I was reading through the online news and came across a couple of recent cases of countryside mayhem. I can’t say I ever totally relaxed my guard about crime when out in the countryside. Here in the UK we don’t have animal threats we have just two, environmental and human. It is tempting when away from centres of population to think that fewer people equals fewer risks. I suggest when camping and hiking apply a bit of caution.
On the one hand less people mean less chance of coming upon any of the really bad elements that plague us all. However, the fact that you are often off guard enjoying yourself and out of reach of help adjusts that balance. There are places that I would not go unless armed, they are all urban, that doesn’t mean that when out in the wilds I am going to assume that all the people I meet are angels without wings.
A Good Example of the Bad
Currently there is an active Australian investigation into the disappearance of two people in their 70s. Russell Hill, 74, and Carol Clay ,73, were camping together in Victoria’s Wonnangatta park when they failed to report in after a week. Their campsite had been set on fire, property was missing and their bodies not found. That was almost a year ago. This remote region of clear, open, countryside includes deep bush terrain. Local sources say as much as it is popular with visitors it is not the most frequented of country. As a result illegal hunting, off roading and even drug crime happens. One theory is that Russell was flying his drone and it picked up footage of illegal activity and things spiralled from there. It should be noted Russell was an experienced ‘bushman’ and had worked in the area as a logger years before. It is unlikely that he and Carol became lost.
A Notorious Canadian Case
Another case that haunts me is about a family of six being murdered in Canada many years ago. They went camping in a remote spot in British Columbia. The local culprit was caught, but the tale of horror that eventually came from the investigation would put you off going further out than your driveway.
The Rolling British Countryside Has It’s Moments Too
In the UK a recent TV drama series told of the case of John Cooper who lived in Pembrokeshire. This is a wonderful place to hike, incredible scenery of cliffs and seascapes. The problem was Cooper was a rapist and killer and at least two sets of victims were out enjoying the open spaces when Cooper targeted them.
Sadly the list could go on. In fact ‘isolated’ murders are probably a website in themselves as there are so many examples. If we read and write about the horrors of crime and the devastation that is caused to family and friends of the victims, it might be good to have a point. A point maybe that prevents similar happening again.
How You Can Protect Yourself From Attack While Out in the Countryside
I don’t even like that title because overall hiking is safer than a quick trip to the late night store in almost any part of the world. That said how else could I put it? Here are things you can do to limit the risk of such crimes without becoming too paranoid to go out.
Firstly, just because you are out in the wilds do not abandon the instincts that generations have programmed into you. People act a certain way when they have good or bad intentions. An example is in the case of a killer called Simpson. He was strange and quarrelsome with the man who had picked him up on a rural Scottish road. The driver (George Green) asked him to get out of the car and drove on. After stopping at a café Green told staff that the man had just passed and said what his concerns were.
Low and behold Green left the café and went to pick up the guy again. Later the killer said that his victim pulled up, apologised for kicking him out in the cold and leaned over to let him in. Simpson shot the good Samaritan in the head.
So the instinct told Green something was wrong but he ignored it. Simpson was very small and looked manageable. Green was on vacation heading north to do some skiing. Simpson went on to fall in company with another man (Hans Grimmi) a short time later. He killed him too, Grimmi was hiking and travelling the Highlands on vacation.
Consider Altering Your Plans
If someone you meet is acting strangely then beware and take action. Move away, strike camp and re locate or do whatever you are capable of doing. Possibly you should call it a day and go home.
Keep Your Eyes on Strangers
Another thing is apart from the initial greeting, which we all share on the trail, keep yourself to yourself. If stopped and asked for the loan of anything, a lighter etc, keep your eyes on the person asking at all times if you want to help them. Do not turn your back and go rummaging in your back pack or eyes down as you go through your pockets.
It can help to have a plan if you are walking in company. One suggestion is that you can still be friendly but if you are the main ‘physical defender’ in your group then let your companion do the talking. That way you can keep a gentle watch on the situation without distraction. I would suggest that you never underestimate the deterrent on criminals of an aware person. It makes them nervous.
Have a plan in your head about what you will do or use if attacked. In some countries you can legally arm yourself very well. Mine is not one of them. If you have the privilege of carrying a firearm do so. After all there are likely to be animal threats too. Crucially only carry a weapon you are trained to use and also you are pretty slick with. Any weapon you are useless with could soon be taken off you. In addition, have this as part of your pre arranged plan with your companions so they know what to expect.
I would say that our instincts to get away from strange behaviour are muted by our so called reasonableness. We don’t want to spoil the day by retreating back to the car. We want to trust people and don’t want to look like we are suspicious.
I look at it this way. Most people out in the hills are nice people or at least any bits of them that are not nice won’t harm you. We generally are all after the same thing. We want fresh air and a bit of peace. Apart from a bit of casual conversation they don’t want to be asking you lots of questions or for that matter wanting to walk close to you or join you in any way.
If that inner warning starts sounding…listen to it and act on it. That is about all I am saying. You may well be a long way from help. I do not know if any of the cases above got any warning, I do know that I have had that feeling and taken action and I am still here.
One Such Time I Had
I was walking on a long abandoned country road. It no longer went anywhere. Years before it had connected two small towns. At the end of it the moorland took over and my plan was to walk and drop down into the next town.
A car went past and in it it were three young men. For fun they hit the horn I guess to make me jump. I did look around and they passed and I could hear laughter. I raised my hand in insult. Now that is a good example of another thing to avoid, but I am a robust individual and I was annoyed that I could not even be left in peace there. They drove on.
I then thought three young men were unlikely to be going wandering up there. It was more likely they would turn around and be driving back in a moment or would park and then I would be walking right by them.
I decided to allow a bit of caution. I cut onto a footpath that gave me an alternate (if slightly longer) track to the town. No sooner had I started on this track than I saw the car come back but the driver had only one man with him. Next I saw the missing passenger walking along the road toward where I had just been. The car turned and drove back to join him.
The plan had been to trap me between the car and the walking young man. There was no other explanation for their actions. No dogs, no one else and nowhere for them to go. I saw them all standing out and looking around, they were not dressed for the cool conditions.
They looked in my direction as I walked on the open moor. They could have caught me, but I made it clear that I had seen them and I would defend myself. They gave it up.
That spot is rolling, gorgeous, quiet Yorkshire country side. Who knows what would have happened. Frankly, even if I had not shown my annoyance at the car horn being sounded the young men were out for amusement and sadly amusement can spin into all manner of things. In any case they were not nice people. Better to walk away early than wait to find out what would have been their plans eh?
I would be interested in any stories you have on this issue. Maybe you totally disagree with being concerned, given that crime is so rare on the trails. Any discussion is welcome.