Let me set the scene. It was a lovely Sunday morning and after a week of rain and drizzle, the sunshine was an utter novelty. My husband and I agreed it was the perfect day for a walk in the countryside. We haven’t lived in this area for long, so we’re always up for an opportunity to explore further whenever possible. I’d heard of a nice walk that ends up near a local beauty spot, comprising of woodlands and a waterfall.
The realities of leaving the house are difficult. A bag of nappies, spare clothes, snacks, drinks, just-in-case jumpers, favourite cuddly toys is a must as well as the necessary trio of phone, keys and money. The shepherding of two small children into the car should be easy but my youngest treats this as a game of extreme hide and seek. When I get near her to lift her into her car seat, she shrieks and runs in the opposite direction. This is a daily occurrence, and no amount of telling off/cajoling/bribing has stopped this cycle. On a nice relaxed day, it’s quite amusing but on a day that you’re already late, in torrential rain, it’s not cute. It’s often the proverbial straw that shatters the camel’s vertebrae. So, by the time all four of us were in the car, buckled in and raring to go, my husband said “you know where you’re going, yeah?”, I replied: “of course” and hastily typed in a vague location to sat nav.
The woman on sat nav guided us to a promising-looking car park where we found a space and unloaded the children and the bag. When I questioned the nearly-two-year-old about what mode of transport she preferred, she insisted on walking rather than buggy, so we left it in the car. A decision we’d live to regret.
We started off well, on a smooth, wide path. We meandered pleasantly, pointing out flowers and butterflies and stopped briefly while the younger one inspected some rocks. I’d like to say that I’d packed a nutritious, yet delicious array of sandwiches and homemade organic flapjacks, but in reality, all that was to hand was a huge bag of giant marshmallows that had been languishing at the back of our food cupboard. Marshmallows in hand, we set off in search of the waterfall.
Soon, my husband began to stare at Google Maps in a perplexed manner. “I think we’re supposed to be back the other way”, he mused, unconvincingly. He then started turning in circles, watching the little blue arrow that represented us dart around the screen. We retraced our steps and found ourselves at a wire fence which separated us from a national railway line. With no safe way of crossing, we agreed we’d (I’d) parked in the wrong place and we couldn’t physically get to the waterfall from this side of the railway line.
Not to be deterred, I re-upped everyone’s sugar hit with a Monster Mallow and we set off to discover the delights of this side of the railway line. My husband made a beeline for the woods, keen to rediscover his youth of making a den and pretending he was a soldier. The kids were equally enthusiastic so we prematurely declared the outing a complete success.
A little way into the woods and we discovered burnt out bonfires, old beer cans, broken glass bottles and empty crisp packets. Not quite the picturesque idea of unspoilt countryside. We took a detour, both convinced we were definitely heading in the direction of the car. Instead of emerging from the woods, back to path, we actually seemed to be heading further in, with the path narrowing and growing steeper. The younger child spotted something of interest, and went to investigate. Luckily, I managed to get to her before she managed to retrieve two empty laughing gas canisters from a tree stump.
Soon the children were tiring and beginning to complain with more fervour. I was getting weary of stopping the children from fiddling with discarded drug paraphernalia. It was time to take charge. My husband manoeuvred our 3-year-old into a piggy back and I hoisted the 1-year-old onto my shoulders. As I mentioned before, she likes a game. This time, she decided that covering her mother’s eyes with her hands was hilarious. I didn’t find it quite so entertaining, trying to both keep my balance and stopping branches from smacking into her face. We finally exited the trees after half-scrambling, half-crawling through branches, looking like we’d been dragged through some kind of sadistic army bootcamp. We navigated a broken wired fence, stumbled onto the path and blinked in the sudden daylight. A man walked past with a large, muzzled dog and nodded “alright?”.
I set down the child from my aching shoulders and brightly told her we were nearly back at the car. She was tired from the walking, slightly manic from the marshmallows and cranky from her missed nap. It was a perfect storm and she began the mother of all tantrums. It was such a corker that my husband videoed it as evidence for her 18th birthday. The shouting was akin to the child in The Exorcist. It was not quite human sounding. There was a lot of foot-stamping and the word “no” was spat at us in a surprising number of variations. There was arm-flapping, and finally she threw herself to the ground in a rage. To be fair, she was just expressing how we all felt at that moment and once she’d exhausted herself enough to get near her, I scooped her up and carried her back to the car.
The car has never before looked like such a shining chariot. A means of escaping hell. It may be a 1.1l hatchback that is too small to accommodate a family of four, but to me, at that point, I loved it like it was a golden coach being drawn by winged unicorns. I think I may have heard angels singing.
We got the children strapped into their respective car seats and my husband and I got into the front seats, exchanging relieved glances. We were a mere mile from our intended beauty spot. How could a mile create such a difference in experience? We made a mental note to not take such chances again.
The smaller child was snoring before we even left the car park. As we left behind the burnt-out bonfires and some of our self-respect, a little voice piped up from the backseat: “that was a lovely walk, Mummy and Daddy. Can we do it again tomorrow?”.