How I find great wild camping sites for microadventures

For first-time would-be wild campers and microadventurers, finding a pitch for a night under the stars can feel like a difficult task.

I saw this question recently on twitter:

Any wild camping places in the Leeds area? Need to be not far from the city

I’m seeing more and more of these kinds of questions on twitter and other social media channels. I always try to reply with something helpful, though it’s hard to do the question justice with 140 characters.

In this post I’ll try and answer the question above in some detail, just to give a sense of how I approach finding wild camp pitches in the UK

Firstly…I’d ask myself:

What do I know about the countryside around Leeds?

Off the top of my head (I’m a southerner who has been to Leeds once or twice, but mainly stayed in the cosy confines of pubs and curry houses), what do I know about Leeds and the surrounding countryside?

  1. It’s a city in Yorkshire
  2. Yorkshire has an an abundance of hills, woodland, moors, dales, rivers and coastline
  3. It should be really easy to find a great spot for a cheeky wild camp near to Leeds

Next step…get mapping!

Bing maps is my friend

Google maps might be better known but Microsoft’s Bing maps (www.bing.com/maps) is always my first port of call as it has an Ordnance Survey (OS) layer, which is exactly what I need for the job..

My places widget Top Tip: Get yourself a Microsoft account (you can use any email account to do this) so you can use the handy ‘My places’ widget that comes with Bing maps. I use the it for all my initial wild camping, microadventure and hiking planning. You can mark-up maps, pin locations,measure distances and generally keep track of things.

To find my wild camp spot near Leeds I go to Bing Maps and type ‘leeds’ into the search box and click the ‘Zoom’ link…

zoom

Then I click the ‘Road’ tab, followed by clicking ‘Ordnance Survey Map’ to activate the OS layer:

bing maps

Use this to switch between views

And here’s Leeds city centre on the OS map, pretty, eh? Don’t worry, lush countryside is not far away!

Leeds OS map

Leeds city centre on the OS map

My next step is to choose a direction, click on the map, and start dragging the map out of the city centre.  In this case I’ll move in a north-easterly direction (though it could be any old direction).  I might zoom out a little to make the dragging quicker.

I’m a sucker for wild camping in woods and alongside rivers, so that is what I look out for.

After a little bit of hunting to the north-east of Leeds I find…

carthick wood map

We have a wood, and a river!

Wow, a wood by a river, one of my favourite things.  The green dotted line is a public footpath, this is generally a positive sighting as it means easy access with (probably) no fences or other barriers.

This is a good moment to mark the wood on the map via ‘My places’ so I can find it again.

I click the ‘My places’ link on the top left of the page…

My Places widget

Use the ‘My places’ widget to keep a record of your work

…and then click the blue marker icon next to the arrow icon.  Finally, I click on the map to place the marker (no.1) and give it an title when prompted.

Carthick Wood map marker

Making my mark on the My places widget

Next I want to see how it looks ‘in real life’.  I do this by switching the map view from ‘Ordnance Survey Map‘ to ‘Bird’s Eye‘ and then ‘Aerial‘.

This is Carthick Wood as seen by a bird:

carthick wood birds eye

What the birds see…not bad, eh?

My next step is to find the nearest village or town.

This is so I can:

  • have a more detailed look at the surrounding area
  • assess how isolated the pitch is
  • work out how to approach the pitch via public transport

Zooming out a bit gives me the nearest village, in this case it’s East Keswick. I’ll add this to the ‘My Places’ widget (no.2)

East Keswick OS map

East Keswick on the OS map

What can I see?

  • The village is a walkable distance from the pitch
  • It’s a shame about the red A road, though maybe it’s not that busy and I won’t hear it from the wood
  • There’s a pub (‘PH’) on the A road. I’ll check that out in Google to get an idea of the kind of place it is.  Maybe they have late-night night discos? Perhaps it’s a good place for a pre-wild camp drink and meal?

All and more this can be discovered in the research stage.

I’ll use the ‘My Places’ widget to draw a route (using the icon to the right of the blue pin icon) so I can get an idea of distance, in this case it’s less than two miles.

distance

Not too far to walk…

Great, so far so good but how will I get there?

Getting from A to B

How do I get to East Keswick from Leeds and how long does it take?

To answer these questions I go to Google, and type: “east keswick” bus to leeds  into the search box.

Here’s what I get back, the first result looks just right:

bus timetable to Carthick wood

X99 Metro timetable

I click through to the site and there is the timetable. The X99 Metro bus runs from Leeds city centre to East Keswick seven days a week, the travel time is just over 30 minutes, good stuff!

Research, research, research

The next step is to research the pitch.

Why bother with research?

Well, make yourself comfortable and I’ll tell you a little story…

A short while ago I was searching on Bing maps for a pitch and found a nice looking wood (we’ll call it ‘wood X’) in the heart of Norfolk. It looked absolutely perfect.

I turned to Google, the first signs were promising.  I clicked through the result pages and then… buried away on the fourth page…I came across a reference to certain nefarious night-time activities between consenting adults, taking place on a regular basis in that there wood.

I sighed, closed down the browser window and waved a sad farewell to the pitch.

There are other good reasons to conduct some research:

  • a blog post might mention how quiet and unspoilt it is
  • a news article might have a story about illegal raves
  • a local walker’s group might report the river has recently broken its banks…and so on.

I pop ‘carthick wood’ into Google and see what comes back:

Google results for carthick wood

Google results for Carthick wood

The first two results returned are blog posts, they’ll be useful, I’ll bookmark these to read later on.

The other pages don’t look so promising but there may be some better ones further down. I usually to go through the first four pages of results to see if something catches my eye.

Now time for a visual check.  I click the ‘images’ link on Google and this is what I get back:

Image search for carthick wood

Google image search for Carthick wood

It’s looking good!

As tempting as it is to pack my rucksack and hop on the X99, there are a couple more steps I might take to make sure this is a good pitch…

Scouting the pitch

Always keep in mind: ‘the map is not the territory’.

What looks great on the map might be completely unsuitable on the ground, this has happened to me a few times.

If I lived in Leeds I’d probably go on a scouting mission just to check that it actually is a good site.  It’s only a half hour by bus and that’s time well spent if it means I’m confident the pitch is good.

At worst (i.e. the site is a swamp) I still would have had a good walk out in the countryside, it’s a win-win thing.

Plan B

If I don’t scout the pitch then I always have a Plan B (though I’d have a Plan B even if I had scouted the pitch earlier, things can, and do, change!).

For my Plan B I would have marked one or two other alternative pitches (‘4′ below) on the ‘My places’ widget.

Plan B

and that’s about it…

Hey ho! Let’s go!

All done. Now I’m taking the train up to Leeds for a spot of wild camping in lovely Yorkshire : )

Remember the golden rule: LEAVE NO TRACE!

(Note: I’m not advocating or suggesting camping in Carthick wood, I’m using it as an example)

What about you?

  • How do you go about finding pitches?
  • Have I missed anything? 
  • Any questions or comments?

Fire away in the comments below.

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