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Being a kid on summer vacation is exciting. You want to pack as much adventure into those two months as you can. It's even more exciting if you can get away from your parents and experience freedom.
The story is about the author's father who was 16 at the time it all takes place. The year was 1976, and the author's father and uncle Nigel decided after the school year was over, to take on an adventure. So they decided to take on the Pennine Way.
"For those who don't know, the Pennine Way is a 270-mile walkway in Britain that, depending on which way you walk, starts just in the south of Scotland and basically cuts through the middle of England and finishes in the Midlands. It usually takes around three to four weeks to walk so with a long summer to fill, my dad, 15-year-old Uncle Nigel and my dad's friend Russ were dropped off in Scotland by my great-grandfather to begin their hike."
The first week was great. The trio enjoyed their new freedom and met friendly locals who helped them with food and shelter. One day they decided to take on an extra five miles in their day so they could reach a nearby village to restock on food and tent pegs.
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Around 6 p.m., the guys found the village and went for some drinks at a local pub, one that seemed to disregard the fact that these kids were not old enough to drink (in a small village, money is money). The owner of the pub graciously offered the guys his backfield to them to sleep in for the night.
"The landlady/wife of the owner seemed oddly hesitant at first, looking a bit concerned and having a bit of a word with her husband in private. However, Yorkshire hospitality seemed to override any doubt she had, and after a night of heavy drinking with the locals, they proceeded to their tent.
My dad says they were using an oil lantern hooked to the center of the tent as a light source and when they turned it off, they left it hanging, which is important not only for what happened next but also what happened the next day."
The author's father woke up and turned the lamp on while he decided how much of a jerk it would make him if he peed in his host's field. Suddenly, he heard the creak of a door opening and shutting. No noise followed it, so he reasoned to himself that it was just country noise.
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"After a few seconds, however, the sound of feet landing on grass became progressively more audible until they stopped right outside the tent. My dad thought it was just the owner checking on them, and as he went to unzip the tent, the owner fully unzipped it. My dad said the weird thing about this was he didn't have on a shirt. Just some slippers and night trousers. After my dad asked what he was doing, he stuttered out some excuse about hearing a growl and wanted to check the boys were okay and safe before looking around."
The author's father knew something was off because he hadn't heard a growl, in fact, he hadn't heard anything at all for the past five minutes. Also, who goes out shirtless to take on something that growls so loud you hear it in the house? This guy was either one of those small-town, bad to the bone, Ernest Hemingway type of old men, or he was the crazy type of old man who was coming out in the middle of the night to murder the unsuspecting youths in his backyard and use their remains in some stew he'd go on to sell at his pub.
"The guy weirdly emphasized the need for a good sleep before hiking and intrusively tapped the oil light asking it to be turned off. He walked off letting off a frustrated sigh when nearing the house and closed the door behind him."
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In the morning everything was fine. The owner's wife made breakfast for the guys, and the pub owner took the tent down for the boys before he took off in his truck. The guys left shortly after and headed off, back on their journey.
They got to their next camping spot earlier than planned and decided to hang around a little longer to rest after all the area they'd covered in the past eight days.
"They pull out the tent and find lots of small holes, all about a pen's width (that's how my dad described the size as he was holding a pen while telling me this). Everyone looks confused, and my dad rationalizes this by the man telling him about an animal last night. It must have come back and nibbled on the tent he explains to the guys."
With that, their rest was shot to heck, and so they decided to backtrack two miles to a different village to see about a new tent. So off they went. They didn't find a tent on their journey, but they just decided to duck tape the holes because after all, duct tape solves everything.
"When walking back, the sun had begun to set, and it was quite dark. Moonlight mainly guided them back down the path. When they returned to their site, they couldn't believe it. Their tent was set up for them but on fire. Completely engulfed in flames."
To quote Scooby Doo, "Ruh Roh!"
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They used their water bottles and water from a nearby stream to put the fire out.
"When they looked inside the tent, their oil lamp glass had been smashed. Someone had followed them, set up their tent and waited for them to return before smashing the oil lamp and in turn, lighting up the tent in flames."
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The author's father had no explanation for it. The only thing he could think of was the pub owner seeking revenge for whatever he had stopped him from doing the night before. (That or he was trying to teach the boys a lesson about the dangers of leaving oil lamps unattended.)
"At first, I didn't believe my dad and thought he was trying to scare me, but upon referencing the burning tent incident in a phone call to my Uncle Nigel, he instantly started rambling about how weird it was. My Uncle Nigel doesn't lie."
You always hear stories of how the past was a more trusting time where kids could be kids and play in the streets. A better time they say - well, that's a crock. You can't always depend on the kindness of strangers no matter the decade.
So if you're ever out there and in need of help and a stranger offers... just be careful and know your fire safety.