If you go down to the woods today…

… you might get some trauma. This past week, all over my various mastodon feeds I have seen a lot of people mentioning people being trapped in the woods. I’ve got not a clue what the context is, and frankly I don’t want to know. All I can say is the whole hullabaloo is mildly triggering because I have actually been lost in the woods before.

photo from a time I didn't get lost: thick leafy forest on the edge of a mountain, with more forest in the distance

When I was young I would often go to visit my family in France. Going from a mid sized town in Scotland to the backend of nowhere in France[1] makes for a great break, because it’s very open and wild. And one pastime that we would take part in was foraging, usually for mushrooms, usually in the woods.

On one of these trips, the whole family all went off together and we started scraping through a nearby forest for various mushrooms[2]. At some point me, my brother, and my father wandered away from the group and promptly got lost. My dad said he knew the way, and me and my brother were too young to really know any better.

Now, the thing about the forests on the European continent is they are huge. Not like our pissant little thickets and fir plantations in Scotland[3]. You get lost in one of these french woods, and you’re in trouble. We spent about half a day stuck in the woods. Going around in circles, with little to no visibility from the thick ancient growth. And this being the past, no mobiles with built-in GPS to rescue us.

It was muddy. And the forest floor was thick with bushes and fallen branches and brambles and all manner of detritus, which made any progress back to a path slow. And the only clearing that offered any respite I came to hate, because we had circled back around to it about 3 times. This is what real woods look like, and that’s just the flora.

The posts infecting the social sites right now are mentioning bears. I don’t care about bears. I’ve never met a bear. You know what’s not cool? Wild boars the size of mini coopers that will rush and gore you at a moment’s notice. Roving packs of wolves that are ever braver at reclaiming what was once their territory. Nowadays, they are incredibly brazen, semi-perilously co-existing right next to the villages where people live, never mind the woods. Thankfully we didn’t come across any of them during this escapade but looking back on it, it’s a terrifying prospect.

One animal I might be thankful to see in a forest is a horse. Eventually we managed to break free of our circles and happened across a horse enclosure that a nearby equestrian had cleared in the forest for their animals. Had it not been for that horse wandering around it’s paddock, we might never have spotted a way out. By following the fence around the edge, we eventually made our way back to a road and managed to hitchhike our way back to civilization.

So in the end, even though it seems like one of those mildly amusing hypotheticals[4], debating who you’d rather be trapped with in the woods is kind of a shit question. There are too many variables of what type of woods, what animals are there, how capable are you… The most important question, and really the only one that matters, is are you with an unseasoned Scottish urbanite or a veteran European farmer. If you’ve got any kind of choice, pick the farmer. They’ll know better than to wander off down an unknown path without telling anyone where they’re going.

[] 1: I mean this in an endearing way. Haute-Savoie is really beautiful. For a townie used to things being close together with good public transport, the area my family is from is a different experience.

[] 2: Chanterelles were rare and coveted. For any prospective mycophages, they can be tasty fried up with garlic. But after this experience affected me, I didn’t want to eat mushrooms let alone forage for them.

[] 3: The thing about forests in Scotland is we don’t have many ancient ones left. Centuries ago we cut them all down to make furniture and boats, so the new secondary growth is fairly sparse, or it’s huge Frankenstein forests with no undergrowth where the trunks line up perfectly to let you see a way out.

[] 4: That’s a mischaracterisation. I never find hypotheticals like this amusing. There must be something wrong with me because everyone else seems to love them.

Join the Conversation

  1. Nice post, Lon. and rings true for me. I’ve never been lost in woods, whether piddly little British ones or the proper ones that scatter Poland, but I have strayed from the marked paths in my local forest park and spent an hour or so wandering along the path before taking the right turning (there is always one). That said my local forest is pretty small – the bigger ones are close to the borders of Ukraine and Belarus with free roaming bison and wild boar and (apparently) bears. I’m visiting the biggest sometime this summer with friends – and I cannot wait to walk through a proper primeval forest.

    1. I do like going through walks in forests now. It’s good that in Scotland right now the few forests there are have no predators (though the rampant deer population causes its own problems). It would be cool to see something like a bison or bear from a far distance. Stay safe and enjoy!

  2. I love the feeling of freedom when walking in the woods or forest. It seems you can leave the cares of the world for a few minutes, and that is very therapeutic. Thanks for the article.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.