Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Falkland - Lost in the Darkness

Sometimes, freedom is more important in itself that anything that can be done with it. In a world circumscribed by the pleasures of the internet, and connected by the text message and the groaning energy of motorway and train-line, freedom can be disorientating. The rush of realisation that comes when I am surrounded by nature - whether in full, monolithic and bleak Highland glory or the more intimate woods of the Falkland Estate that I now find myself tramping - is an end, not a means.

I am trying to convince myself that being lost in a tiny patch of trees is a positive thing. I am reminding myself that walking off into the darkness was a bold idea. But it is two in the morning, my torch keeps scattering shadows that terrify me, and I cannot imagine that any of these groves house The Giants. In fact, the most suitable location looks as if it is a lair for creatures of the night. I can hear the hooves of the Great God Pan in the distance.

The third day out looking for the Giants in the Forest started beautifully: thanks to a coincidence of timing, I am going to be camping in the grounds of the very estate that is hosting them. I arrive early in the afternoon, and chat amiably to some of the people who work in the village. They give me rough directions but I don't listen. I am here all weekend, and fancy a slow exploration.

The first night, I stick to the road. Falkland, being in Fife, is a beautiful small village and the Estate caters for those who like a gentle engagement with the wilderness. I know there is a school in the area, and that the walks are accessible. It's a centre for Stewardship: a place where a more sustainable relationship with nature is being plotted. Coming soon are courses in mentorship - and there is a gig on in the village this weekend.

I spend the weekend feeling very safe. I enjoy the newly opened coffee shop, I compare the fish and chips to other village chip shops. On the Saturday night, I nip out into the road, through the gate and follow the path that follows the river. In the space of a few yards, I go beneath a bridge, find beautiful trees that I would climb (if it were day and I were a few years younger). It feels good to be out of the noise, immersed in silence. I pick my way up a hill and find the school.

Knowing that this is my last night, I get more serious on the Sunday. I delve deeper into these woods, curving around with the path, getting faster and hearing my breath get shallow. I cross the river, race past the school, up hill and over dell. Suddenly, I cannot hear the river. I see a hut - it is marked with signs that I cast my torch over.

The plants move in the window, and their shadows move with my light. And every time, I know that it is a beast skittering in the darkness. Then I know it is just the light moving as I walk. I chuckle at the idea: I am the monster. Then I am frightened the next time it happened.

One of the things I have been enjoying about meeting The Giants is their calm. They refuse to be ruffled by the wind. Right now, I long for them to arrive. Some people might be distressed at the thought of meeting huge sculptures in the night. Right now, it is all I want.

I just think of the campsite and a thousand young people laughing at the man who got lost...

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