Around The Next Bend…

‘Have I written this before?’ I find myself asking as I think about writing this. I might have done in one of my question and answer posts somewhere but I’ve never done a full post on it I don‘t think. So I suppose I might as well write it… The story of how I started adventuring and why I love it so much!

We begin in ‘Hell.’ Alright… It isn’t actually hell, that’s just what I call it because it is full of some of the biggest muppets, morons and douche wads you will ever meet anywhere. I never mention where it is precisely, its name shall not stain the walls of this blog, but I will say that it is somewhere in the Greater Manchester area. I guess I have always hated this place- The only reason I came back after university was as a temporary rest stop until I could find a job and somewhere else to live- I thought six weeks and how wrong I turned out to be. Won’t be long now though (fingers crossed, touch wood…) And as a child I used to dream of running away, of escaping- I’d lie in bed at night and I’d dream of packing my stuff and wandering off to somewhere where no one would ever find me. I figured that around the corner would be far enough. I thought that beyond the bend there was some perfect place and I’d find some cool, empty building where I could be safe and sit in the corner, playing with my box of toys… Or more likely in the box given a certain picture on my Flickr page. I’d obviously been watching too many fantasy films. Want to know what was actually around the corner? A boring, dull, suburban housing estate- Nothing interesting about it whatsoever. There weren’t any empty buildings, no abandoned corners where I could play in my toy box, and If I’d tried to run away to those parts someone would have found me and took me back. Wherever I went someone would have found me anyway I suppose but at the time I didn’t think like that. I thought I could just run and be free forever.

York Railway MuseumThat idea, the idea of something amazing awaiting around the corner, around any corner, was always there now that I think about it. I’d see an alley or a side street and I’d wonder what was down there, what was on the other side. I wanted to see what was around the next bend, what the next street along was like, what was over the next rise. I wanted to explore them and see all the interesting and exciting things that were waiting on them. Most of the time I never did get to explore them, I’d get dragged away and I’d be left wondering what was down the alley or on the side street or over the next rise. And if I said that I wanted to look down there then I’d cruelly be told that there was nothing down there and then dragged away even harder. I was always left wondering what might have been, what magical secrets awaited.

By the time I was seven or eight I had started to go on little wanders, just around my neighbourhood and that housing estate around the corner. I’d spend hours exploring every nook and cranny that I could find, explore every cul-de sac and dodgy little side road. It was all suburbia and so there was nothing interesting out there but at the time it was all so fresh and exciting. On holidays, which were mainly always either Centre Parcs or some god awful caravan site in some back of beyond rubbish part of the French coast, I would take myself off and explore the place. The best bit about Centre Parcs, actually, was wandering off the tracks and trails and deep into the forest where it was all dark and overgrown and I could imagine that there were wild beasts roaming about. There was never anything on the campsites but wandering around them at least killed an afternoon. This free roaming exploration wasn’t exactly appreciated but I didn’t care… I just wanted to walk, to run… To roam. It was my first taste of adventure and it gave me the bug, the bug to explore all the strange, weird places I could find and to turn every corner I could.

Subway near Grosvenor Park, ChesterBy the time I was sixteen I had pretty much done all the exploring I could in my local area. I’d moved house by then and I’d explored my new neighbourhood as well. I no longer went on holidays- They’d at least stopped being Centre Parcs and France at that point but they were still dull; A nowhere village in the middle of Spain and a tourist trap on the Algarve are the two I remember most and there was nothing interesting about either. It seemed like there was nothing left for me to explore.

Then I started my A Levels at a college across the other side of town and I had this whole new world to discover. I had about three hours free on a Monday afternoon and rather than sitting in the library doing work as I should have been doing I got out and went for a wander. I discovered the secret back entrance to a local heritage site and wandered around without paying the entrance fee. I stumbled across what I think was a homeless people’s shanty town. I found a massive nature reserve, followed an abandoned railway line and I crossed over the town boundary on my own for the first time. I wanted more, to explore more. I was more eager than ever to get out and investigate everything. They were some lovely, golden hours those Monday afternoons- Free from the stresses of real life and when I didn’t have the need for writing two thousand words a day tying me to the computer screen, free from worrying about how I’m going to promote myself or work or filming and editing videos or shit like that. To have them back again, to be able to just go out and explore in the carefree and innocent way that I used to, would be heaven… To just go would be bliss. Being a grown up and having responsibilities sucks monkey balls sometimes.

A friend of mine from the time, who looking back was really no friend at all, didn’t get it. He didn’t get why I loved all this exploring and wandering so much. One day we were talking about something and I said it would be cool to just walk, to roam the earth at random, forever… And he took the piss. He then emailed me the Wikipedia article on wanderlust, claiming I had it, as though it were a bad thing. He genuinely thought I was weird for wanting to explore. I ask you… Is it wrong to want to go out and see the world? Is it wrong to want to see what is around the next bend or over the next rise? No. It isn’t. People have been asking those questions for centuries. Think of the great explorers, of Cook and Magellan and their likes. If they hadn’t been driven by the curiosity of what was over the horizon the world would be a much poorer place. To explore is a part of nature, to explore and want to know what lies around the next bend is human. Adventure is the spice of life and interesting things happen when you step around the bend. And anyone who tells you it’s ridiculous and derogatorily sends you articles on wanderlust is no friend at all.

So many things happen when you go out into the world. There are the times when you find yourself in completely the wrong place and end up pegging it back the way you came- I once followed a footpath that led to nowhere but a field full of horses. I was stood in this field, wondering where I should go, when all of a sudden I heard the sound of someone firing a shotgun… Whoever owned the field was shooting at me! And he (or she) carried on shooting as I turned and got my arse out of there in double quick time. Another time, out looking for an old railway line, I found myself on the fringes of the Maesgeirchen housing estate outside Bangor and came face to face with two little chavs, one carrying a hammer and another a golf club. They started asking me where I was from and so I said I was from Bangor, which was technically true. They didn’t believe me and looked like they were about to beat the living shit out of me so I pegged it. Yeah, I could have taken them but would you risk starting a fight with someone who had a hammer, even if they were a little kid?

Parys Mountain Mine workings

In other words, don’t be bloody stupid!

There are times when you find yourself doing the absurd or the absolutely stupid… Parys Mountain on Anglesey springs to mind. It’s a huge, old copper mine and I was with a couple of friends (Beki and Ryan) and when we were down in the pit we saw what looked like a cave on the cliff face above us. Only two of us (myself and Ryan) were in a fit state to go up there so we left Beki down on the ground to watch whilst we did something stupid. We climbed up to it by way of a loose scree slope and then shimmied along the top to the cave. It wasn’t a cave… It was a crack that only looked like a cave by way of an optical illusion. On the way back I slipped and slid down the slope a little. I would have been fine and I was fine, I’d stopped myself, but Ryan, who was behind me, grabbed my collar in the thought that I was going to slide down and break my leg. I wasn’t, it was only a little slip, and I had to repeat that I was fine in order to get him to let go but had it been a bigger slip I could have broken my leg. And if I had it would have been my own fault because climbing up there really was a stupid idea in the first place.

Interesting things are happening all the time on every adventure- In Bristol I heard a man say something like ‘I was off the drugs whilst I was in prison but I’m back on them now.’ In Lancaster I walked past an angry dwarf dressed up like a ketchup bottle. Just this year, in Llanfairfechan, an elderly lady gave me faulty directions and, without going into the details of how, I spent two hours trapsing over some blasted heath. Even the smallest journey yields a story- Just last week I was waiting for a bus and some kid in the queue, right behind me starts coughing. My immediate instinct was to put my Scots accent on and loudly say ’Sorry lass, I just farted.’ I didn’t and thank god… Because when I was on the bus this kid’s mother starts shouting at her. I don’t know what the chances of her actually being Scottish were but she was Scottish.

Some stories are more interesting than others and those least interesting we tend to forget- But we don’t forget the farmers who shot at us, stumbling across the shanty towns of homeless people or sneaking in through the back of heritage sites. Those stories add something to our lives, make us fuller people. I go exploring for that reason, for a fuller life and for those interesting stories… And I go for the thrill of it, the thrill of finding out what lies around the next bend.

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