My latest at The Urban Howl
I’ve just watched the movie “The Ritual”. Have you heard of it? I’m not into “horror” as a genre in film making but it was recommended by someone I love and so I did.
“The Ritual” is the story of four friends who embark on a hike of King’s Trail in Sweden, (called Kungsleden). For a practicing witch, which I am, the word ritual evokes a certain meaning aligned with magical pursuits. I wondered whether there would be a Pagan-ish theme and the trailer, which shows the four men lost in the deep, dark woods, certainly promised to scare me with such.
I suppose the world is intrigued by the “dark arts” as they are called, with fear, and even a bit of a macabre fascination of watching humans struggle against unknown forces.
So I sat with my blanket handy, because it’s winter here and also, I needed something to hide under if things got out of hand. But the monster that I expected to scare me wasn’t the one in the movie. Okay, let me back up a bit.
A few years ago, fourteen to be exact, I decided on a long-distance hike of my own, this one in Northern England, on what is called the Coast to Coast path. It’s a mostly un-signposted, 309-kilometer hike through the rugged landscape of the Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors. From the Irish Sea to the North Sea on the opposite side of England, this walk eschews roads and instead takes you along a series of paths indistinguishable from sheep trails and other highly questionable routes.
But it’s England, right? How hard can it be? It’s not the friggin’ Alps!
Let me state right here that the day I got lost in the Lake District and faced the biggest fear of my life is a blank page in my travel journal and this is the first time I’m writing about it.
So where were we? Oh yes, precisely at Black Sail Hut, a remote, stone built hostel near the River Liza, accessed by foot or bicycle, near Pillar Mountain and Great Gable. There are not adequate words in the English language to describe the unspoiled beauty of this location nor its utter solitude.
My walking partner and I were on day two of our trek, complete novices in long-distance hiking, and already escaping near death by scrambling over the wrong side of a slippery cliff, with a direct, steep fall into a cold, unwelcoming lake. I need to add here that I am a non-swimmer and that the foibles of English mountain weather were something I was keenly unversed in.
Much like the four friends in “The Ritual”, we found ourselves leaving Black Sail Hut on a hopeful shortcut. We had just made a proper tea while at the hostel, which was abandoned at that time of day, left our two pounds in the jar and began to travel upward along the side of a waterfall to hopefully cross a mountaintop and descend into the village below.
Our big backpacks had been sent ahead to said village…alas, with our trusty compass. So now, having slipped and filled my one boot with cold water, we met along the way a lone traveler on his way down, who warned us that the weather up top was horrid and that we should not continue on.
That was the moment that defined the rest of the day. Although in my gut I knew that we should turn around, I reasoned that our bags had already been sent, we were meeting a third person for a picnic the next day, and well, how bad could it be up there?
I didn’t listen to intuition, the knowing that never fails me, and plodded on to face an unrelenting monster.
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