Seeking Wild Sights, that’s the name we came up with to try and encapsulate our travels. It hits the nail on the head really, we are off in our van spending our time trying to find all the wildness we can, be it wild animals, wild landscapes or the wild in places that you wouldn’t think to look for. I don’t think we are managing too badly in our endeavours, we are 8 months in and living in our van in a very remote part of the Scottish West Highlands. We wake up each day to views of lochs and mountains knowing that some of our natural neighbours include creatures like pine martens, sea eagles and the ever elusive (and seriously threatened) wild cat. We’re certainly ticking the boxes, but it has lead me to think about how other people may define wild; what is wild to me may not necessarily be wild to someone else. So, what defines wild? What gives it that status? Can it be measured, or is it a truly personal experience to each individual? Did we even need to travel to find it or was it right there under our noses the whole time?
The Oxford Dictionary defines wild in the following ways;
1. (of an animal or plant) living or growing in the natural environment; not domesticated or cultivated.
2. (of a place or region) uninhabited, uncultivated or inhospitable.
You think of the word in context with the dictionary definition and It instantly conjures up images of far flung corners of the world, to huge expanses of open forests, jungles, sparsely populated areas of desert, or arctic tundras complete with sprindrift breezing menacingly across them. For some people they think of people who took to these places, perhaps Henry David Thoreau who took to a rickety make shift cabin hidden in the Walden Woods, or you may imagine Chris McCandless a.k.a Alexander Supertramp gathering and hunting in the wild expanse of Alaska. They certainly meet the definitions, all of these spaces are completely uncultivated and pretty inhospitable, it would be a hardship to live there for sure. The problem I have with the thoughts that my head concocts around this subject though, are that they make the wild we are seeking here in the U.K look a lot less like wilderness and more like someone’s back garden, which most certainly isn’t the case.
Robert Mcfarlenes Wild Places book was one of the first nature writing books I read, and boy I am I glad I did. This book opened my eyes up to the possibilities of true, unadulterated wilderness here in the U.K. I no longer had to dream of far flung spaces, they were already here practically on my doorstep. As soon as he touched on the Caingorms it was rocketed to the top of my travel list, I had to go and see it for myself, I had to experience the U.K.’s last remaining true wilderness that was just an approximately 8-hour drive north. A landscape that could take your breath away in one fail swoop whilst hiding a whole menagerie of wild creatures. It took me ten years to get there but get there we did and yes it does classify as wild, in my humble opinion. But it’s smaller. Smaller than those places that your subconscious beckons you with when you read of wilderness. Much smaller than the Siberian forest, American swamplands, or desolate mountain ranges. Hmmm, wild can be small?
Then I thought about the New Forest, I grew up near there, I worked there, and I spent a lot of time in it’s leafy woods and I can assure you there are some pretty uncultivated, uninhabited and very inhospitable parts. If you’re willing to go off the beaten track or even just walk more than 150 yards from the car park, then you can easily find wildness. It’s got an impressive collection of wild animals, it’s even got goshawks! Goshawks personify all things wild in fully feathered form, they skulk in the deepest darkest heart of the forest like a beast in a fairy tale. So yeah, the New Forest is wild and that’s smaller still. When I really think about it I can make my mind go smaller still, smaller than the nature reserves I frequently walked at and watched barn owls hunt, smaller than the old camping field we stayed in on the edge of Martin Down where red kites soared over head as fallow deer rutted in the trees behind. We can go snail in a plant pot small, woodlice living in the crack of a paving slab small, the single tiny blade of grass that was growing out of my old car door small. Wildness doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be epic and it doesn’t have to cost you an arm, a leg and a pet goldfish to get to. I’m not saying don’t go on big epic adventures, definitely definitely do that if you can, by all means tick as much off your list as physically possible. Just be aware that the wildness is closer than you think, sometimes it just takes a gentle reminder so that we don’t forget.
We are overlooking wild spaces on a day to day basis because they just don’t quite fit the grandeur of these magnificent empty expanses. We have stopped looking for the wildness in everyday existences, we ignore the overgrown hedgerows we pass whilst out walking the dog and shun the abandoned block of flats that are home for no one now except a roost of bats. We overlook our gardens, our very own patches of potential wildness. Wildness that would easily thrive if it wasn’t for the neat lawn and manicured hedges, or the swampy little ponds have been filled in to make way for barbeque huts, so we can have the authentic outdoor experience without actually having to go outdoors. That means that not only are we overlooking these mini wild spaces but we are filling them in, we are stripping them of their wild definition by actively cultivating them, and forcing the last remaining wild spaces that we could physically have access to right back into the recess of our brains. Making them only exist to us as that dictionary definition in the wilds of Alaska or Russia, places we are highly unlikely to travel to except for vicariously through books or television.
You don’t have to seek far to search for wild sights. You pass them everyday, you have the potential to unlock them in your own back gardens and if you don’t have a back garden then you could have a window box, or a bird feeder. Whatever it is, just don’t cultivate it, leave it be, let it grow and sprout and take root. If you allow it to root to the wildness we’ve barricaded beyond our gardens, then it has the means to bring it back. Your window box, bird feeder, pond, or uncut edges are a calling to the rest of the wilderness that it’s ok to come back in. Slowly at first, but slowly is good because slowly is progress. Once you notice your own wildness then you start to notice others, it becomes easier to see that the roadside verges if left to it become an uncultivated, inhospitable, uninhabited environment. Suitable only for wildlife, for birds and bees and hedgehogs.
For us Seeking Wild Sights isn’t about solely seeking out the last wildernesses in the U.K., yes the Caingorms were outstanding, and as I stood on a high path peering down across the moorland to watch a red deer doe feeding with winds whipping my hair in all directions I did feel truly wild, but I also know that this wildness easily exists elsewhere for the people that let it. We have seen it in built up towns, in trees in supermarket carparks, or on the central reservations where oystercatchers poke and pry or food. It is in our parent’s gardens, in the compost heaps and flower beds where butterflies visit in the summer and robins come to the turned over soil for a feed. We haven’t cleaned the roof of our van in so long that there is probably a good chance that a wilderness is forming up there.
When you think of those dictionary definitions try and think smaller, don’t let your mind drift off the Sahara or the Australian outback – bring it back. Bring it home. Think of all those teeny tiny inhospitable places where the wild edges creep in and try to find your wildness there, because I promise you it is there. Sometimes you will have to look really hard for it and sometimes you won’t, sometimes it will be the field mouse staring you right in the face as you open the shed door, reminding you that you have the keys to let the wildness back in.