Something To Declare: Can we still escape the noise of the world?


I once sat in the garden of one of our most idyllic Herefordshire B&Bs, drinking tea and listening to my hostess waxing lyrical about the tranquillity of this quietest of areas: the Welsh Marches. Then we ducked as two fighter jets screamed overhead, preparing for the invasion of Iraq. It was more surprising than it was alarming, but it did remind me that total peace is elusive in these isles. "Noise" takes many forms other than the scream of fighter jets.

I had a letter recently from one of our devoted readers making a radical suggestion, or perhaps a heart-felt plea. She was pressing us to create a collection of special places free from all Wi-Fi interference – or electromagnetic "noise".

If only, she wrote, she and her husband could go away for a weekend without the fear of the inevitable insomnia and headaches should there be Wi-Fi close by. Several of her friends had the same problem, she claimed, and they all spend a lot of time double-checking for Wi-Fi before going on holiday (not easy when the neighbour's Wi-Fi can sneak in unannounced).

I had no idea that Wi-Fi might interfere with the well-being of people within its reach. Apparently, she told me, up to 2 per cent of humans are susceptible to a range of effects including nausea, insomnia, headaches and a racing heartbeat.

I'm no scientist, but I am inclined to cynicism. Not about claims such as these, but about any industry which says that its products are harmless.

Nevertheless, a little research revealed a general rejection of such fears. It is not easy to prove that Wi-Fi does absolutely no harm, but almost impossible to prove that it hurts. Perhaps, I pondered, there is some personal susceptibility to heavy electromagnetic "fog" when there are all sorts of devices – especially mobile phones and computers – in the house.

This all raises a matter that is interesting to many of us who travel. How can we escape the noise, the pervasive sense of being contactable by the whole world? Don't we want to get away? OK, so there are times when we need to be in touch, to gaze at the giant flatscreen and hear the comforting tinkle of our mobile. But there are other times when we need peace. I wonder if humanity will not one day suffer from a form of global tinnitus – an eternal and unstoppable buzzing in our ears.

Yet, for those who dig deep to find it, there are numberless quiet corners still. I am moved enough by our reader's plight to consider creating a collection of especially quiet places to stay and to see if we can also guarantee freedom from Wi-Fi. I'd do it not for scientific reasons, but for the very sensible idea that without this brilliant beast there is less interference from the outside world. A little silence, too, might help us all. Trees, flowers and grass grow in silence, Mother Teresa reminded us. Perhaps we do too.

Alastair Sawday is founder of Sawday's, the guide to special places to stay in the UK and Europe. See

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