Wild Camping: introducing children to this outdoor adventure

Wild Camping: introducing children to this outdoor adventure

The best adventures, big or little, are those shared with the ones you love.

– Clangers, episode 32, ‘Granny and Small’

Some of my favourite adventures have been wild camping in the mountains, sleeping with the sound of a stream and waking up to amazing views, and feeling connected to nature. Once my wife and I had children, this was something we wished to share with them.

I am a big fan of starting small and building up incrementally. So before I could get to the point of heading off into the mountains with our son with all our equipment on our backs, I needed to introduce him to camping. The obvious first step on this journey was to do the travelling by car. We quickly became comfortable camping with Ewan, and he seemed to just assume that these trips to campsites were a normal part of life. He was happy sleeping in between us in the tent and exploring our immediate surroundings.

At about this time I came across Dixe Wills’ book Tiny Campsites. This proved to be a great little resource, with a selection of campsites that were around an acre in size and offered varied facilities. We chose a wild and secluded camping experience at Middle Ninfa, where you park your car at the farm and walk up the hill to one of the single camping spots. This provided the next step on our journey, allowing us the feel of a more remote campsite, although not far from the car.

As we slowly built up towards a wild camping trip with these small steps, we not only got to the point at which Ewan was comfortable with camping, but we also learned a lot along the way, ranging from what camping food he liked to the fact that his waterproofs were not waterproof! All of these points proved useful when we took the next step, which was leaving the car behind.

One of the campsites in Wills’ book is on an island accessible only via boat or a tidal causeway. We packed a couple of bags, parked the car near the ferry and headed over on the boat to Piel Island. This was an amazing start to our adventure. Ewan helped get the tent up before we explored the island, with its wonderful ruined castle, which added a lovely feel to our experience.

If sleeping in a tent does not float your boat, another wonderful option we have in the UK is the simple shelters maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association (MBA). We have had a few amazing bothy trips over the years. One of these was during a family holiday in Scotland, when we visited Ruigh Aiteachain Bothy, near Kingussie. After a relatively flat walk in covering a few miles, we arrived at the bothy to find the fire burning and a couple of other people already there. We had a fantastic time exploring the local area and enjoying the real-time simplicity of staying in these wonderful shelters and swapping stories with the other guests.

With the groundwork done, and making the most of my years of experience in the mountains, I was very excited that Ewan and I were heading up to the Lake District for our first wild camp over the weekend of Father’s Day. At this point it is important to note that wild camping is illegal in the UK without the permission of the landowner, although it is generally tolerated if it is done well away from roads and buildings, above the highest fell wall, and no trace is left when you leave.

We parked the car, I picked up my rather full rucksack, and off we headed to find a secluded spot next to a stream to camp for the night. Unfortunately, the weather on the walk in was not great, so on arrival at the camping spot we quickly got the tent up so that we could get out of the rain. With dinner on the stove, Ewan was very excited, but he soon settled down to look at his books and play with a few light toys. We had a wonderful night listening to the babbling stream. Soon it was time to get up and have breakfast before exploring the area. Ewan was fascinated by the small stream and the lichens on the rocks.

Following on from this adventure, Ewan and I have had some great times wild camping in the Lake District and Snowdonia. These have included a couple of stays out in winter. I am a firm believer in the Swedish saying “Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder” – “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. I would strongly emphasise that winter is one of the few times when the kit you have really matters to keep you safe.

One notable occasion came about when Ewan asked why we had not been away wild camping for a while. This was really due to the fact that it was winter! As a result of Ewan’s persistence, we quickly planned a trip to the Peak District. We were dropped off at Fairholmes car park, followed by a lovely walk up to the Cakes of Bread and a camp in the snow. The next morning we packed up and walked out to catch the train home from Bamford railway station.

When Tessa, Ewan’s sister, started to get a little bigger, the time came to include her on one of our adventures. I fancied doing something that would be a new experience for Ewan and at the same time a suitable introduction for Tessa. So I fixed upon the idea of a cycle camping trip to a local basic campsite that is only accessible on foot or by bike. The three of us had already had a couple of bike rides with Tessa on the front in the infant seat and Ewan on the tag-along. The only questions were how little kit I could get away with, and whether I could pedal us up all of the hills!

So one damp Saturday afternoon we all set off from Chatsworth. Unfortunately, the heavens opened, and it looked like the heavy rain was set in. When I asked the children if they wanted to delay our trip until another weekend, they were insistent that they still wanted to go. So with all our waterproofs on, we waved goodbye to Mummy and headed off. The uphills were hard, but when Ewan pedalled on the tag-along I noticed the difference and was grateful for his help.

We soon covered the five miles to the campsite. To get across the stile at the beginning of the farm track that led to the site, we had to take all the luggage off, disconnect the tag-along and climb over the gate. Everything was soon loaded back on so that we could cycle up to the campsite and set up our little tent. Our bedding consisted of two sleeping mats, a silk liner each, and a sleeping bag that could be opened out to act like a duvet. It was definitely snug, although I was glad I had kept the load light, as any more weight would have made the uphill riding even harder! Dinner was cooked and teeth cleaned, and then we settled down for stories and sleep. The next morning we woke to an amazing view and clear weather. After breakfast we packed up and cycled home.

Looking back on that simple trip, I am sure it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Now I am left wondering what is next for our wild camping adventures. One thing I am sure of is that there will be plenty more in the future, shared with the ones I love.


Richard Cole is father to Ewan and Tessa. He has had a passion for the outdoors from an early age, thanks to others sharing their love of adventures with him. This is something he is keen to pass on, in particular to his children. 


Find out more

Tiny Campsites: Discover Britain’s Little Pockets of Camping Bliss by Dixe Wills, Punk Publishing

The Mountain Bothies Association maintains free-to-use shelters in Scotland, Wales and the north of England. There is a wealth of information about them at mountainbothies.org.uk


First published in Issue 49 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 

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