I’m writing this on Monday swaddled in jumpers with my nose streaming and a hacking cough. But more on why I do it later on.
February Camp started in 1970 and has been observed every year since. From what I can glean from the group elders, it was ostensibly devised as a means by which they could escape into the hills for a weekend of camping. It remains an avowedly all-male affair. Not, I might add, that any partner to my knowledge has ever expressed much of a wish to tag along. Certainly, my own wife tells me I am a madman for attending.
It is a tradition that has been passed down from father to son and along the way has scooped up various hangers-on, of which I am one. Most of us do not meet, or indeed speak, for the rest of the year – but we know, come that first Friday night in February, that we will find each other propping up the bar in the pub next to the field in the High Peak where we camp.
The itinerary is always the same. Cheese and wine on Friday night. On Saturday, we go walking, settle down in a pub to watch the Six Nations, then head off back to our tents up a massive hill in the pitch black. The night always ends with a fire: a raging inferno of old pallets. Some of us bring along our Christmas trees as kindling.
If all this sounds ritualistic, then that is exactly what it is. Britain once had countless religious and pagan festivals associated with the seasons, but these have dwindled away over the centuries as an increasingly urbanised population has lost contact with the land. February Camp has become as much a part of my calendar year as Christmas. This year, one of our contingent even flew in from Milan.
The hills can be fantastically beautiful in winter. This Saturday, the sky was cerulean blue and we walked over powdery snow marked only with the footprints of bounding hares. I awoke to the sound of a raven kronking over my tent and later in the day spotted three buzzards soaring on thermals above us. Many Feb Camps ago walking at sunset I saw my first ever barn owl swooping silently over a snowy field.
I wish I could say that winter camping is becoming more of a trend, and perhaps it even is, but we never meet anybody foolhardy enough to replicate what we do.