I picked a spot on the map, a small copse. I'll sleep there, I thought. The last weather forecast I'd seen had given rain for today and as there hadn't been any so far I thought it must surely come tonight. I couldn't check the forecast again as there wasn't enough signal so I just had to believe in the chance of rain...which meant finding a place to shelter properly; put the shelter up, protect myself.
I walked into the grounds of Chirk Castle, through the bluebell woods in full blossom and on to the entrance where they had a second hand bookshop and I couldn't resist picking up two books - one a hardback. Am I some kind of masochist??? I'd finished Nelson Mandela's autobiography earlier that day and I was able to buy the story of Hannah Hauxwell and that of Malcolm X. Hannah's book was hardback and must have been a kilo and a half, a ridiculous purchase but I vowed I'd read it that night and pass it on the next day.
I left the castle grounds and walked on, trudging by now, the rucksack feeling its full 16 kilo weight. It was half past five, the time of day where I start looking for sleeping places.
It's a long process, usually made more drawn out by my tired indecision. I have the same problem when walking through foreign cities looking for a place to eat. Each sheltered spot or base of tree is assessed for where I could string up the shelter, the softness of the sleeping surface, visibility to passers by, proximity of houses.
I spent a long time looking at a dip down by a stone wall - very sheltered but stony at the bottom. Nope, didn't feel right. It was right by the path too.
I walked on, past a house that had placed spikes along the top of all their gates (including the footpath gate); there were high walls, signs warning of the dogs and telling me to close the gate and not trespass on private property. I wasn't going to knock on that door and ask to sleep in their garden.
On I went, along a road, passing a small copse where the brambles and nettles rose high beneath the larch plantation. No comfy bed there.
I came off the road and up a small rise in a field of longish grass. The field went sloping gently downwards towards a fence and at a point in the fence at the bottom of the depression there was a hawthorn tree. It was beautiful, unseen by the road, no animals in the field. I decided I would sleep there the moment I saw it, down underneath the tree, protected by its great thick roots rising from the ground, pressing against the wire fence and making a wall of wood for me to shelter behind. I could run the poncho off the fence to hide from the rain. The grass was long and soft, the field slightly sloping. Wonderful.
I sat there for a few hours, reading as the sun went down. The story of Hannah Hauxwell, the woman "discovered" in the 70's living a life of dales isolation straight out of the 30's. A black and white photo come to life.
I wrapped my sleeping bag round my legs and put my jacket on but otherwise it was not so cold that I couldn't sit still. (A change to when I first started in March, when I'd have to get straight into the sleeping bag with handwarmer as soon as I stopped for the night; it also was still going dark by 7pm, the longer daylight hours are another welcome change)
The field was still and peaceful the whole time, no walkers, no animals, just the occasional shriek of a pheasant far away.
There were sheep in the field next to me and sometimes a run of lambs would pelter towards the corner of the field where I sat behind the fence, hidden by the tree. They would run until they saw me, an unknown animal sitting quietly, then they would stand, unsure, until their mothers called them away.
I'd managed to find a patch of signal at the top of the rise so I'd checked the forecast which gave rain between 8 and 10 and dry the rest of the night. It was 9.30 and still no rain; I kept checking the sky and the clouds weren't moving, they didn't look black or ominous, just a patchy covering of grey. I decided that I would chance it without the shelter but tied it to the fence at one corner so I could throw it over me if it started to rain in the night.
As it became too dark to read I tucked in and down into the three layers of sleeping bag. A bat flickered over me in the grey blue remaining light and I could hear an owl somewhere a few fields away.
I slept, not all night but tolerably well for a night outside. The ground was well shaped for my body; sometimes, when I sleep on hard ground, my hips can hurt after half an hour on my side and so the whole night is spent shifting from side to side until the relevant hip becomes too uncomfortable and I must turn again. There was a small slope downwards from my head to feet, enough to be comfy but not so much that I started to slide downhill as soon as I relaxed.
I woke at various points during the night to rearrange the sleeping bag - not so open that I get cold, not so closed that I can't breathe; a surprisingly difficult balance to find...
I first checked my phone at 5.45am and roused myself properly at about 7.30. The field was a new world of thick fog and dewdrops at the tip of every grass blade.
I sat up, feeling wonderful, ate a bowl of muesli while I finished my book, packed up, did some stretches and headed off towards Llangollen, where I'm writing this.
I don't just wild camp because of my budget - I do it because I love it. I love to open my eyes and directly see the sunrise, right in front of me. To be an animal, sleeping on the ground while other animals go about their nighttime business around me. Beetles investigate my tarpaulin, rabbits come out to eat, owls hoot in the blackness of an unknowable world. All while I curl on the ground and sleep amongst them, just another living, breathing being. Even a tent feels as if I'm separating myself from that world.
I do greatly appreciate every chance I get to sleep in a bed and have a shower, wild camping is hard and tiring and difficult to keep clean in. But it also gives me a deep sense of peace.