Sunday, May 29

Digital detox: going cold turkey without wifi in the Lake District | lake district holidays

“TThe question arises almost as soon as we enter the remote country house in the western Lake District: “Where’s the telly?” The door to the holiday home in Eskdale opens directly into the tiny living room, and in the space where the TV should be there’s just a simple fireplace, a wooden bookcase full of maps and nature books, and a couple of wingback armchairs. high.

“Well, can we use the iPad then?” is the following request. Then, when informed that no, we didn’t bring it, he says, “Can I go to your phone?” There is a look of confused disbelief on my children’s faces when I explain that there is no internet, no computer, not even a phone signal, and that in fact we are not going to be looking at screens of any kind for the entire duration of our one-night stay. week.

They’re young enough not to start and storm off right away, but I imagine the scene would be quite different if they were teenagers.

Gemma Bowes' family holiday in the Eskdale Valley, Lake District.  Daughter Heidi and son Hamish
Gemma Bowes’s children trade streaming online for Eskdale Valley streams. Cinematography: Gemma Bowes

Doing a digital detox wasn’t my main motivation for escaping to this remote hideaway (the exciting scenery and sense of isolation are the big draws), but the lack of Wi-Fi is a big plus. Although my children are only six and eight years old, their predilection for screen entertainment is becoming more and more tedious. They may not have their own mobile phones or tablets yet, but the shows they love are streaming online, they long to have free rein on YouTube, they’re desperate to join the FitBits school craze, and they love to “make funny faces,” creating long chains. of emojis on my phone to text their friends (or rather their friends’ parents, who are bombarded with messages from 200 watermelons). Most of your homework is done online. The digital world invades. Stopping it completely and unchallenged for a while feels essential.

I am not alone in desiring this. January’s spate of wellness-related travel advertising contains more mentions of digital detox than ever before, with tour operators like G Adventures predicting it as a big trend, exacerbated by lockdowns. All that zooming, digital homeschooling, and Netflix bingeing made it seem like every aspect of our existence was lived online. Many of us feel dizzy, desperate to unplug.

The Eskdale Valley in late summer looking west.
The Eskdale Valley in late summer looking west. Photograph: John Davidson/Alamy

My family’s antidote in recent years has been to escape to various off-the-grid Cumbrian cottages – this is our second stay at the National Trust-owned Bird How, which is down a quiet lane that ends at the next farm. it’s basic. The mattresses are hellish, a much lamented detail in the guestbooks, and there’s no bathroom, just a sani loo in a cobwebbed space under the hut, accessed from the outside (not fun at all). 3 am in pouring rain) and a shower bag. that is filled from the kitchen faucet (there is hot water and electricity) and hooked up outside, in full view of the occasional passer-by.

All of this creates a sense of adventure, of course, and with no other buildings in sight, it feels like you have this phenomenal valley all to yourself.

After their initial shock, the kids get by without watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. with surprising ease. We hang out in the wild garden, through which a small stream runs, with novels and coloring books, and eat on a picnic bench under the tree. We go hiking, and my daughter embraces wild swimming, throwing herself into the icy pools of Eskdale, secret canyons in neighboring Duddon Valley, and any dirty-looking moor pond.

At night, we look for bats and the bright headlights of drivers tackling the terrifying Hardknott Pass above—sometimes slowing down in reverse when they lose their nerve.

As the week progresses, complaints about a lack of screens are more easily quashed with the suggestion of a game of Uno or a walk to the Brook House Inn for ice cream.

Bedroom at Bird How.
Bedroom at Bird How. Photograph: Chris Lacey/National Trust Images

Surrounding fields come to life for imaginary play, even if it’s inspired by television. I spend a great deal of time pretending to be wildlife presenter Steve Backshall chasing rare animals, but at least we’re tearing down grassy slopes and scrambling. streams in the process.

My partner and I take turns going for a run, and on one of mine, up a fern-clogged path on the opposite flank of the valley, I call out to the others, barely visible in the cabin. I’m delighted to receive their answering cries on the wind, so I take off my sweater and wave it madly like a flag, rewarded by the smear of red cloth that its ant-sized forms return to me. This rudimentary communication, not unlike the used by roman soldiers parked near Hardknott’s Fort 2000 years ago, it gives me a burst of happiness that no number of Instagram likes could match.

It may be harder to convince older kids and teens that a spell without Wi-Fi is a good thing, but growing awareness of mental health benefits of unplugging, Studies of the damaging effects of social media and tech overuse on teen brains, and the way wellness is in vogue may make them less resilient than might be expected. Many have embraced mindfulness, yoga, and veganism, why not this?

When our tech habits are so deeply ingrained, we can’t trust flaccid promises to use our phones a little less. Going to a place like Bird How means there is no other option. Perhaps like dry January, we must force these experiences on ourselves. You can’t argue with a digital detox all at once, especially when it comes to such alluring embellishments.

Bird How sleeps four, from £499 a week,

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