Friday, 11 June 2010

So you want to walk the coast... Camping, food, supplies and ablutions


There are many sites on the Internet that will tell you everything you need to know about camping in the UK. It is obvious that camping will be cheaper than most other forms of accommodation, with the main disadvantage being the weight you will have to carry.

Even if you have a motorhome supporting you, then there may be times when you need to camp - the Knoydart peninsular being a classic example. It would almost be a shame to do the walk and not spend a night or two under canvas.

An obvious problem is where to camp. Campsites are often few and far between, especially in winter, and therefore you will often end up wild camping, which is technically illegal in the UK. There are various approaches you can do to minimise this.

Firstly, I have found that asking people in a village for somewhere to camp pays dividends - on several occasions people have freely allowed me to pitch my tent in their gardens, once to the surprise of the homeowner's wife when she returned from the shop to find me sunning myself on their lawn! Farmers will often allow you to camp if you ask politely (and politeness is the key) - once I ended up camping in a graveyard with my tent between the gravestones.

If you are working with a charity, they may be able to help. Most people are genuinely kind, and the bush telegraph in rural societies can work exceptionally well. One coastal walker completed most of his walk simply by staying in stranger's homes, each person phoning around to find him a bed for the next night. I find it very hard to accept such kindness from strangers, but as someone put it: they get more out of being part of your challenge than you take from them. People like being involved with the challenge.

Sometimes the best-laid plans will fail and you will need to wild camp. I have several rules for this: firstly, always try and get permission. If that is not possible, try to be as unobtrusive as you can be. Do not make a mess (I always keep the area around my tent immaculate). Do not start hanging washing lines between trees, or leaving empty food cans scattered about, even if you intend to clear them up before you leave. Campfires are also, unfortunately, a big no-no. For more details, see the excellent v-g wild camping website.

Get to know where the YHA and independent hostels are to be found along your route - they provide fairly inexpensive accommodation and offer the chance to charge batteries (electrical and metaphorical) and have a shower. In Scotland, bothies will also be of use. The Mountain Bothies Association can give you more information.

If you are camping, then make sure you know your kit inside out. Invest in a very good tent - you may be spending over 300 nights in it - and sleep in it on both cold and warm nights. Practice putting it up in a storm as well as in the sun. Likewise, get a good sleeping bag in which you will be comfortable. Learn how to cook on a small gas or meths stove, and find recipes that can be made from food bought in small stores.


Let us be blunt: food is a vital yet often neglected aspect of the walk. If an army marches on its stomach, then you will walk on yours. Food not only nourishes the body, it can alter moods as well; having a bite of your favourite chocolate bar when depressed can work wonders. Likewise, finding only a smelly, dried-up apple at the bottom of your rucksack when you are ravenous does not help you cover the last few miles of the day.

Many long-distance walkers use dehydrated food - this reduces the weight of the food you have to carry. There are ready-made dehydrated foods available on the market from companies such as Wayfarer - although, to be honest, I have never found any that I like. Some people purchase dehydrators to make their own campfood. They then practice, trying out different recipes to see which works. This would be a great deal cheaper, although requires much more organisation. A camper could have such meals sent out to them regularly.

Before you set off, try and work out what food you like, and how much you need to keep you going. My girlfriend was a trained cook, so I was kept well and nutritiously fed during my walk.

I tend to keep two types of food: the main meals are kept safely in the dry of the main body of my rucksack, where they can be retrieved when at camp. Additionally, I keep a strategic cache of snacks easily available where I can get at them without stopping: any combination of chocolate bars, Kendal Mint Cake, apples, bananas, mixed fruit and nuts or tracker bars. These can be dipped into when and if I need a burst of energy or just am feeling miserable and need cheering up.

A strange thing happened with my weight on the walk - I was fit before I set off, but my weight plummeted during the first three months. After that I started putting on weight, and at the end of the walk I was about the same weight as when I set off. It was a different sort of weight, however, and my fat had been transformed into muscle.


My walk required over 100 maps. Fortunately we had room in our motorhome to store all of the unused ones (it became a ritual every month to climb up to the roofbox and get out the maps we needed for the next few weeks, and put away the used ones). Many people will not have this advantage. As mentioned earlier, the Post Office's post restante system can be invaluable.

Access to shops is varied. In some places (e.g. the south coast) you will have little problem in regularly finding shops. In others, especially in Scotland, it will be much harder. Indeed, it would be worth finding out the locations and opening times of shops on the west coast of Scotland before you set off - there is nothing worse than finding a shop is shut when you arrive at its door. A well-provisioned shop can prevent you having to carry kilos of weight up hill and down dale.


This is where the topic becomes more scatological. Sometimes you will need to do what the bears do in the woods. If so, then there are rules to follow. On my trips I carry a lightweight foldable trowel and tightly-rolled toilet paper in a waterproof container for just such a purpose. On my coastwalk, however, I mostly did without - I used pubs and public conveniences I found along the way, and also campsites and caravan sites. I became a past master at planning my walk to pass pubs at opening times- which had an added advantage of being able to have a pint!

 Strangely the biggest problem was when walking along Brighton seafront before Christmas - every public convenience I came across was closed for the winter, and it was too early for the pubs to be open!

If the worst comes to the worst and you have to do as the bears do, then here are rules to be followed. Most of these are obvious, but it would do no harm to familiarise yourself with them.

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