In praise of Wild Camping – Nick Hunt in a German castle

Walking the woods and the water

Walking the woods and the water

In his book, Walking the Woods and the Water, Nick Hunt sets out to retrace the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s famous 1930s hike across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul.

Here’s what Nick says about the book:

(It) recounts a seven-month walk through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey on a quest to discover what remains of hospitality, kindness to strangers, freedom, wildness, adventure and the deeper currents of myth and story that still flow beneath Europe’s surface

It’s a wonderful book (as is Fermor’s), one well worth your time to check out and read.

While Hunt took advantage of modern developments such as couchsurfing he also (like Fermor) wild camped along the way.  In the passage below he finds himself in Sankt Goar, Germany, on the left bank of the Rhine:

The air was mild, soft to the touch. It seemed as good a night as any to try my luck in the open…my eyes swung upwards to the ruin of Burg Rheinfels, a heap of rock hunkered on the hill, and almost involuntarily my legs started climbing.

The main castle turned out to be impregnable – impregnability, after all, being a castle’s primary function – and the less derelict part now housed the Romantik Hotel Schloss Rheinfels. But underneath this four-star hotel was a series of perfect human-length tunnels set into the wall. It was too romantik to resist.

Burg Rheinfels

Burg Rheinfels

The first three tunnels were running with slime, but the fourth was powder dry. It was a short scramble up to the ivy strangled wall, and once I’d stowed my bag I took myself upstairs for an expensive glass of Riesling.

At nine o’clock I descended to crawl into my sleeping bag, burrowed snugly as a worm in the castle wall.

The effect was alchemical. When I stuck out my head in the light of dawn, having not only survived the night but slept soundly in my hold – waking at dreamy intervals to the clatter of trains and the whoops of owls – somehow I belonged in a way that I hadn’t before.

Sleeping out produced a sense of enhanced connection with the land, a feeling almost akin to ownership: the paradoxical entitlement of the rough sleeper, whose lack of rights somehow grants him a greater right than anyone else.

A wild camp in a castle?  Who could ask for more…

See more posts in this series in praise of wild camping

Adventures in High Leicestershire : Oakham to Burrough Hill and back

As soon as I heard of ‘High Leicestershire’ I just knew it was ripe for exploration. 

The name conjures up a certain remote wild fastness that tugs at my adventuring spirit.  It brought to mind Edith Durham‘s wonderful adventure-travel book ‘High Albania‘ and y’know, if it’s good enough for Edith then it’s good enough for me!

One late Saturday morning at the end of May, I hopped on the train from Ely and an hour later arrived at Oakham in Rutland.

I headed west out of Oakham and 15 minutes later had crossed the border into Leicestershire and was climbing the first hill of the day (Mill Hill 180m!). I rested at the summit, crunched on a handful of pork scratchings. and took in the view of Rutland Water.

Rutland water

Rutland water

My destination was the Iron Age hillfort at Burrough Hill, ten miles away.

I followed public footpaths that took me up and over gently rolling hills…

High Leicestershire hills

The roiling hills of High Leicestershire

…and through fields of oilseed rape.

Fields of rape

Fields of rape

As the clouds cleared and the sun put in an appearance, the meadows and fields took on a lush glow, the English countryside at the start of summer, gorgeous!

Lecistershire looking lovely

Leicestershire looking lovely

The approach to the hillfort took me up through the wooded canopy of Dalby Hills.

Dalby Hills path

Dalby Hills path

After a steep climb I reached the summit of Burrough Hill (2oom), the views were tremendous.

The view from Burrough Hill

The view from Burrough Hill

The embankments of the hillfort are well defined and run around its entire perimeter.

Trig point on Burrough Hill

Trig point on Burrough Hill

I walked a circuit of the hillfort, imaging the community that once lived up here.

Fort walls

Fort walls

Here’s an “artist’s impression” of the fort:

Burrough Hill settlement

Burrough Hill back in the day (image borrowed from www.thiswasleicestershire.co.uk

The fort is now home to sheep and a few cattle.  I had considered the summit of Burrough Hill as a wild camping site but am not so sure now.  Do sheep bleet throughout the night? And what are the implications for sleeping amongst all those droppings?

Or am I being a complete wimp?

You tell me.

Burrough Hill sheep

Burrough Hill sheep, will they mind if I camp on their home?

I ate my cornish pastie lunch and enjoyed the lofty views.  Oh, and I took a selfie, as you can see.

The lonesome traveller on Burrough Hill

The lonesome traveller on Burrough Hill

And then it was time to walk the 10 miles back to Oakham, which I was pleased to note is twinned with ‘Dodgeville’, USA, a name right out of a wild west cowboy gunfight film.

Oakham, twinned with Dodgeville

Oakham, twinned with Dodgeville

Before hopping on the train back home I purchased a very cold can of Stella, a perfect way to finish a fine day’s hiking in the ‘lonely hills’ of High Leicestershire.

On the train home with Ms Artois

On the train home with Ms Artois

 

Introducing the Italian ‘Alpini’ Canvas Rucksack

I’m not one for gear reviews, to be honest they kinda bore me.  If I’m after some new gear then I’ll ask on Twitter and I always get a great response, and then maybe I’ll search for some reviews but on the whole…snoozeville.

Having said that, I know of a lot you really like them and so just for you, here’s a review of my joint-favourite all-time piece of gear (the other being my IKEA hobo stove).

Meet the Italian Alpini Canvas Rucksack, it’s not lightweight but it is extremely sexy.

Italian Alpini Canvas Rucksack 3

The Alpini from the front, rugged!

I can imagine Patrick Leigh Fermor striding out on this trans-European hike in the 30s with one of these on back, or James Bond on a Dolomite peak, with his stuffed full of dynamite for Dr Evil and a box of chocs for Ursula Andress.

Italian Alpini Canvas Rucksack 4

The Alpini from the back. The straps are very comfortable.

The Aplini is very well made, tough and durable. It is also beautiful, an object of desire.

The one I own was produced way back in 1976 and I have a strong suspicion it will outlive me.

I take mine out hiking and also use it as a laptop bag when I’m commuting to and from work.  It is a veritable multi-use sack.

Italian Alpini Canvas Rucksack 2

The Alpini from the side. Lots of room in those pouches.

Wynnchester, the producers and suppliers of this fine bit of kit, procure and then recondition them back to their former glory:

We have scoured the globe for a source of this particular rucksack from the late 1970’s. We then select the best, most complete examples, clean them and give the canvas a wax cotton treatment to bring it back to life.

Italian Alpini Canvas Rucksack

The Alpini, classic Italian sexiness!

As I said it’s not a ultra-super-dooper-lightweight kit and if that’s your thing then best ignore this post completely.

If, on the other hand, you’d like a stylish bit of kit that will last you a lifetime then the Alpini is well worth its price tag of £58.

Find out more on the Wynchester site (warning: there is a LOT of nice gear on the site, I won’t be held responsible for what you get up to with your card!)

(Note: I’m not receiving any reward from Wynnchester for this post, I’m doing it because I love the product, that’s all).

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