When you think of the wild, what do you think of? The Masai Mara? Antarctica? A South American Rainforest? Or maybe it’s a children’s birthday party at a soft play centre! 

I’ve heard it said that as soon as a word is incorporated into marketing jargon, that word is destined to be stripped of all meaning and context. It’s life-blood drained to it’s last drop before being discarded on a heap of the ambiguous, forgotten and kitsch.

Like so many, my web browser is filled with “wild” cookies, and I find myself regularly bombarded with calls from the wilderness. From the toughest outdoor clothing to tours of the Tundra, it’s clear that wild has indeed been swallowed and spat out by big budget marketing and advertising teams. If only those cookies could see my bank balance!

Whether it’s a holiday, TV programme or artisan sausage, “wild” sells! But what does wild actually mean? And in an age where technology expands our reach and understanding further than ever before, does our notion of the wild even still exist? Whether it’s a research station on Antarctica, an Orca pod chased by ten tourist boats, or an oil rig out in the Atlantic, if our understanding of wild is of an environment untouched by humans, then its days truly are numbered.

It’s a gloomy outlook for those holding onto the traditional or literal sense of the word. But maybe this outlook is an outdated one, one owned and sold by those highest in society. When celebrated explorers were from and/or funded by the aristocracy. Where wilderness is juxtaposed with words like exclusive and elite. At the same time, I find myself thinking, how many people in the UK have traveled thousands of miles on a plane yet, have never spent a night outside under the stars?

You shouldn’t and don’t need a disposable income the size of a banker’s bonus in order to experience the wild. From a jungle of plants exploding through the cracks in a path to a spider netting flies on a car wing mirror; experiencing the wild is all about perspective.

In March 2018 I had one of my most wild experiences yet. An experience that holds its own against trips to New Zealand and Canada and all it involved was stepping out of the front door of our family home…

The press and media couldn’t get enough of it, The Beast from The East was a gift. I imagine it was as much a welcome distraction from Brexit for editors as it was for readers.

The Beast had collided with Storm Emma as winds in excess of 70mph met snow all the way from Russia. I was so caught up with the idea of this Soviet snow, I made Lego shaped ice cubes out of it which remain in our family freezer to this day!

Our home in which this freezer resides is in Burley in Wharfedale, a suburb with a village-like feel just twenty minutes North of Bradford and ten minutes South of the Yorkshire Dales. It doesn’t snow regularly here but it’s not uncommon either. You can usually expect at least a light dusting several times in a year, with some heavier scatterings on the surrounding hills and moorland. This snowfall was a different beast entirely though. The landscape completely transformed and disorientating and the climate more like something out of a Captain Scott or Ernest Hemingway memoir. It felt… wild. I layered up and leaped out of the front door and into the perfect storm.

The snow had pretty much stopped now but the winds were still intense and throwing the snow around like driftwood caught in the waves. I made my escape from civilisation via a hill just on the other side of a pedestrian railway crossing. I was greeted by a cascade of overzealous sledgers hurtling down the hill. This was certainly a wild scene but not the sort I was looking for. I’m not sure if it was these revelers on plastic trays or the gale force winds but something spooked two woodcock who burst out of the adjacent woods and circled twice before falling out of sight behind a distant hill.

After surviving the toboggan gauntlet I walked on where sledge marks ceased and footprint started to vanish. I encountered a dog walker who, or rather who’s dog had decided to head back and two teenagers struggling to have a smoke. The determination of the smoking species never fails to amaze me! Beyond them was a new, untainted and unexplored landscape. Behind my scarf, fully zipped and hooded up jacket, I breathed out and smiled.

As I moved away from the village and towards the moor a Kestrel kept ahead of me. Keeping a consistent distance of ten, fifteen metres in front. Was this male hoping I’d flush out some prey? Or maybe I was helping him pass a slow day, watching me as I stumbled in and out of waist deep snow drifts. “Stumble Trip, stumble trip, stumble trip” a line from my children’s favourite book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ was looping in my head like a broken record. Our children would certainly be amused as I inelegantly pushed forward, but in The

Beast, nobody can see you fall, and if nobody sees you fall (again and again) did it actually

even happen? I was headed towards Burley Moor which is part of the wider Rombald’s Moor. Rombald’s

Moor is a collection of other, smaller moors which also include Addingham, Baildon, Bingley, Hawksworth, Ilkley and Morton Moors. There’s evidence of human activity here from the late Neolithic and bronze age, with over four hundred recorded stone carvings scattered throughout.

I hesitantly made my ascent up towards Burley Moor. Hesitant not because of the conditions but because a large 4×4 was sliding and skidding all over the road that stood between me and the moorland. A vision of this tank-sized status symbol tumbling down the bank and onto me was powerful enough for me to freeze until the danger passed.

In Summer the scene here would be a patchwork of purple heather, light grey rock, luminous bracken and a healthy variety of spectacular grasses. This varied terrain would be divided up by erratic, nonsensical pathways all formed by greedy sheep and lost humans. On this March day though, it was another world.

Upon reaching the top of the moor, the wind jumped up to a new level. This was wind you could turn your back to and sit on as if sitting on an invisible chair. Until the gusts switched that is and you found yourself or rather your posterior landing with some force on the white powder. The inevitability of a bruised backside, however, wasn’t enough to deter me from repeating this novel action again and again… and again!

As remarkable as sitting on the wind was, there was something else here that was even more spellbinding. Something that would distract me further, leading me to forget about the cold, the wind and the time I told my family I would be home! They were sculptures, immaculate, pristine and reminiscent of the great, late Henry Moore himself. But these idiosyncratic forms that would have collectors and curators salivating were not formed by human hands, they were shaped by the wind, by the Beast.

Smooth curves, sharp ridges and piercing lines followed the contours of the drystone wall ahead. The irregular gaps between Yorkshire stone creating erratic, unique and ephemeral forms. The strength and frequency of the winds were starting to wain but I was losing the light. With no time to waste I hurriedly devoured each wild sculpture with eyes and camera. I was like a beachcomber rushing to salvage as much treasure as possible before the tide reclaimed it.

Before I knew it, it was dark and I’d missed tea (particularly ominous as I’m usually the cook!). Notions of wilderness evaporated with the light as the neon glow from surrounding towns and suburbs moved in and the winds faded. Tomorrow would bring back some more familiarity, more explorers and the illusion would be shattered. And with the bubble burst, I Skyped home to let my family know I was running late. I was no Scott or Hemingway, no Livingstone, but maybe I had caught a glimmer of a fleeting landscape that no one else would or could ever see again.

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