In search of inner peace? New survey puts tranquility on the map

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The Independent Online

Millions will be searching for it this coming Easter weekend, but how many will find it?

Millions will be searching for it this coming Easter weekend, but how many will find it?

Tranquility is a disappearing commodity in an increasingly overcrowded, noisy, traffic-filled, work-stressed Britain. But what if you could precisely pin it down?

That's the idea behind a pioneering research project that has tried to map tranquility in parts of the countryside, accurately and in detail.

It's not the first time that tranquil areas of Britain have been delineated. The Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE) produced a series of maps 10 years ago showing the calm and repose of much of the country had been devastated in the previous three decades and that there were only three "reservoirs" of true tranquility left: north Devon, the Marches of Herefordshire and Shropshire, and the north Pennines.

The new project takes two limited areas and maps them for tranquility in more detail. Both of the areas under survey are in north-east England: the Northumberland National Park and the west Durham coalfield.

The previous mapping project relied solely on spatial considerations: tranquil places were those which were a certain distance away from features such as roads, towns, airports and power stations. The new mapping, sponsored again by the CPRE, with the Countryside Agency and a group of north-eastern local bodies, also incorporates people's feelings.

Researchers from Newcastle and Northumbria universities conductedinterviews with hundreds of countryside users on their perceptions of tranquility - which mainly involved people, landscape and noise. The team analysed their responses to show how the two study areas compared, producing a set of maps displaying subtle gradations of tranquility - via a colour-coded scale going from green to red depending on an area's tranquility factor. A high level of detail reveals small, local pockets of tranquility that might otherwise have been overlooked.

The maps reveal that the remote - and barely visited - Northumberland National Park offers great potential for tranquility, while the more densely populated west Durham coalfield also has significant areas of high tranquility.

The project partners hope the new technique of involving people's opinions in mapping will become an important tool in planning and conservation. It could lead to tranquility maps covering the whole of Britain.

"Many official reports and statements talk about how important tranquility is," said Robert MacFarlane of Northumbria University, the project's leader. "What we've lacked until now is a robust, reliable way of showing where people can find it. Our new maps do just that."

Northumberland National Park certainly is a place where tranquility can be found, according to two residents, Roger and Jane Wilson, whose farmhouse lies at its heart. The Wilsons moved there from the Home Counties 16 years ago and have found a very different world from the South-east.

"I think the biggest characteristic of tranquility here is the complete absence of traffic noise," Mr Wilson said. "In many other parts of the country you can go to places that are very rural, but when you actually stop and listen there is the drone of traffic in the background.

"Here, the noises are natural ones - water running, the wind blowing, birds singing. And we have a lot of wildlife, and a very unspoilt landscape that we look out across. At night, the only light we see is a lightbulb in a house about eight miles away. The stars are fantastic.

"I suppose ultimately tranquility is inside you rather than outside. But does the outside contribute to the inside?

"It must do, mustn't it?"

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