Crossing a stile with no style
It came to me the other day as we listened to yet another hiker being lost in our area that my hiking days seem tame by comparison.
I am talking of hiking the Northumbrian moors where it was very easy to get lost but where , although we were not a foolhardy bunch, danger was not something we considered.
Hikers who lose their way here in B.C. often die of hypothermia before they are found and the wildlife can be a bit disconcerting because, no matter what the experts tell you to do, when you meet a 700 lb grizzly bear who can run at 40 mph and climb trees it is pretty much up to the bear whether you live or die.
Cougars couldn't be termed 'just a nuisance' either.
It got me thinking that the only wild animal we came across was a fox on the moors. Most of the animal population was domestic sheep and I cannot bring to mind anyone who is afraid of sheep.
We were not completely without danger however.
As I have mentioned it is easy to get lost when all you have is a compass and an ordnance survey map because all hills look pretty much alike from ground level. The moors are criss crossed with hedgerows, stone walls and fences so a map showing those would be much easier to read.
One afternoon a group of us were heading for a youth hostel which had been just over the next hill for at least the last three hills when we came across a rather well built fence. We saw that there was a stile in it a little way down but were not sure if we needed to go that way and the girls were getting pretty tired by now after twenty miles carrying about 40 lbs on their backs so we all stopped at the stile and Mike and I said we would have a look over the next rise before we made the decision.
There was only a lone cow in the field as far as we could see but there may be more over the rise.
Mike climbed the stile, not a simple job with an 80lb rucksack on his back, and started off towards the cow on the rise. My rucksack was not as heavy as Mike's but neither was I as strong, so I had a bit of trouble maneuvering the stile until Cathy gave me a push and I turned to set off after Mike. Cathy said she would join us but had the sense to dump her rucksack first.
It was then that I realised that Mike had stopped about half way to the cow who had now turned to face us.
No dummy me, I knew immediately why he had stopped because I too saw the light glint off the ring through the cow's nose.
Apparently we had all made the same gender error when assessing the animal.
At times like this it is always good to fall back on what you have been taught about safety. When facing an angry bull (this one was now pawing at the ground) make no sudden movements and back away slowly
Mike was a good friend but he was on his own here so I turned and made it across the stile with no trouble at all this time.
Unfortunately Cathy had started to cross so we both ended up in a heap in the mud.
We looked up in time to see that Mike had followed a more basic instinct than his safety training. Fight or Flight The former not being an option he was running for the stile as fast as he could. Mike never won a race in school but I do believe he would have on this day even wearing heavy hiking boots and carrying an extra 80 lbs.
His foot hit the first step and he leaped over the fence. He may have even landed safely if his toe hadn't caught the top of the fence. As it was he landed with a thud flat on his face in the dirt just as another thud hit the fence. Now we knew why the fence was so well constructed.
When we had picked ourselves up and decided that at least three of us would be looking for a lake or river for a wash Geordie came over and picked up a board of wood that was lying in the dirt. He rubbed off the mud and held it up.
You guessed it! It read :
We decided to forego any attempt to wash off in the small river we could see on the other side of the fence. - It just seemed prudent.
As it turned out we did find the youth hostel soon afterwards. We were only about a mile off course and came across a country road that was on the map.
We had just climbed another, quite steep, hill and there, right below us, was the road. We were standing at the top of a steep slope of shale, almost a cliff really, and we were all tired enough that we decided the road looked too good to pass up. One by one we attempted to walk down the slope and not one of us made it more than halfway before losing traction and ending up in a heap at the bottom causing many skinned knees and arms.
And so it was that a group of tired, dirty hikers, mostly showing wounds on arms and legs arrived at the most inviting youth hostel on the Northumbrian moors.