Living in the Wild: Will it be Lonely?

Megan standing on the side of a mountain, overlooking Loch Nevis in Scotland

“Won’t you get lonely?” Seems to be the one unifying sentence from city dwellers when it comes to discussing remote living. Usually followed swiftly by ‘I could never do that’. Good job no ones asking you too then. Admittedly, I have a romanticized view of what our future life in the Scottish Highlands will look like. From a hygge, self-built a-frame to wild camping with our puppies at the weekends, it’s hard to find something wrong with this picture.

With the intention of being able to perfectly argue my point (and a little out of nervousness), I started googling rural isolation and loneliness in the countryside. Between bickering telegraph journalists and images of the frail and elderly, this is what I learnt.

Loneliness and isolation are not linked.

The amount of times I’ve sat in my flat, surrounded by the 300,000 other inhabitants of Brighton and Hove, listening to my neighbours stomping and the music from an obscure festival in Brunswick Square, thinking ‘I feel so out of place’ is uncountable. In a city, I feel isolated and claustrophobic. In the mountains, in the Highlands, in the backcountry – I feel connected and content. Others find these very same open spaces intimidating and will find comfort in the hustle and bustle of a busy bar.

We all have different journeys, fears and experiences that shape who we are and what we enjoy. I am naturally introverted and like to pick and choose the people I interact with. I also like to limit the number of bodies in my personal space, which isn’t always possible at rush hour on the Brighton mainline. Overall, human contact is important for all us. So if you need it to recharge your batteries and feel more like you, perhaps reconsider the move to the middle-of-nowhere.

Rural isolation is a thing and it really affects some people.

I’m not going to be one of those people that denies something exists because it doesn’t apply to me. Just because I’m a heterosexual white female and don’t experience homophobia or racism on a daily basis doesn’t mean it’s not happening to other people.

Whilst rural isolation can affect anyone – regardless of their identity – it tends to be the elderly and the vulnerable that suffer the most. Lack of health care, internet access, education and council funding can have a hugely detrimental impact on those struggling with either mental or physical health. Fortunately, at this point in my life, between Ben, my family and my friends, I have built up a strong support system. I’ve learnt the importance of talking about my mental health and am confident that if I was struggling, I would be able to talk about it with my nearest and dearest.

‘Sense of community’ vs ‘nosey neighbours’.

Relationships in the countryside are very different to those found in the city. It’s not uncommon when out hiking, to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the trail. This would be horribly impractical in central London, as you’d spend your entire morning greeting grumpy commuters.

There is a much stronger reliance on neighbours in rural communities. Need a 24-hour vet/plumber/off license? Good luck in the backcountry. Not even Amazon Prime guarantees next day delivery to the Highlands and Islands. Getting to know the locals could make things a lot more comfortable, especially if they know a trade.

The city isn’t all bad.

As much as I think my time in the South East of England is coming to an end, it’s important to remember the good things about living in a city. Inherently as human beings, we tend to fixate on all the things we don’t have and forget to be grateful for the things we do. I don’t have to think about planning meals as Coop is a 5-minute walk away and open until 11pm. My local gym has all my favourite classes, the bakery at the bottom of the road does the best almond croissants and there’s a hipster coffee shop every 100 meters. If I’ve forgotten something at the last minute for a camping trip, I can choose between Blacks, Cotswolds, Millets or one of the other 20-odd outdoors stores within a 5-mile radius of our flat.

I’ve weighed up what I’m happy to lose against what I think I’ll gain and I’m ready to make those sacrifices. One thing I’ll readily admit I’m going to miss is being able to Deliveroo vegan pizza on a lazy Sunday though. I hope the mountains are worth it. (They are).

In conclusion..

To draw some sort of vague conclusion, rural isolation does exist and it is prevalent within certain remote communities. However, living remotely does not directly cause rural isolation. Other factors including wealth, or lack thereof, age, health and family all play an important part in feeling lonely. The government are slowly making progress in making communities feel more connected. Whilst I feel confident that I won’t be one of the ones suffering, when we make our move to the Highlands, I want to help those who are. 

Saturday night stargazing in Friston Forest

Picture of the trees and stars in Friston Forest

I have always loved staring at the stars. I feel a primal connection to these luminous plasma spheroids, suspended in our night sky only by a magical force known as gravity. Or lack of gravity? I’m not sure I actually know how they stay in one place and don’t just float off. Google provided a lot of information on orbiting, rotating and flying through space at high speeds which gave me motion sickness just reading about it.

Regardless of whatever the mystical force is that has kept our constellations the same for the past 3,000 years, a particularly stressful week in the office meant all I wanted to do was run away. So when Ben suggested that instead of fleeing the country, we head out to Seven Sisters Country Park for a hike under the night sky, it felt like a pretty good alternative. We packed a bag comprising mainly of snacks, coffee and photography gear before heading out towards Friston Forest.

In the daytime, Seven Sisters Country Park is usually pretty busy, especially on a sunny autumnal weekend. However, the moment the sun goes down, the forest becomes dark and foreboding and the fair weather walkers making a bee line for the nearest country pub. Personally, this is one of my favourite times to be out. It’s very hard for any part of the South East of England to feel wild in any sense of the word. So when night falls, covering all the industrial scars we’ve left across our landscape in a velvety black blanket, you could easily mistake yourself for being somewhere far more remote. 

The moon was hanging lazily low in the clear night sky when we arrived and parked up the car. After reading a bunch of articles on astrophotography, I was eager to get the tripod set up and to start taking some nighttime images of the stars. We did a quick recce of the area and selected a strong vantage point with a view of the treeline. To my immediate frustration, I realised I had left the tripod mount plate on the photography shelf at home. Reluctant to be deterred I tried to take a long exposure shot of the moon without it and I think you’ll all agree, it was abstract at best. 

a blurry hand held long exposure shot of the moon in Friston Forest.
An unfortunate attempt at capturing the moon. 

Refusing to be too frustrated, after all, we were out and it was cold, quiet and blissfully peaceful, we pressed on into the woods in search of natures tripod. With each step I could feel my body relax and my mind start clearing. The worries I had about work were replaced with a combination of existential wonderings about the world and trying to avoid twisting my ankle on a hidden tree root.

Eventually we managed to find a decent gap in the woods. Balancing the camera precariously on its case, I stared to mess around with shutter speeds and aperture settings. Whilst the light pollution and my limited skills with a camera in the dark prevented any breath taking Milky Way shots, they were still pretty good!

Stars in the night sky above friston forest
30 second f/1.4 ISO400

Now officially able to claim that I was an astrophotographer, we continued our hike. The forest was uninterrupted by humans, reclaimed entirely by animals and nature. Deer grazing, foxes hunting, stoats playing in the undergrowth, we felt like gracious guests in these creatures homes. They seemed completely unperturbed by our presence, lulling us into an ethereal place where time, pressure and the stress of daily life doesn’t exist.

When we arrived back at the car I couldn’t believe that it was gone 01:30am and we’d been out for over 6 hours. The internal tiredness that had been left by a week of office confinement and miserable commuterdom had been replaced with an electric inner calm. I felt more awake and alert than I had done in a long time. Hopefully come Monday morning, when I rejoin the thousands of other office-bound Brit’s, this energy will see me through until our next wild adventure. Or at least not immediately be stamped out on the 6:44 train to Victoria.