“Come on,” I whispered. We continued down the hill.
Vrr-rummm! The van revved to life, headlights making bright tunnels through the headstones above us. Wheels crunched along the path to the other end of the cemetery, then the headlights swung around and the van came back up. Probably a final check for sneaky people like us, I thought. And now they’ll lock the gates. No escape! We waited, but didn’t hear any other movement from above, so we padded through the night to find a spot to settle down.
At least, that’s what I’d thought. But lying there swaddled in my bivvi bag, watching the very last wash of light fade through the trees, I heard a snatch of laughter. It suddenly occurred to me to wonder: what other sorts of people might want to sneak into a cemetery on a Saturday night? My heart kicked up a notch. What was that? Torches and muttering voices. But they passed by: just a couple of walkers on the footpath across the stream. I was all nerves. “We can always go home,” Dan whispered. I thought about my warm, comfortable, safe bed. But of course I didn’t really want to leave.
I didn’t think I could sleep, though. A barn owl shrieked in the distance. And, much closer, a strange, mellow, yipping sound came first from one direction, then moved towards the chapel. A fox cub? “Whatever it is, it wouldn’t be out if there were other people around,” Dan reassured me. I felt like a total wimp.
To distract myself, I listened to the cars passing on the main road and the aeroplanes curving overhead. Those noises, at least, did not belong to anyone who might come and kick us out, or tell us off, or make us take part in their secret cemetery ceremony. I concentrated, following the sounds of the motors as they grew and grew, then faded, faded, faded and were gone; grew and grew, faded, faded and were gone; grew, faded; grew, faded . . . I slept . . . ish.
Every hour or so I woke up with a cold nose and a crick in my neck. Wild camping is definitely easier when you’ve been walking all day, I decided. The trick is to exhaust yourself to the extent that you don’t care about the awkward lumps under your mat or the way the sleeping bag liner twists around your ankles. I thought about our next walking and camping adventure. Perhaps we could finish one of the long distance paths we’ve started over the years. What would work for the October half-term? The Grand Union Canal or the Thames Path? That walk from London to Norfolk (we hadn’t quite got to Cambridge)? The Ridgeway, the Southwest Coast Path, the Wye Valley Walk, something else completely? I fell asleep again.
On the way home, we spread our damp picnic rug over a wooden bench and waited for the sun to rise. The horizon turned from a dark smudge of apricot to pale green. Mist was rising from the valleys. The purple clouds were fringed with hot pink. Chattering jackdaws converged above us, coming in twos and threes and fives before heading south. A lone heron passed overhead, its loose, slow wingbeats hushing the field, the road, the houses. A rooster crowed. The sun was up. It was time to go to bed.