30-Aug-2001 -- “The weather for Cumbria today will be rain, rain and more rain, coming down in huge buckets, you’ll get absolutely soaked, so don’t go outside.” Well, the morning weather report wasn’t quite like that, but it may as well have been. It was the worst weather we’d had for days and I had decided to go to my first confluence. Bad timing. I had actually planned to go to 54N 1W, but was pipped at the post by a few days by Ian & Jacqui Scales, so I decided on 55N 3W instead.
I had a 100-mile train journey ahead so I set out early. Thanks to pre-booked seats I was the lucky guy who had the privilege of sitting next to the train ‘strange person’. After telling me everything about himself that I didn't need to know, he asked me where I was going. “Gretna”, I replied hoping to leave it at that. “Why?” he demanded. “To hunt for Blue Elephants”, I said. Well actually, I didn’t, but I should have. My first lesson, never tell anyone about your plans to visit a confluence; it’s really not worth it. I made that mistake and suffered for the next 90 minutes of my journey trying to explain. Every explanation I tried to give was met with a “but why?” Now who was the train ‘strange person’?
Eventually I arrived in the Gretna, ready to make the final part of my journey. I was greeted by the big buckets of rain the weather lady had promised me. Smashing. I was roughly 3 miles from the magical point and so started off, my eTrex as my guide. On the OS map the confluence looked to be accessible mainly by road. What it failed to say was that the road was bordered by banks with long grass, long very wet grass, and that when it rains the roads have big puddles. The kind of puddles that cars travelling at great speeds go through, when they want to soak you, and they did. Over and over again. Squelching along in time to my music I checked my bearings. The eTrex told me I was nearing my destination. The excitement was too much. I imagined turning this final corner and being blinded by a golden glow over position 55N 3W. I could see Excalibur in the distance (if you haven’t seen the film then I’m sorry). I imagined an orchestra leaping out from the woods behind me playing all sorts of dramatic music. I was Arthur, about to draw Excalibur from the stone (which I imagined was conveniently placed on 55N 3W). I imagined too much. What I actually saw was a sign saying ‘Go home, you’re wasting your time’, or something like that, and a picture of a dog, the kind that eat peoples legs for breakfast, not the kind who like being tickled behind the ears.
I made enquiries at a nearby cottage as to the nature of the restricted area. “Oh, that Mr Smythe-Jones’ garden, he has a lovely herbaceous border and keeps it well protected. I’m sure if you speak nicely to him he’ll give you a nice cup of tea and some of his wives famous jam scones and take you right to the spot”. Well that’s what I hoped the lady at the cottage was going to say. “Military” is what she really said. My heart sank. Straight into my soggy boots. Splash. I had spent the past few days constantly checking my OS map, noting all surrounding farms and visiting the Government Web Site to ensure that no new outbreaks of Foot and Mouth were going to ruin my trip. I hadn’t really planned for this setback. She kindly explained that my best choice was to ask at the main entrance of this new Military addition to the area, further down the main road. I took a few pictures and left. On the way to the main gate I passed a small track that led me to a field closer to the Holy Grail, but was still surrounded my barbed wire. I took more pictures and readings. When I reached the main entrance I could see I was wasting my time. I gave a brief but futile explanation as to why I was here and gave him the letter. I got that look again, like the one the guy on the train gave me. The security guard picked up a big rubber stamp that said ‘strange person’ and stamped me on the forehead with it. I made some suggestions, which didn’t involve me taking any photographs of the surrounding Ministry of Defence area, but just of the readings on my eTrex. "NO, NO, NO" he repeated, in many languages in case I was from another planet. The best I could do was the required North-facing photo from the entrance to the site (fortunately this didn’t involve taking illegal photographs of the base) and some more readings. I started my journey back to Gretna, only to be followed by the Military Police. They continued to follow me, driving up and down the main road. Maybe they were just worried I was going to get lost.
So that was my day. I arrived home, my wife asked me had I managed to get to do that strange confluence thing that I was going to do. I think she sees this new hobby as a cry for help, some sort of mid life crisis. I told her about the madman on the train, the fact I got soaked and finally that I hadn’t managed to get to 55N 3W. Then I told her I’d had a great day and couldn’t wait to try my next confluence. She booked me in for a session with the Psychiatrist. I’ll be back!