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Winter Camping - 5 reasons to give it a chance

Winter Camping – 5 reasons to give it a chance

When it comes to winter many of us retreat into our homes and physically and mentally haul up the drawbridge. We hunker down, ride out the bleakness and only fully re-emerge in the Spring. It’s a form of human hibernation. 

The thing is, we’re supposed to leave that to the small mammals like hedgehogs; insects; amphibians; and reptiles. Oh, and one bird, the common poorwill. 

Look up Wikipedia, it defines hibernation as a state of minimal activity and metabolic depression.’ In its human form you could add mental depression as well. We’ve all heard of SAD – seasonal affective disorder. The thing is, we can take some steps to combat it. Statistically the British winter is nowhere near as bad as we might believe.

This brings us to the first reason to go winter camping.

The Weather

You probably didn’t see this one coming, and you don’t have to take my word for it. Take a look at Met Office statistics and you’ll be in for a surprise. For instance, if you fancied some coastal walking in the north-east around Whitley Bay then pick February or March. They are the two driest months of the year. In fact March has just two-thirds of the rainfall that drops in August.

Or if you’re further down the coast, try East Anglia. The regional rainfall in February, March and April are all lower than any other month of the year. Yes, that made me raise my eyebrows too. It’s a similar picture in places like the Cotswolds. The fact is summer camping can actually be wetter than pitching a tent in winter.

Admittedly, I’m not picking exposed areas in higher parts of the country. But a little bit of discernment will improve your odds of staying nice and dry. Just be smart and do a little bit of research.

When it comes to sunshine, there’s no hiding the fact you’ll find plenty more of it in the summer months. However, being outdoors on a crisp, sunny day in winter can be magically life-affirming. The air is fresh and because of the angle of the sun the days really are brighter.

But what about the cold? It’s not much fun when you’re camping. But there are lots of ways around that – the Expert Camper has you covered. Be smart about where you go and where you pitch. And crucially, make sure you’ve got the right gear.

It’s Quieter

I love being social at campsites. There’s a buzz, a friendship and willingness to help and share info and insight. Being part of a like-minded community is great and I love sitting around chewing the fat, especially over a few drinks. 

Most people are great but if you camp long enough you’ll come across some rowdies. The people who can’t quite appreciate when it’s time to turn down the volume of their music or their voices. Or who actually just don’t give a damn. 

Summertime is also peak season. Sites are full, space is at a premium and waits for shower at their maximum.  This is where winter comes into its own. 

Many sites are closed but those that aren’t tend to be very quiet. Pick your spot, have room to breathe and you don’t have to worry about noise. Whether that’s from the little kids or the adult kids. 

It Looks Different

When you head out hiking the trails are quiet or even deserted. Those special places you know can now be yours and yours alone. The people after photo ops or Instagram experiences apparently only work summer hours.

And the thing is it can all look completely different to a few months earlier. The colours change, the shapes as well when the trees have shed their leaves. You can have an entirely different experience doing exactly the same thing. The full blush of a British summer is beautiful but seeing it again in winter is like seeing it anew.

Bright, sunny days add sharpness to everything. But it’s not just about when the weather is being kind. As much as I dislike grey winters in the city, they  can give the country landscape a kind of bleak beauty. Big landscapes look more dramatic, woodlands lose their freshness and feel more primal. I always feel like nature is a brooding boss when I’m outdoors in winter. 

Bright, sunny days add sharpness to everything. But it’s not just about when the weather is being kind. As much as I dislike grey winters in the city, they  can give the country landscape a kind of bleak beauty. Big landscapes look more dramatic, woodlands lose their freshness and feel more primal. I always feel like nature is a brooding boss when I’m outdoors in winter.

It’s Invigorating

There’s no doubt camping and hiking can be much tougher in winter. Everything takes more effort. Making your camp comfortable requires extra equipment; going out for a hike means carefully thinking through your clothes and your gear; the cold and wet sap your energy. 

However, winter repays our efforts. My greatest moments of fulfilment have come on winter hikes. The whole experience can be a bit of a struggle. But that only magnifies the reward when it comes – great or small. The moment the sun flicks through the cloud. Or just a sip of hot tea from a flask in the lee of some rocks. Perhaps it’s reaching  a warm pub or your final destination.

There’s a quote from Peter Kropotkin, the Russian revolutionary, clearly not intended for camping but I’ve adapted and adopted it: 

“To struggle is to live, and the fiercer the struggle the intenser the life. Then you will have lived; and a few hours of such life are worth years spent vegetating.”

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It Creates Memories

And Kropotkin is right. How many winter days do we remember when we sit indoors, mess round on our tech devices and generally do nothing. 

Those days go past and are instantly forgettable. However, even the bad days camping create memories – something tried, even if it’s ended in wet, cold disappointment. Winter camping can go wrong. Usually,  the weather is worse than anticipated. By the way, don’t book ahead in winter, there’s always room. And if the weather looks bad just delay until the next weekend.

But when winter camping succeeds, it’s hard to replicate the feeling of achievement and satisfaction.  Having made the effort to head outdoors, had some fun, breathed fresh air into your lungs and made the most of a day of your life. Now that’s pretty special.  

Arthur Penlington
Author: Arthur Penlington

Arthur Penlington is the former Senior Editor of the BBC TV News Channel. He spent 18 years with the corporation. He covered three wars from the frontlines and stories from five continents. He’s passionate about travel and the outdoors. After moving to Australia he sold his house and travelled the world for almost eight years. He’s written a top 3 travel humour book - Around The World In Wonder Socks - based on a year backpacking the world with no plan. Destinations were decided by the toss of a coin. He’s camped in Australia, Asia, Europe and Africa and spent time with a former headhunter tribe, deep in the Borneo Jungle.

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