It was clear that withdrawal had kicked in when I ventured out to Sally on that bitterly cold day. I had to see the rock. To feel the coarse stone beneath my smooth domesticated fingers. The rock was bathing in the afternoon light, oblivious to my intrusion. Unaware of the chaotic world beyond the forest border. There it has stood and there it will stand for millennia to come.
I pull into an unremarkable layby. Coke cans overflow from a bin at the end: the only significant landmark in sight. Cars rush past, but the woods are still. I push through the undergrowth concealing the hidden boulder forest and enter the Jurassic realm of Sally in the Woods.
A tenuous trail of mist hangs lazily like a carpet obscuring the woodland floor. The tips of ferns peak through the ethereal cloud guiding a path through the woods. I feel like an intruder, expecting the ghost of Sally to evict me from her dwelling. Waiting for the apparition of a glowing spirit bent over in old age yelling 'get off my land'. Tales of the gamekeeper's wife taunt my imagination and I scan the trees for wisps of smoke from her hut. It is eerily silent, yet I listen for a shrill laugh: the cackle of a witch cast out to live alone in these woods.
The trees recline just enough in the gentle breeze to reveal Mike's Boulder standing in formidable grandeur. A king upon a throne. I feel like David looking up at Goliath and wondered how it had ever been concealed.
My fingers find home in a pocket, satiating their hunger to climb. Each movement is slow and precise as I tiptoe along the traverse, not waking Sally. I picture the young girl curled up in a deep sleep, head heavy on a pillow of moss. A life stolen before it had truly begun; taken among these trees.
Wild thyme pokes through the ground, still dormant. In time, pink petals will offer a welcome contrast to the green and brown canopy of today's winter scene. The summer will come, bringing with it laughter and youthful glee. We will reflect on a time that 'once was'.
To my right, the path drops away abruptly, and is replaced by a stone diving board: Sally's Shelf. Pulling onto the route, I navigate the limestone plinth, heel anchoring each movement. Blood rushes to my arms, heavy with pump, pulse thumping against the roof above, begging the ghost of Sally to come out to play. A daughter locked up in a tower with no fairy-tale prince to save her; perpetually grounded in these woods. I conjure the notion of adolescent defiance and form a sad smile. I mantle out, grateful leave lockdown behind.
Dusk was drawing in and it was time to leave the crag. Rumours perpetuate the stillness of the land. Driving away those who fear the dead and drawing in those who seek their spirits. As for climbers, they come and go.