Day 1 – Wednesday
Buffy drove me down to Dartmoor, via Cotswold Camping and Sainsbury in Exeter to pick up some essential supplies. I began to think I was ‘making it up’ as I had not really prepared for this as I normal would have. Both my boys had approached me at home questioning my preparations and asking me why I was setting off on something that I had clearly not thought through. But then perhaps that was the way it was meant to be. All I knew was that I needed to get to the small car park at Fernworthy reservoir and get into those woods!
As we got closer to the drop off, the more apprehensive I became about what I was actually embarking on. What would I discover about myself, and more importantly, could I actually do this? It was all fine and good talking about going 21 days without proper human contact, but I knew this would be the longest that I had been truly on my own – how would I react?
My intent was to listen and engage my inner voice, if there was a possibility of doing such a thing and see what happened – a pretty ‘loose’ brief but that was what it was – sketchy, loose and unplanned. It felt to me that time on our own could be useful in processing our relationships and recalibrating our sense of self. Solitude confirms that we are more than the sum of our reactions and interactions to and with other people and the encounters we have with other humans. In solitude, we return to centre – our centre. Once there, it would be easier to engage in honest evaluation of what we have done/seen and felt in the past that might need reconciling, rejuvenating and reflecting on.
All I knew was that I needed to be in nature to do this, and Dartmoor seemed as good as a ‘wild place’ as anywhere else I could think of. I was drawn to the moor, and as I was to find out, for very good reasons.
The drop off happened and I will be the first to admit that I was irritable on that parting with Buffy. It seemed that I needed to rush off and get my base camp sorted as quickly as possible, when in reality I was going to have all the time I needed and time itself would become less and less important for me – a person who had considered time as mega important! As I walked away, I almost immediately went back in time to when I was a soldier – looking for a safe, secure and quiet place near water. Slowly, over the days my ‘ordered’ and rational past brain/memories started to desert me as being essentially non important. However, for the present time I was on old ‘military mode’.
I wandered off the track and started to move through plenty of tree fall seeking to get as far away from the track as possible. I was mindful that time was moving on towards evening and that I must get a shelter (even if it was a temporary one) sorted out and locate a source of water. I found somewhere that I liked the look of and marked a track from there back to a small stream I had crossed and filled my water bottles applying sterilising tablets.
I quickly put my poncho basha up and cooked myself some noodles and tuna on my new jetboil cooker. By 8pm the dark had crept up inside the woods and I suddenly felt very tired, so it was off to bed on a fairly uncomfortable forest floor. I had bought a mat to lie on but I didn't realise you had to blow it up to get a comfortable ‘mattress’ – it would take me 4 days until I discovered how to do that! So, with the sounds of the birds singing their last song of the day, I dozed off getting bitten by mosquitos and anything else that needed a meal for the night! I was content at that moment in time, knowing that tomorrow would bring a work day on my permanent structure that I would be living in for the next 3 weeks.
I woke at around midnight, listening to the sounds of trees swaying and ‘moaning’ in the wind as they rubbed and knocked against each other. Listening to this sound was quite soothing in a way and I had not yet clicked on that actually this was the sound of instability and decay in the woods. The mind started to play tricks with me. Was this actually a safe place to be?