The South Downs National Park is relatively easy to get to from where I live, but it definitely does not count as a wild location, being mostly cultivated land and quite heavily populated. I have wild camped in the park twice, and on this first occasion I was trying out a new hammock.
I caught a train to a station local to my intended camp, and headed off in glorious hot weather at the end of an August public holiday. The sun was already starting to dip below the horizon and it was hot work walking up the chalky path that forms the South Downs Way. I had set my sights on two potential woods in which I could string up my hammock, and soon I was approaching the first.
Unfortunately although initially looking good, I realised the first woods I came to housed a number of pheasant pens. I suspected that these might be routinely checked and in any case, I didn’t want to disturb the birds, so I moved on to another woods further along. I entered the wood and quickly found a nice spot to pitch the hammock. I decided not to bother with a tarp, as there was no chance of rain, it would make me more conspicuous and it would take longer to get moving the next day.
Soon I had the tree straps on and the hammock and underquilt in place, and I relaxed with a drink and some snacks whilst the sun fully went down.
As the sun dipped it got quite cold, so I rolled out my expensive down bag, only to get it caught in the zip of the hammock resulting in a tear. I was “dischuffed” to say the least! I got myself comfortable, lying diagonally across the hammock to try to stay as flat as possible, and tried to get some sleep. Sleep proved hard to come by. I could hear voices not too far away, and at one point there was a firework display! This was not quite the same as camping in remote locations in Scotland. As I tried to sleep, I suddenly heard footsteps approaching across the forest floor. It sounded like more than one person and I grabbed my headtorch in case I was about to be rumbled. Soon the footsteps were heading straight for me so I though I may as well put the torch on. I switched it on and there, about 20 metres away, were a number of deer! They stood still for a moment, their eyes reflecting the torch light back to me, before turning and bolting away. This continued for much of the night and I soon got used to deer passing left and right of me as I laid there. However aside from a few naps through the night, I didn’t sleep and I got up at about 6am really quite exhausted.
I packed quickly, which was a good job as a dog walker came into the woods just as I was leaving. There was a lovely sunrise to greet me, and I grabbed a coffee on the way back to the station before catching my train home. I can’t say it was an epic, but it was nice to use my hammock for the first time and I definitely was left feeling keen to do it again.
As I said at the start of this post, I have wild camped twice in the South Downs National Park. If you want to wild camp along the South Downs Way, it can be done. However please bear in mind that this is a well populated area, and that a lot of the land is managed farmland. Choose your spot carefully, pitch late and leave early, don’t light fires and be polite if asked to move on. This is not like camping in the far north of Scotland!