“Wild Camping 3: Attack of the Sheep – Edale, The Peak District”
16 minute read
I cannot think of anything more humbling than the experience of watching the world wake up.
To witness the world moving from dark to light, to feel the increasing warmth of the rising sun, and to hear the birds waking up and singing their celebration of a new day arriving; all of these things remind me of what it means to be alive.
This experience would prove to be the defining moment of my third wild camping trip; a trip which this time saw me staying a little closer to home.
My previous two adventures had taken me up to the Wastwater area of the Lake District. On my first visit I’d set off with the intention of reaching a specific destination, and although the trip was a huge success in many ways, I still failed to reach that destination. On my second trip I managed to right the wrongs and got to exactly where I needed to be. However my celebrations were extremely short lived as I endured a seemingly endless night in cold, wet, and freezing conditions.
Regardless of those few hiccups, I’d driven away from the Lake District with a mini victory under my belt and the only question that remained was about where to go next. But the answer to this came along pretty fast as there was only ever one real contender; my home county of Derbyshire.
I’d chosen the Lake District for my first trips as there’s an established wild camping culture in the area; a culture that is accepted as long as certain unwritten rules are met, and I saw it as a place in which I could go and learn my craft without inviting any unnecessary pressure onto myself.
But despite living right on the doorstep of the Peak District, it’s an area that I’d purposely been avoiding as it seems there isn’t quite the same acceptance of wild camping as there is with our more northern friends. I knew that I needed to approach it carefully, but I felt ready for the challenge.
It was the first bank holiday weekend of May and I climbed into my car and drove north to the picturesque village of Edale, nestled deep in the heart of Hope Valley. It was a warm and beautiful day and the late afternoon sun had already begun its steady descent back down towards the horizon. I pulled on my backpack and adjusted it into place, and with the sound of Crowden Brook trickling away to my right and sheep bleating to my left, it was the perfect start to my third wild camping adventure.
I began walking, aware that the route I’d set myself for today was much shorter than on my previous journeys. Experience now told me of how far to push myself, but on top of that I was also still recovering from a heavy cold I’d had the previous week and my lungs weren’t functioning brilliantly. But although I knew I had to take this one a little easier, I’d still managed to set myself some new challenges in an attempt to lighten the load of my backpack. And first on the agenda was water.
Water is essential to any type of expedition, but water is heavy. On both my previous trips I’d carried an excessive amount with me and it had been a true burden to my progress. I knew that unless I was able to find a way around this then the amount of ground I’d be able to cover would always be limited.
And so on this trip I’d intended to extract drinking water direct from a natural source, albeit with the help of some new water filtration kit that I’d bought. Typically I’d gone a little over the top with this and had bought two different filters with me, and as I didn’t want to be too ambitious I’d also decided to carry at least some bottled water with me; in fact I brought three liters of the stuff. Although any experienced wild camper will quite rightly point out that this is still too much, it was a big step forwards for me. It was a warm and humid day and I was already sweating, so the last thing I wanted to do was to act over-confident and find myself without any water at all.
I’d planned the route using my OS map before setting off and had studied the gradient lines closely. The hike so far had been exactly as expected with a steady incline that would see me continue to hug closely to the brook before zigzagging my way uphill. There was to be only one steep incline ahead of me, but this would be the final stretch before hitting the camping spot I’d chosen on the eastern slope of the hill near Grindslow Knoll.
“This is the life.” I said to myself, looking around.
The hills looked a spectacular green in this late afternoon sun and the sound of the water trickling over the rocks left me feeling incredibly peaceful.
“Hello.” I heard somebody say, and then looking up I saw a hill walker making her way down the pathway.
“Hey, how’s it going?” I returned with a smile.
The lady continued past me and back down towards the start of the trail, and it suddenly occurred to me that this was beginning to be the norm with wild camping; that you go against the crowds rather than with them. As other people are leaving, you are only just arriving. And when you’re finished and about to head home, everybody else is only just beginning.
It was a feeling that I could definitely get used to.
It’s worth giving a mention that one of the things you’ll often encounter when heading into the countryside is sheep. Now I know that to most people they’re considered to be cute and cuddly looking things, like an oversized ball of cotton wool with four legs poking out of it; but I’m afraid I have some bad news for you; they’re not cute at all. In fact they’re an absolute pain in the backside!
Now I will concede that on the face of it they do look lovely; well, the little lambs do anyway. And yes they do make bleating sounds that can make the heart melt, but I’m afraid that more often than not they’re just vicious little shits that really hinder your progress.
Most of the time they’ll voluntarily move out of your way, and at other times they may need a little coaxing by making noises and waving your arms in the air (like you just don’t care). But when neither of these scenarios work and they just stand in your way with an intimidating look on their face, it’s usually because they’re a little bit pissed off and are ready to show you how much.
A few years ago I was out in the countryside and stumbled across a family of sheep in the middle of a field. I was about 40 metres or so from them and to me this felt like a safe distance; but they just stood there, staring at me. I waved at them and smiled, but I had no idea if they were smiling back. Instead the biggest one of the group took a step forward and said meeeeer.
Now it may not have been the wisest move I’ve ever made, but I decided to say meeeeer in return. In response to this the entire family came charging at me. For all I know they could’ve been so impressed by my excellent communication skills that maybe they’d charged to greet me, and if I’d let them reach me then their reception could have been quite warm; but, as they got progressively closer the looks on their faces were really quite menacing.
So I decided to run.
And I did, right towards the nearby hedgerow. They were getting closer and closer, yet there was no gap in the hedge and it was too high for me to stop and climb over, and so I realized that there was only one thing that I could do. I had to dive over it. And I did.
After landing on the other side I looked around to assess the damage. I had no cuts, no bruises, and no bones were broken. There wasn’t even a single tear in my clothing. But what I did soon discover was that I’d landed in a fresh pile of cow shit. And then I heard a mooooo.
But that’s a story for another day.
Anyway my point is that sheep can be real bastards, and so as I encountered another group of sheep up here on the hilly slopes in Edale, I was somewhat cautious.
Experience had taught me not to meeeeer at them, and so instead I nodded my head, said “good day to you”, and then walked around them in a wide arc. As I reached the other side of them they’d all turned to watch me, but they hadn’t moved. I considered this to be a relative success despite the fact that the extra distance over uneven ground had been quite exhausting, but I pushed on.
A little further up the hill I encountered four more sheep that were gathered in a rather strange formation. The first two were stood still, the third was lying on the ground, and the fourth was standing on the back of number three. And none of them were moving. They were completely still. I had no idea what was going on, but it was like they were taking on the ‘mannequin challenge’ for social media.
Once again I veered away from the track, arced around them, and continued to the next bend of the zigzagged pathway.
As I rounded the next corner I stumbled across yet another sheep, but this one was with its baby lamb. The sheep was clearly being very defensive of its young offspring and it was definitely not an animal to be messed with. This one had serious business written right across its face yet I looked it dead in the eyes.
“It’s okay. I’m just going to walk around you. No need to…awwww…”
I’d made the mistake of looking at the little lamb. It looked so cute.
“Awwww” I repeated, but the big sheep was undoubtedly upset with me for looking at its baby.
It edged towards me and I held up both my hands and started walking backwards before moving off the path and tackling the steep slope head on instead.
This detour was wearing me down and the weight of the backpack was playing hell with my knees. My post-cold lungs were struggling to take in enough oxygen and I was dripping with sweat. My glasses slid to the end of my nose and I fought to push them back into place, but my damp skin made it impossible for them to sit still. Anyone who wears glasses knows just how annoying this is, and when I finally reached the next section of the pathway I was feeling knackered and pissed off.
And then I encountered another sheep, and once again this one looked angry.
What was wrong with the sheep in Edale? Was it something in the water?
Meeeer!! It said as it started to edge forwards. MEEEEER!!
But it was one meeeeer too many. I was just an innocent man looking to do some wild camping. I wasn’t here to hurt any sheep. I wasn’t here to be a problem. All I wanted to do was keep myself to myself and to relax. But now I completely lost my composure and despite the angry sheep being a matter of feet from me, I let it all out.
“Oh just FUCK OFF!!!”
The sheep looked startled at my sudden explosion, like it couldn’t quite believe what it had heard. But it turned around and did exactly what I asked of it.
It fucked off.
I was now at the very top of the hill at an elevation of around 530m. I had just a little further to walk before I’d reach my chosen position over on the eastern slope, and from here I knew I’d have a prime view to watch the sun rise over Edale in the morning.
I couldn’t wait to set up camp.
But after consulting my map and looking around me, the small tarn and stream that were showing on the OS were nowhere to be seen. I knew I had the correct spot and according to my map it should have been there.
Maybe it was the time of year and maybe they only appear when the weather isn’t so hot and dry, but whatever the reason I suddenly felt very glad that I’d brought my own water with me.
“Oh this is just perfect” I said to myself.
I was standing on the eastern slope and had found a relatively flat area with soft spongy ground, like nature’s very own mattress. The views were stunning and I watched the light from the valley floor steadily disappear as the sun began to set behind me.
Check out the video below to see where I was setting up camp at sunset.
It was now time to experiment with the second challenge that I’d set for myself; a change in camping arrangements. Without doubt I am a tent man by heart, but today I was going to try something new; the tarp and bivvy.
Although my tent only weighs 2kg, I was able to shave half a kilo off my total pack weight by bringing this new kit. Half a kilo may not sound a lot, but every little bit makes the difference when you’re hiking, especially when you’re going uphill.
I’d brought a hooped-bivvy rather than a bivvy bag, which means it’s more like a low level tunnel tent as opposed to an outdoor sleeping bag. But there is almost zero storage space and it’s impossible to sit up in. This is fine in perfect weather conditions, but by itself it’s pretty much flawed the rest of the time.
The wild camper needs some form of shelter in order to store their gear and to cook their meals, and this is exactly what the tarp is for.
I set up my ultra-light tarp using my walking poles as the two main supports, and then with a small tree branch that I’d found on the way up I was able to elevate the back section further off the ground, giving me more storage space.
“Ray Mears would be proud of me.” I laughed.
Although the sun had almost disappeared behind the western side of the hill, it was still tremendously warm and there was to be no repeat of my last experience in the Lake District. I remembered how the temperature had plummeted drastically in that instance, like a thermostat suddenly being turned to zero. The thought alone sent a shiver down my spine. But today I was walking around in my t-shirt and felt perfectly toasty.
It was the perfect summer’s evening.
After cooking up a boil-in-the-bag meal and eating a portion of chocolate pudding, I brewed another coffee and then sat back down in the grass.
The light was disappearing and the day was moving into twilight. Even the birds and the wildlife were steadily becoming silent. From this position I could observe the day coming to an end, which was both beautiful and sad.
I suddenly felt very alone and had a strange realization that the birds and animals that you encounter actually become company for you; even the angry sheep. Now that they’d gone to sleep it felt like I’d been holding a party but all my friends had gone home.
I stood up from the grass and wandered over to the tarp, took my hipflask from my backpack and then wandered back out.
As I took a slug of whisky I caught sight of torchlight up on Grindslow Knoll. This was the first time I’d ever encountered other people when wild camping and I suddenly felt on high alert. Were these other wild campers or were they park rangers? Was I about the get busted? Was I going to get moved on?
There were at least two of them, but the longer I watched them it became clear that they weren’t moving off the knoll. They had to be fellow wild campers.
Despite knowing this I have to admit that when I finally climbed into my sleeping bag at around 11pm, I was convinced that they’d come down and butcher me during the night.
I’ve seen way too many horror movies.
I woke up at around 2am to find that I’d not been butchered but that I did have to get up and stretch my legs.
I’d left the waterproof cover of the bivvy rolled back and had been sleeping under the layer of mosquito netting. From here I was able to look up and see the night sky.
I rolled out of my sleeping bag, walked out onto the grass, and looked around in awe. The sky was beautiful; like a pure dark blanket full of silver sequins. In every direction I looked the stars twinkled, and to top it all off it was still warm.
Here I was, stood high above Edale in nothing more than my underwear, at 2am, star-gazing. It was a truly breath-taking moment and is something that will remain with me forever.
I slept for a couple more hours and was then awoken by the sound of birdsong. The sky was beginning to lighten, and it was 4.30am when I unzipped the bivvy and sat up.
The morning sky had been calling me to get up, but it was also the sensation of feeling damp. Despite the fact that it had been a warm night, a dense condensation had managed to form within the bivvy. The water had gathered towards the lowest section near my feet and had caused my sleeping bag to become wet through. As such, my feet were now damp and cold.
I’d read about this unfortunate but common problem with the hooped-bivvy, but given the warm conditions I’d be sleeping in I never expected it to be an issue. If it was this bad in May when I’d had the top unzipped to allow some air to circulate, then how bad would it be if I were to use it in the winter?
I made the decision right there and then that I wouldn’t ever be using it again. Either I’d get myself a proper waterproof bivvy bag, or I’d stick to my tried and trusted friend, the tent.
My experiences had so far taught me that there is no single perfect way of wild camping and that the equipment you choose may have to vary each time. This would be determined by a number of factors such as the environment, pack weight requirements, and weather conditions.
I dried my feet off and then rolled out onto the grass. The sun wasn’t quite up yet, but the sky was beginning to steadily change colour over where it would be rising.
I got into my clothes and put the espresso pot onto the stove. When the water began to roll and the dark coffee came splashing through into the top section, I poured it into my cup and added some additional hot water.
Sitting on the grass, I breathed in the aroma of coffee and sat in complete silence, listening to the birds singing and waiting for the sun to rise.
And what came next was one of the most life affirming experiences I’d ever had.
We very often hear about sun-worshippers, and I alluded to this in my last wild camping article. As the sun had come up in the Lake District it had freed me from an uncomfortably cold experience and it gave me a genuine appreciation of the life giving properties of our sun.
Here in Edale, I was already warm. But as the sun began to break over the horizon I became a spectator in seeing how the sun interacts with our environment.
Before sunrise, the villages below had been shrouded in darkness, but when the sun began to rise ever higher in the sky, I could see how the angles of the sunlight began to reach different parts of the valley floor. The cluster of houses that had been caught in the shadows were now glowing orange, and I saw the church tower changing colour, from bottom to top, as the sunlight crept its way towards the steeple.
From down on the ground this can never truly be appreciated, but when looking down on it from high above, it’s an incredibly humbling experience.
While all this was happening, the birds were singing and insects bounced from one stem of grass to the other. One bird in particular settled down on the grass about three metres away from me and looked out to the horizon, just like me. It was silent for a moment, like it was taking the moment in, and then it started to sing, as though showing appreciation for the new day arriving.
“I know exactly how you feel my friend.” I whispered.
I closed my eyes and enjoyed the bright orange glow that penetrated my eyelids, and as my skin began to warm and the smell of fresh coffee filled my nostrils, I understood that I’d been granted a gift by nature. Because if there’s one thing you can never rely on in England, it’s the weather. I could do another ten wild camps and never get another morning like this, and with this in mind I allowed myself to cherish every single second of it.
Check out the video below which I took just before the sun began to break over the hills
After packing up my things and taking one final look around, I started making my way back. But after just a few steps I saw a middle-aged gentleman and a young boy walking towards me.
“Good morning!” I waved.
“Beautiful day isn’t it?” The older man returned.
We stopped and chatted for a short while, and much to my relief it turned out that it was this gentleman and his son that were up on Grindslow Knoll through the night; so it wasn’t park rangers or the wild camper butcher after all!
“We were trying to capture a headtorch photo” He said, which explained why I’d noticed the torchlight moving backwards and forwards along the knoll. And I knew exactly the type of photo he meant as you see it often in wild camping articles; a long exposure photo that captures the stars but also your fellow camper with the beam from their headtorch pointing towards the heavens.
“Were you successful?” I asked.
“Nope, the photo looked rubbish. But still, what a night eh!”
I made my way back down the hill and started walking along Crowden Brook, and it was at this point that I realized I’d forgotten to do something.
“Damn it. The water!”
I’d made it through the entire journey with my 3 litre reserve, but I’d also made myself a promise that I’d retrieve some water direct from its natural source.
I tried to justify not doing this by saying that I’d managed with what I had and so there was no point in taking any unnecessary risks, but no matter how hard I tried, I knew I had to do it.
Picking a position in the stream where the water was flowing freely, I took the bottom half of my espresso pot and filled it from the flowing water. I took out my stove, put the pot on the flame, and five minutes later I had a steaming cup of black coffee. I took a sip.
“Aaaah beautiful.” But then the realization hit me.
“Elliot, you dick!” I cursed at myself. “That’s not exactly hardcore is it!”
Yes I’d used natural water, but I’d boiled it. And although that’s a legitimate method of purification, what I really needed to do was to try drinking some water which was fresh and cold from the stream.
Reaching into my backpack I took out the two water filtration kits; the Drink-Safe Travel Tap and the Sawyer Mini Filter. I’d bought two different filters because of the pros and cons that they both offered. The Sawyer Mini Filter appeared to be the best all-rounder with a decent rate of water flow and which kills 99.99% of bacteria. The downside, however, is that it cannot remove chemicals or viruses. The Travel Tap, on the other hand, appears to be suitable for circumstances including the zombie apocalypse, nuclear meltdowns, and Armageddon. When the planet becomes extinct and even the cockroaches are dead, the Travel Tap will still be here; or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe. In short, the Travel Tap removes the things that the Sawyer Mini Filter doesn’t.
With this in mind my original plan had been to collect the water and filter it first through the Sawyer and then through the Travel Tap. But this process took me so long that in an emergency situation you’d probably die of thirst before you even managed to get a single drop out of it.
And so I made a judgement call.
I knew that the water in this stream was filtering down from above and that there were no farms or any kind of industry located in those upper areas; therefore I could rule out the presence of chemicals. I’d also walked the entire length of the brook, upstream of where I was collecting the water and I’d not seen anything suspicious or any dead animals, so I was also ruling out bacteria and viruses. Therefore I concluded that I should be fine just using the Sawyer Mini Filter, so I filled up the water pouch, attached the filter, and then opened the cap and started drinking.
I know that to some people I may sound overly cautious, but I’ve had a parasite in my body before and it’s not a pleasant thing to have; not just for the physical symptoms, but also for the mental effects. It’s quite distressing to know that there’s something living in your body which shouldn’t be there.
Over the next few days I was paranoid that every single fart and stomach gurgle was a sign that I was getting ill; but writing this article, months later, I can confirm that I was absolutely fine.
To have done this may only sound like a small thing, but to me it felt like a huge victory. I’d taken another step forwards and gained more valuable experience on this latest trip, and my knowledge was steadily increasing as I continued to learn my craft.
As I drove back home on this perfect summers morning, my mind steadily began to wander; because I knew that I needed to keep the momentum going and to start planning the next one. And no doubt it would bring me into the path of more sheep, evil sheep! But then I got to thinking about one final photo that I took before leaving.
Maybe they are kinda cute after all.
Have you ever been wild camping and have a story to share? Do you have any hints and tips that you could share with me and any fellow wild-campers? Have you ever had much experience of water-filtering or using bivvy bags? And have you ever had any run-ins with demonic sheep? Please feel free to leave your comments below so we can get a conversation started.
And if you know of anybody that you think would enjoy this feature then please do feel free to share it.
If you’ve liked what you’ve read and would like to be kept up to date with new content on the site, then please sign up to the newsletter by clicking here.
Share this post: