I wasn’t expecting to find anyone else on that odd little path that branched away from the main route. I was out for a walk, with my camera, feeling like a photojournalist or a novelist, someone far more fearless and much more glamorous than my pudgy, slightly annoyed self. It was the second day of a long-anticipated week off work and I was exploring parts of my town that I never normally got to see. I’d already circled a lake, crossed two new estates and listened to most of the morning show on 6 Music and was thinking about calling it a day.
I saw the path leading up and away from the main one and like a flash, up I went. The narrow path topped a tall bank, with ash trees crowding either side and curving over to form a dark tunnel. Goosegrass and scrubby weeds tangled around my feet. It was very quiet. The thought drifted through my mind that no-one in the world had any idea that I was here, on this silent, secret path. I was playing with the idea of danger, flirting with the possibility of murderers or rapists lurking in the greenery while knowing actually, I was perfectly safe. Nothing bad could happen to me while Lauren Laverne chattered brightly over bluetooth. I was almost past the motionless teenager in the grey hoodie and tracksuit but seeing him still gave me a shock, particularly when I realised he was carrying a spade. Another boy was standing further down the slope, buried up to his knees in the undergrowth and holding a bundle of long branches. They both watched me as I pretended nonchalance, turned back the way I’d come and trotted away, and only then did I realise they were in the process of building some sort of structure out of the branches, a bit like a bonfire or a monument. I hurried back to the main path but it wasn’t until I was halfway along it and my heart rate had reduced to normal that I wondered – why on earth would they need a spade for stacking together a few sticks? What if they were… burying something?
I looked for the other end of the high path, found it, peered up and along. There was no-one to be seen. Understandable – the little ash copse was dense with spring leaves – but unsettling nonetheless. On the road nearby the cars rushed by, oblivious, and I turned away to walk home.