I never switched on my camera that night or any other night in the African bush. I was simply too afraid to make any noise or sudden movements.
Crunched over at the very centre of the tent, I sat in silence and imagined a snarling hyena prowling around outside. It was terrifying. Taking a group safari was one thing but sleeping alone in the middle of nowhere (and hundreds of miles from civilisation) felt entirely different. In fact, every morning for months on end, sunrise was a call to celebrate. I had outlived the darkness and I was free to continue my exciting journey in the light.
It might depict my bicycle trip through Africa as quite a stressful adventure but deep gratitude and appreciation was at the core of these fleeting moments.
My Experience with Wild Camping in Ireland
Believe it or not, I experience a similar call for celebration when I go wild camping in Ireland. That is to say, I often feel relieved and even filled with joy when I’m packing up the tent. It seems silly now but this was my way of deciding whether a trip was successful:
“No axe murderers came to visit during the night and I didn’t perish or freeze to death.”
Now, I’m a huge advocate for outdoor safety and the importance of being prepared. You need to take sufficient water and food, and warm gear is essential. But at the same time, there’s not a great deal to worry about when you go wild camping in Ireland.
Unlike my trips abroad, there are no lions, snakes or dangerous animals to keep in mind. Most wilderness areas or National Parks are also small and within reach of nearby towns in the case of emergency. It’s true that certain dangers exist (weather/terrain) but not the kind of extremes that you might find in the deserts and wilderness corridors of Africa.
Does this mean that I no longer worry when I go wild camping in Ireland?
Nope, I worry often.
I still think about all the bad things that might happen. I worry about finding a spot to camp or angry landowners telling me to move on. During the night, I imagine drunken yobs approaching the tent or gale force winds launching me into the ocean. It can even feel a bit too much at times but I have since learnt how to process these feelings or concerns.
Because when you take these trips often, you fully realise how most fears are not only irrational but also unlikely. For instance, after many months of cccling through Africa, I began to appreciate how what I was afraid of either didn’t exist or wasn’t likely to happen.
Similarly, when I go camping in Ireland, I’m aware that nobody is out there searching for wild campers in the mountains. There are also no axe murderers or banshees in the forest and people are more likely to be afraid of me rather than the other way around.
Anyway, my point being, while you still need to take precautions, Ireland is a great place to go wild camping for the first time. There are also parts of Ireland in which wild camping is permitted. For instance, here’s the official rule for wild camping in Wicklow National Park.
“Visitors undertaking multi-day hiking trips and seeking a wilderness experience, are welcome to camp in remote places within the National Park, provided they observe the code of practice known as “the Wild Camping Code”. – Wicklow National Park Website
Why Everyone Should Go Camping Alone at Least Once
Although somewhat desensitised to certain fears associated with wild camping, I still feel nervous on occasion. In fact, most nights, a fallen twig or gust of wind is enough to induce a spike of anxiety. While it doesn’t feel as scary as my first time wild camping in Ireland, it can still be unsettling from time to time. And these brief encounters with fear are a big part of the experience and something with which I have come to have a strange appreciation.
Because every morning, when I wake up to sunlight filling the tent, I feel a distinct sense of relief. The night has passed without consequence and I’m excited to start a new day. I am also in awe of the colours and beauty of my surroundings. It’s sometimes a smell of pine trees or the sound of the ocean, and always a realisation that I am alive and far from the monotony of my daily routine. Without a companion, it’s especially quiet and a moment in which I can truly appreciate these feelings and surroundings without distraction.
I once read somewhere that “even the most intense feelings can cease when taken for granted” and camping alone helps me pay more attention to the present and remember some of the little things in life that I really should be taking more time to celebrate.