The Wild Guide is a celebration of the wild places that lie hidden, just off the beaten path. It’s your guide to a lifetime of joyful exploration and simple pleasures. And these special places are on your very doorstep, if you know where to look.
Discover lost ruins overgrown by ancient forests; clamber down to a secret cove and explore sea caves; picnic in a meadow of orchids and rare butterflies; watch the sun set from an Iron Age hill fort; search for glow worms in the dusk then wait for the sky to turn deep indigo and fill with stars.
In our modern digital world, much is made of our new-found freedoms – to work remotely, be contactable anywhere and always be online. Yet we remain tethered to our technology and busier than ever.
Our children, deprived of beneficial wild experiences during their development, can suffer so-called nature-deficit disorder.
Our remedy is a big dose of simple adventures of the most natural kind – exploring the wilder places that lie on the edge of everyday life and throwing yourself into new experiences. There are rivers for swimming or canoeing, moors and meadows to camp in, ancient pathways for night-time walks, woods and ruins to explore and subterranean worlds to discover. Straying out of your comfort zone is not without risk, but new adventures can bring an enormous sense of freedom and well-being.
Think of the South West in summer, and queues of traffic on the A30 and tiny lanes jammed with caravans may spring to mind. Yet, once you know where to look you’ll find a region of extraordinary secluded beauty, its remote coastline indented with tiny coves, its vast moorlands fringed by ancient woodland, crossed by babbling streams and watched over by sacred stones.
Our formula for getting away from the crowds is based around the magic of some key locations:
Wild coast: The intertidal zone is perhaps the greatest wild area in the UK today, a no-man’s land continuously covered and then revealed by the great ocean. Secret coves and caves await the adventurous, while precipitous cliffs and rugged smugglers’ trails offer a challenge that rewards and invigorates in equal measure.
Rivers and lakes: The beautiful, natural waterways that have shaped our verdant landscape, especially where their courses are not followed by roads, offer wonderful wild corridors that are ideal for swimming, canoeing, fishing and embracing a slower pace of life.
Sunset hill forts: To watch the sun set is to squeeze the very last juice from the day. It’s a unique opportunity to feel the subtle changes around you as birds roost, dusk settles, and nocturnal creatures begin to stir. Hill tops provide an ideal vantage point and many are also rich in Iron Age history.
Ancient woods: These rich fragments of what were once great forests are not only places to wander in peace, but also allow admittance into a stimulating world of den building, camping out, tree climbing and foraging for wild food.
Lost ruins: There are so many relics of Britain’s rich history to inspire us, from sacred stone circles to cliff-top engine houses, many overgrown and abandoned but with fascinating stories to tell. Ruins offer adventure and romance – the vital ingredients of every truly picturesque location.
Meadows and wildlife: To be surrounded by wild, unspoilt beauty, from carpets of divinely scented bluebells in May to the uplifting sight of a falcon swooping overhead, is to be reminded of the power of nature. It can help to reconnect us and reawaken our sense of wonder.
The good life
For a truly wholesome feel, travel to the locations in this guide by walking, canoeing, cycling, swimming or horse riding, and then eat hearty local food of known provenance, created with care. Some light foraging is satisfying too, especially of the most abundant treats, including wild garlic, mussels and maybe a line-caught mackerel, all cooked up on a little driftwood fire. After some stargazing camp on a beach or by a waterfall or stream where you can wash in the morning.
We chose to write our first Wild Guide about the South West because we wanted to celebrate simple adventures close to home. The South West is a place we know, love and live in, so the idea of an intimate local guide, filled with secret destinations and special places, appealed. Along the way, we have met so many people living a simpler, richer life, such as artisan producers making delicious traditional foods and smallholders who tend to their pigs and chickens alongside guests.
The end result is a compendium (longer than intended) of wonderful adventures and wild places. It is packed full of memories of wild campsites, night walks, foraging missions, sunset surfing, canoe trips at dawn and countless dips into moorland tarns and Somerset rivers. And all without flying, or queuing, or paying very much at all. We hope the book inspires many wild and wonderful escapades – do write and tell us how you get on.
Dan, Tania and Jo