I'm thinking about going to live in a cave | Steve Canavan

Steve wishes he had a life this simple. Picture: ShutterstockSteve wishes he had a life this simple. Picture: Shutterstock
Steve wishes he had a life this simple. Picture: Shutterstock
I have a new hero.His name is Millican Dalton and – unless you tuned into an episode of Countryfile about five years ago (when apparently they mentioned him) – you’ve probably never heard of him.

Millican was, I think it’s fair to say, slightly bonkers – so in other words he’s exactly the kind of bloke I’m drawn to.

He was born in 1867 in Cumbria but moved to Essex with his family in childhood and became an insurance clerk in London, where he embarked on a very normal and unremarkable existence.

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Then, at the age of 36, for reasons no one quite understands other than that he was apparently ‘a bit bored’, he decided to give it all up to live in a shed and a cave.

How magnificent is that?

I mean we’ve all had a mid-life crisis.

For a while now I’ve wanted to run away with Barbara from the badminton club and go to the Shetlands where we can join a vegan hippy commune and spend our days eating courgettes and playing Michael Row The Boat Ashore on the ukulele, but I’ve never actually gone and done it.

Though only because Barbara would prefer to go to Benidorm where the warm climate will help her urticaria (I don’t like paella though, so I’ve refused, and for the meantime will stay with my wife and children).

But back to Millican who, in his mid 30s, began this new lifestyle – living in a crude wooden shack he built in woodland in Buckinghamshire during the winter and then, when the weather improved, spending his summer months camping around the Lake District.

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He gave himself the title ‘Professor of Adventure’ – that’s pretty good isn’t it? – and started to make a living offering adventure trips in the Lakes.

In the 1920s he took things a step further by discarding his tent and deciding to set up home in a disused split-level quarried cave on the side of a mountain in Borrowdale.

(Estate agent: ‘Lovely to see you today Mr Dalton, now tell me what kind of property are you looking for?’ ‘A cave please.’ Estate agent [desperately leafing through brochures] ‘Erm, I’m not sure we’ve got one on our books at the moment, but we do have this lovely little semi-detached in Carlisle. Deceptively spacious. Three bedrooms and a lovely south-facing garden. Will that do?’)

Dalton baked his own bread, made his own clothes, and followed a healthy vegetarian diet, and by all accounts wasn’t the kind of miserable recluse you might expect but instead a very sociable man who loved campfire conversations with the parties he’d lead on rafting and climbing trips.

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Indeed the sly old dog also enjoyed what is described in the article I read as ‘deep friendships with women’ and offered camping excursions with young ladies long before it became the socially acceptable norm.

In other words he was a bit of a player.

There’s disappointingly little known about the man, although he did – from his cave – give an interview to a newspaper in 1941, at the age of 73 in the midst of the Second World War, when he said: ‘I don’t sleep much, and while I am awake I lie and listen and think.

‘There’s a lot to think about just now, isn’t there?

‘All the sounds of the nights, the roar of the mountain stream, the barking of our dogs and foxes, the cries of birds … how can I be lonely with such company?’

Which is lovely Millican, though possibly not true – I mean you can’t exactly have a meaningful and insightful conversation about politics with a fox.

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Mr Dalton sadly met his maker a few years later when, at the age of 79, he returned to Buckinghamshire for the winter only to find his hut had burned down.

He moved into a tent instead but it proved too much for his ageing frame, he contracted pneumonia and died in February 1947.

When he died, he had on his person a book entitled ‘Philosophy of Life’, which was a journal of observations based on his four decades of living in the wilderness.

Tragically – and how was this allowed to happen? – it was lost and has been missing ever since.

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(I have an image of a hospital cleaner wandering into the room and absent-mindedly hurling it into a bin liner - and yet Simon Cowell’s autobiography, in which he ‘sets the record straight about his trousers, predicts the future for X Factor winners and dishes the dirt on American Idol’ survived … where’s the justice?)

One thing that, marvellously, does endure are the words he carved into the upper chamber of his cave.

It reads: ‘Don’t waste words, Jump to Conclusions’.

What a man, and indeed I’m so inspired I have announced to Mrs Canavan I am leaving her and the children to go and live near a waterfall halfway up Scafell Pike.

Interestingly she didn’t argue at all and indeed packed my suitcase and drove me up there herself.

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I’m just setting up my tent and putting a brew on and although it’s disappointing not to be able to watch The One Show and I’m mildly annoyed I’ve forgotten to bring my thermal socks, it’s going ok so far.

I just need to find a fox to talk to now.

See you all in 40 years.

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