Introducing a friend to winter camping (softly)

Location: Braithwaite (Scotgate Campsite)

Date: 5 – 7th January 2018

Who with: JP

After a number of years talking about winter camping with my friend, JP, I finally managed to convince him (grind him down) that it was actually good fun, and we should give it a go! I had done quite a bit of winter camping a number of years ago and with one thing or another (mainly lack of time, and the fact that my dad bought a static caravan in the Lake District), it was something that had dropped off.

So, what better way to ‘ease’ him into it than on the first weekend of the year! The forecast was showing that we were going to be very lucky with the weather, however, I am always sceptical of always trusting the forecasts (from experience). It was due to be dry, bright – even with sun, but cold!

We arrived after work on Friday, and obviously in the heart of winter, it was dark. JP had to work late conveniently, and being the good lad that I am, I offered to have his tent up for when he arrived, so I arrived at Scotgate Campsite, in Braithwaite, as the leading party, at around 530pm.

I thought I would be kind on his first winter outing, so I chose Scotgate campsite, due to it being in a good location (5 mins drive from Keswick), with good facilities, and with at least one good pub about 2 minutes’ walk away.

It was already heading down to 1 or 2 degrees, even in the early evening, and so I kept busy putting up the tents and sorting our gear out, ahead of tomorrow’s walking. There were no other campers on the first night, which was no great surprise, but would definitely be the first thing that JP noticed! There were plenty Campervans though, many of whom would no doubt have their heating systems in full flow by now…

Time went pretty quicky (I can soon fill a couple of hours ‘faffing’ with my gear), and JP finally arrived, shortly after me just having finished the tents and getting our gear ready for tomorrow’s walk. Like any predictable creature, JP’s first observation was the lack of other campers, but I told him that they were on their way…

As this was a soft introduction to winter camping, part of the negotiation had included going for tea at the local pub, so that’s where we headed, the Royal Oak, in Braithwaite Village. I had been challenged to do Dry January by my wife, who thinks that I partake in too frequent a beer (possible truth in this), so I was on the soft drinks and my will power was truly tested, with JP enjoying some nice ales with our Gammon’s.

The time had come to leave the warmth and comfort of the public house and wander back to the tents. I got to work on the hot water bottles for us to put in our sleeping bags….another little luxury.

I had a foam roll mat, then an inflatable camping mat underneath my sleeping bag, which was only 3 season. JP had the option of his fiddly camp bed which needed building of his foam mat. My advice was to put the foam mat down and then invest 10 minutes building his camp bed, which raised him off the floor, which is where the cold comes up from in my experience. JP however, having had a few pints, had lost some of his energy levels and wanted to collapse straight into his tent i.e. just use his foam mattress. I strongly advised he invested the time in getting himself set up, but he knew better…

With temperatures supposed to drop to -1 degrees, he had made his bed, so to speak, and now he must sleep in it, as the saying goes.

….Morning arrives (6.00am).

‘Morning’, I hear from his tent. ‘Morning’, I reply. ‘How did you sleep’, to which he responded ‘not great, I was bloody freezing for part of the night!’ We were heading up to do The Coledale Round, above Braithwaite, that morning, so we had to get moving. He soon acknowledges that I may have been right and learnt the hard way that he needed to get ‘off the floor’ and use his camp bed on the second night.

I broke the news to him that it was around Zero degrees last night and that it was due to be -4 degrees tonight (due to today’s forecast of sun and clear skies), but he didn’t seem deterred. As we got walking, and as usual you start talking, he said that he did sleep for most of the night, but he wasn’t comfortable, but he wasn’t put off which is good.

We had a fantastic day in the fells, on what was a near perfect winter walk, with the strong winds being the only negative, but that’s me being picky! Having returned to the campsite just after 4pm, we made the decision to nip into Keswick to get some bits from the outdoors shops, before we head to Aviemore, in a couple of weeks.

In Keswick, I get a call from my wife who has realised that she is out with her friends next weekend, and wants to drink, so offered me a free pass that I could have a drink tonight if I fancied it….but was this a test! After a mulling over her offer, I decided to accept, whether it was a test of not, and would enjoy a few ales tonight (a must after a day on the fells, in my opinion)!

So, we nipped into the Dog and Gunn public house in Keswick, for a flier, before heading back to the campsite. My Dry January lasted all of 6 days!

We got back to the site, and enjoyed the campsite’s facilities of hot showers to warm us up, on what was already a cold evening. After a clear day, it was always going to be cold, and the weather forecast appeared to be spot on for once (cynic). It was around 745pm at this point, and we were both ready for our tea, so we made our way back to our local, the Royal Oak, which seemed a lot better this evening (although that may have been because I was sampling the local ales!)…

The night soon went, and the conversation didn’t let up, although I tend to do more listening than talking in the company of JP (nothing I don’t say to his face)! We called it a night, and after a quick wander around the streets of the village, under a beautiful star-filled sky, we headed back to the tent.

The now usual routine of me sorting boiling the water on my stove began, so that we could fill the hot water bottles, and in the meantime, instead of being a professional ‘faffer’ JP had decided to build his camp bed, so that he was a good few inches off the floor ahead of tonight’s camp. Wise decision.

We got settled down in our respective tents, and I was soon warm and cosy, as was JP, which he was pleased about. The forecast suggested that between midnight and around 5am, the temperature would gradually drop from -1 to -4 degrees. I slept like a baby, although in all honesty, I think the time has come for me to invest in a 4 season sleeping bag, instead of making-do with a 3 season one.

Morning arrived, and I got up to make a coffee, with JP stirring in his bed…he was more positive this morning and said that whilst he got cold at around 430am, he had slept much better and that he had been warm and happy for much of the night. I can concur with this, as unfortunately one oversight from me was that I had put the tents up too close together, although with JP’s snoring, I think 500 yards apart would have been too close!

There was a heavy frost on the tents, and it didn’t look like shifting anytime soon, so we had a brew and had some porridge in the meantime. JP also commented on the suitability of his sleeping bag, which, as a Mechanical Engineer, he had decided was the root cause of his coldness. He hadn’t been put off from future winter camping though, and even said that he had enjoyed it, so I took this as a victory, as he is my main walking companion.

He said (as will I) that he will be investing in a more suitable sleeping bag for the winter conditions, but would be happy to come winter camping again! Next time though, I will slowly start to take the stabilisers off, and decrease the luxury level, but one step at a time hey! Don’t tell him though….

It was during this weekend that we discussed a few more little ‘adventures’ that he would try in 2018, so I will keep you posted on developments!

Leave a Reply