This article was first published in The Green Parent magazine, issue no: 57 Date: February/March 2014
Wild camping in the woods
Wild places of the heart
Wild camping means camping amongst nature away from a managed campsite. Wild places hold a special place in my heart; after a privileged childhood spent outdoors as much as possible, and an enchanting gap year spent in the Himalayas, I continued to feel connected to the mountains at university by joining the hill-walking club. Here I met my lifelong partner, Richard, at the top of a Munro in Scotland (a mountain over 3000ft). Richard developed his passion for wild and mountainous places, learning outdoor skills after spending much of his formative youth in wild places in Scotland on school trips on Hebridean Islands. We both followed our shared passion for the outdoors by spending as much time as possible together in the mountains. We find that being within nature cleanses and rejuvenates the sole, offering us a true perspective on life and a much needed breath of fresh air.
Our first wild camp was memorable, spent on the beautiful, untamed, uninhabited island of Taransay, our window the waves crashing metres below our tent. From this we wild camped whenever possible, combining it with mountaineering trips in the Highlands of Scotland, North Wales, the English Lake District and the Alps. Wild camping offers seclusion and a rich experience of nature, the chance to really ‘get away from it all’, from society and our multi-media, high-tech, electronic age. It also brings a rich feeling of being self-sufficient and minimalist, in that you have to carry everything you need with you on your back, a rarity in our everyday lives.
Having a child
After eight years of companionship we decided to get married and start a family. When our son was born our priorities changed, as we felt the responsibility of new life in our hands. Overjoyed, we watched our tiny son grow and develop each day, choosing to bring him up surrounded by what we love and are passionate about; leading an active, healthy lifestyle within the natural environment as much as possible. Our instinct was to bring Ewan up along attachment parenting lines; in this we listen and respond to his evolving needs, taking him with us wherever we go. Choosing to be surrounded by nature is as much a part of our journey of parenthood as our decision to practice sustained breastfeeding, baby-wearing and bed-sharing. It is a fundamental part of how we parent.
As parents we are our son’s most significant role models. Attempting to instil in him a deep respect for nature is hugely important to us. We attempt to do this in multiples ways; one small but significant aspect of this education is to immerse Ewan in the outdoor activities we love, so that he experiences first-hand what nature means to us. We also attempt to live more sustainable lives by growing some of our own fruit and vegetables and buying organically, using reusable nappies and practising elimination communication, acquiring second-hand children’s clothes, toys and equipment, recycling and composting, and walking whenever possible. Although we still have a long way to go this is a start which Ewan can follow.
From a young age Ewan has experienced the outdoors, mainly from the vantage point of a sling, but more recently also exploring on his own two feet and at Wildlife Trust Nature Tots pre-school groups. Ewan delights in tottering around, exploring our large garden, the local woodland and pond. His mood instantly changes when he goes outside, as he points to flowers, picks up sticks and runs freely across the grass. There is nothing he loves more than an hour or two spent with Daddy gardening, digging in the mud or sweeping the leaves.
Nature and attachment parenting
We first tried camping with Ewan when he was three months old. This was a very positive experience for us all; Ewan accepted this like he did any new experience, content as long as he had almost constant access to his mother. Practising attachment parenting lightened the load, as additional equipment was kept to a minimum by bed-sharing (no cot), baby-wearing (no pushchair) and breastfeeding (no feeding paraphernalia or schedules). I soon learnt I could take him almost anywhere; as long as he was with me his needs were met. Encouraged, a number of subsequent camping trips followed. As always, my body was Ewan’s home, his warmth, his nourishment, his comfort and reassurance. It still is. His daddy complemented this by providing additional security and love, plus a fascinating role-model from which to start learning the craft of camping.
Practising attachment parenting and living a green lifestyle go hand-in-hand for us. Lysa Parker discusses this interesting link in her article in ‘Pathways’ magazine (Spring 2012). She explains that in seeing the world through our child’s eyes we alter the way we parent, responding to their needs we begin to develop more empathy and respect, which in turn is modelled to our children who then develop the capacity to feel “compassion, empathy and remorse”. We are taught the value of relationships between people, as well as between people and the external environment. In valuing ourselves we also develop a conscience about the natural world around us. This is how we are attempting to raise Ewan, so he is more aware of his actions and the implications for the future. This awareness begins with how we parent him, our behaviour a model from which he will build a secure sense of self and the world around him.
Ewan’s first wild camp
We soon took the plunge, deciding to be a little more adventurous by taking Ewan wild camping for the first time. A close friend of my husband’s, Tim, owns nine acres of deciduous woodland in the Eden Valley in England, close to the Lake District. With his permission we spent one night camping in his wood. It was ideal because whilst we wild camped, without the convenience of facilities such as running water or electricity, we only had to walk a kilometre from the car to our campsite area, so could quite easily access the car and the outside world, if necessary. We found a suitable spot; the ground not too wet, in a quiet glade with trees surrounding us, and started to set up camp for the night.
Setting up camp
Ewan watched his Daddy in fascination as he put up the Tarpalling and our two-man tent. He helped by erecting the tent poles, slotting them into the tent seams and knocking in the pegs, watching Daddy tightening the guy ropes; he added ‘guy’ to his vocabulary after pointing at the guy ropes with a quizzical look, then proudly repeating the word over and over. We always try to integrate Ewan into our daily activities, letting him observe and giving him his own achievable tasks when this is possible. He is very keen to participate in our work, naturally wanting to imitate his parents. Initially we must practise patience in order to slow to a child’s speed when he is learning a task we can race through almost robotically, but the value in letting go, in moving onto the child’s level, brings untold rewards. The look on Ewan’s face when he is given the responsibility to participate in a job, however small, is priceless; we are also communicating to him that we value and accept him.
Sharifa Oppenheimer discuses the importance of imitation and involving children in our everyday tasks in a conscious way in her beautiful book ‘Heaven on Earth’; “we are showing him not ‘our’ way […] we are offering him the secrets of the universe, showing him The Way. So, let’s do each thing with as much consciousness as we can bring to the task” (p.10). Oppenheimer reminds me to slow down and invite Ewan into my world, let him cut and stir our food. The task then takes longer, but the long-term rewards are worth this small sacrifice now.
With the campsite established, we allowed Ewan to stir the sauce on the camping stove under close supervision, a job he absolutely loves at home, so on an exciting camping stove this was amazing for him!
He then sat on my lap on the one small camp-stool we had brought, eating warming stew as dusk turned to night, the dark enveloping around us. Later, Ewan drifted to sleep nursing, as we sipped hot chocolate, staring at the dark silhouettes of the trees encircling us like a protective blanket, listening to the quiet night, the sounds of the owls hooting, the wind softly whistling through the trees. We sat meditatively with our thoughts, chatting softly, our child calmly sleeping on my lap, all of us at peace away from the bright lights of home.
Awakening to the dawn chorus
With Ewan nestled between us we awoke to the dawn chorus, a welcome and beautiful way to start Easter Sunday. Opening his eyes and stretching, Ewan examined his unusual surroundings with interest, pointing to the tent ceiling so close to his head, jumping over his parents and fiddling with the tent zip in excitement. He was totally un-phased, used to awaking in a myriad of different places in his twenty-two months of life. He was soon saying ‘out’, and ‘boots on’, his typical reaction at home when he sees the door, this time emerging into a pretty glade, glistening with dew in the morning light. Exploring his surroundings he picked up branches, wandered to the nearby trees, pointed at the birds and flowers, noticed a passing spider, played with the guy ropes, and settled down to watching Daddy lighting the stove, before sitting to share our breakfast of bread and eggs.
A day in the woods
We spent a whole wonderful day in the woods, returning to the camp to eat a delicious lunch of cuss cuss salad, one of Richard’s many fresh, tasty camp meal specials. We use the excellent ‘Moveable Feasts’ book for recipes on scrumptious, healthy yet varied meals using a few simple ingredients. Camp food need not be all boring dried food! However, eating in the fresh air always makes food taste more appetising than it could ever taste eaten indoors!
Tim joined us after breakfast, enlisting Richard’s help to sustainably fell a few of his trees, to be used for heating his home. We wandered through the woods, learning about the effort involved in managing a small woodland. Ewan stopped to pick up sticks, which soon became hammers, vacuum cleaners, saws, brushes, cars, whatever his imagination fancied. He splashed in the stream, examined flowers and observed the sheep feeding their lambs in the nearby field, calling them ‘baby’.
He watched spellbound as Daddy and Tim felled trees, keeping at a safe distance as they used the chainsaw to cut the trees into smaller pieces. This was one activity it was definitely unsafe to allow Ewan to actively participate in, although simply observing the work in progress was of value. Ewan was then lulled to sleep by the sounds of the chainsaw, so I wandered the periphery of the wood and surrounding fields as he contentedly slept in the sling, the rhythms of my walking familiar and comforting to him, his head resting on my back.
Later we break up camp, Ewan helping to pack the tent away by folding the tent poles together and putting them in their bag. That night we enjoyed the luxury of a warm bath and a blazing fire (with firewood from the wood), everyday events we take for granted in our modern lifestyles, yet that evening they somehow felt richer, more lavish, after twenty-four hours of ‘roughing it’. We happily anticipate the next time we can return to this simpler existence, even more so with our son at our side.
Hopes for the future
Enthused with the success of Ewan’s first wild camp, we are now planning on taking Ewan on a more truly wild camp by walking further out into the countryside, the road and civilisation. This will involve a little more planning and effort in reducing what kit we take, but is easily possible. We are also keen to take Ewan to a mountain Bothy, a basic stone building which offers shelter to walkers in remote areas. Both of these wilder accommodation choices shall add to the richness of Ewan’s nature experiences. He shall continue to learn about the natural world around him, in a fun and exciting way, in the hope these experiences shall translate into a deep respect for and love of the natural world.