Monday, 1 November 2010

When the clocks change in October it gets dark early

Every few months, things catch up on me and my body just refuses to do anything.  When this happens and if I have no reason not to, I give in to it and spend the weekend watching DVDs and ignoring the list of jobs.  So it was with this weekend just gone.  On Sunday we were wrapped in fog all day.  My attempt to cook Bara Brith, from a recipe in a book I bought last weekend in S Wales, was a total disaster.  I need to learn about yeast.  It's always given me problems.

By late afternoon, I was feeling I should at least step outside the front door.  It was quite warm.  I grabbed the car keys and a cag and drove up to Redmires reservoirs, at the end of the road. It was about 4.30 and the light was fading but I reckoned I could get in a quick walk up the track to the old shooting lodge and back.  There are two routes but my preferred one goes across some open moorland to reach the other route, a track bounded by the old water works conduit on one side and a wall on the other.

It was quite boggy underfoot.  A grouse made me jump with its characteristic cuk cuk cuk call from out of the gloom.  I was feeling disoriented - to begin with I thought it was a dog.  Dogs make me anxious.

Anyway, I reached the shooting hut, walked round it, stared in the doors, shouted hello.  The local tramp wasn't there.  Then I set off back down the track.  Hmm, it really was quite dark.  Not 'in a cave' dark but certainly 'stumble, trip' dark.  I reached the gate where the track over the moor meets the easy to follow one.  It'll be reight, I thought.  There's only one short section where it's gets a bit vague and if I veered right there, I'd meet the boggy bit and then I'd be able to follow the wall up over the hill.  In any case, if I can't find the way, I could just turn round and go back to the easy path. 

So I set off into the blackness.  Lighter patches of short grass looked like rocks and the skyline looked like walls but I used the heather to tell me when I was going off route.  Then every direction seemed to be heather.  Bother, how did this happen?  Ok, I must need to go a bit to the right here to pick up the track.  Yes, here's a wall but which one is it?  There are two around here that run parallel to each other.  Ok, It doesn't matter.  If I head uphill by this one, it will either be right or will turn towards the one I want.  After a few minutes climbing over tussocks, I realised the wall was no longer there.  I'd been following the skyline.  Bugger.  Ok, maybe I'm still too far to the left.  I headed mfurther right and then things got more serious.  I realised I might be a bit lost.  No torch, no compass, no phone.  How was I going to fix this one?

If I went north I would hit the conduit, west would take me to Stanage ultimately but I ought to recognise something before that.  With luck  I'd hit the plantation first.  South was where I wanted and it was uphill but so was west.  East would also take me to another section of the conduit or the field with the horses in and there'd be some walls on the way.  That boxed maybe 4 or 5 square miles - possibly a bit more, possibly a bit less.

I turned round and walked back in what I thought was the direction I had come from.  Hang on.  I should be going downhill and I'm not.  There was a slight breeze and I remembered  feeling this on my face on the way out to the shooting lodge.  It was warm as well, which made sense if it was coming from the west.  Great, I'll turn 90 degrees right and head north.  That should take me back to the wall that runs alongside the conduit down from the small reservoir and I can follow that to the gate and pick up the easy track.

I was losing track of time and tripping over tussocks more frequently.  I just managed to avoid a couple of face plants but it felt like it was only a matter of time before I did myself an injury.  I needed to calm down and slow down.  The only noises were planes to and from Manchester and the occasional grouse call, which made me jump every time.  I tried hard to forget it was Halloween. 

I didn't seem to be getting anywhere. The breeze was back in my face. I must have turned to the left. It seemed brighter over in one direction.  Maybe it was lights from Sheffield  but if it was, I'd have expected them to be yellow.  It started to rain gently.  I put my hood up and briefly contemplated what it would be like to spend the night out here and that the beef bourgingon in the oven would be dried out by the time I got home.  I told myself that the only things that would stop me getting off this moor tonight would be serious injury or running out of energy.  There were no big drops to worry about.  I was no Joe Simpson but then this was hardly 'Touching the Void'

Then I felt the ground dropping down in one direction.  Great.  At last I've found the edge of the hill and I groped my way down the fall line.  It wasn't long before the slope changed and went up again.  I knew by now I must have turned full circle a few times, so my only navigational aids were the breeze or the slope.  The slope still felt the more reliable choice, as down most likely meant east or north, both of which were better options than heading towards Stanage.  I wandered around some more and picked up the lost slope.  When it levelled out again, I carried on in what I thought was a straight line and eventually I found a wall. 

The wall was mostly broken down, so it had to be the one that runs east-west over the moor but which side had I come at it from?  The terrain was pretty flat here so I was back to using the breeze to determine direction but now that seemed to be blowing across the wall rather than along it.  I reasoned that I would have crossed the wall earlier if I had gone south of it, where I ultimately wanted to be, so I must be coming from the north side.  It was 50/50 but either way I should reach somewhere I recognised and as long as I didn't lose this handrail, I could turn round and go in the other direction.  I turned right.  It was a long wall, made longer by the dark and the rough ground and I wasn't letting it out of my sight.  A few times, I had to leave it briefly to get round patches of sedge and I groped my way back anxiously, relieved to find it still there.  After some time (each minute stretching into ten) I met another wall crossing at ninety degrees to mine.  Ok.  I hadn't expected that.  I'll go straight on.  And then a short distance later I reached a second wall crossing mine and some white objects moving on the other side of it.  They were sheep, not ghosts!  And there was a boggy patch with some stones lain across forming a makeshift causeway.  I was pretty sure I knew where I was now.   With guarded optimism, I turned right and soon started to rise up and the wall was on my left and I reached the stile and all that was left was to stumble down to the car.  It was pouring with rain by now.  I'd been concentrating so much on finding a way off that I hadn't noticed.  When I got back home it was 6.45.  I'd only been lost for about an hour although it had seemed longer than that.

After getting cleaned up, I went onto the Met Office website to check the wind direction. It was coming from slightly east of north, so when I though I was going north, I was in fact going east, which went to explain why I failed to pick up the down slope to begin with. 

Sorry, lots of words and no pictures.  It was dark.  No camera.  Not a lot of sense either.


The Odyssee said...

Not the type of post that you read very often about being misplaced. But it does happen and it can be frightening.
Do you not have a watch with a compass on it?
A Christmas present on the way maybe!

Pennine Ranger said...

No I don't. I do have an android phone with compass app, gps, google maps (if I can get a signal) and light but I'd left that in the kitchen.

Bit of stupidity on my part thinking that because I was only 3 miles from home and knew the area that I didn't need the gear, especially given that I walked past my day sack with everything in on the way out of the house!

Anyway, lessons learnt and all that.

The Odyssee said...

I always have a watch with a compass. Sometimes i get lost coming home from the pub.

Pennine Ranger said...

LOL. I usually take a friend for those situations, though strapping them to your wrist can be a challenge.

Hendrik Morkel said...

Good post, enjoyed it. I can very much relate to you, last week we had our night orienteering exam (failed - couldn't locate the last flag even if I was in the right place) and orienteering in the night is not easy at all. If I go out into the "wild" I usually at least take a knife and compass with me, usually even the iPhone as it has a camera. We actually are taught to never go out without knife, sth to make a fire, compass and possibly a map.

Also, consider getting this book: An excellent read and full of useful information.

Alan Sloman said...

Wonderful read!

I navigate my way out of London like that... Hills, shadows (useless in the rain) and my inherent sense of direction.

Quite how I ended going over Tower Bridge twice eludes me...

Word = "rhersers"...

Pennine Ranger said...

Hendrik: thanks for the 'heads up' about the book - I've ordered it from amazon. I used to do some day time orienteering. Always thought it would be hugely more difficult at night and those little flags are very sneaky!

Alan: LOL. My problem is that I don't have an inherent sense of direction. I'd make a rubbish homing pigeon.