My new house is in Wales – about 15 minutes outside of Cardiff but genuinely, properly rural. It’s beautiful, but since moving in I haven’t been for the long meanders and explorations that I’d really expected (having almost immediately become locked into a vicious grudge match with local wildlife over my vegetable garden). So yesterday, I went for a walk – just a short one, to break up the day between lunch and getting back to work.
I followed the road down, past some old churches and two ponies who liked having their noses scratched, over a little stream, towards a pub that I’d found online and wanted to investigate for future visitors. The walk had turned out longer than I’d expected, so I thought I’ll just go in and get an orange juice, then head back. It was hot and bright out, and I was getting pretty thirsty.
Cresting the last hill, I saw that the long-awaited 15th Century coaching tavern was a) remodeled as a motel for caravans and b) closed on Tuesdays. I walked around, peeking in windows to try and see whether it was as quaint as I’d hoped on the inside, when someone called from above. A man on a ladder, watching me case the joint.
“Hello,” I said, trying not to sound creepy. “I just moved in nearby, and thought I’d come for a look.”
“We’re closed,” he said.
“Ah. Right.” We chatted a bit more, and he asked where I’d come from, whether I’d come along the road or cross-country.
“The road,” I said.
“You should go back cross the fields,” he said. “It’s a nicer walk, and shorter back.”
“Fantastic,” I said, feeling all outdoorsy and capable. He pointed with his dripping paintbrush.
“Just over there,” he said, “under that arch. Then you’re into that big field. Go sort of to the left, and you’ll come down straight into the village. It’s a ways off, but you can’t miss it.” You can’t miss it. This should have been my warning that I was going to get irretrievably lost.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
The field was fine for awhile, although huge. Far larger and stranger than I’d imagined, broken up by large hills and marshy patches, with lonely isolated, blasted trees. Puffing, I trudged up the hill and looked around. Lovely! Oh, the countryside, all idyllic and stuff. There was one tall dead tree with something dangling from a branch, so I swung by to have a look. In the distance was a large group of cows, perhaps a hundred or two, quietly grazing.
The tree had been turned into a memorial, with a bunch of flowers hanging, brown and weighted and swinging in the breeze. At the base was a card, sealed and marked For my darling husband, Eric.
“Oh,” I whispered, and knelt down. There was a loud mooing, shortly joined by many more. Looking up, I saw that the nearest members of the herd were looking up and watching me, and that the ones behind them were now raising their heads and looking too. I stood up, and the nearest ones began to run, full-pelt, towards me. The others seemed persuaded to join in, and suddenly I was looking at a stampede – and the stampede was looking at me.
This is ridiculous, I thought. I can’t be scared of a bunch of cows. But they kept coming closer, huge and panting and running – really running. I thought that even if they didn’t mean me any harm, if they just assumed that a human meant food and were curious, I could still be squashed accidentally into the mud. Without any idea what else to do, I hid in the hollow Darling Eric memorial tree, crouching on my heels and relying on short bovine attention spans.
Stop being absurd, Morgan, one voice went in my head. This is Wales, not Montana. You’re not going to die in a stampede. People don’t die in fields outside of Cardiff.
Darling Eric might have, whispered the other voice.
After a couple of minutes the sounds stopped and I peeked out. The cows had lost interest in me and were now grazing at the top of the hill, as if the cow that lead the charge had, upon my disappearance, pretended that she’d only been after a superior patch of grass. Fine, I thought, and scurried across the low ground and along, “sort of to the left”.
That’s when it went, to use the technical term, disasterpants.
Firstly, it wasn’t a big field. It was a vast terrain, completely unsuited to navigating on foot. I cursed that man under my breath – did he think I had a four-by-four hidden in my pocket? The ground was torn up by tractor tires, deeply pitted and with undergrowth that reached my waist. I walked and walked and walked, and considered going back, but it seemed so far now. I’d gone through nettles and mud, hidden from cows – how pathetic it would be to give up now. Besides – surely the village was just beyond that hedge?
Not wanting to miss the break in what I now saw was a 9 foot hedgerow of brambles, I skirted the edge of the field. I could hear the river just beyond it, so had some idea where I was. Unfortunately, that’s when I came to a broad marsh that stretched in front of me and far, far to the other side. There was no way around it, only through. I’d probably been in this bloody field for nearly an hour, struggling through various inhospitable undergrowth, so I tore into it. The reeds were as tall as me, so as my feet sank ankle-deep in the mud that soaked my feet I grabbed fistfuls of tall grass and kept going, pulling out my soggy shoes and pushing them on, past the brief surface of mud and back into the dense soup beneath.
Then, thanks to all of the cows, the thick and squealchy mud turned into what can only be described as a poop marsh. There was no way out but through now, so even when the filthy reeds slapped at me with more, endless, poop, I kept going. I’d work out how to explain myself to the world-outside-the-field just as soon as I reached it. And oh, I hoped that that was soon. I cursed the man again, and his stupid pub, and everyone he’d ever met. Was it punishment? Had he hated me for sounding English? For sounding American? Was it a test? Coming to the end of the marsh I shook myself, wiped my hands on clean grass and looked around.
The river! I’d known I’d need to cross it again at some point, so went down to investigate. This wasn’t the crossing, but was enough for me to get a little bit clean and look longingly at the giant hedge and barbed wire on the opposite bank. It was probably just another field, but I was feeling done with this one. I washed myself as best I could and followed the riverbank.
I could see the river, and hear the road up ahead – but I couldn’t get see how to reach either of them. The sun was beating down and the water hadn’t been clean enough to drink – I was starting to burn across my face and shoulders, and to get a dehydration headache. Surely this field would someday have to end? I clambered up another slope and saw… more field.
I sank to my knees at that point, exhausted, thirsty, and still covered in poop. A moment of Zen peace came upon me, and a voice unlike either of the ones that spoke to me in the tree said, quite clearly: “You can fight the field, but the field will win.”
It’s true! I felt this was something profound. Aren’t we all struggling through fields of poop at some point? Can’t we see where we want to go, but just can’t reach it? Isn’t this part of the human condition, of life?
Just then my phone rang, and all my new convictions disappeared as I was offered sympathy instead. Faizal, beloved boyfriend!
“Hey hey,” he said. “I am out of work, how are you doing? Where are you?”
“I’m LOOOOOOOOOST,” I howled. “I’m in a FIELD and I’m covered in POOP and it’s TERRIBLE.”
“Oh no! I’ll come and get you.”
There was a pause as we both realized this was impossible. I was in this field alone.
“I’ll call you when I’m out, and find some marker,” I said. With that he wished me luck, told me to save my phone battery, and we disconnected.
I finally made it out of the field – straight into another field. I didn’t care at that point, but I could see a tractor moving along, barreling up straw and wrapping it in black plastic. I watched for a few moments, then ran up waving. Either not seeing me, or ignoring my waving, he turned away again on another pass, but I felt infinitely better. I took a couple of pictures of this new, far friendlier-seeming field that I was in.
With my new attitude and perspective, it seemed a shame that I hadn’t photographed any of the other places I’d been – but it didn’t feel worth going back.
Instead I ploughed on, towards a house in the distance, through another deep trough of poop-filled mud, and met this encouraging walk marker.
Shortly after that I reached a road, found the name of the farm on their postbox and fell over by the side of the road. I rang Faizal, who looked it up online and came to collect me, with a clean set of clothes on the passenger seat beside him.
While I waited I took this picture of my shoes.
I sat on the grassy verge, watching the cars cruise past and look at me with disgust and confusion. I was exhausted, sunburnt and thirsty like crazy. I smelt awful – truly, truly terrible – but felt strangely at peace. I’d had to face physical discomfort, grossness, and the panic of being lost and alone. More than that, I’d faced the fact that I wasn’t, perhaps, as resilient and outdoorsy as I’d always liked to think. I promised myself to buy a local Ordnance Survey map, proper walking shoes, and to be prepared for the next time.
And to find another pub.