Prize-winning author lost on Moor

When your instincts and your compass disagree, trust your instincts. I mean your compass.

The following piece appeared on the Caught by the River website on 28th January 2015.

This could turn embarrassing.

“The track's getting quite narrow,” calls a Julian-Hoffman-shaped shadow out of the fog up ahead. “It's turned into more like a sheep-track.”

Yes, I'd noticed that too. This doesn't make any sense. The track from the first air-shaft to the middle one is wide and unmissable—even in this fog. We set off from the first shaft, uphill, along the only track there is. It's only a couple of hundred metres in a straight line to the second shaft. I've been up here hundreds of times. I know this part of the Moor like the back of my hand. We should be able to walk two-abreast. So, what the hell happened to the track?

I look back to check my bearings. I can still just make out the first air-shaft about 50 metres behind us in the fog. There's the spoil-heap where we took a tea-break and ate the pastries Julian produced out of nowhere a few minutes ago. Yes, there's the spoil-heap. There's the air-shaft. We turned this way, left, uphill, along the track. That's right. Can't miss it. So, where the hell is it all of a sudden?

Ventilation shaft in fog

When in doubt, state the obvious. “We must have strayed off the track somehow,” I reply.

The sensible thing to do at this point would be to return to the first air-shaft and start again. But how far off course can we possibly be after only 50 metres?

“It doesn't seem quite as steep as it should,” I observe. “It looks a bit steeper over that way. Hang on, I'll take a look.”

Julian waits patiently as I bear right and wade over clumps of heather in search of the missing track. No sign of it. I bear more to the right, then zig-zag back and forth. Still no track. I turn and look back once more. I can no longer see the first air-shaft, but Julian is still just about visible, standing in the heather where I left him, taking photos. Very sensible.

Julian Hoffman on the Moor

I wade back to Julian. “This doesn't make any sense. I'd have put money on the track being over that way. We must have borne to the right, not the left,” I say, shrewdly slipping into the first person plural, now that I'm starting to apportion blame. “The track must be over this way. That's crazy!”

We wade through the heather to our left. But the track isn't this way either.

I'm about to suggest heading back towards the now-invisible first air-shaft, when we stumble across a slightly wider sheep-track. This track appears to be heading roughly uphill, in more or less the right direction. If we head along it, even if we miss the second air-shaft, we should definitely arrive at the top of Deer Stones Edge in a few minutes. There's nowhere else we could possibly end up. I explain my logic to Julian, which he accepts on trust, and we head off along the new track.

A large, rectangular shadow appears out of the fog ahead and to the left, roughly where the skyline ought to be. “Ah! There it is, the second air-shaft!” I say, somewhat relieved. “We weren't so far off after all.”

We divert towards it. But we soon discover that it isn't the second air-shaft after all; it's a grouse-shooters' butt, about one-fifth of the size. In an attempt to save face, I point out that I've often noticed how things look much bigger in the fog. In fact, I further point out, Nan Shepherd makes a similar observation—about a peregrine falcon looking huge in the mist—in her book The Living Mountain. Continuing with my diversionary tactics, I inform Julian that I make reference to the Shepherd passage in my own book, when describing a similar encounter with a peregrine in dense fog just like this—on the Glorious Twelfth of August, of all days.

You're beginning to ramble, Richard. Stop it.

Red grouse on a grouse butt in fog

Oh, God, this is embarrassing! I can just see the Hebden Bridge Times headline right now:

PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR LOST ON MOOR

FORMER CRAGG VALE resident and prize-winning author Julian Hoffman was reported missing by his wife last Thursday, having failed to return from a walk on Wadsworth Moor.

The author of The Small Heart of Things had returned to Hebden Bridge after an absence of 17 years to sign copies of his book at the Book Case in Market Street on Tuesday evening.

Mr Hoffman is known to be fond of the local moors, and had expressed a desire to walk on them once again.

LOCAL GUIDE BLAMED

Hoffman is believed to have been accompanied by Richard Carter, a Hebden Bridge resident, who is understood to be writing a book about Wadsworth Moor. Mr Hoffman's wife, Julia Henderson, told the Hebden Bridge Times that Carter had assured her that he knew the moor like the back of his hand, and that her husband would not be in any danger.

As the Hebden Bridge Times went to press, West Yorkshire Police had declared a major incident, and were about to extend their search to encompass Midgley Moor, Oxenhope Moor, Widdop Moor, Warley Moor, Ovenden Moor, Soyland Moor, and Rishworth Moor. They say they are not currently treating the two men's disappearances as suspicious.

A small number of signed copies of Mr Hoffman's book are still available from the Book Case.

This is absolutely bonkers. There aren't any grouse-butts up here. They're all on the flats below.

“Look, the track has definitely widened now,” I say. “Let's just keep going. We're bound to hit Deer Stones Edge eventually!”

I have to say, Julian is taking this with remarkably good humour. It must be thanks to all that time he spent in Canada. We continue along the track, past four or five more supposedly non-existent grouse-butts, until we suddenly meet a much wider track crossing our path. The Moor falls away in front of us.

“Ah, thought so! This must be Deer Stones Edge!” I announce, trying to sound confident. But I can't help feeling the dip in front of us doesn't look anything like steep enough for Deer Stones Edge.

“If this is Deer Stones Edge,” I continue to reason, “we must have strayed too far north. In which case, we need to head south. So we need to take a left here… Assuming left is south.”

Idiot! I suddenly remember the compass I carry in my camera bag. The compass I've never needed to use, as I know this moor—did I mention this?—like the back of my hand. So I dig it out to verify that the track to our left does indeed head south.

The compass swears blind the track heads east.

“I want a second opinion!” I declare. Julian bursts out laughing. I dig out my phone, try to remember how to turn on the GPS, press some wrong buttons, dig out my glasses, and eventually managed to establish our co-ordinates to within five metres. We then consult the map.

“No, this can't be right,” I say, re-checking our co-ordinates, then re-checking the map.

According to my phone, we're one kilometre due south of where I thought we would be, heading south-west, not north-west. And we should be taking a right, not a left.

No way!

We take a right. I'm still not convinced.

Five-hundred metres later, something tall and vertical appears out of the fog in front of us. Vertical? On the Moor? It takes me a couple of seconds to work out what it is: a domestic wind-tubine.

Holy crap! Eureka moment! I know exactly where we are. This is that farmhouse at Old Hold!

How the hell did we end up here?

Lost in fog (map)
Blue line (R→L): route I intended to take.
Orange line: route we actually took (approx).
Red line: route I thought we must have taken.
[Click map for larger version.]

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Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletter

3 Replies to “Prize-winning author lost on Moor”

  1. Great story! After getting mixed up on directions in the fog a few times when I was young I learned to never trust my directional instincts unless I can clearly see the sun.

  2. I was lost (slightly) on the Moor in fog once before. Then the bells of Heptonstall church across the valley began chiming, and I was able to re-orientate myself. I said a little thank you to the ghost of Sylvia Plath, who is buried over there.

  3. Couldn't you have jsut stopped a passing peregrine and asked for directions?

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