When was the last time you went totally off-grid? I’d be surprised to hear if it’s something you do occasionally, or have even done recently – it feels like our lives are almost too tightly entwined with technology for it to be a pleasurable experience, wrenching away our digital selves to sit in the present.
Having blogging as a career has made my internet addiction even more intense. Even now, I can’t deny that I love the internet – it’s enabled me to follow my dream, given me access to almost infinite resources, and instant connections with an interesting and knowledgable community who I can’t get enough of.
But it’s also made me somewhat dependent; I get into bad routines with my phone, grabbing it at the slightest pause of a conversation, sometimes seeing the world through an Instagram-shaped lens, and switching off my bedside lamp to be illuminated by a blue glow and scroll into dreaming…
Time for a digital detox
I’ve written about why you should take a digital detox a while ago, and it often coincides with a stressful period in my life, or a holiday where I’m far enough removed from my normal environment that tech doesn’t feel like a priority anymore. But this trip was the first where I’d planned to go off-grid, and I relished it.
Hidden amongst the country lanes of West Devon lies the natural sanctuary of Devon Dens. Created and cared for by the endearing Jo Henderson and Ben Ranson, their little patch of green grass, young forest, and gorgeous wood cabins looked like heaven on my computer screen. I booked in our visit to their site to take place just after my birthday, as both a time to rest, reset, and report back to you on what I think may well be the latest trend in eco tourism…
Welcome to the lion’s den
Our long weekend wasn’t camping, and it wasn’t “glamping” either. (Side note: I hate the whole concept of glamping. “Glamorous camping”? Nah, no matter what anyone says, just get used to the mud and poor sleep and you’ll be fine.)
Instead, this was living in a den, surrounded by and closely connected to nature, but using the very best green technology to make life comfortable. The hard-structures offer peace of mind when it comes to the elements, but you will need to stock the indoor fire to keep warm. When darkness falls you can put on a light, but it just doesn’t quite compete with the total stillness, and on a good night, crystal clear view of the stars.
And of course; there’s no tech. No TV, no internet, not even phone signal. Once you arrive, you realise your phone is just a lump of metal that’s good for telling the time, but for once it doesn’t have the edge over a wearable wristwatch.
Planning the trip
As with every holiday, some planning is needed. In this case, we were guided with a very useful information sheet about the site, with a list of conveniences and items we should bring. In addition to the provided, we ordered:
- Bio-logs and wood for the wood burner
- Bedding and towels
- Local eggs and a local fruit & vegetable box
This saved us from carrying goods that needed to be cold, and bulky bedding (a key lesson in packing light right there!), especially when we travelled by train and bus.
The trip from London to Devon is a long one, usually three to four hours by public transport, and we were unfortunate with both our journeys; on the way, our train driver was late to work (no, not kidding), our bus was late and our bus route cut short. On the way back, we narrowly escaped getting stuck in the snow in a taxi on the A30 (not the cleverest move, I have to admit), and once we’d hopped on the next train to London, we spent three hours sat on the floor with a suitcase dripping onto us…
But in-between that, it was pure heaven.
Living like a local
We arrived on site thanks to Jo arranging for a carpenter they work with to pick us up from the closest bus stop, and she greeted us with a warm smile and a local veg box that we had arranged in advance. She showed us around the site, taking us through how to use the simple compost toilet, where to collect fire wood and kindling, the location of the emergency phone, how our boiler and stove worked, and that the solar panels on our den generated enough power to use the indoor lighting each day.
After that, we were left to our own devices. I was thrilled by the den; it was just the right size for a couple or even a small family, with an upstairs double bed, downstairs sofa bed, and a kitchen/dining area that sits four. (If you’re looking for more room, Jo and Ben have just unveiled their new six-sleeper cabin too!)
The site was incredibly quiet, save for the occasional baas of the neighbouring sheep and the babbling brook at the foot of the field.
Switching off, finally
On our first evening, it felt almost surreal to be alone with nothing to do. My boyfriend and I started making jokes about horror films and I got a bit creeped out; the feeling of being away from the world was finally starting to sink in.
Over the course of our stay, I re-kindled my joy of cooking in place of tap tap tapping away on a computer keyboard. Having brought kitchen cupboard foods to accompany the awaiting veg box, I was able to make a pasta dish, a big risotto, a rather poor potatoes dauphinoise in a frying pan, and a hearty veggie full-English too.
We also dined at the local pub – The Clovelly Inn – on the Saturday afternoon, in the pretty village of Bratton Clovelly. It was a nice three-mile walk each way, and there was a little snow catching in the air, making it feel like a proper getaway.
In the evenings, we ate well, and chatted by the outdoor fire until bedtime. It was simple, and seems almost too simple when faced with so many distractions being back to reality, but that was the beauty in it.
I’d worried prior to my visit that I would be anxious being away from my job, my contacts, friends, family, but those three days made for some of the most vivid this month; I felt free to just be myself, with no need to check in, no approval, no sharing. It wasn’t selfish, it was just normal life, patient and happy and free.
Now being home, I haven’t stopped recommending a digital detox at Devon Dens to friends, and I feel more patient and aware of my actions, as well as better connected to nature too.