Saturday, 28 September 2019

Night Hike to Oxstones

Over the last week or so I'd planned that last night would be a #microadventure as I'd be home alone (my wife was to be outdoors herself on a fundraising event for Cathedral Archer Project). The weather forecast was for repeated heavy showers throughout the day and night and I gradually decided to stay in the dry. By early evening though the forecast and rain radar suggested that the worst had passed over and there was a probability of some dry hours. No excuses! I rapidly packed the bare essentials and got out of the house 10 minutes before sunset. It was pretty gloomy.

Quite minimal but feeling substantial
I set my sights on Oxstones as an area within a few hours walk but decidedly in the countryside. I also know the path very well which should have been reassuring. It was a new moon and with dark clouds passing over, the paths were quite quickly in blackness and I resorted to my head torch.

I didn't need the signs nor map
For 2 hours I ascended, mostly on paths but occasionally on short stretches of road. The wooded areas were spooky, trees groaning and various animals shuffling in the undergrowth. The small area of ground illuminated by the head torch was supplemented by a peripheral zone of heightened awareness. In this zone my eye was drawn to newly-emerged mushrooms. I think I recognised shaggy ink caps but there were other, unknown to me, white species. At Houndkirk Road a dog walker came out of the gloom, the dogs' eyes visible first. I couldn't face the tree cover in Lady Cannings Plantation so stayed on the byway. From Limb Valley I'd been aware that the wind was becoming more obvious and by the time I'd reached Oxstones I couldn't find shelter on any aspect of the stones. I thought about stopping to make a hot drink or warm-up food but decided I was getting too cold. At that point I chose to abandon the night, even though there'd been no more than drizzle, and head for home, perhaps stopping to eat on the way.

I detoured towards Porter Clough thinking I might eat there but saw many car lights in the parking area with the sound of voices drifting towards me. I wasn't sure it would be safe to arrive alone. That was it then, back to home, direct route.

Welcoming lights but still an hour from a arm bed
The Norfolk Arms was tempting for a moment but a paused would have only delayed sleep at this point so onwards! Alongside the road my peripheral vision was drawn to a movement, and just in time I turned to see a badger scurry away from me across the road, arriving safely at the other side.

So this was a night hike rather than overnight bivvy but still a break from normality and a small challenge. Especially marching beside the looming trees. I walked just under 18km at a good pace having become accustomed to a heavier rucsac than usual. I wonder how I managed camping trips with rugged tents as a teenager?

Importantly I'd also noted the insecurity of being outside and slightly fearful of groups, and of needing to keep moving to stay warm. I was unusually thankful of being in a warm bed when I awoke finding it had rained heavily in the early hours of the morning.

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