Crossing the beach at low tide is the only way to Omey Island. I am in search of Saint Féichíns well (Ordnance map no:37). The only need for my shoe is to stop the stand on my bicycle sinking into the wet sand. Below is st Feichíns well in which disappointedly there was no feckin water.
I can stay in the grandest of hotels with the best of them but give me wild camping anyday and I will really feel at home.
The yellow bicycle proving her worth as a means of sheet drying.
Wild camping is very much in vogue these days but for me it is more an addiction than a fashion. I have wild camped year in year out since I was a child. In fact I have been reared on it and every year around the same time my head turns westwards and I sniff the air and pack my tent.
I can’t help myself.
When we were young my dad who had a great ‘grá’ for the west would do the same. One day he would be happily rowing around our local lakes (Actually we would be rowing he would be fishing) the next, he would give the command and the process of packing for a month or two of wild camping would begin (Again it was my mother and us who did the packing, my dad just organized his fishing gear) and we would head westward in search of the perfect place that would allow him fish and do his watercolors, my eight siblings, swim and explore and my mother keep tabs on us all.
Now, my parents didn’t wild camp because they chose specifically to do so , It was something they just did.
They didn’t need to give it a name.
Even if there had been campsites back then my father would have shunned them.
He could not see the point of lumping a crowd of people together in an enclosed area full of tents. (We are enough of a crowd on our own he would say, as he escaped across the bog towards some small lake, creel over his shoulder, Hardy rods in hand and proverbial tweed jacket which he only removed on the warmest of days about his body, its pockets filled with his small water color box and brushes, to fish peacefully on some small brown trout filled lake away from his feral children).
We camped wherever there was water. By rivers and lakes and sea. On the sides of mountains where streams splashed over rocks and once in the grounds of the ruins of an old abbey (with a lake nearly at its doorstep) where my mother heard the long departed monks sing at night.
But mostly we camped by the sea. On strips of unfenced land running down to white shell encrusted beaches and turquoise oceans. And we would abandon our shoes and run barefoot for the summer.
A week ago I found myself once again in such a place re pegging down my tent as gale force winds did their best to deny me the certainty of a bed for the night.
But I was not concerned for it was not new to me. (‘Tent battling’ is considered by many of us wild campers as a sport and we relish it in the same way two people in a proper camp site with shelter and electricity might relish a game of cards as a way of passing the evening).
The night after the storm when the wind calmed to a gentle breeze I took out my notebook (Wild camping =no electricity=no laptop) and jotted down a list of my tips on the art of wild camping.
These tips will soon alert you to the fact that I do not wild camp in the south of spain nor on the greek islands but rather in the wilds of the west of Ireland.
- DON’T check the weather forecast before you go (or you will never go)
- Umbrellas do NOT count as part of rain gear. (They will be turned inside out, spines broken and carted out to sea in less than a minute of unfurling them)
- Abandon shoes and other conventional footwear. This is your chance to kill two birds with the one stone (Wild camping and barefoot living go hand in hand…Pardon the pun)
- You may wear clothing (Ireland is too cold not to)
- Prepare to spend a lot of time standing on a hill holding up a wetted finger (the old way of telling which way the wind is coming from)
- Dry bedding is a priority (As opposed to a tidy looking tent interior) and gets priority of place even if it means giving up your new camping chair for it.
- Bring lots of bread, butter and jam (They are a comfort food and you will need lots of comfort food)
- Bring lots of drink (I mean wine and whiskey not water)
- In fact bring more drink than food.
- Forget about your five a day (There is nothing worse than dreeping peaches in a small tent, squished lettuce underfoot, sticky oranges when water is only for drinking (don’t use wine to wash your hands unless you love ants)
- If you ARE obsessed about your five a day, remember wine is made from grapes so drink five glasses of wine)
- Expect to come back from your rainy walk and find a group of random people sheltering in your tent
- Understand that it is normal not to know these people personally.
- Remind yourself that that it is ok to allow them stay (you may find yourself with the same need sometime)
- Remind yourself also that random walkers (no matter how irritating) are likely to carry chocolate in their pockets and maybe willing to admit to this and share it with you in return for a half hours shelter.
- Remind yourself that it is ok to search their pockets if they refuse to admit carrying a chocolate stash(due to the tightness of the tent they maybe unable to stop you doing this)
- Give them a generous nip of your whiskey (drunk people on the whole are more compliant)
- Don’t Try to detain them when they wish to leave. No matter how lonely you are after a week or so without the company of another human being (Drunk random walkers carry swiss knives and may not hesitate in attempting to cut themselves out of your tent if you refuse to unzip it by conventional means)
- It is allowed to take whiskey in your Irish breakfast tea. (Whiskey is made of wheat and so is toast but a toaster has no place in the list of wild camping equipment)
- Don’t forget your Kelly Kettle (Thank you Kelly brothers from Co Mayo.)https://www.kellykettle.com/kelly-kettle-history.
- If you eat tomatoes prepare to find (the following year) a crop of such plants where you dug your toilet hole.
- Dig your toilet hole between showers (there is nothing quite as unfulfilling..Again, Pardon the pun, as getting drenched whilst carrying out such a boring chore. No one has ever to my knowledge being rewarded by finding treasure despite digging a super deep hole).
- Bring your ordnance survey maps.(see reason below)
- Search for a spring well, of which there are are over 3,000 in Ireland (marked in red on Ordnance survey maps). The water from such a facility is so sweet and well worth the search.
- But don’t always expect to find water in the well. (I spent a half a day searching for Saint Féchins well on Omey Island only to find there was no feckin water in it)
- Remind yourself that it is permissible (even advisable) to lick your plate after each meal.
- Increase your wine intake as the day progresses and the wind strengthens.
- Bring earplugs (To cut out the noise of the flapping tent)
- Actually don’t bring earplugs (you will need to be able to hear if you need to abandon the tent)
- Familiarize yourself with the tent noise EWS (early warning score) This system is an internationally recognised scoring system devised to alert nurses on the stability of their patients with a view for the need to send them to the High Dependency Unit. Being a nurse I use it on a daily basis and have tweaked it for my own wild camping use.(See below)
Score of one: The odd mild flap (to be expected on the calmest of summer nights)
score of two: Flapping of front section only (nothing to get excited about just watch your cooking table doesn’t get upended)
Score of three: Continuous flapping of whole tent (check out a more sheltered spot but no need to take action yet)
Score of four: Annoyingly loud flapping with parts of tent blowing inwards (check guy ropes and tighten if necessary)
Score of five: flapping loud enough to prevent you having a normal conversation. Yes talking aloud to oneself is considered normal whilst wild camping. (Strongly consider move to that sheltered spot)
Score of six: Loud flapping preventing sleep and finding your nose constantly tickled by the now flattening inwardness of your tent. (In the field of nursing this score would warrant ALERTING the patient to HDU staff and taking necessary actions for imminent transfer) So begin your move to the more sheltered place as follows:
Remember it will be pitch black and probably raining
I suggest going naked because their is no point in wasting precious dry clothing.
Prepared to get drenched.
Leave your bedding intact in tent.
Pull up all pegs and free all guy ropes. Allow the wind to catch it. The wind will blow the tent in the direction you want. You just need to hold on and guide it.
When you reach your sheltered place (around a hill or even a hummock) Pull the tent around into it and re peg .
Reward yourself with a nip of whiskey, dry your body briskly with towel and snuggle back into bed. Sleep soundly.
Score of seven: Ripping sounds from tent and snapping of poles (Evacuate! you obviously didn’t read the above, have left it too late and don’t deserve to be considered a wild camper)
As I lift my head from my notebook I note the wind has swung to the north west, Time to light the Kelly Kettle and make a cup of tea.
Now where did I put that bottle of whiskey.
The kelly kettle is the one in the background left. In this photo I am boiling some potatoes in my conventional kettle. A kind farmer gave me a gift of a bag of turf. Yes they ARE firelighters in the basket. It’s perfectly ok to cheat now and again.