What does escape to wilderness involve? The cliché presents a serene beach with palm trees, adjacent to azure water. The kind of image that pops up on laptop and desktop screensavers the world over. Yet one does not have to travel far to travel deep. Hence my 24-hour escape from London into the depths of the Peak’s District’s autumn. To walk and camp in one of Britain’s best-known regions for the first time.
In this era of all-consuming technology where smart phones are like a vital organ of our body, true wilderness is not attainable so long as you have whatsapp messages and Instagram notifications appearing on your screen. There is no getting away from one’s routine — a key component of what is to be in the wilderness — if you are spread out on a sun lounger brain dead flicking through your Facebook feed. So my phone was put on airplane mode for most of my trip.
A 24-hour retreat doesn’t allow for pickiness. The area of the Peak District I was in did not have the kind of mountainous heights I prefer. But this was redeemed by the historical narrative that accompanies the region. This was the cradle of Britain’s Industrial Revolution and the first centre of industrialisation in human history. I passed through mills and factories. I walked adjacent to canals and on top of former railways. The railway line now goes through woods, and once grand machines that powered the railway are overtaken by the vines of nature. Emerging from a wood onto a windy plateau, I was given a view of the hallmark features of the Industrial Revolution — quarries, stately homes, factories — their majesty raised by the dramatic wind whipping all around.
The gentle inclines and the patterns of autumnal trees made for a peaceful walk. Families enjoyed their Sunday afternoons as they were throughout England and, though feeling like an outsider encroaching on a local custom, I blended into the environment. I happily pondered as I went. Walking complements reflection. It allows for thinking that removes you from the short termism of the daily toil.
Setting up camp in early evening yellow light, I chose an imperious spot on a formation of rocks atop a hill. Wide ranging views of other hills on one side and a sprawling lake on the other. William Wordsworth’s idea that nature has a healing capacity that refreshes us from urban life rung true with this dazzling view all around.
It went dark quickly, and suddenly quite cold; this was not summer camping. I was though very content cooking and then listening to podcasts as the wind whirred. After dinner and once in the sleeping bag, I tucked into the various reading items around me. There was nothing to distract.
My iPhone was still on airplane mode as it had been since the morning. Cutting off from it was liberating. I was not subconsciously touching the screen, as we do 2,700 times a day with smartphones, according to a study released last year. The minutiae of daily thoughts were not my concern this evening. The sounds of nature were all that accompanied my sleep. Getting away isn’t just a matter of geographical distance, but being in an environment that cultivates a certain state of mind.
I woke up alone in a cloud. Panoramic views from the previous evening were smothered by the grey all around. I recovered blown away items then clambered over the rocks to make my way towards a train station. Despite the wind battered night, there was a spring in the step
Sitting in a café that evening on a leafy London street, I pondered how fortunate I am to go from a late morning coffee next to a Peak District canal that very morning, to where I am now.
Part of what makes 24 hours away so powerful is how time is slowed down. Rather than a day going by unconsciously and quickly forgotten, you are more aware of your surroundings and your own feelings. Moments from the day linger on and the feeling of refreshment and new perspectives persist. So you know you’ve been in wilderness when your time there comes back to you weeks away in the future.