“What I love about the Rhinogs is that you can walk among them and there are hardly any reminders of the modern world,” promised Sheena, meeting me at the start of the weekend with a bottle of cold ginger beer after my traffic-slowed, Friday afternoon drive from London. The Rhinogs, she explained, are essentially a neglected corner of Snowdonia national park, offering similar terrain to that of Snowdon to the north, and Cadair Idris to the south, but without the crowds.
The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that the fetish for spaces vacant of signs of human life requires a hatred of other human beings. If you really wanted to get rid of any reminders of the modern world, you’d strip buck naked and go off into the hills sans rucksack, hiking boots, foot cream, or any other modern invention. You’d spend a week living off nuts and berries and trying to beat the odd badger or stoat over the head with a rock for a bit of protein. It’d take a lifetime of practice though since the first few holidays would be taken up with trying to rub dried twigs together to make a spark, assuming you were able to ward off hypothermia.
The point being that the search for some intimation of a prelapsarian existence is of itself the product of its opposite: the demands and the vexations of civilisation, in particular the fact of having to work for someone else’s ends in order not to starve. But suppose you’re up a hill somewhere, I dunno, the Mourne Mountains, and some hiker makes his way into your purview. The sentiment expressed in this article implies that he would constitute a blight on your existence, having ruined your temporarily privatised tranche of nature. I mean, what the hell is wrong with striking up a conversation and sharing experiences?
There is, of course, a long established tradition of heading off somewhere wild in order to get your head together, the most famous example of which is probably Jesus. But in fairness to Jesus, he was doing so with a view to coming back and turning the world upside down, not so that he could come back and get stuck into the carpentry with a bit more vigour. And Ozymandias would be a pretty empty poem if the narrator hadn’t met the traveller. ADDS: on mature reflection, there is nothing in the content of that poem to indicate that the narrator met the traveller when he was out travelling. It is equally legitimate to imagine that what is being recounted is the upshot of an early 19th century equivalent of a coffee-dock conversation.