How to mend a broken heart? Some people turn to chocolate, some wallow in misery for a while, others get back up and out straight away.
My remedy? I decided to take a two-week break (alone) trekking 200 miles around the lovely mountains and seashores of Ireland. I was doing pretty well, really.
Every night saw a different B&B, but the same warm Irish hospitality, and with every day came bright sunshine, which was virtually unheard of for such a long stretch of time.
By the tenth day I was feeling much stronger and I set off with an almost cheerful heart. The conditions for walking could hardly have been better – blue sky, soft warm sun and a clearly defined path stretching ahead. The soda bread I had eaten for breakfast had been forgotten, and I began to consider if 11am was too early to start on my Mars bar.
To the left of my path were the steep slopes of the surrounding hillside and on my right was a very deep and fast moving river, about the width of a main road. I stopped and closed my eyes to breathe in the peace and tranquillity. Yes, this was exactly the break I needed, with birds calling overhead and rabbits scurrying into holes.
I sprawled on the grass for a short break and retrieved my chocolate. Stretching full out on the grass, I realised that, not surprisingly, I was covered in sweat. My arm lay across my chest and to my delight I saw a butterfly sit on my hand, and started licking the sweat off it.
What a magical moment!
One of the joys of not booking ahead at a B&B is that you can decide for yourself how far to walk each day, and how quickly to go. I set off again at a decidedly relaxed stroll, noticing that now the stretch of land between my path and the swift rushing river was a deep bog. I checked again and was glad to see that the path was clearly in view.
Because I had heard of problems associated with bogs and walkers, I always treat them with respect. Once, when I was walking in the Lake District, a walker became partially submerged in a bog, and had to be pulled out by a farmer and his tractor. There would be no such rescue for me in a similar situation – I had seen no-one since breakfast, and no-one was expecting me at my planned destination.
And, as I’d decided to do a Marlene Dietrich and be all alone, no-one back home was expecting a call from me.
There was a smell in the air which I couldn’t recognise, but soon realised it was from a fire.
I still sauntered on, unconcerned. But quickly my view of the path was obscured by thick dark smoke. In an astonishingly short time I couldn’t see the path ahead, or the path behind me. Panic overtook me. I knew that in house fires, smoke inhalation is more deadly than the fire. ‘Be calm, be calm,’ I said out loud.
Right, I can’t stand here, I thought, I’ll have to walk as quickly as I can and get out of this, and hope that I was not walking directly into the fire. Walking swiftly along what I believed to be the path, I realised that I had unwittingly stepped into the bog. Every step I took, I sank further into it.
Fear can feel very lonely, especially when you’re sure there’s no-one within miles to help you.I walked faster and faster, aware that it was essential that I did not end up the river, which was now out of my view. I’m a strong swimmer, but with my heavy rucksack and the speed of the flow, I knew that I would quickly be dragged
Eventually I found a hard firm place in the middle of the bog, about the size of my boots, and stood on it, grateful for a chance to stop and reflect.
In desperation I shouted out ‘Is anyone there?’ No answer, but after a couple of minutes I heard men’s voices. Abandoning all sense of dignity, I shouted again, ‘Help, help’. Through a break in the smoke I could just about make out two men running down the hill towards me.
‘Get out of that bog, quick!’ one of them yelled. ‘I’m trying to,’ I said, a bit unnecessarily, ‘but I can’t see the path.’
‘Right – run about nine or ten steps towards us, than turn to your right and you’ll be on the path. Run as fast as you can to your right. We’ve set fire to a peat field and the smoke is covering the path, but there are big ditches on either side so the fire won’t get to you. Run as fast as you can, and we’ll meet you.’
Believe me, I followed their instructions. I’ve never been a runner – I’m not built for it – but I sprinted along as though in a marathon.
It was only a few minutes before I cleared the smoke and the men were waiting for me. They looked quite abashed, and said that people rarely walked along that stretch of pathway. I was so grateful that I tried to give them money to buy a drink later, but they vehemently refused.
She told me the bog was very dangerous and she had lost a dearly loved dog on that stretch. He had become submerged and was never found.
Pausing with the teapot raised in her hand she looked at me and said quite harshly ‘I do hope it wasn’t my poor dog you were standing on in that bog.’
I hope so too…