Patrick Galbraith has a night to remember.
In late August, I ended up at a large illegal rave in the Brecon Beacons. It was business rather than pleasure — research for my forthcoming book on land access. I had a brilliant time. The new-age travellers were lovely, the location (or the ‘loco’, as they called it) was impressive and it was clear that a lot of effort had gone into building the sound systems.
On the way home, I hit a large police road block. Police in rural Wales have seen enough raves to know how to deal with them. They essentially block all routes in to stop it growing and then try to find the people with the sound systems on the way out, because if you impound ‘the rigs’, you ruin next weekend’s party.
I think the poor policeman, as he leant into my car, was confused. I was in my duck-shooting jacket with a box of salmon flies on the dashboard, but there was only one place I could have come from.
‘Yes, officer,’ I replied, ‘I was at the party, but I was there as a journalist. I’m writing a book on land access and I write for Country Life.’ The policeman shook his head in recognition and smiled.
I felt that the best thing to do was to keep asking questions. ‘Tell me,’ I followed up, ‘this whole party scene, it’s a lot like hunting isn’t it?’ The officer looked at his colleague, then up at the mountain where the party was still going on.
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‘It is a bit,’ he nodded. ‘Some people love it and some people hate it. But if they just quietly get on with it…’
He stopped, as if he’d said too much, and then asked if I thought it was true that the party might run till Wednesday.
‘Almost certainly not,’ I replied. ‘It rained all night and these people, they don’t have proper jackets.’
“There’s never any fighting at free parties in the countryside. I think it’s because of being ‘in the Nature.’”
Eight weeks later, on a bright autumn morning, I was down on my haunches in a field in Devon with a man who has suffered from depression for much of his life. He’s found that what really helps is a small dose of magic mushrooms. There’s growing evidence that psilocybin, the active ingredient in ’shrooms, as psychonauts call them, can have a positive impact on various mental-health conditions.
He had just about collected enough for a therapeutic dose when a voice called: ‘Can I ask what on earth you’re doing?’ I looked up to see a man on a smart bay hunter with a pointer at his feet. ‘Well, what it is,’ I replied, ‘is that I’m writing a book on land access. Yesterday I was out hunting [which seemed like a good lead] and today we’re foraging. The foraging will probably make it into my Country Life column.’
He sat back in the saddle and looked me up and down. We talked about horses, lapwings and trespassing. The farmer told me they have no end of problems with the public leaving gates open and wandering where they like. Then he turned and cantered away with his dog running along behind him.
That afternoon, I spoke to a sheep farmer who, last year, lost 10% of his flock due to dogs. In his mind, the answer isn’t to keep the public out, it’s to educate them. He now sees it as his responsibility to get as many people as possible onto his ground in order to teach them about responsible access. I wonder if more landowners should be following that farmer’s lead. Many do their bit, but many could do more.
If young people had the chance to forage, build fires, fish and even go hunting, I really think it would change how the public relate to the natural world. As one of the young guys up that Welsh mountain said: ‘There’s never any fighting at free parties in the countryside. I think it’s because of being “in the Nature”.’
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