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Wild camping, wild swimming, wild cows

I am no stranger to wild camping, having spent many a wet, rainy, windy weekend tramping across the Northumbrian hills as a teenager, during my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. However, although I have been camping a few times since I got my stoma in 2011, it has always been on proper campsites, with the requisite showers and toilets close by. The idea of going wild camping, with no hand-washing facilities, no sanitary disposal bins for bags, and having to get up in the middle of the night and try and change a bag with a head torch, has always seemed like an insurmountable task. I always loved being out in the wilds, far away from creature comforts and the general chaos of life, and since taking up wild swimming the remote hills have been beckoning once more. I decided that having a bag wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying something which used to give me so much pleasure, so when my friend Lynne suggested a wild camping night I jumped at the chance.

The day before the trip I made sure not to eat any of the things which can send my stoma crazy – so no hot spices, pulses or leeks. I made sure that my breakfast and lunch were similarly plain, although admittedly a leek for breakfast is not a normal Saturday treat.

The day we set off was a typical Northumbrian one, murky grey clouds hanging overhead as Lynne drove us along the winding country roads to the little carpark next to a wooded copse. We were pretty anxious about a wet, windy night ahead, but as it turned out, we needn’t have worried at all, as the Northumbrian weather had a surprise in store. The wind dropped, the clouds began to lift, and we were blessed with subliminal weather conditions for the next 24 hours.  We encountered a considerably less welcome surprise shortly afterwards…

First stop was the river, which was quite high, with a strong current as a result of heavy rains for the preceding few days. The initial plan had been for a dip in the waterfall, but the water flow was simply too fast to be safe, so we walked a little further until we came to a pebbly beach, where the river was wider, and we were able to get in and out safely. In the run up to my Birth Trauma Bikini Blast Winter challenge, I decided I had better start getting my body acclimatised to the cold in a bikini, so out it came. We slipped, swore and crashed our way into the water, the current very strong against our legs, so we used large rocks as anchors to pin our feet against. The water was about waist height, but we still didn’t fancy being carted off downstream like a pair of shrieking whales. Just as we were about to plunge in, Lynne screamed, my heart stopped (pike/alligator/newly discovered freshwater shark?)…but it was only Breeze, her dog, who had pulled over the rucksack onto the pebbles. I finally made it in, the icy water lapping up and over my chest, until my ears were in and the tingling started. Little pricks of icy tentacles covered my skin and the endorphins started doing their trick, coursing around my body like boy racers on a final lap. Amazing.

After about 10 minutes in the water, we got changed and set off for our camping spot, high up on the Northumbrian hills, where we had been told was a fort to set up camp in. A long held fear of mine is cows. I love them when they are safely behind a fence, or a wall, their huge eyes and curious gentle faces such a pull for animal lover like me. But I have a deep seated fear of walking past cows, especially when they are with calves, and when I am with a dog, as we all know the danger that this situation can present. Yup…we came across a field of cows, and were left without much choice other than to walk through the middle of it. Although my heart was thumping, my lips were dry and I felt almost nauseous, Lynne calmly led the way, rightly pointing out that all the cows were placidly lying down, taking no notice of our little party as we made our way across the field. Breeze was safely secured on the lead, as we approached the final handful of cows. I had continuously made quiet tremulous noises and mutterings of “god I hate bloody cows, damn things, so big and scary”, and “argh, are you sure it’s not looking at us funnily??!” and then “Christ that one is mooing!!”. Lynne chirped brightly “Don’t worry, look you can see they are all calm”, fo