Disclaimer: the views expressed in this feature are those of the author alone. The curious may read on, but this might not be for everyone...
Will you love it... or hate it?
Aas a photographer, I’m drawn to visual perfection. And a hammock strung between trees with a mountain and the setting sun in the background... well what could be more inspiring than that? So, here’s my guide to hammocking... for realists.
There are three things that you definitely need if you want to hammock in our wilderness areas. First, a hammock. Easily obtained, ten minutes online should do the trick (tip: get one with an insect net). Second, two trees, albeit two trees the right distance apart, conveniently located in an inspirational setting. Fortunately I love trees and look out for them whenever I go to the mountains. A few years back I found what looked to be the perfect location, east of Wetherlam at Blake Rigg, where the hill’s flanks and summit are peppered with trees. Slightly randomly spaced, there looked to be enough places where they would be close enough together. Wetherlam would provide the backdrop.
Hammock and trees sorted, the rest of your kit is your standard wild camping fare – sleeping bag, bivvy bag, stove, food, whiskey, warm layers etc. I planned to only sleep out on a dry night, thereby doing away with the faff of taking a tarp to string up above the hammock. I wanted to enjoy clear views, to see the stars. Not living near the mountains meant my opportunity took a fair while to arrive, but the onset of this year’s heatwave finally swung the odds in my favour.
I arrived at ‘my’ trees on the perfect evening. God, I was looking forward to it. Stringing up the hammock was easy. A few adjustments in the length of the cords and it was hanging well. I pitched it nice and high, as my weight was going to stretch it down. After looking at the thing for half an hour, admiring my handiwork, I knew I had to test it. A quick check around to make sure no one could see me (I wasn’t at all certain it would hold) and I approached it, prodded it a few times, walked around it, nodded to myself... then decided to have a brew. I could test it in a bit. The brew turned into dinner, turned into two or three whiskies, turned into a bit of a chill out, sat with my back against one of the trees. The light started to be sucked out of the landscape. I needed to get in and sleep, let alone test it. This time I strode towards it, firmly grabbed the side, then swung my body in, arse first. I swayed a bit, I looked over the side and nearly fell out. I laid back, still, and the swaying stopped. This was alright.
I’ve done a bit of canoeing in the past and hammocking is like canoeing in the trees – one wobble and you’re out. Having tested it, I got out and put my sleeping bag and bivvy bag in (even on dry nights there is normally a dew). I tidied the cooking area, cleaned
my teeth, had a last wee, then tried to get in. Bugger me, wriggling into a sleeping bag, itself inside a bivvy bag, while swaying 3ft above rock-strewn ground, was less like canoeing and more like white water rafting. What makes matters worse is the fact that I’d zipped up the insect net. So if I did upturn the ‘boat’, I’d be left staring at the ground through a fine mesh, knowing that even if I could reach the zip I would fall out as soon as I started to undo it.
The evening darkened and bats actually flew underneath the hammock, I kid you not. The first half an hour was quite pleasant. After an hour I wanted to change position and, as expected, there was no other position to be had. This, plus the cold you feel from having air below you, are the two reasons I will only recommend hammocking to people I don’t like. All night I experimented. I could just about get over onto one shoulder, but the inevitable bend in the body due to the sag of the hammock made it fairly unbearable. If you take sleeping in a hammock seriously then you’ll be about to email in saying you can get insulating mats that hang underneath the hammock to provide warmth. Yes, yes, I knew this, but it was one of the warmest Junes on record, and I wanted a no-hassle experience.
Sleep did come, only to be brought to an abrupt end by the harsh cries of the local farmer. Strangled words, in a deep old Cumbrian dialect, bounced from the rock face of the mountain, yelled with a manic ferocity. At least that it what it seemed like at 4.30am. The amusing moment came twenty minutes into listening to this time-honoured tradition of rounding up sheep, when, lost in the unusual sounds of this almost extinct language, I was shocked, then laughed out loud when the phrase “F***ing stupid dog” was seamlessly sandwiched into the diatribe.
Getting out of the hammock also proved problematic, as my muscles were fixed in a curved position. I unzipped the net and just rolled out, not caring how much it hurt, bearing in mind that nothing could hurt as much as the night I’d just endured. I brewed a cup of coffee and sat contemplating the scene before me – the hammock, the trees and that fine mountain – when it struck me how to improve the view... I took out my knife and swiftly cut down the means of torture. Much better.
If you like sleeping on your back, impersonating a banana, then hammocking is for you. Otherwise, unless you’re on a Special Forces training session in the jungle, or travelling to the source of some remote river, deep in the South American rainforest, I wouldn’t bother!
...but is it?