During the naughties, I was living a very boring life, way too much work and not enough excitement. By the time 2010 came around, I was 25 and the days of going out to bars and clubs were behind me, they just didn’t do anything for me anymore. I explored many hobbies such as fishing and martial arts, but none of them interested me as much as hiking.
During 2012 I was getting very enthusiastic about hiking. I began to hike more and more, going out for longer and longer. Sometimes I would go out as the sun was rising and arrive back just as the sun was setting. I lived for the weekend in that respect, during the week when I was at work, I just wanted to be outside in the wilderness, hiking. At this point, it was the main interest in my life.
For some reason, night hiking alone had interested me for a long time, to this day I am unaware where the original idea came from. I spent time online researching about night hiking (alone) and decided, hey, why not. The more I thought about doing it; the more your mind switched to the negative areas. What if something happens? You’re all alone, or even worse…. You’re not.
So let me set the scene if I may, it was a warm summers evening, and I was driving around the forest areas in South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire. The great thing about this area is there is so much forestry and many many trails, such as Sherwood Forest, Sherwood Pines, and Clumber Park.
As I was driving, I was mesmerised by the sheer size of the woodland areas and the darkness. Driving along long dark forest roads, I felt the temptation to go in. I was carrying my hiking gear, as I always did at the weekend. I decided to drive towards the Sherwood Forest visitors centre as I was very familiar with this place. When I arrived in the main car park, I spent a few minutes looking around thinking and beginning to get really excited. This was early evening, so it was dark already, the last lot of people were leaving the forest, coming from the trail to the main car park. So at this point, I proceeded to get ready
I put on my boots, my fleece, my backpack, and headed out on the trail. I passed a few people who were heading the other way, out of the forest back to their cars, but I felt totally comfortable as the further I travelled the quieter it became. After several minutes my eyes adjusted to the darkness, it really is amazing how much you can see in the dead of night. Our eyes have an amazing ability to adapt to our surroundings, as the people who lived in the forests hundreds of years ago will know. I brought a torch but only planned to use it if it was 100% necessary. This was kind of a journey of going back to nature.
Anyone who has been on this trail knows it is very simple at the outset, when you leave the carpark and go on to the main trail it is basically a circle, walking from the car park, past the Major Oak, and back to the visitor’s centre. On the main trail, it branches off at many points into the open forest.
I can not carry on at this point without talking about the Major Oak tree. The most remarkable and dominant tree I have ever seen. The tree is one of the main reason why I use to travel to this forest as much as I did along with the history and it’s link to Robin Hood and his band of merry men. The Major Oak is over 800 years old, and its branches are held up by poles; otherwise they would snap off due to the weight and age. The story goes that Robin Hood would hide inside of the tree trunk to hide from the Sherriff of Nottingham, the trunk is enormous, but I’m not sure about fitting humans inside of it. To see the tree in the dead of night it truly amazing, still dominating the forest and lit by only moonlight. For a short while, I used the seating opposite the tree to sit and gaze at its amazing allure.
At the Major Oak you can branch off the main trail into the open forest, and so I did. I was taken back by the beauty of the forest at night, how amazed the animals seem to come out to play when all the humans have gone, and how basically I was free to roam. I felt a great sense of freedom to know I was in such a large area with nobody around for possibly miles.
After about an hour of walking, I reached a grassed area which was clear from trees for about 50 meters around, and I sat on the floor admiring the stars in the clear sky, so much wonder presented without the light pollution of the city. To me this type of view looking at the stars in the night sky so clear without any disruptions was perfect.
After several hours just wandering in the forest, I decided to head back out of the forest and back to my car. Following the same route back I walked back towards the main trail, past the Major Oak, giving her a goodnight salute as I passed, and back to my car in the main car park. By the time I arrived back at my car, it was around 3 am. Throughout my hours of walking, I did not see or hear another person.
Although I was exhausted, I was still quite pumped up from completing the hike I had set out to do. Little did I know this would be the first of many night hikes I was addicted, I lived for the weekends where I could spend my time where I believed I belonged, hiking the trails in the dead of night.
So, what did I take from this?
You may read this and think hiking alone at night is very dangerous I don’t see it as so, and believe me, the rewards are well and truly worth it.
As you first start night hiking your mind will play tricks with you, in the darkness you may see things or hear things that spook you out, just remember you are always sharing the forest with so many animals and the chances of bumping own to another person deep in the forest at night is so low, I wouldn’t know how to calculate the odds.
The longer I spent alone in the forest, the more I adapted, I could see more, was aware of more, and my paranoia almost disappeared. I began to feel somewhat at home, nature was created for us all but we choose to live in comfortable homes in cities, while the animals have the freedom of nature all to themselves.
Have you ever been night hiking? Leave a comment below with your story.