenager in the Brecon Beacons and the Lake District. I remember one particular trip where we pitched up next to a mountain pond that froze overnight, along with our socks and shoes. I think it was probably beautiful, I remember the only way to defrost my socks was to put them back on. With half-formed memories like this, you might wonder what I could possibly find appealing about trying again.
I walk because sometimes I think I might find something. These paths and trails are often thousands of years old. Firmed under Millenia of footsteps. Britain is a mythical land where heroes once wandered. I don’t expect to meet the beggar with a thousand wares who will reveal my future. The rambling band of musicians do not pass this way anymore. There are dog walkers, occasionally we acknowledge each other. None offer guidance or gifts. The magic is in waking up in a field when the sun comes up. Living by the mantra of ‘if you can’t carry it on your back, do you really own it?’. Spending the day at the whim of the Great British weather. Going to bed, physically exhausted and filled with the joy of achievement when the sun goes.
I set out my itinerary. Day one: Portland Bill. Day two: Weymouth to Lulworth. Day three: Lulworth to Worth Matravers. Day four: Worth Matravers to South Haven. The wilderness I recall hiding in the Welsh valleys and the northern lakes does not stretch as far as the South Coast. Heavily populated, full of tourists and privately owned. Wild camping is illegal. I’m not confident enough to pitch my tent where ever I please, although I’m sure this is possible. I don’t fancy the idea of being moved along after a long day of hiking when all I want to do is lie down. Campsites are my accomodation of choice. I looked at the ground covered and decided I’d take another day, stopping closer to Durdle Door, and again at the Youth Hostel in Swanage. I figure a bed for the last night might do me good. And then I learned it’s fully booked already. Panic descends.
Despair. My demon begins mumbling profanities either side of idiot, stupid and useless. You knew about this for ages, why have you waited until now? Of course it’s busy, of course the campsites are closed. Just forget it. My impulsive reaction to something going wrong is to give up. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be, so it isn’t going to be. Go back to bed and lie under the covers feeling sorry for yourself. This is just another episode to add to the series of things you’ve got wrong.
I have learned to deal with giving up by doing a degree of planning in advance. I still have time to account for things to go wrong. Time even to have a tantrum, sweep my books and pens onto the floor and seriously consider calling the whole thing off. Once I’ve had my moment I start searching. The Jurassic Coast is a hugely popular area drawing visitors from all over. Some of them are people like me and the people who have forgotten the hassles of camping. The pitching of tents, sleeping in bags, the dread of a week in the rain. There will be places to stay. The first two nights were easy. A farmers field on the outskirts of Weymouth and the commercial site at Durdle Door. Then I ran into trouble again. Some sites are only open in the summer. Summers starts whenever the owner determines it’s worth opening. I’ve found another field between Worth Matravers and Swanage that might do for a night. There’s another campsite near Kimmeridge that runs on first come first serve. They might be open, I might be able to squeeze in.
At the quite literal end of the day, If it comes to it I will wait until dark and throw my tent up behind a hedge or a dry stone wall and be gone before the sun comes up. What are we leaving the EU for if not to give me back control? I’m doing no harm and I will not be put off just because I cannot pay somebody for the privilege of sleeping directly on the ground.