Taking the slow road north

This will be the last article on Under a Grey Sky for four weeks, as we close up the shutters for our summer holiday. When we started back in the dead time between Christmas and New Year, I wasn’t sure how far or how long we would go. I knew that I would need support, both from readers and contributors in order to create the type of website that I was aiming for. I wanted Under a Grey Sky to be collaborative project, and eight months on when I look down the list of contributors and have a read through the archives, I think that we have achieved this.

I am hoping that by the time we open things up for business once more, the Grey Sky inbox will be filled with words and pictures from the diverse and dispersed group of friends around the world. And hopefully Katrin and I will have our own stories to tell from our journey north to Sweden. It is exciting, because for the first time since our daughter was born we are camping during the drive to a small house on the edge of a forest, and as with our trip to Paris via Saarbrücken earlier in the year, the journey is once again part of the excitement of the trip, not just the destination.

We were talking about this last weekend with Nicky and Susanne (from Hidden Europe), and because of this conversation it took me back to the archives on their own site, and their Manifesto for Slow Travel. The whole article is well worth a read, and will hopefully give pause to thought when it comes to how we approach travelling in general, but the following passage struck a particular chord:

“Slow travel is about making conscious choices. It is about deceleration rather than speed. The journey becomes a moment to relax, rather than a stressful interlude imposed between home and destination. Slow travel re-engineers time, transforming it into a commodity of abundance rather than scarcity. And slow travel also reshapes our relationship with places, encouraging and allowing us to engage more intimately with the communities through which we travel.”

It made me think of other trips. Just over ten years ago three friends and I took a trip that ultimately was between Barcelona and Madrid. The Spanish capital was the ultimate goal, but it was the journey, through the Pyrenees, along the Basque Coast, up into the Picos de Europa, and then across the Castillian plain, that is what we remember. Winding roads up through the mountains, picnics atop a cliff looking down over a Basque fishing village, the sense of excitement that greeted each arrival in a new town or village… this was not just about going someplace nice, it was about the travelling.

There have been plenty others, whether it was the looping journey through central Europe from Berlin to Sarajevo and back again, motorbike trips through Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria, or taking six days to get to Lake Constance from Berlin, taking our time through the German countryside as we did so. It is even better when you take your time to get to a place, and then have somewhere to set up home for a while, to really complete the sense of escape.

And I guess that is the real issue. Whether we consciously “Slow Travel” or not, the main point is not distance covered, or even cost, the main problem is time. This year we have the luxury of four weeks with which to explore, build a camp, and hang around a while. With the amount of time we have, our plan might seem slightly unambitious, but then isn’t that the other side of “Slow Travel”, as my good friend Paul Sullivan writes on his Slow Travel Berlin website?:

“Slow Travel encourages us to slacken our pace, re-consider our motivations (and itineraries) and embrace a “less is more” instead of a “fast is better” ethos. It emboldens us to take pause. To think. To saunter instead of rush and enjoy the details instead of blurring past them.”

I think the best of all trips is where you can combine a slow means of reaching a destination, and a slow ethos when you get there. I feel extremely fortunate that with this trip to Sweden we are able to do both. See you in four weeks.

Words: Paul Scraton

3 thoughts on “Taking the slow road north

  1. dianajhale

    Have a wonderful journey and a restful summer! At an event I went to last week at the British Library Marina Warner used the phrase ‘Slow Landscape’ which I liked a lot and am thinking of adopting – a good corollary to Slow Travel.

  2. Phil Scraton

    Thanks for this Paul. You’ve created a fine site with a diversity of enagaging articles and commentaries written in the collaborative, reflective spirit of exploration, discovery and identity. It puts to shame so many of the pieces that litter the weekly travel sections of our newspapers. The Slow Travel references remind me of reading Showell Styles’ chapter on running over the 14 peaks in Snowdonia. It is a major undertaking and one that I managed twice when my joints held up and my muscles were strong. The idea of ‘running’ across these mountains that demand two major, and many minor, descents is remarkable. Showell Styles held the record for the traverse for many years until the great fell runner Joss Naylor came on the scene. Anyway, Showell Styles reflected that he felt guilty about the run as it had become nothing more than a test of physical endurance rather than an aesthetic experience. To show his respect for the wonderful 14 peaks he returned to complete the ‘slowest’ traverse, camping on the summit of each over two weeks. Now that’s Slow Travel!!! Have a great trip, look forward to reading the reflections on your return …

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