Life is getting noisier.
A report last year indicated that city-dwellers typically have a ‘hearing age’ – owing to the constant bombardment of sirens, screeching trains and so forth – of at least ten years older than their actual age.
In London it’s closer to 15 years. Scary. So I’m going in search of quietude.
Serene: Kielder Water in Northumberland provides a peaceful haven from city life
According to a ‘tranquillity map’, created in 2006 by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), the country’s quietest corner is a 500m-by-500m square of marsh just inside Northumberland.
The precise coordinates are a secret.
But it’s somewhere inside the Border Mires: a series of around 60 remote, heather-topped peatlands that fringe the conifers of Kielder Forest and its southern subsection Wark Forest, near Scotland. Off I go.
On the train to Newcastle, people yell into their mobiles and announcements bing-bong every minute.
The beautiful Tyne Valley line to Haltwhistle, shadowing Hadrian’s Wall, is charming.
I’ve booked a comfy self-catering cottage called The Bothy, part of Churnsike Lodge, which was once used by Victorian grousehunters and is now home to a kindly couple called Dawn and Stephen.
Quiet Kielder: Although the official spot is in the peat-mires, it’s still blissful in the surrounds
According to a ‘tranquillity map’, created in 2006 by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), the country’s quietest corner is a 500m-by-500m square of marsh just inside Northumberland, on rugged land that fringes Kielder Forest
From here, I roam about, listening and reflecting. Rather than wade into mires trying to pinpoint the CPRE’s designated spot, I stick to rutted forest tracks. After all, the periphery of Britain’s most tranquil location must also be pretty peaceful.
The CPRE defines tranquillity as a lack of man-made decibels – airplanes, industrial racket – combined with the presence of natural noises.
Beyond occasional meetings with Forestry Commission harvesters or fighter jets swooping toward nearby RAF Spadeadam, my outings are accompanied only by trickling water, wind, birdsong and bees.
I sit in mossy forest clearings, watching for red squirrels, and gape at vast, depilated plains recently harvested.
Small crags offer blowy views of green-brown moors. I pass no one.
At times the constant emptiness overwhelms and I crave company.
But other moments, such as when I delightedly watch two frogs inch down a mini-waterfall, are blissfully free of hurry or worry.
Returning south, I’m unexpectedly happy to be back among people.
This time I simply giggle at noisy passengers.
And for days afterwards, I feel serene, more patient, more alert.
Three-night stays at The Bothy, sleeping four, from £221 (cottages.com, ref. W43733). Two pets welcome. Taxis from Haltwhistle about £60 return (Sproul Taxis, 07712 321064).