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Wild Camping Along The South Downs Way

Memories, that’s what we wanted to make when we decided to put our lives in two rucksacks and travel for a few years. Because when you are taking your last breath that is what you remember, not how much money you have in the bank or how big your house is.

So, here we were four days into the south downs way, exhausted, aching, and feeling completely alive.

We had spent the seven hours previously hiking up and down hills that tried to take away your enthusiasm, with stony paths making a mockery of your expensive hiking boots.

But it didn’t matter in the slightest, we had found the perfect place for a night of wild camping. You can hear the sigh of relief from your feet when you took your shoes and socks off, letting the cool air take away the day’s exertions.

We would gingerly lower ourselves to the floor, using the rucksacks as support for our aching backs. But then the efforts of the day would start to lift, as we started to notice what was around us.

How often in life do you just stop, stop, and notice every tiny, beautiful, magical thing that you are surrounded by? Not often enough I am guessing.

We don’t set the tent up until about half an hour before it gets dark, so that gives us a few hours to sit and watch the world around us.

The magic I talk about is in the skylarks hovering just above the fields searching for prey. It is in the clouds floating above your heads, which if you look hard enough you can create whatever you like out of their mesmerizing shape-shifting. It is in the rolling hills that fill your sight for miles all around, the array of wildflowers that line the fields.

The feel of grass on your bare feet gently bringing them back to life, the freshness of the air that fills your nostrils with aromas that can’t help but make you smile. The cacophony of birdsong that sings to us, as if they are putting on their own wildlife concert just for the two of us.

Hours we sit there, our senses bombarded by all that we are lucky enough to be surrounded by.

We miss so much in the hecticness of everyday life, money, and possessions taking away the simple joys that we are surrounded by.

We eat a simple meal of tinned fish, rice, and vegetables cooked over a tiny stove. My mind and body feel grateful that it is getting a break from the overindulgence of living a life of convenience, where I can walk into my kitchen and keep eating whether I am hungry or not.

As we prepare for sleep in our castle made for two, we are comforted by the chaffinches, robins, and blue tits singing their dusk chorus, perched on the branches of an ancient yew tree. The melodious songs remind me of being read bedtime stories as a child by a loving mother or grandparent. Filling us with ease and taking away the last remnants of an arduous day on the trail, leaving us feeling safe in the world and protected by an unseen force.

As we lay there in our down-filled cocoon, we listen to the wind whisper through the branches of the tree above. Gently lulling us into a calm sleep with its rhythmic murmurs like a lullaby created just for us. We feel the whole of our being relax with each breath of the wind, as our bodies lose all their tightness. Letting us gently drift into a re-energizing slumber, feeling grateful for the small things in life

We are gently awoken by the dawn chorus, it is a magical way of life. Falling asleep when we are tired, then waking up when we are not. Our bodies direct us to what is right, leaving the stress of what is perceived as normal life behind.

We had our obligatory cup of tea, well we are English, and it would have been remiss if we hadn’t brought the right supplies to keep us in tea on this adventure.

I am lucky enough to have brought my own Tai Chi teacher with me, so doing fifteen minutes of Tai Chi stretches is becoming part of our morning routine. We were ten minutes into our routine when a white-tailed eagle flies into our eyeline, we were like two ten-year-old kids. The visible excitement at seeing this whilst doing Tai Chi could have been felt if you were standing with us, ten seconds later it was gone, but what a magical moment it was. We went on to see it three or four times during the day and each time was as exciting as the previous.

This is just the experience of one night, I could write a book on the mindful moments we have had over the first five weeks of our travels. But I wanted to give an insight into what has become an important part of our journey, wild camping, and watching.

I implore you to stop for a moment, wherever you are today just stop and take a moment. Connect to your senses and see, hear, and smell where you are. Notice the little things, the little things you wouldn’t normally notice. Breathe it in, it can change how you see yourself and the world you live in.

Wild camping is about respect, you respect the land, the people and nature. Do not have fires unless in a specific area where it says you can, take all your rubbish with you. Leave no trace. Within a few hours of us leaving you would not have known we had been there. Be respectful please, or you ruin it for the people that have the right attitude to wild camping.

See you on the trail.

Written by Mark Wood on the south downs way, May 2022.

You can follow Mark and Karen’s life-changing adventure on their Facebook group or on YouTube.

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