I walk my dog four times a day, whatever the weather or time of year. It gives both of us exercise but also gives me time to think, away from the burden of the home and its distractions. Our rambles around the small English country village in which we live, rarely follow the same route. There is much to see in Kent, and the little village of Charing has some real ancient gems if one is prepared to search for them. The village can claim to be over a thousand years old, having seen settlements from the iron age, through the Saxons and Romans into the medieval period, and right up to the present day. The high street is beautiful, meandering up The Hill past the historic market place, palace and church to the heights, which is surmounted by a windmill, it runs past houses and buildings which have stood for centuries. Water has never been in short supply here, it collects through the chalk and slowly permeats the ground until centuries later it appears again in the wells which most houses either still have or once had. Building supplies have always been available, wood is plentiful and sand, gravel and chalk abound close by. The sand and shingle of a long past sea bed fill the valley beneath the rich fertile topsoil, and is still quarried in the village, the unfilled sand pits now being quiet verdant sancturies, apart from the low moan of wind which rustles through the trees and undergrowth. Until the first world war, chalk was quarried from the low escarpment which follows the ancient Pilgrims way. Today the quarry is a silent retreat for rabbits and other wildlife, overgrown with brambles and bushes, the perfect place for the hide and seek games played by the village children, or to search for ‘stone roses’ -fossil sea urchins in the chalk.
In the deep of a cold Kentish winter the quarry is usually thick with snow – deep, crisp and even. That is, until the taboganing starts, when from sheds and garages, sleds and sledges old and new are dragged up the steep sloping white meadow and raced to the bottom with squeals of joy from their riders.
A few years ago we had an unusually heavy fall of snow. Over night it built up to form soft banks against the hedgerows and made the lanes around the village impassable to any traffic, we were effectively snowed in and cut off from nearby towns.
But of course, this did not stop my morning walk. I had woken early to that strange silence which heralds the sight of snow, as the curtains are pulled back to reveal the day. The sad orange ball of the sun had peeked over the trees in the east very briefly, before being swallowed up by grey and forbidding clouds, as they swept the sky.
In my kitchen the comforting aroma of brewing coffee and the warmth of the stove invited me to linger over breakfast before buttoning into a sheepskin coat and slipping on stout boots for our chilly walk. Millie was eager to be out and wagged her tail excitedly as she watched me tie the laces and then reach out for her harness and leash. Once outside we crunched through the snow as we made our way across the road, the village street was deserted and silent, not a soul was stirring at this early hour. Mist formed with every breath, and the trail of our passage across the snow followed us up the hill. It was as if we were alone in the world, the only evidence of others being the grey smoke that issued from the odd chimney and wafted gently into the sky.
Our walk took us up across the top of the ridge where we could see the village and fields below, a white patchwork of roofs and gardens with strange humps here and there, bushes and cars covered with snow and waiting for the day to warm enough to reveal them again as the snow melted.
The quarry lay below us with an unspoilt blanket of snow across the meadow, the blue shadows of the trees fading gently into cold white as the sun struggled to overcome the cloud. We made our way down the slope, and stopping at the stile which bridged the fence, I lifted Millie gently across, and followed her into the meadow.
I now observed that another lone soul had woken early, as snowy footprints made their way from the stile across the field. A single line of prints wavered across the white expanse and over the ridge in the direction of the village, the way in which we were going. We followed on, Millie stopping now and again to mark her way as dogs are inclined to do. She has always loved the snow, a medium which she sees only occasionally but obviously enjoys, much as a child would. She loves to play in the snow as much as she loves the sand on a summer beach.
As we passed over the ridge, her behaviour changed, she no longer wanted to frolic in the snow, and hung behind my heels, keeping close to me with her tail down and giving the odd quiet wimper.
The footprints stretched ahead of us, and now took the diagonal direction across the middle of the meadow, away from the path to the bottom stile which led on to the village lane.
Curious now, I followed the trail, ready to greet my fellow walker whoever it was, and to enjoy discussing the weather as we chatted on our way back to our warm homes.
It was not to be.
Millie and I followed the prints to the exact middle of the field, at which point they stopped in mid stride. The snow around was crisp, deep and unspoilt, only our own footprints could be seen alongside the now mysterious trail. It was as if whoever had left the prints had been lifted to heaven suddenly, as he or she had strode across the snow. Millie began to howl, something I had never witnessed before, a sad wild wailing from deep inside her, a sound of dispair mixed with fear. I shivered myself, in spite of the warmth of the sheepskin coat and the thick sweater below. I suddenly did not want to be on this spot a second more than I had to, as the realisation of a strange dissapearance ran through me. Millie was tugging to get away, the leash tight and whistling oddly as the cold brutal wind caused it to vibrate and sing. The feeling of being closely watched came over me as the dog pulled hard back in the direction in which we had come, and in spite of the willowy sun above, the meadow became cold, dark and unwelcoming. We made our way back as we had come, the dog now in my arms, shivering and snuggling close to my face for comfort. As we climbed the stile to get out of the field I looked back across the quarry, to the meadow with its trails of our own footprints, and those of an unknown person still forming a dark line across the snowy surface. As I looked I thought I witnessed a very faint glow at the end of the trail, it glimmered briefly and formed into a gentle mist as fresh snow began to fall. For the first time I noticed that no other footprints than those of me and my dog approached the stile from outside of the field. The line of the other persons prints started inside the meadow at the stile. My wonder became worry as the falling snow thickened more on our way back to the house and its warmth and comfort, the outdoor chill had deepened and the snow fell in thick flurrys making the day dark and silent around us as we walked.
That day I pondered the footprints and experimented in my garden, trying to walk backwards in my own prints in case a practical joker was at large. It was impossible to walk in this way, as even if one’s foot went accurately into the print, one’s weight was differently distributed and messed up the print. Short of the very unlikely scenario that the walker had been lifted into a balloon or helicopter mid field, or lifted by a crane, there was absolutely no explanation for the disappearance. By next morning all the evidence had gone, first covered by the previous nights new virgin snow, then later criss crossed by the trails of children’s toboggans as they enjoyed the winter weather.
Time passed and my experience was largely forgotten, although I continued to walk Millie across the fields and quarry every day, and indeed still do in most places around Charing.
But for the last year I have avoided the quarry with it’s silence, it’s old railway trucks once used as shacks for the workers, and it’s enduring mystery. The reason for this is simple to understand. Last winter was again severe, with cold easterly winds bringing a deep covering of snow, once again making travel about the area either difficult or impossible. At about this time a young man was missed from the village. He had headed out early on the morning of the snowfall, to meet friends at the quarry, the intention being to film a toboggan run for You Tube. His friends arrived later at the stile to find the toboggan propped against the wire fence, the GoPro camera fixed to it’s deck and still recording as it faced the sky. His footprints stretched away over the ridge, and as of those before, stopped abruptly in the middle of the sloping meadow – the young man has never been seen since that day!
Of course the video was checked. It shows a young man wearing a beany hat looking intently at the camera as he probably makes adjustments to it’s position, then the view changes to the sky. A leg and booted foot are then seen in brief as he apparently climbs over the stile, the rest of the video is of the sky, as the toboggan leans against the fence where it was found. It filmed a lonely passenger jet leaving a contrail high in the sky as it passed towards the east on a long journey to somewhere, the movement of the clouds, and a little later, recorded two of the friends as they discovered the abandoned sledge and turned off the camera.
Gone, never to be seen again.
Today, observing the meadow from the stile, I note that the cows avoid the middle, which stays lush with long grass while all else is nibbled low. At the height of summer the grass is sparse and yellow across the field but green and gold at the point at which the footprints stopped. On a satellite view the patch is easily seen from far above, which is how I prefer to view it, far away is not far enough for me.
What happened in the meadow we will likely never know. I have a theory about this mystery, as I am sure others in the village will have too. It is a silly and strange theory, and I do not wish to be seen as a fool, so I keep it to myself.
I no longer walk the quarry in winter, and in fact, I no longer walk in the quarry at all, whatever the time of year, but something tells me that the quarry will remain in my mind forever.
I wait until the next time, as I am sure it will happen again.
And is this a true account? Visit the quarry yourself or Google it, and please make you own decision.
Copyright Ken DaSilva-Hill 2017
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