Digital Blackout, pt.2

Edit: I’ve set up a new website/blog to cover this topic:

Thanks to the many people who read and commented on my last blog about needing some time away from technology, the web, and social media.

It helped clarify a lot for me, and it gave me two ideas:

1 – Being someone who likes a physical challenge, and having not been able to do a triathlon this year due to injury, the thought of doing something relatively physical whilst getting away from it all appealed to me.

The current plan is to walk the length of the Taff Trail and back. A return trip from Cardiff to Brecon, in other words, along the Taff river and through the foothills of the Brecon beacons. It’s about 110 miles all in all. I may even make a small detour to climb Pen Y Fan. Just me, a small tent, a few books, and enough provisions to see me through. No phone, no laptop, no communications technology.

I plan to do this before the end of the year. The only problem is that I anticipate it’ll take 3 or 4 days, and I’m not sure where I’ll squeeze that in. The only weekend I have completely free before November (when the thought of doing it gets a little less appealing) is this weekend. Which makes the next 24 hours a bit hectic, if I’m definitely going to do it.

If anyone has any thoughts on campsites, places to stop, things to do on the way, then please let me know in the comments. I’ve given this incredibly little thought so far (it really is just an idea at this stage, but may be a fullblown plan by tomorrow morning), so any thoughts about how much food etc I should take with me, or whether there’s enough shops on the way, and all that kind of jazz would be very useful. It’s been a good few years since I planned an “expedition” like this, especially at such short notice. I walked a very hilly 62 miles in 24 hours once, so I reckon I could *just* do it in 3 days at 12 hours of walking a day. Or maybe I should take a more leisurely 4 days? Suppose it depends on where I can camp….

2Maf’s comment about a regularly enforced blackout, and the possibility of a local cottage where you could go in order to get away from it all, gave me an idea.

What if I found a space/venue/hall/cottage near Cardiff where a bunch of people could go (once a month?), hand in all technology at the door, then enjoy being “offline” for a few hours. It would maybe need two rooms (one for chatting, discussing ideas & books etc, and one room for silent reading, thinking, “cogitating”!), and possibly a few simple rules. These are just off the top of my head, and it may be that after some discussion they are completely without merit or totally un-needed.


  • You have to commit to attending for at least, say, four hours there – no point just nipping in for half an hour to say hello to everyone and then leaving. Nobody benefits from that.
  • You have to spend your first 30-60 minutes there in the “quiet room” in order to calm down from the outside world. You can spend all your time there, if you like.

So, what does everyone think?

Your ideas for my walk, and for the monthly “digital switchoff” in the comments below, ta!


19 responses to “Digital Blackout, pt.2”

  1. From what I remember, the Taff Trail at one point is along the tow path of the Brecon canal. I spent much of my childhood on that canal, it’s absolutely beautiful – I bet you could spend a night on one of the barges, I know the hire them out.

    I love the idea of the monthly digital switchoff, and the rules that go with it.

    So, this is why you’re not committing to the weekend ;). Maybe we could meet you half way…

    • Thanks Maf – I’ll look into the canal/barges. Still need to work out where I’m going to sleep!

      As for this weekend, I only decided that I might do this after having emailed you saying I was free all weekend to meet you! πŸ˜‰

  2. I love the concept of a Digital Blackout Cottage. It would be a great idea for creativity. I find that when i’m sketching for clients or for pleasure, I always end up midway checking facebook or twitter. So to have a place where you can be away from anything digital especially with a time limit, for me would help creativity as I prefer to work under a deadline and to make as much use of the time given. Plus with others being there in this scenario could be a great way to encourage collaboration.

    I admire your idea to walk the Taff Trail, I have only done bits of it by bike, but cannot help you with the information you require, but I wish you all the best.

    • Thanks Matthew. Keep your eyes on this blog for any “Digital Blackout Cottage” developments (although I fear we may not be able to afford anywhere that idealistic!).

      Any thoughts/ideas/contributions you have will be gratefully received…

  3. Digital Blackout Cottage?! – I’m in! I’m *so* in! πŸ™‚ You’ve just spelt out a half formulated vague wish I’ve been having for the past few days – thanks you πŸ™‚
    How about approaching Coed Hills? I’ll try and think of other places near Cardiff. I’m bearing in mind accessibility by public transport, since I don’t have a car, but liftshares are always possible I guess.

    • Thanks Noreen. Yes, ease of access is important. But also if something’s central it doesn’t necessarily have the “seclusion” that you’d hope for. A tricky one to solve! Let me know if you have any other ideas…


      • I agree, seclusion is more important than access (you can always find solutions, like a liftshare in my case, for access – but not for seclusion!).

        Alexanderstone Manor (is not actually a manor! but a beautiful large old farmhouse) near Brecon would be lovely. I spent a few days there on retreat. It would work for a longer period (weekend or week-long retreat) but the owners may be happy to hire the place out for a half day. It’s a beautiful setting and a gorgeous old house with bedrooms (for longer stays) but also several sitting rooms, great for group workshops or gatherings with different themes etc. There’s an extension which is a barn conversion which has a massive living room downstairs, which we did yoga in. On reflection, that would be a very good setting!

        It’s normally hired out to self-catering groups of ramblers and holiday people, a week at a time. The owner, Richard, lives in the farm next door at the end of the lave (Alexanderstone was his mum’s house I believe). My understanding is that when it’s not the holiday season it’s pretty quiet bookings-wise.

        Worth a go?

  4. I love the idea of Blackout Cottage. Due a significantly reduced workload recently, I’ve found myself with a bit of time on my hands. Rather than panic about paying bills and putting food on the table, I was determined to dedicate some time to thinking about, and hopefully progressing some ideas that have been on the back burner for too long. At least that was the plan. Instead if find procrastination and subsequent distraction (largely in the form of the internet/social media) at every turn. An opportunity to log off while engaging others in discussion/ideas generation would be fantastic.
    I would say however that I think a longer period of time should/could be set aside than the occasional evening. I’m sure it wouldn’t be too difficult (famous last words) or cost prohibitive to find a large cottage or house that could be rented for weekends between a group of people. The weekend could even be programmed – quiet period/discussions groups/presentations or talks (without powerpoint!)/acoustic music? – along the lines of the do lectures or idler acadamy weekends…
    Maybe the evening meet up is the best way to get things moving, but as somebody mentioned in the responses to your first blog on this subject, I think we would need a period of abstinence to really get the benefit of switching off.

    As for the walk – plenty of zinc tape and ibuprofen gel would be my recommendations!

    • Hey Nick. Sorry to hear about the work situation. Never a good time for that kind of thing… 😦

      As for the “extended period”, I totally agree. Would be fantastic to have a whole weekend away with a smallish group, completely cut off from the web etc.

      My (currently very sketchy) thoughts are to maybe sort out a few day-long events and then see how people feel about the cost/time of doing something bigger that is more like a retreat or something.


      • Agreed. An evening is not really long enough – I kinda do that already, I switch off my phone when I go into a group event or meeting in the evening and jump back on it as soon as I finish – it kinda defeats the purpose. I personally would need over half a day of blackout to really get the benefit and also be in the right headspace (it’s easier for me to commit to a longer period, deliberately; if it’s a shorter period, I feel I will be itching for it to be over so I can tweet again! ;-p) A day would be ACE. And the perspective of doing some kind of retreat eventually – even better.

  5. Hey… How about flat holm island? It’s possible to organise retreats on there and stay overnight! The buddhist centre does it, I have some details. Nice and close, yet secluded! πŸ™‚

  6. so often I read your posts and it’s eerily like things I’ve done/thought.

    People actually didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t taking my smartphone to bestival, I went from Thurs morn to Mon eve without access to anything. It was groovy and liberating.

    I’ve been an advocate of NOT checking email when you go on holiday for years, when I used to run a km team, I actually asked my boss about including it in their KPIs (every email they sent while on holiday, or call back to the office I’d deduct a point)

    The 2 main things I realised when I got back:
    1) the world didn’t end
    2) how often I looked for the phone in my pockets, to check twitter/email/fb… and thought, “where is my phone??” – borderline obsessively compulsive behaviour!

    have a great time

    • Hi Luke, yes on the odd occasion I’ve left my phone at home I’ve definitely spent the first half of the day checking my pockets every 30 seconds. Then the second half of the day feeling free of its tether!


  7. Good plan on the blackout. I does seem pretty sill how much these things take over our lives. I’m currently sat on the sofa next to Sadie, me sorting out my ipod, and listening to spotify, and catching up on twitter, fb, and now your blog, Sadie updating one of the websites she maintains.
    We managed the blackout (almost)by accident earlier in the year by hiring a couple of adjoining cottages in Holsworthy in North Devon. A slightly different slant to yours in that we had a quiet house, and a loud house, and we allowed phones. If you get enough people on board, it isnt actually that expensive. I think we had just over 20, so took a bit of co-ordination and organising. I think it was about Β£70 per person (including a food delivery from waitrose) for 3 nights (Friday, Saturday and Sunday).

    Good luck in the walk, my only word of advice on that is Lanacane.
    Works a treat.

    • Thanks Pete. Useful info. I think we’ll definitely do the cottage thing at some point. Finding it awkward to find somewhere in Cardiff for the one-day mini-version so far!


      Having done marathons/triathlons etc I’m well-versed in the world of anti-chafing. πŸ˜‰ I have some Bodyglide in the drawer at home, just waiting to be used (this weekend, hopefully!).

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