Will Self: PsychoGeography

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The Independent Online

My friend Marc believes that all that happens when you buy carbon credits is that a man rushes into a remote African village shouting: "Turn off de generator! Big man taking a flight!" But then he's a hopeless cynic – or is he? Marc's view encapsulates the reality of a lot of environmentalists' practice, which is that wealthy Western consciences can be salved by token gestures. Carbon trading schemes are absolute bunk in my opinion, a get-out-of-this frying pan card for arch-capitalists that will dunk us straight back in the fire.

"So, what's your solution then, smarty-pants?" I hear you growl from deep in your Saturday muesli; and the answer is: "I don't have one." I think the real objection to plane travel is more aesthetic than ethical: there's something increasingly vulgar about contrails, the vaporous bling looped across the wrinkled bosom of our ageing sky. It could be my own ageing – it could be the practice of too much psychogeography, but I also find the very experience of international – and especially intercontinental – jetting, far more disorientating.

Like some bolshie alien, resisting Scottie's ministrations, as he tries to beam me up to the USS Enterprise, it takes me days after the arrival to feel as if all my molecules have joined me, and I'm not simply a fizzing column of a man. Consequently, when I return home I don't even feel as if I've been anywhere. All of which is by way of a mea culpa, because the fact is that if plane travel is bling, I'm a top gangsta in the ghetto. This last year has been the worst carbon-emitting period of my life. I've been to South America – twice! The USA – same again! And been shuttled back and forth to the continent so many times I feel like a baby in a shopping trolley that's been stolen by a speed freak.

I'm not going to try to claim any of these trips were essential – they truly weren't. Things just ... sort of ... turned out that way. And nor can I promise to be a better stay-at-home next year – plans are already afoot. But what makes it seem all the more senseless, galling and shaming, is that the place I've most enjoyed visiting this year, is the woodland camping site of Chris and Yvonne Barley, at Inverkeithing, just north of Edinburgh.

"We're old hippies, you see," Chris explained when the boys and I pitched up to pitch – and I instantly felt right at home. "We moved up here 30-odd years ago from the Leeds area. We bought the cottage and woodland about 10 years ago, and began working on it."

The work they've done is to turn this little spinney – perhaps 15 acres in all – into a kind of sylvan boutique hotel for weary urbanites. Looked at one way, the woodland isn't anything special: a tangle of brambles, a stand of birch, some alders, sessile oaks and ashes. And in among them, grassy glades half-contrived, half-natural. A deeply rutted old Holloway, its banks twisting with tree roots, led up the slight gradient past an ancient mound. On the far side of our camping glade, Sweet Meadow, the land dipped down a steep muddy incline to a stream.

But there is artifice here – the woodland is subtly managed: the camping glades are connected by mown pathways; the underwood is half-cleared, leaving plenty of dead boughs ready to be gathered for camp fires, while the campfire circles themselves are artfully sited by rough-hewn cooking tables. There's a composting toilet-cum-washing up station built out of logs, and a tumbledown hovel full of straw bales for badger-watching. All in all, the Barley's 15 acres give you the easiest, calmest way of sliding gently into nature that I've ever encountered.

At night, you can hear the traffic swishing past on the M9, heading for the cultural asperity of Edinburgh, but far from violating the spinney's peace, for me, it only enhanced it. Once the boys had glutted themselves on toasted marshmallows and cocoa, and tumbled, smoke-blackened into their sleeping bags, I strolled the margins of the wood, looking across the wheat stubble fields to where halogen lights marched beneath the moon.

I love an interzone, a place that defies the easy certainties of place to present you with a realer confusion of rus and urb – the Barleys' campsite was a perfect example of this. And so what if the burning logs on the fire looked at me with sorrowful, blame-filled eyes, admonishing me for my long year of shameless jet travel? Like the Barleys, I too am an old hippie. And though I may have sworn off major hallucinogens for many a year now, it's at times like these, alone in a Scots wood, in the middle of the night, that I begin to believe in the existence of flashbacks.

To find out more about Chris and Yvonne Barley's campsite, visit www.ukcampsite.co.uk or www.woodlandcottages.co.uk

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