Justin's Travels: Night walking in Norfolk
By Justin Francis
One Christmas I was given a book called Night Walking..
In previous years Iíd been given books on canoeing, hiking, fishing and other quite distinct activities. Night walking sounded just like any other type of walk, but in the dark, but the book said it was a different thing altogether. I wasnít sure.
We were staying in North Norfolk, a quite wild area with vast salt marshes draped along the coast. The book talked about people who routinely went for long walks under the stars, sometimes setting off late at night and returning at dawn for breakfast. It suggested turning off your torch and letting your senses adjust.
We decided to head out over the marshes at low tide towards the sea and drove to a suitable lay by. It was very dark. My first thought on leaving the layby was to wonder what the odd passer would think we were up to and whether we would be reported to the police. Most people never walk at night. People who do are outside the norm, and therefore Ďcould be up to something.
Pretty soon our eyes adapted and we didnít need the torch. We could see short distances and outlines and shadows beyond that. Being deprived of our sight, by far our most potent sense, is initially disorientating and a little scary.
We started to feel like everything was crowding in on us. Because we couldnít see far, everything we could see seemed close. We wondered what was out there, beyond our sight but in our imaginations. What person, rabid dog or other creature could be on us before we knew it? We started to walk a little faster, like speed would leave the shadowy demons behind.
By now we were following a muddy trail across the marshes. All around us we start to notice the calls of waterfowl, wild ducks, Curlews and others nestling down for the night across the marshes. The night was filled with fluting wild noises. The water glistens in the moonlight, and reeds dance in the breeze. By looking at what we can see and hear, rather than worrying about what we canít, we see itís beautiful. Everything is a shade or tone of grey, black or silver , and we notice the differences between them all. Monochrome maybe, but no less diverse than colours by day.
We reach the beach and head over to the dunes to the shoreline to watch and listen to the waves lapping the beach and below a moonlight night sky. Excited we run up and down the beach a little, alone. When we try to find the trail back we canít, were not sure exactly where we entered the beach. We also notice the tide is quite a bit higher now, the creeks starting to fill. It will not take that long for the path to be covered.
What follows can only be described as a panic strewn crashing about. Everything looks like a path but itís not. We try the torch buts is pretty dim. My wife suggests we try to swim back by going up the deep and muddy creeks. What started as a little adventure is becoming a very big one. Itís quite far back, and the creeks are like a maze. They peter out and turn back on themselves. Iím not sure weíll make it back this way. My heart is pounding.
Then, ahead, something that looks familiar. Could it be the path? It is. We set off back at a gentle adrenaline charged jog, then slow to a walk. We realise we are safe and slow right down. The feeling of relief combined with a great adventure had seeps through us and we casually saunter back to the lay by like night walking pros.
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