Night hike

Recalling an adventure that turned into a farce, I am reminded why walking is easier in daylight

We were on a night hike and the absurdity of that concept didn't occur to me at the time. Walking is a major pursuit of my maturer days and its chief delight is to drink in the vistas and observe nature's varied scenes. What vistas can you observe in the dark? As a keen Boy Scout, these cynical thoughts had not yet sullied my opinions about night hikes. They were Adventures, deserving the Upper Case initial. They were journeys into the mystery beyond bedtime. They were challenges to newly learned map-reading skills, albeit more difficult when you can't see the map.

We were lost. Not Really Lost in the sense that we needed to be rescued. But we were on a path that didn't fit our plans and had no idea which of the turnings we have taken was the wrong one. As well-trained map-readers, we knew what we should do at this stage; we needed to stand on a viewpoint and line up our map with prominent landmarks. Here a church-with-tower, there a windmill, behind us a copse near a bridge in the valley. Slight problem - we couldn't see landmarks in the dark.

"We should turn right here cos…"
I can't remember what the "cos" was but, since nobody had any better ideas, we followed George's suggestion. No-one took notice of Pete, who grumbled whatever happened. George's idea seemed to be working because we could see lights through the trees. He reckoned we were heading towards the village from where it would be an easy walk round the lane back to the campsite; but it wasn't the village.

The holiday camp was in the wrong direction. We knew that because we saw it on the map, when we were getting ready for the night hike, and Paul said it was silly to have a holiday camp so far from the seaside. There was no beach here and no open spaces, just thick woodland crowding around chalets of sleeping holidaymakers. We picked our way carefully through the woods and wondered why twigs needed to break so loudly. This was Private Property in a post-war age when the distinction carried weight. Wardens and gamekeepers could be physical with trespassers in those days. Our problem was aggravated by a very particular sound. It had that low rumbling element characteristic of small volcanoes and large dogs. Our dilemma was whether to be quiet or fast, but a second growl decided the question in favour of speed. Reaching a fence we felt relieved in the knowledge that we were one bound from safety.

I have never been fully able to recall the exact sequence of events that followed. George and Paul somehow managed to be on the other side of the barbed wire, while Pete and Arthur were still in dog territory. I was, so to speak, on the fence. If ever I sell the film rights to this story I will take great interest in the stuntman's efforts to reproduce a feat that I personally achieved without rehearsal. My rucksack made it to the ground on the other side of the fence, but my body didn't. With socks and gloves impaled on the barbs and backpack pulling me to the floor, I was helplessly suspended and unable to free myself. My "one bound" had an unexpected double meaning.

We lost interest in snapping twigs and growling dogs (or was it the other way round?). Ignoring my plight, my four companions became helpless with laughter. "Get a camera", shouted someone, overlooking the anachronism of his demand for popular flash photography fifteen years before it reached the market.

We made it back to camp that night, though I couldn't tell you how. That may not have been my final night hike, but it helped cement my opinion that walking is best with a view.

© Derrick Phillips - 2001