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Second in the Wild Escape Competition

Wild in Cressbrook Dale

‘Wake up, little fellow. It’s time…’
 My child of four sat bolt-upright in bed, eyes glassy from dreams of wild things.
 ‘…It’s time for our wild night out,’ I whispered.
 It was a warm summer’s evening in June, the light of the day gently fading out; the air beginning to cool. Jamie’s small chubby hand fitted perfectly in mine, like a Russian doll within a Russian doll, as we slowly descended the stairs. On the kitchen table, a rucksack sat ready, the items needed for our adventure laid out beside it.

Jamie’s eyes widened. ‘Are we going on a bear hunt?’

I just smiled, packing the rucksack with a snack, drink, binoculars, torch, woolly pullover, raincoat and Jamie’s toy sword. Driving to Cressbrook Dale, the sun lay low on the horizon, orange oozing through the sky like ink on blotting paper. On the elbow of the road above Cressbrook, we saw our group of fellow adventurers: grandparents, parents, children and the other odd stray.

Together we tumbled into charcoal woods. Darkness enveloped us; shadows crept around us like wolves in the night.

‘Stop, little bear. I think some of the wild things are in the woods here with us.’ Jamie’s hand tightened in mine. We froze. Then felt a rush of air above our heads, and a flash of dark shadowy silhouettes, flittering and swooping before disappearing into the trees.

‘Bats,’ I breathed.

‘I can’t hear them,’ said Jamie.

‘They speak in voices so high, we humans can’t hear them.’

‘Oh,’ said Jamie in a small disappointed voice.

‘Don’t worry. We can hear them through this magic box.’ I led him to the bat detector and we listened to the private clacking of comrades in communication.

We left the woods behind and stepped over a style into a wide valley. The light was fading fast now.

‘Look,’ cried Jamie, finger pointing at the longer grass at the edge of the worn path. ‘Lights!’ Stretching out in front of us was a guiding strip of green florescent dots like lights on an airport runway.

‘Glow worms,’ I explained.

‘Worms?’ Jamie exclaimed in wonder.

‘Not really worms. They’re beetles. The girls light up to let the boy beetles know where they are.’
   Jamie hunkered down beside one to have a closer look.

‘Look,’ he giggled. ‘The light’s shining out of its bottom.’

We crossed a narrow wooden bridge and climbed the rise above us. On the other side of the valley, the hills stretched out black like hump-back whales on the pallid skyline. On the valley floor, the streamlet glistened a long slimy snail trail. There were wild things everywhere.

Just below the crest of the hill, we stumbled on a dewpond.

‘Come and see.’  I shone my torch into the murky water. Black beady eyes stared into the light.

‘A little dragon!’ Jamie said in disbelief. He gazed at the lumpy, misshapen creature with its serrated back, observing something between fish and frog and lizard.

‘A great crested newt,’ I said.

We settled down on the hillside and waited. This was the moment. Our hearts raced in unison.  Across the valley was a shadowy movement. Badgers — there then gone. Had they sensed the humans on the other side? Blackness descended like a final curtain. The show was over.

We crept down the hillside again, peering into the night, hoping the badgers would appear once more. But no, not this time. We crossed the bridge and headed down the valley, flickering lights from tea candles in jam jars guiding our return instead of glow worms. We dived back into dark woods, the lights from torches flashing backwards and forwards in the blackness.

‘No bears?’ asked Jamie anxiously.

‘No bears, little fellow.’

Back in the car, Jamie fell asleep again, dreaming of bats and bears and badgers; of water dragons and creatures that light up the dark; of hump-back whales and giant snails. While Jamie slept, I raced the silver moon through hill and dale, wanting to hold on to this night forever.

‘Look, Mum,’ cries Jamie, interrupting my memory. ‘Look down towards the lake. Do you see the two pinpoints gleaming in the dark? It’s a hippo!’

We are in Kenya, by Lake Naivasha. My boy is 14. More giraffe than bear cub now, he towers over me. We’ve seen an abundance of wildlife in East Africa: lion, rhino, crocodile, elephant and much more besides. But nothing can replicate the magic of our first wild night out in Cressbrook Dale — as seen through the eyes of a small child.

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