Wild-Camping, The Greatest Debate
To say that Arthur and I agree on everything would be a stretch. I prefer civilization; he is drawn to nature. I get my kicks from reading up on a destination; Arthur would rather enjoy the spontaneity of not knowing what is around the next corner. I like to doze in the early morning and take my time to wake up; he is up and dressed at the crack of dawn. And on it goes.
Our relationship would appear to have "compatibility issue" written in the fine print, but get this! We embrace our differences as an asset, because they inspire us to explore beyond our individual boundaries. A cycle through the countryside with a stop at a village pub. Some planning; some spontaneity. An extra half-hour in the roof-tent for me, dozing to the smells and sounds of Arthur preparing the morning coffee a metre below my pillow. Let’s just say that our travels are lively due to our diversity.
But, there is one divide that we have yet to bridge, namely, campsites versus wild-camping. I have an affinity for sleeping at campsites as they guarantee at least the sense of safety along with a toilet block and warm showers. Arthur, on the other hand, prefers nature and isolation. He gets itchy at the thought of infrastructure where camping is concerned, and he is willing to throw himself into any icy-cold body of water in place of a shower.
The campsite/wild-camping dialogue sits like a third person between us in the front seat of Electric-Blue on every trip we take, silent, but very much present. As the day of driving ends, a tangible tug-of-war begins; I dig into a guidebook and start reading aloud campsite possibilities, while Arthur zooms in the GPS looking for tiny side roads leading off into the hinterland.
Now, before you consider me a complete dud, allow me to defend my case. For the record, I enjoy occasional wild-camping, particularly where campsites do not yet have a foothold, or where it is permitted by the law of the land. Romania (pic above), a country climbing out of the poverty, has had no campsites until recently, and wild-camping has been the norm. Scotland and Sweden have "the right of public access", ancient laws that allow respectful access of land for public use. In the aforementioned countries, we've often been helped by locals to find little nooks and crannies that we would never have come across on our own. Further, the law of the land, or not, if I can curl up on the roof with the impression that we are safe from marauding bands of thieves, and that we will not be thrown out in the middle of the night by a disgruntled farmer, I'm in. "Tom" our GPS is littered with little stars – points on our map saved for future reference - indicating fabulous wild-camping possibilities we've found along the way. Finally, in case you still have "stick-in-the-mud" as my middle name, check this out: Hakai Magazine made a short documentary in Scotland called The Right to Roam featuring Electric-Blue along with Arthur, me and another couple wild-camping our way around the Scottish highlands. Right – hopefully I've dispelled any myths that I am unreasonable when it comes to rolling up the tent in uncharted territory.
Back to the tug-of-war. Ending this daily ritual usually has less to do with us coming to an amicable truce, and more to do with the necessity to stop before dark sets in, campsite or no campsite. The outcome is about 50/50, and more often than not, we agree over morning coffee that this place deserves a star on Tom.
Here is a sampling of our best and worst wild-camping experiences:
Worst: A graveyard south of Vienna. Okay, admittedly I do have to take some responsibility for this; I buy my guidebooks second hand, and while 300-year-old churches can usually be found as described, one cannot depend on the existence of campsites listed in a 5-year-old guidebook. I slept in my clothes, and we packed up in the middle of the night and drove on toward Hungary after a dog walker asked us if we were grave robbers.
Best: A misty peninsula near the Crinan Canal in the Scottish Lowlands where the property owner insisted we move to the best spot on her property and then chased away the cows to make some space for us.
Worst: The dentist office parking lot in downtown Stockholm on high school graduation night, which finds every 17-year-old Swedish teen partying in the back of a large open honking truck and shrieking while driving through the narrow streets of the city.
Best: A farmer's field in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, where the farmer, his Jeep Cherokee full of large grunting pigs, offered us his green summer-grazing meadow strewn with wildflowers and wooden shepherd huts.
Hover over the pictures (or choose landscape on mobile) for more on our wild-camping finds.