Monday, 4 June 2012

Wendover Woods (circular walk)

In which I visit the highest point in the Chilterns, enjoy a nice walk in the sunshine and get really narked off at some film posters.
Map: None Used - we just followed our feet
Distance: 4k (ish?)

Time: 1 hour

Rating: Moderate Walk (some very steep areas)

Finally, a Monday with a walk! I got there in the end...

So, I found myself with an impromptu day off (in that I cleared the leave with my line manager two days before I had the day off), so ChapDad and I decided it was a good time to explore Wendover Woods.

The Cafe in the Woods
Wendover Woods is run by the forestry commission, and has excellent facilities with a good cafe and clean changing facilities to go with their play equipment and bookable barbecues as well as a Go Ape, yet we don't often go there. Partly it's because you have to pay for parking, and the other reason is that their 'designated trails' are appallingly signposted. They have lovely leaflets printed with all manner of jauntily coloured trails, and we have never managed to complete one successfully - we always lose the route. This makes it much more annoying than, say, the Ashridge Estate, which puts you next to some woodland and seems to announce "there you are, mate - best of luck". Wendover Woods, however, suggests it will provide some walks for you, and then promptly leads you astray.

This time we were feeling relaxed and so decided we would have a wander and just see where we ended up, which was nice because it meant we got to enjoy a new walk that we hadn't been on before.
Cairn marking the Chilterns' Highest Point

Starting at the Cafe in the Woods, head behind the toilet block onto a flat mobility trail. Not far down this you come out into a car park - follow the marked easy access path that is also signposted 'Chilterns' Highest Point'. Down this path, passing the bookable barbecue areas, you will see a Cairn. It is a sadly unexciting affair, as it really lacks any views to speak of (for those I would suggest Coombe Hill or Ivinghoe Beacon). However, it is nice to know that you've reached the highest spot, even if there isn't really a lot to see.

Sometimes, however, there can be too much to see. Journeys to work can be hard enough at the best of times. Whether it's a day I'm in the car or on the bus, each have their own niggles and trials. Slow traffic, trying to find enough seats, hot, grumpy toddlers, it can all add up. What I then do not need to see are one of two film posters that are, to express it politely, really getting on my wick at the moment.

Every now and again, film posters annoy me. For months my journey to work was blighted by having to look at the Life as We Know It posters on bus stops. They are posters that, frankly, let everybody down. Honestly, Warner Bros, we're not angry, we're just disappointed. And as for you, Katherine Heigl - you seem a nice girl, but I saw the truly dire The Ugly Truth and strongly suggest you find yourself a better agent who will get you out of these crappy roles.

But really, this poster filled me with rage. I was moderately-to-heavily pregnant at the time, and my ire was more easily raised than usual (if you can imagine such a thing... my ire is pretty trigger-happy at the best of times). The subtext (although let's be fair, is it really all that sub? It is more the plain text of the poster) that men are themselves children and that women are delighted to spend their lives chasing them delightedly while they forever evade her clutches. Honestly, people, none of us do well out of this poster.

The trees are quite tall.
And, indeed, had we been trying to follow Wendover Woods'  set trail we would not have done well either. After seeing the cairn, we followed the path around to the right until we popped out on the road that exits the area. I don't know if the mobility trail suggests you follow this road back to the car park or if we were supposed to carry on straight over (the route we chose to take) as there were no signs. Having crossed the road, the path leads you alongside it for a while before leading you back into the woodland and through some very long pines.

In due course, the path leads slightly down and then divided into left and right. We chose the left path, the way onto which was slightly blocked by wooden fencing designed to keep out trail bikes, and leading away from the direction of the car park. While the rest of the paths we had been on would have been fine for prams & pushchairs, the way from here definitely became unsuitable for anything more than a sling - there's lots of inconvenient roots and uneven pathways to get in your way.

Turn right, down the bridleway. As you can see,
ChapDad still favours a front carry.

We followed this pathway off into the woods for about 10-15 minutes, with me wondering every now and again at which point we should declare it quits, turn round and head back. However, ChapDad had other ideas. "I think there'll be a path parallel to this one down there somewhere" he gesticulated off down the slope. "We should take the next lateral a join it". I have long given up snorting at pronouncements like this, as more often than not, the swine turns out to be right. Lo and behold, not far after we passed an orienteering marker labelled 3V, a bridleway lead off down the hill to the right. It's quite steep in places, so care needs to be taken. This is particularly true when you reach the bottom of the bridleway and need to join the main trail to the right, as it becomes really steep here - not for very long, but enough to concern you when you've got a baby strapped to you.

However, Hollywood is never tired of churning out annoying films and posters, and recently they've managed to keep me at a gently rolling boil as the bus stops roll past. Firstly, let us begin with the charmingly titled Piranha 3DD. Now, I appreciate that as a woman in her early 30s, I am not the demographic at which this film is aimed. However, while I am not the demographic, the posters have been staring at me on my journey to work for some time now, and they are ticking me off.

There are a number of elements that distress me, and no, I don't think it's too strong a word. I am distressed by the link between sex and violence - there's the cracked sunglasses on an expressionless, porn-culture face. Should one be out of the water and see enough piranhas to reflect in one's sunglasses, I would hope the reaction would be slightly more animated than this bland, airbrushed, blow-up doll of a woman who appears to be waiting for the money shot. And that horrible tagline "Double the action. Double the terror. Double the D's." - which fishwit in marketing thought that up? Roll up, roll up! Come see this film and see large breasted women exhibit fear! In 3D! It'll be hilarious! Once you watch the trailer and see they joys of 'water certified strippers' in a park charmingly titled 'Big Wet' one wonders if the writers of this have ever heard of the women's movement. Again, I just don't think this does any of us any favours - it exploits and cheapens us all.

Having turned right onto the main trail, continue forward like this, again taking the right hand fork leading upwards when the trail divides. Follow past some impressive looking rooty trees as the trail rises until you arrive back near the car park, round the side of the Cafe in the Woods.

And finally, the last bus poster that is making me seethe - What To Expect When You're Expecting. It riles me, it really does.  I will leave aside the opinions of some of my baby-wearing friends as regards front-facing Baby Bjorn style carriers, but needless to say, some of them could write reams on how it's not doing the baby any good. What vexes me, however, and vexes me most strongly, is how the 'hilarity' of this film is conveyed. There are the women, lounging around inside the house, having a good time - like the men should be doing! And look, there are the men loaded down with babies - like women! Ha! Hilarious! Who would have thought it?!

To quote my husband, who has the mot juste on this topic:

"The great strides that have been taken by women into industries, professions and boardrooms necessitate reciprocal strides by men into the domestic sphere. These strides have been taken and are being taken in the face of ridicule from the media [...]We find this amusing primarily because a man in a domestic setting is a figure of fun. This is part of the backlash against women's liberation, in which this document is taking an active and self-defeating part. The author, in seeking to deny the cultural acceptability of a man who is capable around the house, is effectively policing the borders of women's own domestic drudgery. " (Although he said it about an email forward that went round his office - you can read the whole thing here).

"Boom!" is the appropriate response to that, I feel. Except I do not have the funding to put that paragraph on the right hand side of a bus that is currently advertising What to Expect When You're Expecting on its left. Although I would like to.

I'm not denying that the use of the Reservoir Dogs-ish walking in a line trope is funny. The use of the inhaler to replace some sort of weapon makes me chuckle. But again, it is the implication of the emasculation of man - that to look after children is a girly thing to do. Deep down there is some sort of ingrained feeling that we should all be living in some sort of Frank Miller-esque universe, where men are deep-voiced and violent, and women are all an agglomeration of the tropes of hotness and prostitutes or strippers to boot. Why is the image of men looking after their own children presented as funny? Why must the father be undermined in this way while at the same time the Western world scratches its heads at the prevalence of absent fathers? Anyone who has looked after a child for a day knows that it is mentally gruelling, so why can't we all cut each other some slack? I just hope the film doesn't turn out to be as annoying as the poster.

Things I learnt

  • I have now been to the highest point in the Chilterns. Oo.
  • There is more than one walk to be had out of Wendover Woods! Sadly, I very much need to be in a specific "oh, let's just wander" mood with someone with a better sense of direction than I to get a useful experience out of it.
  • Piranha 3DD? Really? Someone gave them money to make that?

Monday, 28 May 2012

Blogging Holiday

I know, I disappeared in a rude fashion. It's a bad time for UK teachers - coursework deadlines followed by exam revision and tidying up the end of year, and I haven't really had time for walks and write-ups. I will try and get something out soon... to prove I still exist...

On the plus side, the back-carry is going very well! We've got into it now, and both of us know what we're doing. Although the Chap does have a habit of making a 'clip-clop clip-clop' tongue clicking noise when he gets on my back as if I am a horse. Flattery, thy name is toddlers.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

International Babywearing

On a recent trip to Vietnam, my father got a picture of a Vietnamese back carry. Looks similar to everyone else's back carries, really. It seems crazy, but because sometimes with all the weird looks and the 'ah, that's the way to travel' comments and open staring on the bus, I forget that having your child strapped to you is completely normal for most of the world...
Anyway, if you want to see the picture of brightly coloured Vietnamese babywearing, click here. Or you can read his post and learn about the origin of the word 'bong', which was also an education for me...

Monday, 7 May 2012

College Lake with a Back Carry

In which I do my first walk with the Chap on my back, find a different path to take around College Lake and continue to assuage my nursery-guilt with knitting.

Map: None Used (routes are available at College Lake if you're desperate, but it's very much a case of following signs!)
Distance: 4k

Time: 1 hour

Rating: Easy Walk

This walk was a first for me, because it was the first time I did a walk with the Chap on my back. It's been coming on for a while - I got to the end of Willen Lake and thought "oof, my back", so I've been working up to doing extended walks with the Chap on my back, and this was the first 'proper' walk I've done with him there. It takes a bit of practise to get them up there - I have found it easiest to 'Santa Toss' him over my head rather than scooting him round my side, as he's just got too tall to fit comfortably under my arm. However, I can get him up there without incident now, so long as he isn't wearing anything big like a coat that tend s to get rucked in the back and make the back of the Ergo sit a bit low, but I now know what that feels like, so it can be dealt with.

However, I still wanted to build my confidence, so I went for College Lake. It's an easy walk, it's not a long way or difficult terrain, and it has a visitor centre so nappies and so on can be dealt with.

We started as we start most walks these days - with the two of us walking. We use the reins for this a lot as the Chap can accelerate in an impressive manner - fine of you're in a flat park, but not so good if you're in an area filled with rabbit holes or on a train station or similar.

On leaving the Visitor Centre, turn left and follow the path round. It starts on gravel and then quickly becomes a packed earth path, and the Chap seemed quite happy to toddle along that rather than dashing off into the undergrowth, so I let him off his reins to tootle about in that purposeful manner that toddlers have.

Soon enough, however, he stopped and asked to be carried, so I threw him over my shoulder and into the back carry and we continued forward.

The line of trees soon breaks and you start to get views over the lake. The path splits shortly after this - the orange trail continues on the flat path suitable for prams, but we chose the purple trail bearing right and down a slope. This leads down into a tree-lined dell, and then up again to a narrow path. It's a quieter path and easier if you're wanting to see some birds or other wildlife than the main orange trail.

Also a week of firsts, I have finished my first cardigan for the Chap! I am amazed that it not only looks like a cardigan, but it also appears to be wearable! I put it on him this morning (before I had sewed in all the loose threads) and was also delighted to see that, although a bit big at the moment, it will fit him and appear to be in proportion when he gets big enough for it. I am amazed it actually looks like it's supposed to! It took weeks, however, but I'm really pleased with it. And at least it gave me something to work on while we worked our way through the Lord of The Rings extended box set.

I find knitting terribly comforting. When my sister-in-law asked why I had started knitting, the answer was simple - guilt. I hate putting him in nursery, but I find knitting helps me ignore it.

"Ah-ha," she said, in that knowing way that people with psychology degrees have. "So it's a case of 'I'm leaving you, but I've got you this."". I've thought about it, really, and that's not quite right. It's not about leaving him so I got him something. There's a world of plastic dinosaurs and cars that could fulfil that function. It's something about the effort, the activity. It's not really about the fact you get a cardigan at the end of it, although that is in itself satisfying (and surprising!). It's more about the activity; the performance aspect. If I think about it, even though I enjoy being at work (which is something I never thought I'd say, but that's what having a year's maternity leave lead me to conclude), I still feel that by going to work I am doing something unutterably selfish. It doesn't matter that we can't afford for me not to work - I think it's a case of the Terrible Shoulds. I feel I should be at home looking after him, and therefore any other choice is Doing It Wrong.

You will shortly reconnect with the main trail, and we continued along this until we saw the gate leading off to the left through the fence, marked with a 'permissive footpath' white arrow. As this was somewhere I hadn't been before, I decided to go and have a look and see where it took us.

I really enjoyed this part of the route. It feels a lot quieter than the main path, and takes you along the edge of the nature reserve through the trees. It was also completely deserted apart from a photography crew who were taking promotional pictures for the reserve, who grinned as I went past with my load.


In wearing the Chap as I go for walks, I manage to do what I want at the same time as feeling like I'm ticking the 'Proper Parenting' box. It was the same when we went and enjoyed the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum the other day - I enjoyed the dinosaurs before I had a child, but now I'm not just indulging myself. I'm Being A Parent. In knitting, I perform the role of being his mummy, even if what I'm doing is just sitting on the sofa drinking beer and shouting "Oi love 'ee, Mr Frodo!" at various opportune moments at the TV. Now, obviously this doesn't mean I'm not his mother when I'm doing this, but it seems to me that again, this is a self-indulgent act when what I should be doing is watching him sleep and composing odes to his restful slumber or similar. Left brain knows this is tosh. My left brain understands that one can still be someone's mother as you cry "You were robbed of that Oscar, Mr Serkis, robbed, I say!". So, knitting is a salve to the incoherent babbling of my right brain - I am performing the act of being a mother, therefore it's fine. It doesn't matter that I am knitting because I enjoy it, or I like the challenge - if that wasn't the case, I wouldn't do it. I enjoy it, but it also helps on the occasions when he comes home from nursery knackered, goes straight to bed and I hardly see him. It's either knitting or watching little videos we've made of him and crying. I know which option is provides a more conducive household environment...

The path then leads you back onto the main route, giving you good views over the lake. We continued forward, and then took the first right hand turn. This area is definitely not suitable for prams - there are steps and gates and narrow pathways and it would all be very awkward. I like this route, however, because there have some interesting things to look at along this way. This way has information about the history of College Lake, starting with old machinery left over from the days when it was a chalk quarry and going all the way back to the dinosaurs.

We then took the path leading up and off to the left back to the main route. I also wanted to have a look around the second hand book shop that lurks about the Visitor's Centre - I am indeed one of those people who can never resist the lure of a bookshop. I have a particular fondness for women's advice manuals from pre-1960s. None exist in this bookshop, but I did pick up a nice children's book about an elephant who is pen-friends with a penguin.

Children's books acquired, we then continued back to the Visitor's Centre, then home.

Things I Learnt

  • After I changed to the 'santa toss' method of getting the Chap on my back, all my back-carrying problems have been solved!
  • I can knit, it seems. My next plan is for something a bit more proper than a beginner's pattern... something that involves a tension square to start off with...
  • You can get a number of quite varied walks out of College Lake. When I first went, I was pretty sure it was a straight march around a circuit job, but I am glad to find that there's a good amount of choice. It's also good for building up confidence if you're not used to baby wearing for walking.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Secrets of Dating Prove I've Been Doing It All Wrong

I apologise for the lack of a walk for the past 2 Mondays. The walks have been happening, I promise you, but this is a catastrophically bad time of year for the British teacher to do anything but leave work and hyperventilate as the coursework deadlines get ever nearer. What I'm lacking is the time to write them up - I will try for a post on Monday!

In the meantime, however,I have had time to get annoyed by the Internet. How unusual...

Protip: to repell unwanted advances, employing the phrase
"I feel Jar Jar Binks has been unfairly maligned..." can be effective.
So, there I was idly about to google something when a 'Shh! 53 Dating Secrets Girls Don't Want Guys To Know!' article wandered past. I frankly don't feel I need to look at the 'Guys Don't Want Girls To Know' - frankly, having been with ChapDad for about a decade rather feel I'm past that stage (thank God). Plus, I have also found that being able to have a passable conversation about the moral choices of Han shooting first stands one in better stead than reading website advice. However, I am always curious to find what secrets I am keeping according to Ther Intarrwebz, so I had to click.

Once again, ladies and gentleman, I have been doing it all wrong. Isn't it curious? Is it not a wonder how I ever managed to find (nay, net! Secure, even!) a life partner without taking on board a myriad of rules! In short, I bet I'm not the only one who finds this, to use to technical term, wall-to-wall horsebollocks. I've cut some to save time, but here we go:

1. When we get whistled at in the street, we feel uncomfortable and we’ll always tut and roll our eyes. But we’re awesomely flattered and we’d be gutted if it stopped.

Personally, I love a bit of street harassment. Nothing I like better than some sweaty ne'erdowell summing up my entire being on a scale of how much he'd like to do me. It makes all those years in education worth my while. I'm not just flattered - I'm awesomely flattered. It's almost as good as being groped by a stranger, as that really shows how fanciable you are too!

2. We will never grow out of our fascination with pop stars. A guy can be completely ordinary-looking, but we will fancy him if he’s in a band.

Yeah, that's the problem - it's not the fact you're behaving like a total cock, it's the fact that you're not in a band.

3. We are more likely to fancy a guy if his ex-girlfriends are really pretty.

4. We can be put off a guy by finding out that his ex-girlfriends are a bit ugly.

Will we? Really? Indeed, I find myself regularly thanking my husband for his choice of Evil Ex-Fiance by being shorter than me, fatter than me and being universally reviled by his entire family. By the time I came through the door, as long as I didn't set the cat alight I was green-lit all the way by virtue of not being That  Other One.

7. Here’s how to make us fall for you. One day, come on to us so strong that we’re a bit weirded out by it. Then totally fail to ring us. We’ll wonder what we did wrong, and we won’t be able to stop thinking about you.

Mmmm - I love the smell of date rape in the morning.

8. The above strategy isn’t foolproof. We may just lose interest. It depends on how much we liked you in the first place.

That's completely true. There's nothing I like more than being pressurised for sex. Sometimes it really convinces me that I did fancy you after all.

9. We often don’t know how much we liked you in the first place. We may have to wait until you don’t phone us. If we’re disappointed, it proves that we fancy you. If we’re not, it proves that we don’t. It’s like when you toss a coin to help you make a decision.

Because as a woman, God forbid I should know my own mind. We don't, us girls. Leaky and defective, as Plato said, chopping and changing our tiny little minds. We can't really keep one continuous thought in our heads! You manly men, you make decisive actions like tossing coins to make a decision. We just flit about, flighty little flibbertigibbets that we are.

10. Stop trying to understand how our minds work. Even we don’t understand how our minds work.

Men don't understand how their minds work, either. That's why we have psychology. Stop perpetuating this 'mystical irrational woman' tosh.

12. We love getting a missed call from you. It makes us feel in control.

I've been doing this wrong, too. I always thought that it just meant I had to find a time to call you back.

16. We will never discuss this with you because we are constantly scared of putting you off by bringing “us” up in conversation.

If you find yourself having this thought about a partner, my advice would be to pack your bags and leave. After hearing a friend of a friend's tale about how she'd asked her boyfriend to move in with her after five years and he refused in favour of continuing to live at home with his parents because he 'didn't want things I get to serious', I found myself stabbing tables imperiously with my finger and crying "Why the hell is she still with him? If you ask someone to move in with you and they say no, that is a dealbreaker. She should get rid of him and start again!"*

* I may have had an espresso martini by this point.

17. “I’m scared of being hurt” means “I don’t fancy you as much as I thought I did.” You know it, we know it, and that is all that will be said on the matter.

I thought that when I said this to my new boyfriend ten years ago, it was because I really really liked him, and the thought of losing him upset me. Fortunately he didn't take this as a coded message that I didn't particularly fancy him, and thus continued to go out with me, moved to China with me, proposed, married me, liked me enough to decide we wanted children, helped out once the child was here.

18. We say “we’re not manipulative” because we’re really good at being manipulative.

19. We only manipulate your feelings because you manipulated our feelings first.

Blah, blah, blah. You said that, so I said that, so you said that, so I said that, whinge whinge whine whine I haven't worked out how to communicate with the opposite sex because I've learnt all my gender politics from the Daily Mail.

20. Snoring costs you sex.
I didn't realise there was a bartering system in operation...

21. Your feet disgust us.

I believe Caitlin Moran on Twitter once announced something to the effect of 'a man with an erection won't notice if you're wearing flippers'. Similarly, unless they are rotting in some way, discoloured or giving off an unnatural stench, I do not care.

22. We shave our toes.

I do?

23. We’ve got a rogue hair that needs regular plucking.

I have?

24. We went through a phase of shaving our moustache.

I did?

25. We leave our legs unshaven on a first date so that we won’t end up in bed with you.

26. We wear big knickers on a first date so that we won’t end up in bed with you.

27. We spend entire first dates fancying the pants off you and worrying that we’ll end up in bed with you, all unshaven legs and big knickers.

I always rather suspected that if you were worth the bonk you wouldn't mind about a slightly rough leg. Or, indeed, even notice.

28. We don’t actually care that much about the loo seat.

Hurrah! 28 points in and I finally find something that applies to me!

29. We suspect that you like our bodies more when we’re carrying a few extra pounds, but we always feel better about ourselves when we lose weight. However we hate that our boobs look deflated, and we’re disgusted by the injustice of it.

I don't even know where to start with this. The whole of this list has been about things we do to 'catch' a man and trying to fit in with what they want, but now they like us with an extra slice of cake we're going to get all sniffy? Come on, ladies...

30. We envy you for being able to eat more than us and not get fat. By “envy” we mean “occasionally hate.”

Or we understand that you are larger than us and thus need more calories to maintain your weight?

31. If a grown-up woman has light blonde hair, she’s bleaching it*. You can tell that a woman is a natural blonde from her mousey eyebrows. (* OK, or she’s Scandinavian.)

Women modify colour of body hair shock! Why did no-one tell use about this before?

33. Yes we’ve got nice eyes, blah blah. Boring. We are desperate for you to compliment our skin and our necks.

I am?

34. We are even more desperate for you to write poems about us.

Unless I was dating an actual poet who was paid for their work, I would be deeply concerned that a gentleman who did this had yet to leave his teenage years behind him.

42. During breakouts we get up at 6am and cover our spots with concealer while you’re sleeping.

Again, I am of the opinion that if I am sleeping with you than you should be able to deal with my unmade up spotty face.

I believe my grandmother gave advice my mother about the morning after her wedding night. I believe she advised getting up early to put make-up on before my father saw her. I would therefore judge this practise... outdated...

43. We don’t want you to stay for breakfast. We want you to leave immediately so that you don’t have time to register how dog-rough we look in the morning.

Again, if you don't like someone enough for them to see you looking dodgy in the morning, you shouldn't be sleeping with them in the first place. Also, if you're there for breakfast, it means I don't have to get my own cup of tea :)

44. We want you to text us from your journey home to say how you can’t stop smiling.

That is nice, and good manners. Continue.

49. We fake orgasms so that you’ll stop and let us go to sleep.

Because we didn't want it really. Probably because we were just 'so awesome flattered' by you 'coming on really strong' as suggested by earlier points.

50. We aren’t always sure when we’re faking it. In orgasms, the line between fact and fiction can be very thin.

What? I'd go and see someone about that, love. You're a grown woman - you should know.

52. We find your dark-coloured bedsheets a total turn-off.

That's what turns me off - bedsheets. Nothing about you being an arsehat, it's your bedsheets, love.

Disgraceful that the whole of this tosh is actually being published by MSN. Not by trolls on the Daily Mail, by actual as if it is gospel. Maybe I'm just showing my age, or maybe I've just never been cool enough in the 'cut-throat world of dating', but it isn't making any sense to me...?

Monday, 16 April 2012

Walk For Little Legs - Walton Naze Tower Circular Walk

In which we take a short walk suitable for the Chap to toddle on (although we did have to carry him for a fair bit), I lose my week to reading The Hunger Games, and bemoan toys for girls.

Ordnance Survey Number: Explorer 184
Time: 40 mins. Little legs don't walk very fast, and we had to pick daisies too.
Distance: 1 mile

Rating: Easy Walk, suitable for small people.

Now, you will notice that some of my walks have been a bit shorter recently. This is not entirely due to my overriding desire for laziness, but more associated with the fact that the Chap is also walking now. With great enthusiasm. All over the place, although he was overcome by glee when he realised that if the right doors are open he can do a circuit round and round his Nana's house, roaring with glee every time he came through the living room door to 'surprise' us. We were shocked on each occasion, I can assure you.

So yes, this post has got a new title & tag on it - Walks For Little Legs. While I still like rambling through a woodland somewhere, and I like that bit of headspace you get when your child is in the sling and either zonked or peering about, I also like giving him occasions to do extended toddles in his weird toddler-goose-step. You could also manage this one if you had an off-road pram, or a less-high-tech pushchair and a child that doesn't mind being bobbled about a bit.

We started our walk at The Naze car park on Walton-on-the-Naze and headed towards the tower. The tower was built around 1720 and was a new and exciting innovation in the days before lighthouses, as it served as a marker for ships heading towards the port of Harwich. Standing 86ft tall with 111 steps inside, you can climb the octagonal tower to the viewing platform it between March 31st - November 4th for a small fee (or it's free if you just want to go to the tearooms inside and not to the top).

Erosion of the cliffs on the Naze
We passed the tower on the right hand side, walking along the cliffs so we could enjoy the views of the sea and spectacularly crumbling cliffs. Indeed, these cliffs are a real cause for concern, as they are eroding at a fearsome pace. As we walked along, we could make out the tops of the pill boxes left over from the Second World War that were built as defences along the coast, and that now lie on the beach. When they were built in 1940-41, they were on the cliffs. When we were there, they were covered over by the tide, although we could still see the tops poking out over the waves. With the coast eroding at such a speed, it's not surprising there's a society trying to protect the coastline, including a 'Save the Naze' charity shop in the town. All smacks a bit of the King Cnuts if you ask me, but hey ho. And while we're on the subject, did I ever tell you about the time my mother was teaching history and had to read an essay from a sweet little year 7 on the subject of King Cnut? Would have been fine had the dear little soul not been dyslexic...

Childish sniggering aside, we continued along beside the cliff, grateful that we had put reins on the Chap. He can move at quite a speed these days when he gets a run on, and it wouldn't take too much for him to get overenthusiatic near the edge and do himself a mischief.

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Spring blossom with Harwich cranes in the distance
This walk along the cliff gives you a lofty view of the sea and across to Harwich, where massive tankers arrive. It is to places such as this to which China delivers Christmas each year, and all our plastic tat is unloaded.

I avoided plastic and chocolately goodies this Easter break, but I lost most of my Easter week to downloading The Hunger Games trilogy on my Kindle. I paced myself on the first one because I was enjoying it too much and I wanted it to last, but by the second book I was struck by that sort of crazed fever that meant I had finished the whole series before the week was out.
Having seen and enjoyed Battle Royale on many occasions, I had not really bothered with the film or the book on the basis that this was ‘Battle Royale for children’. It was only after my husband mentioned that there was a twitstorm going on about the fact some of the characters in the film are black (indeed, as they are in the book) and this had surprised some people that I decided to get it because it was going cheap, what with the movie tie-in.
And thus I lost my week.
Addictive and compelling, I found it incredibly heartening for it to strike a chord with a teen market who have known their countries to be at war. I was also delighted to find that, once we encounter the rebel forces, it’s not all Ewok celebrations and perfect harmony that so let down the second two films of The Matrix trilogy. It is not black and white, there aren’t goodies and baddies, there are just people put in very difficult situations and forced to make choices. I liked it.

About 500 metres or so along this path, a grass path leads off to the left towards one of the pill boxes that still remains on the cliff and has yet to fall into the sea. You can go into it if you wish, but it appears the inside has mostly been treated as a bin and is full of rubbish. Katniss wouldn't approve, you know.

I really liked The Hunger Games. I liked the social compulsion to get married and have children, I liked how Katniss felt uncomfortable with that choice. It was something I certainly felt uncomfortable with, and my husband very charitably bought me cups of tea and nodded in the right places when I had crises a) after we bought the engagement ring, b) after the pregnancy test came out positive c) for the vast majority of the first nine months when the Chap was with us, that I wasn’t somehow Letting The Side Down by capitulating to the cultural norms; I had been interpolated into the dominant ideology. Whilst I feel the Twilight trilogy mostly centres on the importance of having a boyfriend, I felt the element of coercion in The Hunger Games – pretend you’re in love with Peeta or die – made for a more compelling story.
And hurrah for Katniss, hurrah I say, because at least she’s not flapping round worrying about her hair. She just gets on with stuff and shoots people with arrows, which is a role model I far prefer than others that we’re offered as young women. I was interested when I saw that, in line with the films, Mattel have brought out a Katniss Everdeen Barbie doll. It is for the collector’s market only, of course. Only for grownups (and, as the Jezebel website noted "a Katniss doll is sooo Capitol. District 12 kids play with twigs"). It struck me as a sad thought that, while I was growing up in the 80s we all had She-Ra to wander round and kick arses (although, let’s face it, she was not ideal as a proto-feminist icon, agglomeration of the tropes of hotness that she was, all pseudo-porn atop a gigantic pink stallion-cum-unicorn (please, let me apologise to anyone who has come to this page in hope of whatever the phrase ‘cum-unicorn’ may bring. You must be terribly disappointed.)), but who do young girls have to look to now? Barbie tries to tick a box with the ‘I can be’ range, although you have to click around for a while on the while until you find it, and even then the careers are limited (and remember, girlies, if you’re black and want to be president you need to have a weave). Who else is there? Bratz? Inexplicable  musical toy hoovers that suggest that the best thing you can do is be a pampered Princess who does her own housework?

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The larger pillbox on the Naze
Well, I'd rather be up a tree with a bow and arrow, thank you. Continue along this path past the first pill box, and continue straight on to be led in a gentle arc round to the next pill box a little further on. This one appears to have been designed to hold a bigger gun as it has bigger openings than the little slits, and what could be used as the base for some sort of larger artillery beastie (the technical military term, so I am led to believe). As it's more open, it has just been subject to a quantity of marijuana-themed graffiti rather than the rubbish dump the more enclosed one has been.

When you reach the second pill box, follow the path past it back towards the Naze tower. As we did, we passed a fenced-off section of what seemed to be a section of unmowed grass that was being allowed to grow unchecked. "A haven for beneficial insects" I gestured to the ChapDad, who has long learnt that when I say this about sections of our garden it means "I'm leaving that whole area to go to seed and will deal with it when I'm good and bloody ready, thank you." It was therefore with some degree of amusement that it turned out to be exactly what I claimed it to be: or, more exactly, a haven for Fisher's Estuarine Moth.

Once you get to the end of the fenced-off area for the moths, bear left and head back to the base of the tower, where you can end your walk with a cup of tea & a cake.

Things I Learnt

  • Fisher's Estuarine Moth! I shall continue with my 'havens for beneficial insects'.
  • Barbie has a wider range of 'careers' on offer than I thought, but it's still mostly fashion/beauty/caring professions oriented. And she's too thin to menstruate, so nurr.
  • Teen lit these days is not all Mormon sparkly vampires... I was mistaken...

Monday, 9 April 2012

Coombe Hill War Memorial to Great Missenden

In which we walk from Wendover (ish) to Great Missenden, the sun shines and everything is lovely.

Map: Explorer 181
Distance: 5.5 miles (ish)
Time: 3 hours (includes stopping for a snack)

Rating: Moderate Walk (a longer walk with map reading needed!)

I had had my eye on a walk from the Chiltern Teashop Walks given to me by Geekysweetheart for a while. However, I am a fundamentally lazy person who dislikes climbing hills, and so while the book suggests parking in Wendover train station and climbing up to the War Memorial, I opted instead for my husband to drive me to the Coombe Hill car park, drop me off and then come back to Wendover station to pick me up, so this a slightly bastardised version of the walk from that book - a) it's a bit shorter, and b) it's backwards from the direction they set out, as they go from Great Missenden to Wendover, and I went the other way.
The back of the War Memorial

Despite dire predictions of the weather descending into snow and murk, the weather was cool but sunny as the Chap and I set off towards the War Memorial. From the car park it actually means you head in the wrong direction from the rest of your walk to start with, but the memorial is always pretty and has a good You Are Here feeling about it, so we started from there.

My first bluebells of the year!

Starting at the back of the war memorial, look for the first black sign with an acorn on it leading you along the Ridgeway to the ridge off to your right. There are very pretty views over fields and hills, and it was mercifully not a windy as it could have been. After the third black Ridgeway post, turn left through a gap in the hedge, cross the open grass and follow the path into the trees that leads you back to the car park. Once you reach the car park, cross over it into a National Trust owned area marked Lower Scrubs. Follow the main path into the woodland - I was surprised to see the first bluebells out, and while the woodland isn't yet carpeted in them yet, it will be in a week or two.

Continue along this path for a few hundred metres (ish) until it meets a wider path running from left to right across it. Turn right and continue through a woodland of twisty turny trees, and bear left when you come to the fork. I followed the path out of the area of the woodland where the floor was carpeted with plants to an area where there was only dry leaves and bare earth on the floor. The path ends at a fence, with a path running alongside it. Turn right and head along the fence. It was a beautiful morning, the Chap had been asleep for about 10 minutes, the sun was shining, the birds singing in the trees, and it all looked very pleasant.

Last week was all very doom and gloom, so a lot of this week has seemed to conspire to make me see that all people aren't complete swines. All three of us went to the Turkish restaurant in Tring for lunch the other day. They're fantastic with kids in there, and we ended up with the waiter tying a helium balloon to the back of the Chap's trousers and playing peekaboo with him in and out of the tables while we ate! The balloon was also very helpful seeing where he'd got to among the tables. I wouldn't normally let David run around restaurants, but when an enormous betattooed Turk (with picture of his two children on each forearm!) instructs you to sit down & enjoy your meal because the little one is fine, you do as you're told! Not only that, but while we were in there a couple that we had met from dance classes years ago reintroduced themselves and offered to babysit for us if we ever wanted to go out dancing because they know how hard it is when your children are little - while their daughters entertained our son by gratuitous peekaboo and balloon-waving. It was really heartening a positive.

Once you're on this path, it's pretty straightforward when it comes to map reading. All you need to do pretty much is head straight on for a fair while and you're set.  Continue along this path for a while - I also noticed that, like my walk on Pitstone Common at Ashridge the other week, there appeared to be a number of old, gnarled trees as this path appears to be on another old boundary line, or so the old earthwork would suggest.

You continue forward along this path until you reach the village of Dunscombe. You arrive in Dunscombe by walking out of the woodland onto one of their narrow roads, and immediately I decided the place should be made illegal for just being too pretty. Just too English woodlandy villagey place. Honestly, as I followed the path off the road, then down the backs of some houses and out onto the 'main' road, I even saw it has one of those tiny cutesy Churches surrounded by daffodils and primroses, and old signs up with ducks and geese hanging around the bottom, as if waiting for a photo op.

The path goes along the side of the tiny church, and then continues along a single-track road (the sort that has signs on saying motor vehicles shouldn't be driven on it). Follow this straight on into more woodland - Scrub Wood that then runs into Hampdenleaf Wood. The Chap had been awake since Dunscombe, and was beginning to make some complaint, so I decided it was time we stopped for a snack. Now, crawling babies are one thing, particularly if you just have to stop for milk, but the Chap now walks and needs real food. I looked for a suitable glade or something, a convenient bench, but nothing transpired. I could see what appeared to be a field at the edge of the trees, so when a path led off to the left I followed it in hope it would lead me to a space where the Chap could have a snack and a runabout.

Although we couldn't get into the field because of a fence, the path I found myself on proved to be perfect - it was one of those with a fence on both sides, far enough away from civilisation for there to be no dog poo, but also no nettles and minimal brambles. The fence on both sides meant he could toddle about, but in very controlled directions - no danger of him falling down a hole under a tree stump or anything. We had a sit and a picnic (I even felt confident enough to give him a small yoghurt, which can often be messy and awkward), I changed his nappy (and his trousers... there'd been a bit of a leak) and then he did a spot of investigation.

Once we had packed up all our rubbish to take him, he then walked with me for a bit. He was very excited by holly leaves, but also very keen on my boots - he kept bending down to point to his little shoes and then to my big walking boots, as if to say "Look, I've got shoes, too. And you've got shoes! And I've got shoes! How exciting!". He's a toddler; he's easily amused. It was adorable.

Bamboo & forsythia

He soon got bored of walking, however, so I hoisted him back into the sling. Continue forwards through the woodland until you pop out into another small cluster of houses. Cross the road and bear slightly left (but still straight on). The area we were walking through changed completely, as we were now flanked by holly bushes. The path then opens out to walk you along a wide bridleway alongside some fields. As ever, I was briefly distracted by the need to take a Botanical Interest photo (my poor husband suffers from these regularly when we go on holiday) when I spotted some bamboo growing by the side of the road - a plant not usually common in the wild in the Chilterns, I wondered how it got there...

Early hawthorn blossom
We were passed by a couple of horses, and then followed the bridleway signs along more woodland and then down a steep slope. In due course, the bridleway ends and a pathway leads off to the left. Despite not one but two clear signposts, clearly labelled 'South Bucks Way' (the path we were following), I managed to bimble gaily past this and down the hill until I found myself in Ringshall Farm and felt a bit of a wazzock. Not least because I had to pass the same farmer twice, with a "Hoo hoo, what a tit." demeanour, but I also had to climb back up quite a steep slope.

The woodland I went into was beautiful, however, because all the bluebells were out, and the smell was fantastic. I could also see there was a lot of wild garlic about, but as that won't flower until later in the year, I was safe to enjoy the smell of bluebells without a hint of garlic. Later in the year this whole place will smell delicious, but not quite in the way it does now.

Once out of this woodland you reach an open area of grassland - turn right and head downwards, and the town of Great Missenden should hove into view. Continue to the bottom of the hill, and then bear left across a field to a tunnel under the railway line. The path you are on will now lead you onto the road and Great Missenden - turn left and follow the pavement to the mini-roundabout. Cross the road and turn right towards the train stations - at the time of writing, a single back to Wendover costs £3.50 and the train leaves from platform 2.

Things I Learnt

  • The bluebells are coming out! Yay!
  • I seem to be getting less annoyed about stuff in general now I'm back at work. Clearly there are more things to distract me!
  • Bamboo! Loose in Buckinghamshire! How long before it starts to get a grip and become a problem plant, I wonder? Or will it be fine? Who knows...