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Get Lost – Tales from Being off Course

A few years ago I took a walk with eleven friends on my local hills, the South Downs. They’re not huge (the hills, not the walkers), topping out at 890ft, but are beautiful in their own right and that is why I make regular jaunts up there. The walk in question is a yearly tradition with friends the week before Christmas. We stop at a couple of pubs, use the time to view the best of Sussex and I catch up with people I sometimes don’t see for a year.

Allow me to use this as a backdrop to show what can go wrong in the hills, even if you know them well, even though they’re not that high, and even though you thought someone else brought the map…

Familiarity breeds contempt, and never more so than on that day. It was near 5pm – dark in England at that time of year – and to add to deteriorating visibility, the cloud base was around 550ft. It was dark, misty, and visibility stopped at a barbed wire fence twenty feet away. We were on a footpath, walking a route most of us had completed many times. What could go wrong?

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Near the front, I was looking forward to a teacake and cup of Earl Grey at the cafe, thirty minutes distant. Slowing, as I do each year at the same place because I can never remember the correct turn to take, I turned to Ted, a route veteran.

“We have to take a right somewhere around here, yeah?” I said sounding none too confident.

“Yes,” he replied. “Next one, next right.”

I stopped at the turn, looked back at Ted for verification, to which he obligingly nodded his head, and turn right we did. No-one questioned it, despite everyone being familiar with the route.

“This isn’t right,” I muttered to my good mate Jeremy.

“No, it’s not,” he verified.

We reached a stark, solitary steel gate with an unwelcoming white sign.

Private Land – No right of Way.

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