“The land wants to be wild,” says Matt of the Sidecar Guys. “We just have to get out of its way”.
The British Motorcycle Insurance Community (BMIC) has partnered with The Sidecar Guys in supporting their Wild Ride UK, a trip by Matt and Reece in their Ural motorcycle through England and Wales looking for the kind of wild adventure that led them to travel around the world 34,000 miles, through 35 countries and 5 continents in their Ural scooter and sidecar, earning them the official Guinness World Record.
Done in a dash of eight days, the pair shot mini documentary episodes along the way, meeting up with people from the UKs motorcycle community as well as people involved in searching for and preserving what’s left of the UK;s wilderness and to find out what it means to them.
Without a preconceived idea of what they were looking for, or indeed what they were going to find, the trip proved illuminating, if not for the wilderness they found, but more for the lack of it.
“The whole idea was ‘can we have as much adventure in the UK, as we’ve had on our trips oversees,” says Matt. “We wanted to see how it compares. We wanted to meet new people, see amazing scenery, do wild camping, eat new things and basically do what we’ve done around the world.”
The wild side of the British Isles, proved more elusive than they originally thought.
“It was kind of a mixed bag, to be honest, because in the UK, there are lots of rules and regulations, we ended up camping in crappy campsites, which obviously, can’t compare to the wilds of Oregon, but at the same time we saw some cools tuff. Within an hour and half we were in snow-capped mountains in the Pennines, it was genuinely quite surprising,” continues Matt.
“It started off in horrendous sleet and snow, but we embraced that and went in to the mountains, we met up with some guys from the TRF, and did the UK’s highest lake, which was really cool to do in the snow. There was two feet up there, so getting up there in the Urals was really cool.
When you think about the English countryside, you think of well-managed farmland and moorland, and that’s what The Sidecar Guys encountered. Having experienced real wilderness on their various adventures, they had adapt to a landscape that has been ultimately tamed by human agricultural activity.
“We went to Wistman’s Wood, a 12,000 year old temperate rainforest,” says Matt. “That was great to see, but it was eye opening for us too. We researched where the best and most wild places to see in the UK are. It’s beautiful, but it feels like there are only 30 trees left. It’s been so eroded by the surrounding farmlands and idiots camping there and chopping off branches from the trees. Getting there was not really a wild experience, you park in the carpark and pay, like it’s a visitors’ attraction. When you’re walking towards it, it just looks like a kind of small patch in the grand scheme of Dartmoor”.
And yet there are many rewilding initiatives happening around the UK, there are significant swathes of land that , thankfully are returning to their natural biodiversity, thanks to the efforts of private landowners. However, these lands are mostly inaccessible to the public.
“Rewilding needs to happen all around the UK,” says Matt. “A big challenge with rewilding in the UK is that the public only have access to maybe 8% of it. 50% of the land in the UK is owned by less than 1% of the population. There are huge parts of the English countryside that are wild, but you wouldn’t know because nobody has access to them.”
If you are planning to ride out in the UK looking for wild adventure, you might have to go to Scotland to really find it. England and Wales are undeniably beautiful countries, but the rewilding movement is only in its infancy. After the Sidecar Guys’ Wild Ride UK, how does Matt feel about the state of wilderness in the UK?
“It’s pretty depressing actually,” he says. “There are some great rewilding initiatives to try and bring bits back. But to see Wistman’s Wood said it all really. It just looked like a freckle on the side of Dartmoor. To think that that was what that whole valley should be like. All the national parks we went through, none of them were really wild. We have just attacked the British Isles, really. As a wild adventure, when you’re trying to appreciate the beauty of the natural environment, it was difficult to be honest.”
“Growing up as a Brit,” continues Matt, “I thought the countryside was natural, all the farmer’s fields. It’s beautiful, I still have an appreciation for that kind of beauty, the rolling hills and dry stone walls, but it’s just not like what you see in other countries. But it is well worth doing, you can take the green lanes, we wanted to get off the tarmac. You can still do that and you can get lost in the UK on your bike, but it’s not wild.”
On a positive note, it’s not all doom and gloom. The Sidecar Guys’ Wild Ride UK explores the work of some inspirational people, who are working to return parts of the British Isles to their natural wildness. It’s worth remembering also, that with the right will, rewilding can happen very quickly.
“The land wants to be wild,” says Matt. “We just have to get out of its way”.