Next time I go walkabout on a particular part of the moor, I’m going to stick one of those highly coloured flags on a long, bendy pole to the front of the car! You know the ones… They use them on crowded beaches or at festivals to show that ‘X’ marks the spot. Well my spot well and truly needs to be marked before I’m let loose again because today I lost the car! I cannot believe I lost the car…only for a little while but I still lost it!
I’ve walked the route from the ridge road down into Winsford so many times before. It’s a stunning view down into the Punchbowl but first you have to park said car (I cleverly parked next to a large motor home) and next you have to navigate your way through heather clad moorland with minimal pathways to guide you. If you’re clever, you may be able to see and follow the routes that the Exmoor ponies use but these trails criss-cross the moor like a jigsaw that doesn’t fit together, so it’s a bit hit and miss. Usually I carry my trusty map, hand marked in biro with all the sightings of bird and beast alike, but today I was empty-handed because I knew where I was headed,… or so I thought.
Once over the moorland, I’d joined a pathway and the jaunt down toward Winsford was pleasurable. It was full of joyous moments as red deer, disturbed by my presence, ventured out of the gorse to cross the path right in front of me. Fields, groaning under the weight of wild flowers gently moved in the slight breeze to the left as I walked with the Punchbowl on my right. Through a gateway the view into the centre of the gaping, sloping bowl is spectacular. It’s here that you fully take in the greenness of greens with the mix of foliage bursting forth from the surrounding shrubs and trees. I’d not been walking for that long but even this was worth a quick wander of anyone’s time.
It was an easy route to follow, and I walked further down the hill following a line of trees and through the edge of a farm, nothing new…I’d done it all before. I came out on sloping, lush green fields with the Punchbowl behind me now and began to cross them using the pathways. It’s here that I can usually find buzzards as they soar over the massive dip in the landscape. Against the backdrop of trees with their myriad of colour the spectacular buzzard can be seen easily, whether it be against sky or leafy greens. Here I sat, just off the path, without my camera, waiting for the buzzards that I knew would appear with their mewing sound giving me a heads up. I wanted to actually see these birds of prey without looking through a lens but I did have my field glasses with me, should I need them. Plus, the walk back up to the car was certainly not conducive to carrying a camera with its heavy lens across me. Been there, done that and it sure did make me breathe…and that’s with two Kit-Kat breaks along the way.
So, time spent, job done and my return to the car was underway. All was good as I retraced my steps up the hill, walking at a 45 degree angle for most of the way. Digging my feet in and stopping to feast my eyes on my surroundings, every now and again, I made it to the edge of the moorland stretch with its heather and bracken. Still on a slight but lengthy incline, any parked car is hidden from sight from this angle so nothing was amiss and I continued to walk, following a trail that looked familiar, to the right.
Guesstimating when I should make my left turn towards the road over the heather, I thought I was home and dry. However, after walking for around fifteen minutes, using trails that zig-zagged across the moor, I realised that I wasn’t where I thought I should be. With my head down on the homeward run (looking for snakes as well as the trail) I must have lost my bearings and walked too far along the top of the Punchbowl. I still hadn’t reached the road and couldn’t understand why. I must have walked quite a bit out of my way as I’d parked next to the motor home, which wasn’t small in its proportions, and I couldn’t even see that poking its head out to wave at me above the gorse. I bet the owners had since made it safely back to their vehicle and done a runner, leaving me with no marker. How inconsiderate of them, I was thinking in my frustration and confusion!
I’m normally excellent at picking up markers, land marks, track patterns…but not today it seemed. I’ve even been known to mark specific places, junctions, trees and the like with my own version of patrins: sticks crossed over each other, piles of inconspicuous stones, grasses tied in a knot.. Daft I know but I have used them to guide me home on many occasions…but not today. Today my brain fell out – no map, no markers, no sense and no car!
I stood for a while on the moor, every bit looking exactly the same as the bit adjacent to it. I wasn’t panicking because I knew where I was, in effect, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I came to be where I was. I was trying to think logically and my thoughts told me I couldn’t possibly be that far away from where I started. All that had happened was that I’d walked too far with my eyes on the ground and I’d been brainwashed into thinking I was on the right track. What I hadn’t done was look around me for signs other than the neighbouring motor home which should have shone out at me like glowing beacon once I’d topped the ridge.
Long story short… I decided not to walk back on myself but to stand quietly and listen for a passing car. I’d then know which way to walk and hopefully follow the road back to the car. Pleased that it was half term and blessing the tourists for their presence on the moor, the plan worked and said vehicle was duly located quite some way along the road, where I’d left it. No sign of the motor home – they’d probably changed their boots and had a cup of tea and moved on by the time I’d made it back!
I hadn’t properly lost the car but it certainly made me think how scary and disorienting it can be when you lose your bearings on terrain such as this. I know this part of the moor…well, I thought I did but I’ll not be complacent again, in not making a mental note of immovable landmarks. Even though there’s not much to use up here, there are funny shaped gorse clumps which are better than a poke in the eye with a long stick (or, on reflection, maybe not). I’d also be taking my map with me in future. I may not have to look at it all the time but I would have it as security and be able to pat it in my pocket every now and again.
I went all the way there… and now I’ve come all the way back again. Oh, and where can I buy one of those colourful flags on a long, bendy pole? 🙂