Human beings have never been more plugged in to technology than we are today. A recent Ofcom study found that the average British adult uses technology for eight hours and 41 minutes a day, 20 minutes longer than they spend in bed. For most of us, including me, that’s inevitable – increasingly, jobs require us to be online from 9-5, and most of us will frequently check in with phones and apps during the 5-9.
This much screentime isn’t the best for our bodies – or minds, and the over-use of tech has been linked to obesity, lack of sleep and loneliness. How can we counteract the time we spend staring at screens, big and small? The answer is escaping, even if for a little while, from the tether of an internet connection, from falling asleep in front of TV screens, from social media updates and from boxsets. Going off-grid promises to cut you off from the stimulus of your devices and give you space to really relax. Perhaps that’s why it’s become a new travel buzzword – now, off-grid is the new calm, and switching your phone off is the new luxury.
So how does it really feel to go tech-free for a weekend? Britain may be a busy place, but there are still pockets where you can find a little wild space to call your own. I stayed at Mrs Higgs Lodge, a tiny wooden cottage nestled far, far from the madding crowds in 3,000 acres of woodland in Herefordshire. Zero phone signal filters down into this leafy glade. The cottage was once a hunting lodge, then the home of Mrs Higgs herself. When she left it the forest slowly grew over its walls and reclaimed it. Now it’s been restored just enough to be comfortable (you don’t have to collect water from a well, for instance, as Mrs Higgs once did) but besides hot water and stoves to heat the cottage with, there’s little to remind you of modern life.
I stayed on a particularly freezing February weekend, with a nip of snow in the air. Life proved to be a lot simpler when your priorities are keeping the home fires burning to stay warm, and I spent most of my time collecting wood. When your electricity and water are limited and heat comes from the fire, they become precious commodities to take care of. Suddenly a warm, easy home wasn’t effortless, but there was a lot of satisfaction in keeping the fire crackling myself.
You simply have to relax when there’s nothing to distract you. My laptop and phone batteries quickly died, and instead I read books by candlelight and went to bed soon after it got dark. In daytime, I walked in the woods, and heard owls softly twit-twooing and saw the white tails of rabbits disappearing into copses. The cold hand of winter had stripped the trees bare, making them seem rather ghostly. The warm lights of the cottage were even more appealing when dusk descended. I fell asleep in the evenings listening to the bedroom stove crackle, and slept better than I had in months.
I only spent a few days lost in the woods, but when it was time to leave I felt hugely reluctant to rejoin real life. I can see how hermits of old might just get a bit stuck in their ways, living in remote caves and eyries – it’s just a lot simpler. I feel much calmer after just a weekend away from flurries of emails, social media updates and worrying world news. I might not chuck my laptop away and go and be a tree dweller just yet, but I’m definitely going to make more of an effort to get away from screens and into the great outdoors.