Friday, 30 September 2011

The Aldbury Circuit. Part I

In which I fail to walk all the way round the village of Aldbury, deal with a pretty unpleasant nappy and consider the compromises of parenthood.

Ordnance Survey Number: Explorer 181
Distance: 2.5 miles approx
Time:75 minutes (Includes feeding and changing time)

Rating: Easy-Moderate. Steep ascending/descending and map reading skills required, but as my skills are very poor indeed and I managed it, I would rate it as probably pretty idiot-proof.

I intended to do a walk that went all the way around the village of Aldbury, but events conspired against me and it was only a short one this week - I'll have to do The Aldbury Circuit Part II at some point.

The village of Aldbury is incredibly chocolate box-ey. It doesn't do Cotswold stone, but in all other aspects it ticks the boxes. Duck pond, cottages, cute pubs covered in flowers from window boxes, rolling countryside, it's got it all. It's also got a set of stocks and whipping post next to the duck pond, which doesn't quite fit with the 'tranquil idyll' theme, but does at least show what the villagers used to do for a good time before the train line to London was put in nearby.

Turn your back on The Greyhound Pub and bear left past the duck pond, and turn left at the junction. In a few metres you are signposted up a bridleway which will shortly lead you to a moderate climb up the side of a Chiltern through some atmospheric woodland.

The route down can be quite steep
in places, so apply common sense.
You will shortly come to a crossroads - take the right hand path following a fence for a little while. The path splits into  high and low routes - it doesn't matter which you choose, as both end up in the same place. I chose the high road (in the hope that I'd be in Scotland afore ye, although my route might not be the most direct) because it seemed better trodden. As I passed through the woodland, I disturbed a couple of fawns that bounced away - the deery sort you understand; when I find Mr Tumnus I'll let you know. The high road also takes you past a convenient bench for feeding babies upon - I didn't at this stage, but it's always nice to know it's there if you need it.

Follow this route until you come to a cross roads- carry straight ahead between two high banks until you pop out on Toms Hill Road. Cross the road and continue down the path (signposted Bridleway 14), and follow the path until you appear at the edge of the village. It was somewhere along here that it became patently clear that the chap was really hungry. Those little signs only a mother would notice, such as chewing lavishly on fingers, and sticking them so far down his throat there was occasional gagging. Subtle little hints.

I'm of the 'feed when the baby asks, not by the clock' school, so I was pretty keen on finding somewhere to feed him - a convenient treestump, or something off the path would have done. Having done all this descending, it's time to ascend again, so you take a sharp turn to the left and start going up the side of the hill again. Don't blame me - I didn't mark out the footpaths.

The convenient bench
The view from
the convenient bench.
On turning the corner, I was delighted to spot another bench, so disengaged the chap and set about making up the milk. I'd made up a fresh bottle of water to cool in the knapsack (val-de-rie), but it was far, far too hot, so I ended up making up the milk and then waving it round with one hand while trying to distract and hold on to a very wriggly chap with the other. After much faffing and flailing, the best option seemed to dilute it (against manufaturer's instructions) with some cooler water from my bottle to get it drinkable and stop what was now a pretty consistent and grating grizzle.

Milk cooled with 30ml of water, I set about trying to feed the chap, who then continued to be awkward about getting a latch (probably because the milk was still a little too warm for him). I also realised at this very moment that there was quite a - ahem - serious nappy to be dealt with.

Any port in a storm.
Preparation: Fail. Must try harder. Upon examination of the contents of the knapsack, I discovered that while I had nappies and baby wipes, I was lacking a change mat and nappy sacks. Rubbish! You can tell I was never a scout. What I did have, however, was one of those shopping bags that folds down into the shape of a strawberry, which proved to be a useful impromptu change-mat-cum-nappy-sack.

It is, of course, the very moment you're elbow-deep in nappy changing that the only dog walker you meet the whole walk decides to trip gaily past with two enormous German Shepherd-style dogs.

"Don't worry!" He cheerfully cried. "They're quite friendly!"
"I'm not sure this nappy is." I replied.

Nappy dealt with, the chap then got a latch on his bottle and had enough to satisfy him before I popped him back in the sling and he promptly fell asleep. I continued up the hill, bearing right until you pop up on a hairpin bend further up Toms Hill Road. Head a little down the tarmaced bridleway before veering off to the right back down the hill. When you come to the crossroads, keep heading down the hill by bearing right - you will soon escape the woodland for a nice, clear path passing some farm buildings. Continue to follow this path across Newground Road.

My original plan for the walk was to continue to power straight on towards Station Road and then take a right along that, but frankly, I had had enough. I had hoped that the walk would be done by lunchtime, but it was already 1.15 and I was only halfway round my planned route. To top it all off, there was a slightly dodgy looking bloke wandering in the next field and I couldn't be bothered to find out if he was really dodgy in veritas or just someone who looked weird. I gave up and turned right through a metal kissing gate and followed the path along the field boundary until I popped out in Stony Croft in the village, where the bins were currently being collected. Following the road straight, you pass the Valiant Trooper pub and arrive back at the duck pond.

In theory, this should have been a pleasant little walk. The sun was shining, I was out walking, the views were picturesque, the chap had shut up for five minutes and wasn't whinging: in the end it just felt like a bit of a stressful faff. I could have done without the feeding/changing frenzy in the middle, really - it sapped my strength and enthusiasm for the whole enterprise. I was little disappointed, to be honest; I rather felt that the baby had 'beaten' me.

I often get hung up on the concept of 'coping' and what 'coping' looks like. I sometimes feel that if I am not floating round Buckinghamshire on a lily pad with immaculate hair and back to my pre-baby weight, baking a tray of biscuits with one hand and hoovering the carpet with the other, while my child gurgles contentedly and I have a permanent rictus of delight from the joy of the whole experience, then I am not doing it right. I don't know quite where I've got this idea from. I was trying to explain it to my husband the other night, and it feels a little bit that although I've never been bothered by the magazines that say wear this/do this/look like this, suddenly since having a baby I've become vulnerable to all that. Having a child is like having an enormous, raw wound that everyone feels they have a right to come up to and inspect and tell you exactly how youre doing it wrong and what you should be doing to make it heal. Gah! A pox on it all, I say. Send them to the Aldbury Stocks; the rotten veg is on me.

Things I Learnt
  • Do check your bag before you leave. Just because last time you wandered up a hill it had all the requisite stuff in it doesn't mean it's all still in there.
  • Having an 'escape route' in case you get fed up is a good thing.
  • The moment you have to do something really awkward is just the moment someone walking a dog will turn up to witness it.

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