The witching hour

It’s still yesterday. I mean, I’m still writing about the last day I wrote about. One day, so much to say. It’s still yesterday.

I left Richard the Steeplejack at Coleby church and carried on with my walk which continued along the ridgeway and passed through the small town of Boothby Graffoe. In earlier plans of this trip, before I decided to chuck it all in and just enjoy myself, goddammit, I had planned to stay in Boothby Graffoe. I had read somewhere that you could camp there, but couldn’t find any sort of confirmation online nor on the local council website. For anyone else who is planning to hike the Viking Way, I can confirm that you can camp at Boothby Graffoe. Caravan and tent site fees are 6 pounds per site per night for individual pitches. Possibly the best phone number to call is 01522 810 480, but refer to the pic below to confirm. I confirm nothing!!

It wasn’t the most exciting day of walking, although if you remember the post for yesterday (not yesterday’s post – I wrote it a few months ago now!) there were several memorable things that happened. Still, I hadn’t packed much in the way of food and I promised myself a nice pint and a pub meal when I got to Wellingore. But as so frequently happens on these adventures there was nothing in Wellingore – nothing at all. Two pubs-that-once-were, which both had a sign indicating that they might be opening again in the near future. In despair, I walked to the bus stop and caught the next bus back to Lincoln.

This was a rather dispiriting trip back. As we drove along the road, I could see to my left the path I had just taken. Six or seven hours of walking, and now a £3.60 bus ride and I would be back in Lincoln in no time at all. Rarely has a walk seemed so pointless.

I did discover a nice canal to walk back along from the city to my campsite, which was a bonus. There were a lot of foreign students walking along it, too, so it must have fallen on the way to the international housing. It was lovely, quiet, and I wish I’d discovered it earlier.

Judging by my diary and cashbook entries, I didn’t go to the pub that night, although it was my last in Lincoln. Odd. Instead, I spent £4.68 on “beer, custard, bread”. All the essentials.

And now I come to one of the oddest things that happened to me on this walk, and definitely the scariest. I drank the 4 pack of beer, ate the custard, and had an earlyish night’s sleep. When I’d first set up camp in Hartsholme, it was a Saturday and the campsite was fairly full. The ranger had put me on a site by myself not too close to anyone, so I could get some quiet. She even came around later that afternoon and gave me a pair of earplugs. “That tent over there has got small kids,” she said, smiling. I like to think she was flirting with me.

Anyway, this arrangement had worked fine, but the days had passed and the weather was getting cooler and there weren’t many people left at Hartsholme. I was now completely alone in my little tent field, with no close caravan neighbours either. It was very, very dark, and each time I had to make the long trek to the loos it felt very, very far away. The walk back, even further.

I slept. I slept until shortly after midnight, when I was startled awake by three lights passing very close past my tent. Three lights, arranged like a triangle. I sat bolt upright. What had that been? Who had walked so close by me? I was at the end of the field. There was no reason to walk past me, except to walk to me. No, no, it was just somebody cycling past on another path, I thought, their lights reflected off my tent.

And then I heard voices. Like children, teenagers, completely surrounding my tent.

“Who’s there?” I yelled out.

But nobody answered.

Being in a tent is both lonely and cosy. You’re all alone, cocooned up in your space which is exactly the right size. But you’re also desperately prone. You can’t sit up all the way. You can’t sneakily look outside without making a zipper noise. You’re also sitting in a highly flammable, easily penetrable plastic sheet. There are lots of things I fear in this world, it’s true. And being set on fire inside my tent is pretty high up there.

I quickly unzipped the tent and flashed my torch around. I couldn’t see anything. Outside of the round yellow torchlight, I literally could see nothing. I was at the end of a dark field, and nobody close, and boy did I feel every single centimetre of my loneliness.

I convinced myself that it wasn’t worth panicking about. There was clearly nobody around. And it was silent outside the tent now. There was nobody around. I lay back down, and as I started to drift off there it was again – the three lights, arranged like a triangle, and the voices of children surrounding the tent.

I grabbed my bag, my cow and my torch and I got the fuck out of my tent. I’m not proud of this, but I went and sat in the heated loos for the rest of the night, reading my book. Every now and then I checked the time. I figured that at 4am I would head back. By 4am, life seems to return to most places. The witching hour has passed, early workers are waking up, the very very distant sounds of traffic start to hum. And so I sat, and read, and waited, and a long night it was. Finally, at 4am, thoroughly exhausted and no longer in a panic, I left the toilets and started back to my tent.

It was still pitch black. The witching hour hadn’t quite passed. The calm I had felt in the heated, well-lit toilets was fading as quickly as the warmth. The night was yet dark and cold, and the road to my tent interminable. I felt that I had left too early. I should have stayed another hour. But I couldn’t have. I couldn’t stay there any longer. I had to go and lie down in my home, my little tent, that has seen me through many thousands of kilometres and hasn’t killed me yet.

As I approached the part of the field where my tent was, I swung my torch around. Even though I knew exactly where it was, I couldn’t see it. The darkness was absolute. I swung my torch again, and this time I caught the edge of the fly where the reflector tape is. I was slightly off course. I walked towards my tent and as my torch slowly, slightly lit it up I realised – no one could see my tent. No one could ever find me, unless they already knew where I was. Even I could barely find me. I clambered back into my sleeping bag and zipped up. If anyone came near my tent they would either trip over a guyline, or they would have to shine their torch directly at the tent – and that would appear more brightly than just three random ghost lights. I had been perfectly safe the whole time. I had panicked for nothing.

I slept for that last few hours before the sun rose, before it warmed my tent right up, and I forgot all about mysterious lights, and children’s voices, and even for once the cold, and I just slept.

2015-09-24 14.16.11

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.

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