My First Solo Wildcamp on Dartmoor

Dreaming of Wild Camping 

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved going camping, however, until last year, it was something that I’d only ever done with others. In the back of my mind though, I’d often wondered what it’d be like to wild camp, alone. 

In recent years, the idea of doing a solo wild camp had been haunting me. My health was getting worse, and the more it seemed like it might never happen, the more I yearned to do it. (Isn’t that always the way?)

At the time, I was having a lot of seizures, as well as severe headaches that often left me unconscious. Things got even worse when I started having episodes of severe confusion, where I didn’t know who or where I was.

It was a frightening time, and I know what you’re thinking. That does not sound like the best time to go off camping, alone. Recognising my decline though, I realised that if I wanted to do this, it was probably now or never. 

Looking back, it was a risky decision and not one that I’d repeat. At the time though, it felt like something I just had to do. 

So, I dug out my backpack, packed up my tent, and as soon as I had a day where my symptoms were a little better, I set off. 

Reaching Dartmoor

It was mid-afternoon when I was dropped off at the edge of Dartmoor, in the quaint, little village of Belstone. As I walked towards the edge of the moorland I felt excited to start my adventure, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was making a big mistake.

That feeling was further compounded when, within minutes of setting out, my intracranial pressure shot through the roof, my head started pounding, and my left ear began dripping with spinal fluid – as it so often did.

My heart sank. I knew I’d struggle, but I hadn’t anticipated that this onslaught of symptoms would hit me so hard, and so quickly!

By the time I’d ambled up the lane, and had finally reached the moor, I felt dreadful. I slumped on the ground, closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and gave myself a talking-to. “You’ve got this, girl.  It’s only one night. You can’t go back now. What kind of wussy are you?!” (My inner voice sounds far too much like David Goggins at times!)

Fired up with renewed sense of determination, I took a breath, opened my eyes and looked up..only to see an ominous cloud overhead, and a bright red flag, flying on the hill above me. 

On Dartmoor, the red flags indicate when the military firing range is in action, and today, they were shooting. 

I’d checked the timetable beforehand, so I already knew that they’d be firing that day, but I was still surprised to see a flag flying so far away from the range. It made me wonder if the map I was using was correct. Perhaps, the range was closer than I’d thought, and I was already in a live shooting zone?

As I pondered this, my phone buzzed with a weather warning, alerting me to a large thunderstorm that was supposedly heading my way.  I squinted up at the dark clouds above me and noticed how heavy the air felt. Thunder was definitely on the cards!

Originally, I’d wanted to do a longer hike, and had planned to camp up on the ridge. Now, with my symptoms raging and a thunderstorm brewing, I decided that it’d be better to find a more sheltered spot, and get my tent up as soon as possible. 

I headed to nearby Scarey Tor. A low tor of large granite boulders, which overlook the ferny banks of the East Okement River. The spot was quite close to the firing range, which was just the other side of the water, but in every other way, it was perfect. 

I pondered my decision for a while, wondering if a stray bullet might fly my way in the night. Then, weary and in pain, I relented and began to unpack my tent.

Pitching my Tent

I pitched my tent in a gorgeous spot, on a small patch of grass, next to Scarey Tor. To my right, the craggy ridge towered above me, and down below, the rolling hills led into the valley, towards Okehampton. 

My tent is a Vango Tryfan 200, and on the day that I did my first solo wild camp, it was brand spanking new.

I’d hoped to practice putting it up beforehand, but in the lead-up to my camp, I hadn’t been well enough to do so. So I ended up figuring it out, on the fly.

The tent is surprisingly sturdy, and its design is rather unique. I’d never pitched a tent quite like it, and it took me several attempts before I realised that two of the poles fit snugly into rivets on the side of the tent (providing tension and rigidity) rather than going right down to the ground.

Once it was up, I felt incredibly relieved and a rush of excitement washed over me. This was it. I was actually doing it. My first solo wild camp had begun!!  

My tent opens on all four sides, and as I admired the views from each direction, I almost wept with happiness. The land just looked so picturesque. I could hardly believe it was real.

After resting for a while and eating some flapjacks, I sat enjoying the stillness and the beauty of the moment. One thing was for sure, I’d definitely picked a great spot, to do my first solo wild camp! 

By this point, my head pain had eased a little, and the thunderstorm had passed over too. I finally relaxed. The air felt fresher, and dusk was not far off. 

As the temperature dropped, I snuggled down inside my sleeping bag and set my alarm for dawn. I’d wanted to see the sun rise, and go for an early-morning swim.

Unfortunately, this is where my plans went awry. Not long after I’d turned in for the night, a strange feeling swept over me, and I realised that I was about to have a seizure. 

A Long, Dark Night

The next part is all a blur. At some point, I awoke with the most unbearable pain, emanating from the side of my head. The left side of my body was convulsing, and in the hours that followed, I drifted in and out of consciousness.

At times I was aware of soldiers nearby; shouting obscenities, and shooting. They sounded close – too close – but I was too unwell to fully comprehend what was happening.  

It was a long and surreal night, but eventually, the morning came.

I lay there for what felt like an eternity, until I realised that I couldn’t avoid packing up my tent, any longer. 

I don’t remember taking my tent down, but I do know that the walk back to Belstone was arduous. I struggled a lot, and although it was only a few kilometres to the village, it took me several hours to get there.

Despite everything, I left the moors feeling grateful. I’d done what I’d set out to do, and although things hadn’t gone to plan, the experience had given me a new sense of empowerment and hope.

The Aftermath

In the weeks that followed, I edited together the small amount of footage, that I’d been able to shoot during my camp. With great hesitation, I then published my video to Youtube

Sharing it made me feel very vulnerable, as I usually try to hide my illness, but after it went live, the response just blew me away. The comments were so kind and supportive, and when I learnt that I’d inspired others to go wild camping too, it just really made it all worth it.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, my health continued to get worse. I found myself fighting for my life, and I was unable to go camping again.

Things looked bleak, until an unexpected breakthrough came, and, with the right medication, I was finally able to start healing.

Since then, it’s been a long winter of slow, but steady improvement. As I write this, I’m almost six months seizure-free, and my cerebral spinal fluid leak has sealed.  

I’ve still got a fair way to go, but I’m hugely grateful to be feeling better, and I’m incredibly excited for the adventures that lie ahead. I’m especially looking forward to my next solo wild camp – which I’m planning on doing very soon! 

Until then, take care and thank you so much for your support!