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Elsewhere on this site, I’ve written that an overriding characteristic of the Desert is the absence of people. While this is largely true, there is a notable exception.
In recent months, I’ve frequently parked my car at the intersection of what I initially thought were “footpaths”, but which I’ve subsequently come to realise are byways or “green lanes”. These are a bit more than footpaths: they’re ancient “roads”, connecting settlements which may have long since vanished.
It didn’t take me long to realise that, while green lanes may not be what I’d call “roads”, there’s a certain type of modern driver who, relishing the extreme driving challenge they present, will risk serious injury and a fair amount of cash to take their vehicles down them.
There are many people for whom a huge Land Rover hurtling through the countryside, belching diesel fumes and roaring like the end of the world, is the embodiment of all that is wrong with modern life. I neither entirely agree nor entirely disagree with this but, whilst I prefer to be out there on foot, these vehicles travel designated routes, waymarked by signs bearing the Local Authority seal, and the drivers themselves are always extremely considerate – they acknowledge me with a wave or a smile and they always slow down as they pass. These are fellow human beings enjoying the landscape. We have something in common.
Here are men (and they are nearly always men) who disappear into the middle of nowhere on a Saturday and use technological means to explore a landscape. Sound familiar? Where I have my digital camera and my sound recorders, they have their Defenders and their GPS units.
As the Land Rover pictured above passed me, the driver, true to form, gave me a smile and a wave, but the guy on top said nothing and didn’t even look at me. It didn’t bother me; I recognised the far away look in his eyes. Just as I am when I’m down a remote adit with a microphone, he was consumed by the landscape, processing the data the technology was relaying to him.