How twolocalexplorers do Christmas: Part 2

We awoke on Christmas morning at a time our childhood selves would be horrified at – around 8:30am. We figured there was nothing spoiling. We don’t exchange gifts (never have… a fact that is of concern to a surprising amount of people), and because it was just the two of us there was no one waiting for us to get up for any reason. So we had a lie in.

Once we had finally surfaced and had breakfast (fresh baked bread rolls with vegan lorne sausage and HP sauce, delish!) we made our plan for the day. We’ve never been ones to have Christmas dinner early since we’re usually off adventuring in the morning, so any thoughts of prep can wait until we get back. We scoured the map and decided on aiming for a fairly low level summit just outside the eastern edge of the Kidland Forest. It certainly wouldn’t be a big day out, but it would be a great leg stretcher to walk up a bit of an appetite for dinner. We dressed for the occasion, packed some essentials (map, gloves, a torch, cashews and some pop) and off we went.

There’s a footpath right behind the farmhouse that meets a forestry road not far up and cuts a huge corner off the road. Usually, this footpath is gravy for us, but with Hogs still in the midst of his annual cold and me… well… let’s just say it, extraordinarily unfit at the moment, it had us puffing, panting and wheezing by the time we got to the road. Luckily, it levelled out for a while and we just sauntered along catching our breath.

We knew roughly where we were going. We had attempted to summit this hill once before but couldn’t find a path leading up to it, so this time we had mapped out a potential route that follows a fence line leading to the cairn that marks the top. Despite knowing where the track started and was SUPPOSED to lead, we seemed to lose height we weren’t supposed to lose and before long the track had disappeared beneath the logging detritus left by the Forestry Commission. They’re supposed to reinstate any footpaths and bridleways they disrupt during logging operations, but this was just a track – not an official right of way – so there’s no obligation to retain it. We notice that there’s a trodden path heading directly back up the hill and so we drag our ill and unfit selves up it, quickly spotting that it must be a popular route for local deer. We try and follow our noses and stick to trodden tracks but after a couple of twists and turns our path opens out into a large clearing in the trees. The path ends.

We gaze around. Lost.

Where ARE we?

We get out the map and make an effort to visually scan the clearing and figure out what shape it is. This isn’t the easiest thing to do from ground level, especially when the clearing isn’t flat. I secretly love these moments. We’re never truly lost and we can always figure our way out of somewhere, but these moments where we have to pore over a map and use a modicum of skill to locate ourselves fill my soul up with joy. They bring me closer to the landscape and plant me very firmly within it rather than just travelling through it. We can’t figure out which clearing we’re at and decide the map is actually quite out of date, so we head for a firebreak in the trees and quickly spot a pile of stones marking a clear line up to a gate.

On reaching the gate we review the map again and still can’t figure out where we are, and a thick dense mist now blankets the moors in front of us removing any chance of us orienting by sight. This is where we rely on Hogs’ superhuman ability to always know which direction he’s pointing in. Spin me round in a circle and I’d get lost, but Hogs can always tell you which direction we started off in and which direction we should be heading for, so we continue on along a fence line that feels to me like it’s the exact opposite way we should be going. We keep walking, hoping that fence lines lead places, and before too long we pick up a fairly well defined quad track.

As we follow the track deep into the mist over the moors I start singing Wuthering Heights. But I find myself singing the ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks Indecipherable Lyrics’ version:

"Out on a winding, windy moor
Sweet Roland falls in brie
You had distemper, like my jealous eel,
Too hot, too greasy"

I crack myself up sometimes. I’m busy belting out my best Kate Bush when lo and behold a stone cairn comes into focus barely twenty metres in front of us. We made it. Hogs’ natural sense of direction prevails and we skip triumphantly up to the cairn. Should we even bother taking photos? We’re sure this stretch of the moors should be very picturesque but we can’t see anything beyond twenty metres. Hogs takes a few photos anyway, for posterity, and we trundle on to the OS trig point a little further on. They’re of no use now, but I do love a trig point. They’re a symbol of the effort that goes in to mapping the landscape and how important it is to do it accurately.

From here we have a decision to make. We can push further down the track into unknown territory blanketed in mist, or we can retrace our steps through now familiar territory and back to the safety of the cottage. We don’t like retracing our steps. It’s such a waste of exploration potential so we keep following the quad track figuring that hey, the farmer must’ve been going somewhere, right?

Now that we know where we are it’s easier to figure out where we need to go: follow the fence line down to the edge of the trees then follow the firebreak back through to the forestry road, except that when we get there we find that the Forestry Commission have struck again. A combination of logging operations and a new fence make it impossible to know where the edge of the trees is or where the firebreak was. Our only hope is to pick our way down the steep slope through the neighbouring trees and hope we can make it back to the forest road. Picking our way down another deer track and catching sight of the road in the distance I have a tiny moment of pride at how we always manage to figure safe and sensible ways out of these predicaments. I’m about to entertain my pride out loud when Hogs steals my thunder and blurts out something about how this would make a great bike trail. Typical Hogs. Always biking in his head.

On rejoining the forest road we breathe deep sighs. We’re heading back to the cottage now, that’s a given. We’ve only got about an hour and a half of good daylight left and it will take us half an hour to get back so we’re reaching the end of our Christmas Day adventure. Our pace slows noticeably as we drag our huffy selves back to the cottage.

We feel content though, that before we feed our bellies we’ve fed our souls. Taking the time – on what is typically such a manic day for families – to explore the unknown and breathe lungfuls of crisp fresh air feels like a triumph. To slow the pace of Christmas and be exactly where we wanted to be; it’s liberating and I never want to feel unable to do that.

On our return to the cottage we cooked a tremendous Christmas dinner with fantastic trimmings and topped it off with a whopping slice of my Dad’s incredible vegan Black Forest gateau before retiring to the sofa and continuing our music and fire marathon. We only make it to 11pm before we decide to turn in, tuckered out after a day of exploring and celebrating. We did it again. We did Christmas our way and it was fantastic.

We once again fall into a deep sleep, happy that we’ve filled our Christmas Day with adventure and made some great memories, and excited for what lies ahead on Boxing Day. We made no plans for our Boxing Day adventure before we went to sleep, and that’s what made it so exciting.

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