Magazine article The Spectator

Solitude in a Small Country

Magazine article The Spectator

Solitude in a Small Country

Article excerpt

SEARCHING for solitude is easy for people in big countries. Canadians know that if they head towards the middle of their country they are going to steer clear of the hordes. Similarly, their Yankee neighbours have large amounts of Big Country in which to get lost. In the other hemisphere, South Africans only have to head out of the cities to be surrounded by untainted space, and many Australians don't even need to leave home, so far from their neighbours are they.

Inhabitants of the less populated European countries have remoteness within fairly easy striking distance of home, too. The French can go to the Alps or the Atlantic coast, the Danes head for western Jutland and Madrilenos are surrounded by mountain ranges where traces of habitation are sparse. Two factors make things tricky for us Brits to get away from our countrymen without packing a passport. First, we live on a small island. Secondly, centres of population seem to ooze out of every contour of the map. Despite this, Britain is not without its remote corners. Sticking firmly to the mainland, I have picked out half a dozen of Britain's remotest spots - a trio of contemplative high places, the rest by the sea.

The toe end of Cornwall, west Penwith, takes forever to get to, as anyone who has left Exeter believing arrival to be imminent will know. It's a strange world, west Penwith, north of Land's End. Visiting it is a little like dropping into a museum of prehistory. Squirming through the granite landscape alongside the West Penwith moors, the B3306 - an enlarged footpath of a road, from St Ives to St Just - affords dramatic views of the Atlantic thrashing the cliffs of Cape Cornwall. The landscape is harsh - granite and moorland - and, an hour's hike off the road onto the Penwith Moor, you will find evidence of the area's pagan past Lanyon Quoit and the Men-an-Tol standing stones. It is an other-worldly spot. Further down the coast, a climb around the sea paths of Bottallack brings you to Cornwall's most westerly tin mines, now long abandoned, and makes you realise how pleasant is the journey to work on a clammy Northern Line Tube.

The clarity of light that for centuries has attracted painters to St Ives and St Just is well-documented. D.H. Lawrence lived in Zennor, near St Ives, during the second world war, and worked on Women in Love there. Zennor is also the resting place of one John Davey (d. 1891) who, according to his tombstone, was `the last to possess any considerable knowledge of the Cornish language'. Even when the weather is not sunny, a trip to this part of the world will leave you invigorated and refreshed.

Few beaches on Britain's mainland can be more off the beaten track than Sandwood Bay, on the windswept approach to the lonely moorland south of Cape Wrath. A visit to any part of west Sutherland is accompanied by incomparable scenery: immense mountain, loch and moorland panoramas. Names with which to conjure, too: Suilven, Canisp, Quinag, Ben More Assynt, Foivaven. Whatever the season, the beach will be utterly deserted - the only footprints you will chance upon here, apart from your own, will be those of seabirds. Sandwood Bay is a two-hour walk down a track through peat bog. The beach is idyllically framed, with high cliffs at either end providing protection from northerly and southerly winds and, at its back, dunes and a lagoon. Cape Wrath is only a degree south of Anchorage. In summer, the light is strong and night falls, briefly, in the small hours of the morning. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.