A guide to Wild Camping on Dartmoor
For the wild campers of England, Dartmoor has to be a dream location because it is the only place in England where you are legally allowed to wild camp. Find out everything you need to get going with Fi Darby.
Kate Jamieson describes her night on the Dorset coast and the dos and don'ts of wild camping
A few weeks ago, I decided I needed some peace and quiet.
I wanted to go off grid and totally escape the world for the evening.
There are minimal places where you can do this in the UK, and as the mountains are a bit far to pop after work, I headed for the Dorset coast instead.
One of my favourite walks on the entire SW Coast Path is the one from Worth Matravers, out to Winspit Quarry and along the headland to St Aldhelm’s Head and Chapman’s Pool.
It’s my firm, and probably somewhat biased, opinion that the views along this stretch of coastline are unparalleled, and so where better to spend a night sleeping.
Plus, there’s no phone signal… More on that later.
And so, I packed my bag and headed straight off from work Friday evening, getting to Worth Matravers about 1 hour before the sun began to set. Heading down to the quarry, I met a couple of climbers headed back to the village, and aside from some people having a fashion photoshoot in one of the caves, I didn’t see another soul.
Winspit is pretty out of the way, as wild camp locations go, but should you need shelter from the weather, there are plenty of caves.
I, however, am a total scaredy cat, and the idea of sleeping in a creepy quarry cave on my own petrified me, so I walked out along the ledge until I found the perfect grassy spot, near a shallow shelter if it was needed.
Thankfully, I knew I wouldn’t. The weather forecast was perfect. Balmy, clear and a light sea breeze rolling in off the Channel.
As the weather was good, I went with my wild camp setup of choice, my bivvy bag, sleeping bag and an air filled mat.
"I got into my bag, had a wee dram and relaxed."
I’d like to say I passed out immediately, but Mother Nature was putting on a meteor shower, so I was awake until around midnight.
The Milky Way was amazingly clear and everything was still, besides the waves crashing beneath me.
At this point, my phone decided to inform me that it thought we were in France and so it couldn’t connect to the UK phone networks… As remote goes, when your phone thinks you’re in an entirely different country, it’s probably a good sign.
That being said, I was actually only 1 mile from the village. You forget this until two head torches wake you at 3:15 am. This was the first time I had ever been disturbed whilst out wild camping, and my heart rate shot through the roof. Maybe they were looking for a spot to wait for sunrise, maybe they were looking for the coast path?
The main thing is that they weren’t murderers, and a quick flash in the eyes with my Petzl Tikka meant they headed back from whence they came, pretty quickly.
Clearly my brain wasn’t too traumatised, as I passed out again instantly...
Waking up around 0500 with first light, I got up and stuck my Jetboil on, packed up then made a coffee (priorities) and boiled some water for my breakfast and with that out of the way, I sat and waited for sunrise.
I wasn’t disappointed.
After sunrise, I set off on my walk along the coast path to Chapman’s Pool. I’ve written about this walk for OS before in more detail, with a route. It's definitely worth having a look at!
As far as wild camp spots go, this is a favourite, and certainly one to consider if you’re walking the SW Coast Path this year.
If you’re in to your climbing, there are plenty of routes in the quarry as well.
Wild camping is legal in Scotland (aside from Loch Lomond) and on Dartmoor it’s generally allowed as well, though check this map for spots where it’s not.
Everywhere else, it’s generally suggested that you ask the landowners permission.
Of course, as you can imagine, this isn’t as easy as it seems… A lot of our beautiful countryside is privately owned, even within the national parks, which is why caution and common sense should be exercised more than anything else.
I’ve slept behind hedges in farmers fields a plenty, atop Dartmoor’s highest point, in an old quarry, next to a lake in Snowdonia, on a beach… The list goes on.
I’ve never once been asked to move on, but I put this down to truly leaving no trace, and not making an impact. I don’t light fires, I arrive late, leave early and there’s no sign I was even there aside from a small patch of flattened grass to show where my mat was.
A lot of this comes down to common sense, the more remote you are, generally the higher your chances of not being asked to move on. Though, I’ve heard of people being spotted by farmers, or even the police, and having a great chat with them with no problems at all.
Don’t make a mess, don’t draw attention to yourself and if for some reason someone does come across you and asks you to move off their land, do so.
"I suppose really there are two answers about where you can sleep wild: the theoretical, legal one is 'almost nowhere' and the practical one is 'almost anywhere'." - Alastair Humphreys