An experience from June 2004:
I walked Thundercloud and managed to get lost in a wood. Setting off between the cool trees, I felt uneasy. Lots of people walk this way, but what if one of those big black ‘Beasts of Bodmin Moor’ (or whatever) is around somewhere, perhaps lurking just behind the next bush?
There was a sharp dip in the ground where we had to cross a muddy runlet – Thundercloud stopped and looked round anxiously. She seemed to sense something, and didn’t know if she should go on. I clapped her rump and said “move”. If there was a big black beast around, crouching behind a tree stump, the best thing was to keep on our way – confidently and noisily. Cats, I can handle. I’ve got three of my own at home.
I thought I knew that route but it didn’t turn out how I expected. The track went on and on – and on. I thought it would continue to the edge of the world, the forest never-ending and the burn meandering forever through its tangled groove.
The track disappeared, and we passed through a dark mossy ‘basin’ – dank, depressing, and filled with crisp packets and empty beer cans. My sandals sank into the moss and very little light filtered through the overhanging trees. Eventually we scrambled up a steep bank and emerged into a field I didn’t recognize. I looked around disbelievingly. I couldn’t remember any of my previous walks ending up here. It was like reaching out to touch the back of the wardrobe and ending up in Narnia.
I took a step or two along the edge of the field, then turned to see where I had come up, and it wasn’t visible. It was all grass, shrubs and trees. I had visions of myself hunting desperately for the way back, so memorized the landmarks – those houses just visible over there – that gorse bush over there – best of all, the blasted oak. Yes, that’s the guy. Better still, let’s just go straight back down.
It was like crawling down a hole into the dark underworld. Thundercloud kept shoving her nose into the long grass all around as though she was convinced something had died in there. “No,” I thought, “I can’t go back down there! Not where the dead beer cans are!” I hesitated, then remembered the band of gritty adventurers in The Lord of the Rings. A brown blackbird suddenly whirred down into the hole and was gone. “If birds are about, there can’t be anything nasty lurking…” It was like a sign.
Going back down, we pushed our way through a large patch of nettles – my legs were bare but I didn’t particularly care, just got on with it. Thundercloud decided she wasn’t so keen on the nettles and let me go ahead while she sheltered her sensitive nose behind me.
We slunk back along the dark path, trees crowding in close and twigs snapping underfoot. Sometimes, just as I was walking along a precarious bit with a sudden drop beside me, Thundercloud would slither rapidly down the hill and barge into my legs.
I thought to myself “if this was the Lost World I wouldn’t last more than two minutes. I would scuffle straight along this path till a T-Rex or a litter of raptor babies appeared, and then I’d just scream and run along the path some more till they got their act together and brought me down. Thundercloud would be no help – she would yank the leash out of my hand and run a bit faster than me. Maybe she would get home to N. while the baby raptors were still chewing on my bones. If I managed to hold onto her she’d help me fight them but that seems a bit mean as they’d just eat her too. Would I make her stay or let her run? She’s quite strong and pulls me along with her, so I think I’d hang on!”
Having settled that to my satisfaction, I jumped when something popped up behind a fallen log – but it was just a large golden retriever, bending a motherly eye on Thundercloud. Behind her came a human mother with her children and a second retriever. I was quite relieved to find there was other raptor fodder about.
By the time Thundercloud and I got all the way back to where we started, I’d had enough and thought “let’s just go straight back to N.’s”. It was only 10 minutes from where we stood but our hour was already up.
The nettle stings tingled all night.
I remember a story told by Mum – or was it Gran? Boys chased her home from school and she ran straight through a patch of nettles, knowing they wouldn’t dare follow her – and they didn’t! I didn’t remember the story till I had already tramped stolidly through the nettle patch and gone home. Getting back to civilization was more important than any little dangers and inconveniences such as hostile vegetation, tree roots, steep precipices and rusting beer cans.