Fear and the Outdoors

Having completed my first solo wild camped trail, I have rather ambitiously begun this Camps section, in which you can follow (or not) my attempts to conquer my fears and become experienced at wild camping.

River Coquet

The River Coquet near Barrowburn, Northumberland

As my father was quite aggressive towards me from a young age, I was the kind of child who always wanted to sleep with the light on, and this has somehow shaped my view of the world. Although I have fought not to let my past determine the present, the fact that I am back up north has meant that those old fears affected my life and hampered my walking, restricting me to accommodation schedules and adding to the cost of my trips.

For some years I have used cognitive training techniques to help me to overcome my fears. To this end I set myself various large and small targets to master (it doesn’t matter what they are if they matter to you) and then I make a mental list of how I will achieve those targets and I continually appraise my own progress in achieving each aim towards my ultimate goal. I have been using this technique for so long that it is totally automatic, but I have rarely explained it like this. It may not work for everyone but it is my ‘work in progress’ like a piece of art, which continues in the background whatever else is happening in my life.


View from Shillhope Law, Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland

I tend to set targets which challenge or conquer my fears, so I set myself a target to become experienced at wild camping. To achieve that goal, my first aim has been to set myself some hard and fast target/s which would give me a reason to wild camp, and some deadlines to work towards, although my first goal fell through. The second has been to gradually assemble a kit in which I have confidence, and the third has been to devise a game plan in which I progress gradually from bed and breakfasts to wild camping on my long distance trails. The fourth continues to be the advice and support of some people who have been very helpful recently (hopefully they will know who they are). The fifth has been learning to recognise people who are trying to undermine you, under the guise of helping you, because it is your development which matters most in that situation.

I hope this method may be helpful to some of my readers.

Sunrise in Upper Coquetdale

View on my first solo wild-camping trip in Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland

Anyway, my personal experience has led me to believe that we should not put pressure on people who are afraid of outdoor situations. Fear is natural and inevitable at certain times and in certain situations. The truth is that many outdoors people have had experiences which have made them afraid, and it is much more helpful to people with less experience if we can be honest with ourselves and eachother about this. After all, fear performs a necessary function, keeping our senses alert and sharpening our survival instincts.

Sunrise from Shillhope Law

Sunrise from Shillhope Law, Northumberland in winter

As the enclosures became virtually non existent at my recent campsites, and circumstances forced me to walk in darkness several times on long distance trails, my fears began to disintegrate, and it became an easier transition into wild camping. The old spectres have hopefully now been replaced by beautiful images of the first rays of the sun hitting the tops of the hills in Upper Coquetdale on a beautiful, if chilly, January morning.