Looking for an off-the-grid weekend away where you can BBQ, fish, paddle, do some greenlanes and hang out with like-minded people? We have found the perfect spot just for you…
Think whatever you want to but travel as we once knew it, has changed for good. For now, the way we conduct ourselves as Land Rover lovers, has also changed. Some, up until very recently, still held out hope that some of the big Land Rover shows might still be happening this summer. That too has now gone up in smoke. People are not quite ready to risk it all by camping in a field with hundreds of others. Staycation has become the new buzz word and preferred way of describing your summer holiday plans. That means to travel locally or within the UK borders for your getaway kicks.
Last month we gave you a laning feature on Bedfordshire, my home county. That was LRM’s first off-road excursion since the pandemic dug its claws into Britain. Thanks to all those who have been in contact after reading the article and trying those lanes for themselves. This month we decide to go a little further afield and head north. Scottish Premier Nicola Sturgeon reminds me of an ex-girlfriend’s mother so I am still too scared to go that far north just yet.
Earlier this year I went greenlaning in the Yorkshire Dales with Russ Dykes of Ardventures (see April 2020 issue of LRM). It was a great day out but the one thing I don’t like about greenlaning is that it can all seems a bit rushed as you try and take in as many lanes as possible in a single day or over the course of a weekend.
I know we live in a society where things happen at one hell of a pace, we rush for trains or to drop the kids off at school. We face constant deadlines. Now it was time to relax though, go back to the Yorkshire Dales and that wonderful wild camping spot I had seen a few months ago at Semer Water, the second-largest natural lake in all of Yorkshire.
You can either camp in a private field or else on a rocky beach with other visitors
I am on my own in the Green Mamba, my 1998 110, it is packed with all the gear for a great weekend away. My road bike is on the Frontrunner roof rack along with a black cast iron pot (for the planned chicken curry), a recently-acquired Red Paddle Company inflatable stand-up paddle board, the Frontrunner Featherlite rooftop tent, awning and ARB Tred Pro recovery tracks. I am ready for anything that Yorkshire can throw at me. Inside the Mamba is a Dometic fridge and their incredible portable Dometic PLB40 lithium battery which charges while I drive and runs my fridge when camped up. It’s an incredible piece of kit and gives peace of mind that you will have power when camping for a weekend.
It was great to go away with friends again
Also, with me is Johnny Nel, the UK’s Frontrunner representative, in his red Discovery 4, it too has more accessories than the Spice Girls on tour. The aim of the weekend is simple: inspirational camp fire chats with like-minded people. If there is one lesson I have learnt the last six months it is that life is too short to hang out with people who are not worth it. So, Johnny and I have invited three other vehicles to join us. First up, is MH Hardcastle and Andy Ellis in a Defender 110 from Yorkshire Vehicle Hire (as their 110 is stuck in a South African port). See more about this incredible well-travelled couple on expeditionrove.com. Andy is the kind of guy you want at your house when some low-life is trying to steal your Defender. Then we have Stan Scooby and Harry Shipton in a Defender 90, with probably one of the best auxiliary battery charging systems I have ever seen. Stan and Harry are at their happiest when pushing the limits of what is possible on dirt bikes on Harry’s farm. Finally we have Nikko Dimitrov in a beefed-up Jeep Rubicon. While he might work in recruitment Nikko hosts a very good podcast called 4 Low Adventure. Definitely give it a listen.
The wild camping venue at Semer Water is owned and run by a farmer called Mr Metcalfe. We had some great conversations prior to our weekend visit and I knew straight away that I was dealing with a real Yorkshire character, and once we pull up at the campsite my suspicions are confirmed. “We want the right type of people staying here, not the kind who go to festivals with cheap disposal tents,” he says. I assure Mr Metcalfe (he refuses to tell me his first name) that we will leave the place in a better condition than what we found it. Most people just camp on the pebbles next to the water though they do offer more private alternative options in some of the nearby fields. We decide to spend our first night next to the water.
A chicken curry potjie was our Friday evening meal
I get the cast iron pot and fire pit off the roof rack and start making the chicken curry while Johnny gets a nice fire going. Chairs are placed in a semi-circle a metre apart. Some other campers (not in our group) arrive in their camper vans. Our set-up must look impressive as many people come over to take pictures. While the curry cooks away I inflate the Red Paddle stand-up paddle board as the water is calm. A quick test paddle follows with more planned for the rest of the weekend.
Pat's first time on a stand up paddle board
That night the wind picks up rather significantly and rain starts to fall, fortunately we all have awnings. After several months in lockdown gale force winds and monsoon rains are not going to put a damper on proceedings. There is no such thing as bad weather, but there is such a thing as a bad attitude and a poor choice of gear. Tales of adventure and exploration continue well into the night.
The two lanes we drove are only minutes away from the campsite
As we were here for a good time and not a long time, we break up camp early the following morning to go and do a few local greenlanes. Soon after leaving the campsite the rain stops. There are several rather impressive lanes very close to the campsite and the first one we do starts at a farm on the outskirts of Marsett, it takes us east into the Semer Water Reserve. There are a few gates that need opening and closing. Stan and Andy win the award for hitting the several water crossings with the most gusto.
Andy shows the correct way to cross water
The Raydale Valley that we now find ourselves in is home to the shortest named river in England, the Bain. It can be found on the northern end of body of water that we camped next to last night. Judging by its length on the map it should take me less than an hour to paddle along.
The great thing about driving lanes like these is you get that real wilderness feeling. Yes, every so often you go past farmhouses or a small settlement (like Stalling Busk at the end of our first lane) but more often than not, it's only you and the people you are out with and that classic Yorkshire countryside that we all so love. The long second lane that we do starts only a short distance from Stalling Busk, there is a long climb to negotiate at the start but the track is in very good nick. Every so often I call a halt so that we can get some snaps of our little convoy.
Johnny at the beautiful Aysgarth Falls
Eventually we reach a big intersection, we go left and start a long descent that will take us off the lane. Once again there are several gates to open and close. One of the fields is full of Swaledale rams, the official symbol of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The impressive and scenic lane finishes at Carpley Green, one of the higher lying hamlets in the area. As we make our way towards Bainbridge we pass what was once an old Roman signal station. The nearby Cam High Road is another popular lane in the area but we instead opt for a stop at the Aysgarth Falls. Don’t try and park in the official car parks as they are normally full, instead do what we did and park in front of the Aysgarth Falls Hotel. The falls are only a short walk from here. Lucky for us the rains from the night before mean that the falls are really pumping over the rocks. Don’t expect Niagara or Victoria but they are still impressive and worthy of a stop and snapshot.
It is mid-afternoon by the time we return to the campsite. This time we opt for a private field to camp in as we want some privacy. I decide to use the spare time to hop on my bike and go for a ride. Be warned. The hills in the area are very steep and you might have to resort to pushing your bike up some of the them. Trust me on that one.
For those that don’t like cycling there are many hikes to choose from. Plus, if you pay a small fee there is the option of fishing or getting on the water in a canoe or kayak. Even when the weather was at its worst there were fishermen trying their luck.
We saw several shooting stars. One of them looked like Sir Geoffrey Boycott
After my ride I freshen up, time to make another fire. Once everyone is sitting around the fire we hand out the LRM/Frontrunner goodie bags to all attendees. We then do a Q&A session with Mary and Andy about their epic trip through north and south America. It’s fascinating to hear about their experiences. For them it was literally the classic case of giving up on the mainstream rat race and taking the decision to drive their Land Rovers around the world. Truly inspiring stuff. Johnny and I (with some help from Stan) then set about doing a traditional South African braai for everyone. There is enough meat to feed the whole of Yorkshire and for one night only this little field in Yorkshire is a salad-free zone. To reward us for our efforts the stars came out. Someone remarks that they had never seen a shooting star before and just as they look up they see one. We see several more shooting stars (or nature’s fireworks, as I like to call them) throughout the evening. It seems a fitting end to what has been a great getaway.
Smiles all round. The weekend is a success
As most of us have a long way to drive home, we all pack up after breakfast before more rain starts to fall. After exchanging contact details, we hare off in different directions. The weekend had been an unmitigated success. I think it is because we have all been longing to do something like this for months and so you appreciate it more I suppose? Wild camping in a field or next to a lake in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales might not be everyone’s cup of Yorkshire tea, but it certainly is ours. I dare you to give it a try. And while I might call it wild camping there are pubs and shops only a few miles away so don’t worry if you forgot something or did not bring enough wood or sausages. You also need to leave the place in a better condition than you found it in. Or else Mr Metcalfe is going to give you an earful.
Camping at Semer Water