My friend Alex has taken a close interest in my previous 'Art of Darkness' posts, so I asked him to help me with this update.
Q. When you started out, what was the aspect of stealth camping you were most worried about?
A. Honestly, I was worried I'd be found by two or more aggressively drunk men. Or, an aggressive landowner.
Q. How did your real experience differ?
A. So far, neither of these things has happened. It was crossing the sparsely populated foot of Italy that the penny properly dropped: so long as I choose an appropriate hiding place and nobody sees me arrive, the likelihood of anyone stumbling across me after dark is negligible. It really is that simple!
In my 'prequel' to this series of blog posts about stealth camping I wrote I was afraid of who the dark might conceal. Now I know who it conceals: me!
Q. What do you wish someone had told you before? Or, if someone did give you advice what was most useful?
A. Friends gave me all the right advice. I think I just had to learn through experience that noone's out there in the woods at night.
Q. Do you have any tips and tricks for people who want to spend some time camping stealth as well?
Like I said, just find a spot that's out of sight and not on any kind of thoroughfare. Resist the temptation to stick close to towns and villages. If noone comes by before it gets dark, they're not going to. Of course it's much easier to hide with a bike than it would be with a motor vehicle. As I've got more confident I've started to camp in spots where I might be found (e.g. by dog walkers) in the morning; this prospect doesn't scare me at all.
Q. How long did it take for your headspace to catch up with reality?
A. I last wrote about my quest to get un-terrified of stealth camping in Catania, Sicily back in November. At that point I was just beginning to get the hang of it after three months of daily anxiety!
In Greece I felt more comfortable generally than I had in Italy (perhaps because people speak more English there and it feels less insular), which helped further. In Crete and Lesbos I fell into a habit of camping next to little chapels, including the one in the picture above. On the odd occasion I was seen, nobody seemed to mind. I was seriously cold a few times during the winter, but otherwise all went well. In darkness from 5pm, after making my supper I was very glad to have my new Kindle and Norman Davies' epic 'EUROPE' to read. I drank a lot of cheap local wine.
While volunteering at the refugee camp I left my tent pitched at the same remote chapel amongst olive groves for three weeks. When I left the groundsman (who I'd been helping to clear large quantities of pruned branches) gave me a souvenir and I gave him a bit of money for the chapel.
Moving to a new country involves a couple of nights of wondering if something will be different there, but so far this hasn't been the case. Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden have all provided ample, often stunning free camping spots. I'd heard that in Turkey road-side petrol stations are a great place to camp (as they always have water, tea, food and loos, plus a mosque should you need one) but I only had the opportunity to do this once.
In Romania I awoke some mornings to find a shepherd with his flock. He'd always return my wave but otherwise show no special interest. Only one came to speak to me, shook my hand and advised me not to fish there. When I pointed out my bike he ambled off calling 'it's a tourist with a bicycle' to his mate (my Romanian is very good). It's actually legal to wild camp in Romania, whereas it's technically not allowed in lots of the countries I've been through.
Even now, until I put my earplugs in and put out my 'light' I tend to remain alert to sounds. For the ten days my brother was with me I noticed this was not the case; I was entirely relaxed. I wish there wasn't a 'gender aspect' to this but undoubtedly there is. This amazing writing by Emily was timely.
Returning to the UK for the summer I thought I might feel more nervous again, but in fact the opposite was true: I got bolder and bolder about my choice of spots. Some favourites included a field overlooking the Wye valley in Herefordshire (where I saw a badger and a deer!), the grounds of Blenheim Palace, the public park opposite the RSC in the middle of Stratford upon Avon, a footpath next to a river in the middle of the Peak District and a windy buff overlooking a castle in Northumberland. In the mornings I regularly meet dog walkers, with whom it's still a novelty to be able to chat. Scotland, where wild camping is legal, provided a succession of five-star camping spots.
It's hard to convey the extent of my joy and relief that I've nailed this thing. I have come to love the feeling of falling asleep and - especially - waking up in some beautiful place knowing that noone in the world knows I am there. Of sleeping for free, almost every night, and of knowing that I could probably keep doing this for ever. I don't mind paying for food; someone has to produce it after all. Stealth camping is what makes my current freedom sustainable. So I had to overcome the terror, and overcome it I did.