It’s only 6 o’clock but it feels like the middle of the night. In truth, I really think even the middle of the night during summer would pale in comparison to the heavy veil of darkness laid upon us by that of the bleak days of November. It was perhaps against conventional wisdom to be camping that night but there we were anyway, sat on the Norfolk coast, not far from Wells-next-the-Sea, mesmerised by the lights of nearby fishing boats slowly panning our horizon and comforted by many layers of clothing and a box of fine Spanish wine.
We’d arrived just in time to see the last of daylight and walked beneath vast formations of geese veeing over as they returned through pale blue skies to winter on our shores. Everyone else was walking home whilst we headed in the opposite direction, towards the dunes, adorned with large rucksacks and armed with thinly veiled excuses in case we where met with prying questions as to what it was we were up to. Of course, we only met smiles and hello’s and not so much as a glimpse of suspicion from anyone that we may be planning to camp (illegally) amongst the band of coniferous trees that defends the landed Holkham estate from the encroaching sea.
Yet, as is always the case in England, we skulked into the woods, hoping to not be seen and reserving a place in the backs of our minds for fears of being caught and lumped with convictions for trespassing. Whenever we wild camp we are meticulous when it comes to clearing any scrap of evidence that would betray our presence and are mindful that we are not welcome to loiter, but rather we should always arrive late and leave early and stay no more than one night. And still we gladly do these things so that we can spend some time in nature, uninterrupted by the pressures of modern life and fully immersed in our surroundings. During a winter camp this translates to being constantly surprised by just how early it is and being forced to live at winters pace, throwing our circadian rhythms back into long-lost kilter, and also to having the chance to be the sole inhabitants of a stretch of one of England’s most beautiful beaches for a night. Because for that night it all belonged to us: the crashing waves, the distant flickering lights of the wind farms, the murmuring masses of geese roosting in the salt marshes, and the heavy black sky pierced by myriad silver stars.
We returned from the beach, carefully retracing our way back in to the woods to our camp and went about chewing the fat (literally, in the case of my curry) beside the small fire we’d lit and the before too long went to bed, probably earlier than we’ve been in years.
The next morning we awoke to the pattering of rain on the canvasses above us, a quintessential sound of camping. Despite urges to stay hunkered down, cozy in our sleeping bags, we got up and quickly dismantled our shelters and went about forensically replacing logs, twigs, and leaf litter to mask any indication of our camp and headed back to civilisation and normality where we’ll stay until we find our next adventure.