When temperatures start to plummet and the threat of frost and snow lingers in the air, most people pack away the tent. But not me…
Hoarfrost coated my tent like an alien exo-skeleton, criss-crossing the green nylon in a web of ice. At the foot of my porch door my hiking boots sat, frozen to the grass, while each breath I exhaled transformed into a puff of vapour, turning white in the ether. Yet here I lay, cocooned from the cold, snuggled in my sleeping bag, deep in the heart of the mountains.
This was the reason I go winter camping, the ability to not just survive but to really feel like you’re living – being surrounded by the silence while the world seems to be fast asleep. Sure, the icicles up the nose aren’t pretty and true, occasionally you dozily remove an arm from the comfort of your warm layers, fall back to sleep and wake up with a limb that’s so numb it feel like it doesn’t belong to you, but it’s a small price to pay for a night in the snow.
So this winter consider keeping out the tent for a while longer with a stay in one of these locations, each one guaranteed to be seriously cool…
Shelter Stone, Cairngorms
Below the sheer cliff faces of Carn Etchachan, above the shores of Loch A’an, sits a boulder field. But this isn’t just any boulder field, this one hides a very special secret hiding place. The Shelter Stone. Even marked on the OS map, this lump of granite is so large it hides a sunken chamber underneath, perfect for camping out. It isn’t always easy to find – so your plan B can be the spit of sand at the tip of the loch – but it is one of the best places to bed down in the Cairngorms while the snow swirls outside… (Note: the Cairngorms are a serious undertaking in winter, the ability to read a map in whiteout conditions and use an ice axe and crampons may be necessary).
Sitting, as they do, so close to Wales’ highest peak the Carneddau are a mountain range easily overlooked. But their potential for good wild camping spots is plentiful. A favourite of mine is the shores of this pocket of water from where you can gaze up at the mountains that sit opposite and watch the stars on a clear winter’s night. Or, alternatively – check out the nearby bothy…
Beacon Hill, South Downs
It’s easy to write the Downs off as a little too small to be worth your interest, but in winter, under frost or a blanket of snow, anything seems more epic than its height suggest. For the little effort it takes to climb this tiny 242m steep-sided peak, you are rewarded with panoramic views in every direction, so you can bed down in your bivvy and watch the lights from the towns beyond twinkle in the distance.
In the summer, this wild slice of Devon has a bit of a (well justified) reputation for being a quivering mass of boggy ground. But come winter and a particular cold snap and it comes into its own. With the moorland freezing over, added to an old bylaw that makes wild camping legal, you can, within reason, have the pick of your pitch. But by far the best place to be is snuggled into one of the gritstone tors around this the site of an old medieval village.
Blackbeck Tarn, Lakes
Winter, spring, autumn or summer, the Lakes are ripe for a wild night out any time. But I prefer the crowdless months of winter for spending time in the fells. Haystacks is legendary for being the favourite hill of the famous pictorial guide, author and illustrator Wainwright. But it’s not the summit I go for. Instead I make a beeline for the tarn beneath it – Blackbeck, from where an overnight offers the perfect position for a dawn raid on the rest of the Buttermere fells.