Annalong Valley from Carrick Big
I had hoped we would bivvy out but the tent was a softer option that got played with for a while. The weather was due to be good so the tent was left in the van. As we arrived into the valley it was clear that the tent was a bad idea anyway. As the Outdoor Fox pointed out to me, tents are what you get into to get away from the world around you, to cocoon yourself away and ignore the elements. The elements were not to be ignored this night, but to be watched like a hawk. We wished to be aware of every gust of wind and the state of the mountains around us. The mountains were on fire, specifically Slieve Binnian was very definitely on fire.
Slieve Binnian from the north end of Annalong Wood
I don’t think I can properly describe standing in the dark valley with the quarter moon hanging over the burning mountains. The fires burned a deep red colour like lithium. They were ribbons across the hillside and moved like a gigantic living snake. It was scary to see how one small fire started by some idiot could grow so vast and spread so much, and this was on a relatively still night.
In our position, kilometres away, we were safe as long as we kept an eye on the conditions and kept the fire in the far distance. The air was so still that we were intermittently woken from our light slumber by the noise of the trees as they gave away every light breeze or momentary gust. Often during the night we would wake up and nervously stand to see how things had progressed then move on to awe at the sight. It was a truly unique experience. Then I would drift off to sleep staring up at the stars blooming over the tall pines as the cool air smelt of burning wood and peat.
At one point during the night I felt the presence of a person nearby, right behind me. In a half dream I felt paralysed to do anything as the person moved nearer. The Outdoor Fox was snoring only a few feet away but he was in front of me, the presence I felt seemed right behind me at this point, near my head, near my rucksack at my back. Still paralysed I feared they would be stealing my stuff. Then a low, very angry growl began to grow. Then very loudly the very awake and angry Meg Dog burst from her sleeping state beside the OutdoorFox. She seemed to move like lighting over my head and proceeded to bark and prowl along the edge of the woods behind me. She was standing her ground and protecting us from the creatures of the night, probably a real outdoor fox. The foxes in this area are very bold. Recently I heard a story from a climber. He relayed how his friend was bivvying at the base of the crags and, fast asleep, slowly began to wake and open his eyes as he sensed he was being watched. He saw in front of him only mist then something rapidly coming out of the mist. A fox ran towards him and ran straight for his head, then it snapped…… at a packet of jaffa cakes which were lying beside his face. I am nearly certain he would have had to check his sleeping bag for incidental damage.
Meg Dog was in a semi primal state all night. Several times she growled at the woods and prowled around our little circle, answering some programmed behaviour hundreds of thousands of years old. She was protecting her pack from things that go bump in the night.