I’ve mentioned this book a lot. It’s the book I used for my first ever wild camp, and for my first night in a bothy. This book has a lot to answer for. This book is Wilderness Weekends by Phoebe Smith.
What is it?
Wilderness Weekends is a guide book. It contains complete guides for 26 two-day, one-night hikes with a wild camp in the middle. The weekends are spread pretty evenly across England, Scotland and Wales.
Why would I like it?
The ideas are impressively original. Whether you’re an experienced wild camper or you fancy giving it a go for the first time, there will be something in here to get you interested. Phoebe has done the leg work to find some genuinely beautiful and secluded spots along the full length of the British mainland. Taking in caves, mountains, viewpoints, bothies, beaches, lochs, history hotspots, and even a massive rock with a gap underneath it, Wilderness Weekends is a showcase of some of the best spots in Britain.
What’s the format?
The book is presented as 26 individual adventure plans. There are also essential guides to kit, navigation options, safety, and etiquette, which I feel are required reading well before you head out on your first wild camp. They will both help you feel prepared for the unknown, and ensure that your actions help to preserve these spots.
The adventure plans feature full-page photos, a description of the approximate location, a list of the OS maps for the route, and the grid reference you’ll need to find the car park which is normally used as the start point. There are also a couple of pages at the start of each plan which tell you about the history, the geology, or some other element of the landscape of the area you’ll be calling home for the weekend. There are then little maps with numbered waypoints, and descriptions of the route for each leg which, on the whole, I’ve found easy to follow.
Phoebe makes no apologies about being a driver, but she does include information on public transport links where they are available. The nature of some of the wild spots means that, sometimes, there just aren’t any viable public transport links. For the most part, though, this book contains information that should get you relatively close to the start of most of the routes, even if you don’t drive. You might have to be creative with some of the routes – we have found one ferry which has stopped running since the book was published – but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
What I like most about these weekends is that they don’t encompass huge day hikes, bagging all the peaks in the area on the way, before you reach your camping spot: they allow for some travel time too, which means you genuinely can do them in a weekend and get home at a reasonable hour on Sunday. This also gives you the option to do many of the hikes in a day, if you don’t fancy the camp, or to extend them into epic hikes at your will.
Anything you don’t like?
The little maps in the route guides don’t show any distances for the legs, other than the scale on the map. If you want to know any route card-type details, like your approximate walk time and the distance of the walk, you need to work it out for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, getting a map out and working out your route properly yourself before you go is a very sensible idea; I’m just a bit lazy.
(Shameless plug: with an OS Maps online subscription, you can easily plan routes online and even fly through the route in 3D before you go.)
Guides like this one can be controversial. ‘Here are loads of lovely secluded spots. We will make a guide book which sends traffic to them!’ I am one of the many people who would not be out in these places if this book didn’t exist. On one hand, being outside is good for you. Britain’s wild spaces are something to be proud of and to enjoy. On the other hand, a lot of mountains and national parks are being misused by people tackling them under-prepared and putting themselves in danger, and leaving their rubbish behind. (Who do they think is going to clear it up?!)
I’m not sure where the line is between the two but, for me, Wilderness Weekends stays on the responsible side of it. This isn’t a guide which invites you to bring traffic to an area, erode the footpaths, trespass for a free night’s kip, and then head out again. This guide gives you everything you need to fall in love with Britain, to care about conserving the wild spaces, and to fully embrace the biggest rule of wild camping: leave no trace.
Find out about my experiences on some Wilderness Weekends:
Phoebe has written a number of other books, which you can browse here. She is also an Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion.