Ham­mock­ing

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...

Trail (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY TOM BAI­LEY

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!

Looks idyl­lic...

...but is it?

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