Camp In The Woods And Feel Awesome!
Have you ever been for a wild camp in the woods? It’s one of the most special places to sleep, especially in autumn. The falling leaves brush gently against your tent and when you open the zip in the morning glorious scents fill the air…
But it’s not everyone’s idea of bliss, some of us are worried about things that go bump in the night!
When The Local Woods Are Calling
My head was hurting. Full of chaos and jumbled thoughts, full of self imposed pressure to organise myself, to keep focused, to get on with life. I wanted to run away from it all, so I did. For one night only.
I packed my rucksack on the spur of the moment one morning and in the afternoon I head out for a wild camp in the woods. Jittery anxious feelings fluttered in my chest at the thought of staying out in these particular woods. But the time had come to suppress them and get on with it, because there aren’t really any other woodlands to go to nearby. And I needed to go.
A Wood Is Not A Wood
There’s no rhyme nor reason to the quickening pulse rate, it’s just an undefined apprehension.
As I walked out along the lane I tried to rationalise my feelings: I loved camping in woodland so what was the problem, a wood is a wood is a wood. Except it’s not. This woodland is predominantly plantation with beautiful tall, red-barked pines that drop so many needles it’s like walking on a blanket underneath them. And the smell is glorious. I love this wood.
But here’s the thing. The pines are planted in straight rows and nothing grows underneath them. The rigid lines speak of imposing order on nature. There are forestry tracks and piles of logs. Too much human. And, because they’re fairly accessible woods, they’re used a lot for recreation, by families, dog walkers, runners and mountain bikers. Even a cafe has opened on site recently. Too many humans.
When You’re Anxious About A Wild Camp In The Woods, There’s Only One Thing To Do…
I realised my anxieties weren’t about camping in the woods, but about people. I’ve written about overcoming the fear of people on a wild camp so as I walked down the quiet back lanes I reminded myself of my own advice and made a plan.
I tried to evaluate how realistic my anxiety was and I rationalised that it wasn’t worth the head space I was giving it. I slowed down my thoughts so I could address how to best avoid people.
Most people seem to head to the woods by car, and by dusk the car park is close to empty. By dark, it is empty. And what person with criminal intent going to hang about in the woods in the pouring rain over night, on the off-chance someone might head into the darkness for a wild camp. Not many I thought.
But what practical things could I do to ensure my wild camp in the woods would be as safe as possible?
I Made A Plan:
- Find somewhere off the main tracks, somewhere unobtrusive in the centre of the wood
- Have a scout around the area I’d chosen
- Make sure I knew I could find the paths back to the main forestry tracks by torch light
- Try and find a deciduous part of the wood, where it’s not so easy to look down the straight lines of the pines and spot a tent (the woods are gradually being transitioned to native deciduous woodland)
- Wait until dusk to pitch my tent (all part of the Leave No Trace movement that I try to adhere to)
- Sleep with my personal alarm in my pocket
- Make sure my head torch was easily accessible at night
- Pack up before the dog-walkers were likely to arrive in the morning
But most importantly of all: Allow myself to head home without recriminations if it didn’t feel ‘right’
Why Camp In The Woods Anyway If It’s So Scary?
Because there’s something really magical about the woods in the autumn that make them a seasonal must.
Firs and pines fill the air with a delicious scent after heavy rain, and of course the intense colour of deciduous trees lifts the heart as the days get shorter. Then there’s the autumn wild harvest, from the last few blackberries (still good for bramble jelly), rose hips, sloes, nuts (if you can get to them before the squirrels do!) and mushrooms. And there’s the annual collection of pine cones for seasonal decoration or making evocative smelling fire lighters for the wood burner (you drip them with melted, used candle wax before you light them in the grate).
But the harvest isn’t just for us. The rowans and holly trees drip with scarlet berries for the birds, the common crossbill feeds on pine seeds, squirrels and jays store fallen acorns, mice feast on nutritious seeds and countless species live and feed in the leaf litter.
The woods are alive with wildlife activity in the autumn, and on the night I went out to camp I felt a really strong need to reconnect with it all.
The Quiet Of The Night
As well as the wildlife there’s the weather. I love the rain in woodland, the sound of it as it cascades through the canopy, the soporific splashes as it hits my tent. And a gentle autumn wind is welcome in the wood too as it blusters through the leaves, spiralling them down to the ground.
But heavy rain was forecast that night, with strong gusts of wind!
I ached for ‘silence’, just to hear the sound of nature without the intrusive sound of machines and other insidious human noises. I wanted the darkness, without light pollution.
Then there was the hope of seeing a deer or a fox, of listening to owls and other birds of the night. So I packed up my anxieties and found a discreet pitch amongst some small, twisted oaks. I was asleep by 10 o’clock.
The Serenity Of The Morning
The dawn chorus was singing-in the pale morning light when I woke and when I broke camp the last blustery showers had blown past. By 8.15 I was on my way, heading through the oaks towards the pale, warming sun.
The morning woodland is a place of calm, like waking in a warm bath – that relaxing stillness where everything but the moment has washed away. I came to life slowly, naturally, as the light strengthened and began to tune in to the wood. The low sun pushed through the straight pine trunks, creating contrasting stripes of light and dark, and the already rich reds of the autumn berries intensified.
I watched the shadows flicker as the light filtered through the deciduous canopy onto the wet, lush ground. And felt the cold spray splash my ankles as I wandered down muddy tracks…
This is the best way to connect with the wood and its rhythms. That is, to leave it to the senses and experience it, rather than think about it. It’s the only way to become part of it, to connect with it and by the time I was back on the lane to head home I felt clear headed and energetic.
And Then I Used My Personal Alarm
But Not On A Wild Camp In The Woods!
It didn’t last. I got home, put my key in the lock and realised I’d been locked out. My son was inside, in bed and dead to the world, and nothing would wake him. Even my ear-piecing personal alarm dangled through the letterbox!
My stress was rising (I had somewhere to be), but I like to think I dealt with the situation with more clarity than I would have if I hadn’t slept the night in the woods. After all,
I’d just overcome a long-standing anxiety about these particular woods and proved to myself that I can do anything… and so can you!
Think about what you’d like to do next that will take you out of your comfort zone, then try and break down your anxieties and plan practical ways to counter them. If you need some help or ideas post your questions below and we’ll set you on your way!
Why Don’t You Head Out For A Wild Camp In The Woods This Autumn?
You can do it more discretely in a bivvy bag rather than tent – just make sure it’s not forecast for heavy rain before you go! Check out my series on Bivvy Camping For Beginners for all the details on how to get a good night’s sleep, as well as keeping safe and simple camp meals. Oh and there’s the 10 Mile Hike comprehensive Guide To Wild Camping too!
Where To Find A Woodland Near You
- The Woodland Trust
- The Wildlife Trusts
- Forestry England
- The National Trust
- Natural Resources Wales
- Forestry and Land Scotland