Have you ever been pixie-led? Led astray in nature by forces that defy you? I have. My story borders on the comic, but was pretty terrifying at the time. It took place in Northampton, England, in the unlikely setting of Brackmills Industrial Estate. It was a scorching hot day in July, in the early noughties.
Brackmills is, like most industrial estates, a pretty grim place to be, especially when one considers what it is built on: pristine flood plains and ancient meadows of the River Nene. Destroyed for ever and replaced with the least aesthetically pleasing buildings and infrastructure imaginable. But I was a student in desperate need of money and had been tipped off about jobs going in the mammoth Tesco distribution centre. I had somehow wangled an interview, which obviously went badly because they never got back to me. They probably took one look at me in my flowery blouse and pink ballet pumps and thought “no way!”
I had walked there from town because it was such a gorgeous day and a few remnants of those flood meadows, like Barnes Meadow nature reserve, remain. The footpaths are/were fairly well maintained and marked, but like all urban-wild places, they can be pretty frightening sometimes too. Especially for a twenty something young woman on her own. But it was the middle of the day, I’d be fine, I thought.
I came out of the stuffy warehouse after the interview and walked along the road. I had studied the Northampton A-Z before I came and memorized the route. Or so I thought. My ridiculous colour coordinated handbag was not big enough to house such an object, so I had left the map at home. The heat was beating down on me and I started regretting not applying sun cream or putting on a hat. An embankment of bee orchids surprised and enchanted me, but I had no camera to hand. I hadn’t even brought a mobile phone. No water either.
I carried on along the road and got a bit confused about the way at a flyover for the dual carriageway. I continued on at ground level, not wanting to dirty my ballet pumps by scrabbling up the embankment. Neither did I fancy walking alongside thronging traffic in the midday sun.
The path led away from the road through scrub and this is where my memory gets hazy. I can remember reasoning with myself that there was another crossing point, a bridge even, to get me across the river. I followed the path onward.
The sun got hotter and I became thirstier. I had no sunglasses. My skin began to redden, but being a headstrong young person, I pressed on. Mild panic started to arise when the path became marshier and my pumps began squelching. But I had come so far now, it would take ages to go back. There had to be a crossing!
I started worrying about who else might be this far along the track on a weekday afternoon. What sexual predator was lurking behind trees, what freak or weirdo was waiting for an opportunity just like this. What opportunistic criminal couldn’t help themselves if they chanced upon a lost and lonely naive young woman like me?! The sweat soaked my long hair and dripped off my nose. My eyes were weary in the brightness, but my fear and beating heart kept my wits about me.
I got to an elevated railway track that cut across the flat plain, forming a wall between me and where I needed to get to: the River Nene. In my hot and bothered, now blistered and burnt stupor, I carried on along the path that was now just a cattle track. To my short-lived delight, it led to an underpass below the railway track. I could see reeds and sedges through the passage. Perhaps, if I could just go through, I’d get a better view of any crossings close by?!
I squelched through grasses towards the underpass, my ballet pumps now completely destroyed and caked in mud. The underpass, to my horror, was full of stones, deep puddles and cow pats. Obviously a place the cattle came to shelter in bad weather. But there was nothing for it, I had come this far, I had to go through and find a way back home!
I squelched forward, through the stinking shite, the foul puddle now completely overwhelming my powder pink ballet pumps and pop socks. How my bleeding and burst blisters stung as the filthy water met them! I cried. How the hell had a job interview in Brackmills ended in ankle deep cow shit and second degree sunburn?!
At the opening of the underpass I went on tiptoes, straining to see over the reeds and willow scrub. I looked both left and right, attempting to see a crossing. And then I heard a strange sound. A sound I had never heard before. An alien squeak that reminded me perhaps of a small dinosaur, a velociraptor in Jurassic Park. It couldn’t be a cow! Then there was a rustle and out of the scrub trotted a weird creature, about dog-sized with tusks protruding from its lower jaw. I froze. With odd jerking movements it passed right in front of me, literally about two metres away. A muntjac deer. It sauntered past unperturbed and disappeared into the undergrowth.
Tired and bewildered, I accepted defeat, turned back and started the long walk home, barefoot, thirsty and stinking of shit. I spent the rest of the day in bed with sunstroke, and I have never attempted to “memorise” a map again!
This was the first time I was genuinely scared in and by nature. I told my friend about my ordeal and she said, “You were pixie-led!” Pixie-led or bloody stupid, I don’t know which, but meetings like this with nature, even the frightening ones, have only strengthened my bonds with it. Or should I say them?