Mist on the Moor
Those of you who live in rural areas, especially the hills, give a thought for those of us baed in towns. Not only are the winter days short but we have to spend time getting to our walks. Ah, to be able t open the door and stroll out onto the hill …
Yesterday I was in the mood for a day of walking. For some reason the Malvern Hills seemed a reasonable belt; I love walking down into the town in twilight, the lights illuminating the gloom and somehow setting off the regency architecture just right. I hunted out my map and set off to the train station. I was greeted by that devastating phrase “Replacement Bus Service”. So, Malvern was out.
At about the same time as Malvern Train should have left there was a train to my beloved Shropshire; I nipped on. I had no maps with me but then these are hills that I know like the back of my hand (and I’ve been known to look at the back of my hand occasionally).
I tend to leave Shropshire for the week days when I can have the hills to myself. At Shrewsbury Station the cafe was crammed full of ramblers, so many that I had to abandon my plan to buy my lunch there. A stroll into Church Stretton to Mr Bun the Bakers would provide me with a far better lunch but would necessitate a change in route.
On the station platform one of the ramblers was strolling around in shorts, his fellow travellers looking at him as though he was from another dimension. His upper body was glad with one of those Ray Mears Green Fleeces and his rucksack seemed to be one of those Mears sacks was additional side pockets. In truth it was not quite as cold as the BBC had threatened but I did notice that he seldom stopped still for long. He made several excursions in my direction, no doubt fancying a chat about gear and stuff, but I wasn’t in the mood.
The rambler group disembarked with me at Church Stretton. I climbed over the footbridge and as I descended to the opposite platform I noticed that the rambler group was all huddled together under the small platform shelter. It was an almost surreal site, twenty walkers huddled in a shelter. It wasn’t raining. They looked as if they were waiting for their great leader to make a decision: where to today? The rambler with the legs was huddled in as well. Why, oh why did I not take a photograph?
I decided to take a fast route over the find and dawdle for a bit in the woods on the other side seeing what part of winter I could capture with my camera. There were patches of snow above the tree-line. As I climbed snow fell. I took a route that I’ve taken literally hundreds of times before.
As I reached open moorland I was enveloped with a thick mist. Not only was visibility poor but there was enough snow settled for basic features of the landscape to be obliterated. I turned east on a footpath that I suspected was an earlier turn than I normal would have taken. Never mind, it would take to a major path I knew. I trowed off weaving along a narrow path that (I presume) cut through the heather. I checked my position with my phone’s maps and compass a couple of time and reassured myself that I knew where I was. Keep heading east.
Eventually a rocky sculpture emerged out of the mist — one that I could not have remembered seeing before. A phone map is OK but it really does not work like a real map. I took a few more paces and a huge chasm opened up. My path was there in front of me, just several hundred feet below me. I really had come off my initial path far too quickly. Retracing my steps I had in mind some cross country rather bashing but it gradually dawned on my the visibility was consistently poor enough to play real tricks on the mind. Without that map I really was not comfortable at all with what I was doing.
After a while I decided the best thing to do was simply retrace my steps. Funnily enough (or not strangely as it might be) the path back seems to differ significantly from the one that I had taken out. Except that I was allowing my own footprints. There was only one set of tracks and they were mine, but I could have sworn this was a different path.
Oh well, enough of this nonsense. It was time to call it a day. Just then I met a fellow walker who I reckon was really lost. I showed him where we were on the map. I knew where we were but somehow this intellectual reality seemed to be wrong and my gut instincts told me different. My fellow walker decided to walk with me back down and off the hills and as I we walked I’m glad I had encouraged him to do so. He was looking more than a bit worried. We descended along features paths where only my prints gave any clue to the route. As we talked we had one of the most bizarre and barmy chats about gear I have ever had. The man was clearly unbalanced, either that or he was a regular reader of Trail. I suspect he had fancied walking in the snow for excitement without rally preparing for, or considering, what might be ahead. I shall write about the gear conversation at another time.
Back down in the valley the temperature seemed remarkably mild and the sun was even beginning to break through. My original route had been up and over Caradoc and Ragleth Hill (before I turned to Mr Bun for lunch). Annoyingly, those hills stood out crisp and clear without so much as a dusting of snow on them.
It had been a shortish walk but there was more that could be done with the day and somehow even this brisk walk had left me in a better frame of mind with which to tackle it.
There has been quite a lot of chat on the net recently about getting lost and how even well known areas become confusing in poor visibility. Take these concerns seriously. On high open ground in this country carry a map, particularly when the weather is variable. Of course, I had my iPhone with me which carries a 1:25 map of the area. But as I consulted the phone and fixed my position I never really felt that confident that I actually knew where I was. Retreat was not only the safer option but probably the more pleasurable!
Damn that replacement bus service!