Adventures at Nightfall

8:23 pm

Our co passengers in the train to Surrey formed a motley crew - a two year old boy, his mother, an old lady on the way back to her farm to feed an orphaned calf, and a well-meaning but odd Gramps from Australia with a broken tooth. On hearing our plan to ‘walk all night’, they proceeded to nod with incredulity.

The plan was to meet our ‘night walk’ organizer in his house in the country, cook dinner together, feast, walk all night, come back and sleep in sleeping bags, wake up, cook brunch together, depart – a master plan on all fronts that we couldn’t quite believe ourselves.

We met the rest of the group and spent the evening sitting in a kitchen of marvels, with little jugs hanging from the ceiling. We cut vegetables, smelt all sorts of Thai spices, learnt about lemongrass, sipped large amounts of Turkish tea and looked forward with enthusiasm to consuming coconut all night. Outside, in the garden, the fir trees caught the wind and promised a mild night.

When our feast was prepared by all sorts of masters (rice master, spice master, sautéing master, coconut master etc…), we sat down on the floor, took epic photographs, added nuts to our curries, and talked about the origins of different cuisine and spice trade.

After the dishes were done, dessert was brought out - ice cream, dark chocolate, Spanish nougat, and coffee. We gathered around the table and began plotting our night adventure. Our organizer knew the area very well and we revelled in exploring all the ‘path’ options he laid out before us.

We stepped out of the house, covered in many layers and feeling very full of food but then realized that it was a warm night and couldn’t wait to set out. Our spirits soared and our steps had confidence.

We passed through a Tudor village and the lights of the houses flickered in the dark. They suggested the warmth of domesticity, something that resonated with us, for we had just experienced it ourselves.

A bus passed and then we arrived at a graveyard. The idea of walking on graves at night was disturbing but someone remarked that everything below us was decomposing waste and we found the strength to continue.

After a while of walking in the graveyard, flashlights going on and off, we tried to walk without the light as our eyes adjusted easier to the dark. We arrived at some woods, the shapes of the trees dawning a veil, but somehow allowing us to see beyond them in a way that we couldn’t in the daylight. Our senses were heightened, and we could see and hear further.

Soon we came to a tree with a noose hanging from it. Someone in the group remembered finding a body in the woods some weeks ago - the suicide of a young girl – we were very still and stood close to each other. Some distance away, we saw a small red house. There were two chairs outside and a fork stuck in the ground. Peering inside the house, we saw the shadow of some beer cans and a bottle of champagne by the sink. We expected a witch to come out any minute and ask to look at our fingers so we could contribute to the second course after Hansel and Gretel. We wanted to rush and yet the little red house was overcast with such mystery that we stood a while thinking about all the possibilities. We didn’t leave till we had crafted some scenarios - poor hideaways taking shelter and drinking beer to pass their time, a couple having a romantic getaway, a witch on the prowl for unsuspecting people for a snack, etc

We chatted a while and then someone exclaimed,  ‘there’s someone there, a woman! And she's on one leg!’ Some held on to each other, some gasped. Then the phantom started walking towards us, with two legs and we finally realized that it was one of our group. Around this time, our organizer broke the news to us that we were lost.

We walked through fences, someone's private lands. A house in the distance had a light come on and we thought the farmers were going to come out with guns and let their dogs out on us. Up on the field, we saw another figure standing in the shadows. Hearts racing, we didn’t dare to go close. The figure grinned, and then we realized it was a member of our group again.  

We needed a break from all this trespassing and suspicion of each other, so we entered a path, deeper into the woods. An owl sounded its hoot, some birds flew away. Another owl. And we walked on without much event. The texture of the ground changed several times from dry ground, wet, beach sand, bog.

We arrived at the ruins of a Roman temple - some of us had been there on another walk. We sat down and some lay on the ground. There were clouds, a breeze, some soft conversation exchanges, and then a silence again. The joy we shared in that moment didn’t need any expression. Each of us had an understanding of that joy - the freedom that can only come with being outside, lying on the grass, in the middle of the night.

We discussed how our adventure would evolve through the night and conceded that we had the energy and enthusiasm for more. We walked through the North Downs, drawing the outlines of tree giants. The area used to be under sea millions of years ago and we recognised it from other jaunts. The patterns of the ground were not predictable but as our eyes adjusted to the light, we took pleasure in our walk. Every break was savoured, and the Spanish nougat+ dark chocolate were treated like treasures.

Arriving at another village, we found trees in bloom, harking spring.  A lone, wooden bus stop, out of a western, beckoned to us. The moon sneaked out of the clouds for a few moments, making us realize that everyone was asleep but us.

We started the last leg of our walk, some falling asleep on their feet and we laughed about how far home was. We lost some of our group but thankfully we reached them and the crisis was averted

We reached home just after five in the morning. A dawn-feast took place - toast and tea, and then, a scramble for bed. As we went to sleep, daylight was breaking around Surrey.

We woke up at ease and embarked on the creation of a huge brunch - potatoes, starry toasts, vegetables and beans, coffee and tea, eggs cooked with unparalleled talent.

We sat in the sunlit kitchen, listening to music about coconuts, discussing travel plans, and channeling the contentment of an experience spanning twenty-four hours, day and night, friends and strangers, old places and new, and most of all, the childlike wonder of a perfect adventure.

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