Friday, 8 October 2010

Off the Beaten Track

I remember well a piece of advice given to me as a young teenager, "if you are walking at night, stick to well lit areas, walk with purpose and do not linger". This piece of advice achieved much, by following it I was on the end of verbal abuse, ridicule and on occasion violence. In the area I grew up there was a tendency for gangs to form in the suburban areas. Lads walking in the wrong area were easy targets for these thugs, the fact that you walked under the street lights with "purpose" meant sod all to them.

To escape them I took to walking in more well to do areas or the roads to the villages in the surrounding countryside. This was were I met a very different type of thug. The local policeman seemed to hold vigil on these quieter areas and seized the chance to stop me or my friends at every opportunity. It was obviously easier for him to maintain his form of law and order in these neighbourhoods rather than go into the rougher areas where he was actually needed. No amount of reasoning seemed to reassure him that we were merely walking and trying to enjoy a little free time. In an attempt to avoid this authoritarian half wit our behaviour became strange. At the suspicion of his vehicle we hid. This varied from hiding behind parked cars in a village to diving over dry stone walls or hiding behind trees. This was no doubt incredibly suspicious to anyone who may have been looking on.

I remember well looking down the first darkened track I took to avoid a night of confrontation. At the time it was intimidating, overshadowed with hedges and trees. It led out between the grounds of two expensive rural houses, beneath a railway line and out onto the moors. I could barely see as I stepped along it with visions of mythical night creatures lurking at every opportunity. What I found when I emerged from the bridge beneath the railway was the stunning view of the moorlands under a starlit night. No waiting thugs, no mythical beasts, just nature in the raw, the wind and drifting clouds in the night sky. I would always advise caution and common sense to a fellow wanderer and to step off the beaten track is not always easy, but a step I have never regretted.

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