Going offline: the benefits of a transgres from the internet

On the first day we kept checking our phones, even after they had died. Maddy, who was quite young at the time, seemed to find the absence of screens inexplicable, as if she was being unfairly penalise. What kind of a holiday fails to deliver the basics of human existence, like an iPad? She slept a lot. It was merely on the third day that we tried the fishing rods. From the veranda of the cabin I hooked a small roach. Then we tried dropping a line from the raft and she got a catfish.

One day I get up soon after dawn and couldn’t discover Maddy at all. Then I watched her, sitting outside on the raft in the centre of the small lake, her back to me. She was singing to herself and fishing. Our off-grid retreat to the timbers of the Dordogne was working.

Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, is the setting of Henry David Thoreau’s famous run Walden. Photograph: Alamy

Ironically, the godfather of attempts to disentangle from the modern world lived and wrote long before the advent of energy and telephones, let alone wifi. In 1845, Henry David Thoreau, a privileged young man from Massachusetts with time on his hands, decided that the sheer speed and commotion of modern life was too much. Steam trains charging past at over 20 mph, the incessant ticking of the grandpa clock, the invention of the telegraph … all were driving him to distraction. After some deliberation, Thoreau did a strange thing: instead of tooling up his mule wagon with musketry and bags of ammo, then going off to steal land and gun down innocent strangers in the traditional American route, he retired to the woods, built a cabin and wrote about it.

Thoreau didn’t overdo his retreat into nature: he kept up the dinner parties with philosophical friends and curtailed himself to a couple of years, more or less, out in the countryside. His cabin, after all, was only a brisk walk away from the genteel township of Concord. Nevertheless, his volume, Walden, is a classic.

Coed y Bleiddiau. Photograph: John Miller/ Landmark Trust

It speaks to anyone fed up with reaching for their phone and being constantly bombarded with the woes of the world, disgusted by couples in restaurants glued to their screens and not one another, appalled by their children’s addiction to Snapchat and Fortnite( by all accounts the most compulsively irresistible video game ever fabricated ), and generally up to their back teeth with everything from Alexa to Zuckerberg. To sum up, in Thoreau style, if you are generally sick of spending your life digging your own grave and watching everyone around you do likewise, running off-grid is calling. It could be a cabin, a cottage or guesthouse … but there is one rule- do not pack a tablet, unless it be of stone, on which is written: Thou shalt not covet a wifi code.

The deck at Diane and Bob’s Fisherman’s Cabin, Dordogne

The urge to get away from it all is certainly not new. When, in 2018, the Landmark Trust unveiled its latest holiday bungalow, Coed y Bleiddiau, it proved to have no phone signal or wifi. It had been a retreat from civilisation for quite some time: Kim Philby, the spy, had been taken there as a child by his eccentric explorer father, Henry St John Philby in the 1920 s. Thoreau wouldn’t like it, since the steam develops of the Ffestiniog line do jog past occasionally, but when I stayed there that merely seemed to accentuate the isolation. Life got simple pretty quickly: cooking, read, board game, the radio and walks.

For some, however, the true retreat should be off-grid and off-line, involving the chopping of logs and frequent plunges into cold water. When Diane and Bob Kirkwood moved to the Dordogne in 2001, they couldn’t afford to get connected to the electricity grid, so started investigating alternative energy. Five years later, with much ingenuity and superlative carpentry skills, they ended up building a pair of irresistible off-grid cabins for guests( from EUR7 5 a night ).” Immersing yourself in nature and other simple pleasures are universally appreciated ,” says Diane.” People have always hankered after a bit of peace and quiet .”

It was at Diane and Bob’s Fisherman’s Cabin that Maddy( now 16) caught her first fish. The couple have since added a third cabin, and Bob has built a canoe for trips on the river.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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