Wind and 'Wilderness' in the UK
Dateline: May & June 2008
This was written as we were travelling the far north west coast of Scotland not all that far from Ullapool and surrounding us is nature at its oldest, possibly its rawest, and many would say, at its best!
We had travelled along this wild northern coast of the UK from John o’ Groats, the famous north-eastern point of the British Isles. We even came across a few spots along the way where we could see for a few miles and there wasn’t even a farm house in sight. Now that is remarkable in this country of 70 odd million in a land mass not much different to Victoria.
A few weeks previously we had been in the equally famous spot of Land’s End, at the south-western tip of the country. There’s even a club for those that have been to both points, but I’m not sure if they admit us ‘colonials’ from the convict states – I don’t think we’ll bother trying. Still you’d have to think that the club would be pretty big as there seems to be a near continual stream of pushbikes, fun runners and motorbike riders, along with a steady stream of normal motorhome tourists traveling between the two extremities. There’s no great challenge to it all though – the roads are all bitumen, the pubs, B&B’s and caravan parks common throughout the land – the most dangerous thing being the continual heavy traffic you need to battle through for the whole way!
While a few degrees of Latitude and 876 miles (say 1400km) separate these two spots there doesn’t seem to be too much difference in the ambient temperature either – just variations in cold, I reckon. Right at this moment though the sun is shining, the sky is a wispy blue and the wind is, for a change, just a zephyr.
Of course, before we set off on this pilgrimage we had a few days in London taking in the sites such as London Tower with its load of gems and jewels, Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, Harrods (gotta love the chocolate section) and Trafalgar Square. The square was busy with lots of people, especially French folk – I wonder if they really realize the whole square and the Nelson’s Column thing is about the French being beaten by the British, yet again - after Agincourt, Blenheim and before Waterloo. No wonder that there's a bit of angst between the two!
Now how does that Dorothea Mackellar poem start?
The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance,
Brown streams and soft, dim skies,
I know, but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.
Then, more well known, the second stanza:
I love a sunburnt country ….
Geez, have those words been ringing in our ears for the last few weeks. After the heat, sun and deep blue skies of Africa – and of course Oz before that – Spring in England and Scotland comes as a bit of a shock. What passes as a ‘blue sky’ is, like Mackellar’s poem hints at, a weak insipid blue, hazed by a film of grey cloud … or is that smog? And it isn’t ‘blue’ all that often.
I’ve also found it doesn’t take long to begin to feel a little claustrophobic and a little hemmed in here, especially south of the border. In England there’s no such thing as really wild country, while Scotland can at least boast of having some, especially when the dark, blizzard-laden grip of winter spreads its mantle over the land. Winter in our ‘High Country’ doesn’t really rate in comparison.
Then for the most part their national parks encompass hedge-row lined lanes, stone-walled farms, manicured woods, crowded tiny villages and if you are real lucky, a few acres of moor country; Oooh those dreaded moors – “Oooh eye, you can die out there laddie! Eye!”
Early on and trying to find anything 'wild', we did enjoy a few days in The New Forest, down in the south of England. Named and proclaimed by old King Harold in 1079, the place was his private hunting reserve, while King Henry V111 a few hundred years later stripped most of the big trees for his new navy that set England on the way to rule the waves. It’s been protected in some form since those early days and it is now the UK’s latest national park and one of the biggest, covering about 42,000 hectares. With over eight million visitors a year the place is crowded much of the time; people walking dogs, (What, in a national park??) riding horses, pedaling bikes, flying kites, playing footy (soccer), bird watching, admiring the wild horses and hill walking. All of this is of course within cooee of a bitumen road and a continuous thunder of traffic that ebbs and flows to and from the nearby cities - and the villages that lie within the park.
In comparison in Scotland we took in the delights of the Cairngorms National Park, which at 436,000ha is the country’s biggest reserve. It still includes a few villages and farm land, but the great plateau and high peaks that are the core of the park supports a quarter of Britain’s threatened wildlife species and a quarter of Scotland’s native woodland and includes large tracts of sub-artic tundra. No wonder we felt cold there.
But this north coast of Scotland takes some beating and we’ve been camped in a small, island protected cove for the last couple of nights, enjoying the milder weather and taking short walks over hill and dale. There’s just a couple of other camps – walkers and sea kayakers – nearby which makes a change from the more regimented camping places and caravan parks you are obliged to stay at most of the time when touring the British Isles.
Our convoy of three vehicles; two Ford F250’s and my stretched Patrol, that would hardly raise a glance in Oz, come under some close scrutiny here in the UK; photos were taken and people wanted to talk about what they are, where we are going … and what the fuel economy of the big beasts are like. At $2.70 a litre (and dearer as you go north) you can understand ours … and their pre-occupation ... about fuel! Still, for our part we’re just happy to get down their narrow lanes and roads successfully without hitting anything or anyone. While dirt roads are hard enough to find here, let alone a ‘real’ 4WD track (we did find a couple of ‘green lanes’), it’s excitement enough traveling along a windy, very narrow, single-lane confined road when any on-coming traffic is met quickly and suddenly. Funny, but they always seem to give way to us!
But, as beautiful and enjoyable as this verdant green country is though, I’m starting to miss red desert country, the wind sighing through desert oaks and sprawling vistas of ancient rocky mountains tinged in blue … yeah, I love a sunburnt country ….
Copyright Ron & Viv Moon