The Dangers of Bush (or wild or stealth) Camping

On my journey through Africa, I was often asked by friends and strangers back home whether it isn’t dangerous to just pitch your tent in the bush or by the roadside? And I was often told by locals that it really is dangerous to camp in the wild.

What about deadly snakes and poisonous spiders? What about lions and hippos?

What about being robbed or attacked.

The reality is, of course, bush camping can be dangerous. So can crossing the road. But in the same way that you always look left and right before stepping off the pavement, it’s only common sense to be selective with your camp spot.

Road to Booue, Gabon, Central Africa
Road to Booue, Gabon, Central Africa

I always look for a secluded spot where I shouldn’t be seen by people and certainly not from the road. If I know there are ‘dangerous’ animals around, then I either don’t camp in the bush or I do what I can to minimize the risks. For example, always zipping up the tent inner to keep out snakes, spiders, scorpions etc. If there could be lions, I make sure I’m inside my tent well before sunset and don’t get out again until the sun is high in the sky (no matter how desperate for the toilet!). If there could be hippos, then I don’t camp where they may choose a route down to the river…

The Niger River, Guinea, West Africa
The Niger River, Guinea, West Africa

Well that was all in Africa. Now I’m in Canada, but the same rules apply. Only now I have to be careful about bears, rather than lions. That means carrying bear repellent spray everywhere in case of a chance encounter and keeping the camp spot spotless from food. Bears love the smell of food. So that means cooking away from the tent and storing food at a distance too. That’s not good when I wake in the middle of the night with food cravings, but it’s small price to pay.

The Chicotin Plateau, BC, Canada
The Chicotin Plateau, BC, Canada

In, 20 months of bush camping between the UK and Cape Town and now a month under canvas in Canada, I had no serious encounters.

As chance would have it, my closest encounter came just a couple of days ago, ironically, when I was in town.

Walking to the shop, a sudden gust of wind sent unsecured items flying. I had to dodge a piece of flying sheet metal by jumping into the road before continuing down the pavement, when a tree fell down just a few feet from me. I emerged, slightly surprised, with nothing more than a lot of dirt and leaf debris in my right ear. The parked car wasn’t quite so lucky!

You see, there are risks in all walks of life. Of we were scared of every potential threat or danger, then we’d procrastinate in bed all day. But that’s no way to live. Better to get out there and take a chance. You never know when fate will deal the fatal blow, but it’ll probably be when you least expect it.

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The Active Photographer – a Jolly review

A couple of weekends ago I was asked if I would like to go along to the very first Active Photographer Jolly, run by Giles (The Active Photographer) with his sidekick Will (Whole Life Photography). It’s a course/workshop/experience designed for people passionate about the outdoors, who want to take better photos, or photographers with a keen interest in the outdoors.

I had previously exchanged Tweets with Giles, and had met him two weeks previously at Terry BND’s outdoor boggers meet in Monsal Dale where we ended up nattering quite a bit. I have a rather bruised and battered Canon S90 with a busted flash, which I had managed to break a couple of weeks previously. I mentioned at the time that I was unsure about what to expect and was slightly nervous about my lack of photography skill and equipment. Giles reassured me that so long as I could manually control everything on my camera (which I could), I would be fine and dandy.

Turning up on the Saturday morning, I met Giles at the Back of Beyond Touring Caravan park. My initial apprehension about the rows of caravans dissipated when I was guided through to a field at the rear which revealed a delightful woodland glade and site of special scientific interest. Some of the folks attending had been there since the Friday night so I was greeted warmly as I pitched up my tent.

The Active Photographer Jolly
The weather forecast for the weekend was a stinker, and as the introductions began under the gazebo, the first tickle of rain started to come down. Doing our best to ignore the grey skies, Will and Giles set the scene for the weekend as to what we could expect and I suddenly felt very self conscious amongst the DSLR’s nestling on the knees of my fellow students.

After the initial icebreakers, we set off through the park to some gorse bushes and open space on the far side of the Park. Early September is one of my favourite times and the feeling in the air was of the last vestiges of summer twinged by Autumn pushing through. The rain started to come down though, so we nipped in to the woods and were confronted by a quite extraordinary site, the floor having a strong sprinkling of mushrooms with the most gorgeous purple tops.

The Active Photographer Jolly
We started to snap away and Giles went through some of the basics. Straight away I got something that will last with me forever, namely the joys of aperture. I have always loved shots where the item in focus is the only thing in focus and the rest of the image drops away, now I knew how to do it and I went to town. Within a couple of hours, I started to take photos that were light years away from what I had taken previously, and I began to enjoy myself immensely. I also began to fall in love with my Canon S90 again. We had chosen it as it was a small compact with a great reputation, and I finally felt that I could do it some justice with the photos I was taking. The rest of the day flew by in a jiffy looking first at composition, then on to some equipment hacks that Giles use. I won’t give too much of the game away, but I will never look at a sock and a bag of rice again in the same way….

By the end of the day, my mind was buzzing with filters, composition, ISO settings and the like and we settled down to an amazing BBQ with toasted Marshmallows to finish. I took the rare opportunity to get a decent nights kip and was woken to the sound of a torrential downpour in the middle of the night bouncing off my Nemo Obi 2P which coped admirably. The morning afterwards saw us putting in to practice everything we had learnt the day before, the Back of Beyond park really came in to it’s own with woodland, lakes and the glade like campsite giving plenty of differing opportunities to shoot a wide variety of outdoor subjects and landscapes.

The Active Photographer Jolly
All in all it was a fabulous weekend, I have written here about my thoughts on learning from the weekend, but in terms of skills learnt, my photos have come on in leaps and bounds. I did feel the odd twinge of jealousy for a DSLR, but that was my gadget jealousy. Giles never made me feel out of place with my S90, and both him and Will took the time out to give specific guidance that was relevant for a compact point & shoot. Looking at my Flickr stream my photos before and after are noticeably better after, and I know my photography has changed now for life. Whether you are a die hard photographer looking to improve your skills , or an outdoor nut with very little experience as I was, I would thoroughly recommend anyone interested in enjoying their outdoors photography more to get in contact with Giles for the next Jolly. I am also super chuffed to announce that we will have a place on an upcoming course available as a prize on our facebook page soon so stay tuned!

What’s your experience of outdoor photography and if there was one tip you would pass on, what would it be?

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Fabulous Finland

Foe anyone looking for a hiking holiday that’s literally off the beaten track, my I humbly suggest Finland? If huge expanses of wilderness dotted with stunning lakes full of water so pure you can drink it aren’t enough to sway you, the country’s amazing Everyman Law will. No matter who owns land in Finland, anyone can pick mushrooms and berries, swim in lakes and rivers, walk, ski and cycle and even camp wherever they please. If waking up miles from the nearest sign of humanity with only reindeer for neighbours appeals, it’s the perfect destination for a week away from it all.

More inspiration at VisitFinland.

The Girl Outdoors

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Come to Canada and it won’t be long before someone mentions bears. Especially if you plan on cycling while in the country.

Be aware of the bears. Have you got bear spray? and bear bells? You’re not going to be camping in the wild are you?

Er… well, yes.

I do have bear spray. I’ve even removed the cellphone wrapping. But bear bells, no. They would drive me insane long before I actually come across a bear.

I’ve just spent the last 6 days cycling north through Vancouver Island, from Victoria towards Port Hardy. I’ve not seen one yet. Lars, my cycling partner did though. They are here for sure.

So I have my bear spray strapped to the top of my front pannier for easy access on the road. And when we stop to put up camp, I have the bear spray tucked in my shorts pocket. Feeling more like John Wayne with a gun in a holster than a cyclist! But like any good scout it’s all about being prepared.

Right now though, I’ve got a bigger fight on my hands with the mosquitoes!

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