Saturday, 10 September 2011

Pitstone Windmill To Down Farm (Circular Walk)

In which I enjoy views of the Ivinghoe Beacon, the Aylesbury Vale and some sheep, do some dodgy map-reading and think about the concept of Should.

Ordnance Survey Map: 181 (Chiltern Hills North)
Distance: Approx 5 miles
Time: A little under 2 hours

Rating: Moderate

Before you start walking - as well we all know once we have got halfway up a hill only to realise that these socks are really rubbing and maybe some plasters would have been good - you should prepare. Doubly so when you're choosing to lash a baby to your belly and march across some form of Down/Chiltern. So, at 9.30 with The Chap just planning to doze off for his morning nap, I decided what I needed was a knapsack. Oh yes; no backpacks or rucksacks here. It was going to be that sort of a walk today.

So, this was my plan - half a litre of water, 210ml baby milk, nappies, travel change mat, nappy sacks, baby wipes, charged mobile, house keys, umbrella (serious walkers will laugh at me here, but I'm sticking with the brolly; it served me well in the past, most memorably on a particularly ill-advised and wet jaunt up to Top Withens on the Yorkshire moors), camera, map.

The walk starts and ends at Pitstone Windmill, the oldest windmill in the British Isles, and being located in the incredible flatness of the Aylesbury Vale, I'm not surprised; the wind whips across here at quite a pace. If I had corn to grind I'd be whacking a windmill here, too.
What this picture doesn't show you is that round the back there's a rather jaunty cherry-red wheel that, when functioning, allowed millers to swing the whole of the top of the wooden structure around to face the wind. Out of this field you have to hop across the B488 onto the other side of the road and continue left until you reach a sign telling you that it's 1.3km/0.8miles up to the right to reach the Ridgeway national trail.

It was on this route towards the Ridgeway that I became aware that I was being gently poached, and, not to put too fine a point on it, overheating and sweating like a pig. It was at this point I hit a dilemma and started thinking:

Do I stop and take off the knapsack and the sling and the baby - who had just nodded off 5 minutes ago - to remove a layer of clothing (all right, I admit it, it was a fleece. Wandering up a hill with a baby on your front and a knapsack on your back is not a look I plan to rock at the next London Fashion Week), or do I continue up this hill in a state of sweaty discomfort? Whose needs do I put first - the need of the baby, who is sleeping, or my own need not to be roasting to death?

I'm afraid, gentle reader, I chose my own needs over that of the baby. Essentially, I thought about it and decided that, seeing as the baby had just gone to sleep, he would shortly go to sleep again. I, on the other hand, was just going to get hotter and hotter until dehydration, heat exhaustion or spontaneous combustion occured.
But this is, for me, a problem. Because I sort of feel - and I'm not entirely sure where I've got this idea from - that I should spend my entire time subsuming my every waking moment to his every whim, and to do anything else is a Terrible Thing. A mother, we are taught to expect, is Selfless in caring for her child. How dare I resent not being able to go to the opera any more! I should welcome the repetetive round of feeding and cleaning, and gleefully allow myself to roast to death in a fleece because it is all For The Good Of My Child. How dare I object?!

Carriers with sleep-hoods for the win, I say.
Well, pish. It was lovely without the fleece as I continued up the rise, the breeze blowing and a small, awake chap peering up at me from under his sleep hood.

His expression does not appear to suggest I am a terrible mother. However, if you want to see a baby looking really confused, you should remove them, sleeping, from your chest and lay them down on a leather knapsack in the middle of the field, only for them to peer up blearily at you. The last time I saw such an expression of disgust was when he tried to chew the cat.

As you head towards the Ridgeway, you do get some nice views of the Ivinghoe Beacon, and upon reaching the summit (ish) and joining the black signposted national trail, you can turn around and have a look at the flattened landscape that is the Aylesbury Vale. I'd put a windmill down there, if I was them.

I turned right, away from the Ivinghoe Beacon and continuing along the route which, if I went on long enough, would have had me pitching up in Avebury. Crossing a minor yellow road, I observed that someone had taken to the time and effort with a permanent marker to note that the tump coming up was  'Paul's Knob'. Whilst it certainly lacks the impressive stature of some kaarst landscapes which we walked through when we lived in China, if this wide knoll 202 feet above sea level is to scale, I'm awfully impressed.

Continuing along the Ridgeway a few hundred metres, I thought about a conversation I had with my mother the other day in which I rang my hands about not doing all the things I feel I should be doing. Part of me feels I should have practically moved into the Children's Centre and should be spending all my time at Baby Bounce and Rhyme and Baby Signing and Baby Yoga and ooo, I don't know, Baby Introduction To Renaissance Verse 1509 - 1659 or whatever they're running at the moment. But I just don't want to. I take The Chap out to interact with my NCT people once a week (or sometimes once a fortnight), and I take him to see one of my Uni friends who has a baby 5 months older with about the same frequency, and that's pretty much it. I don't want to spend all my time being dictated to by the Tiny Emperor; I want to be able to go out or wander round or cook dinner or do the ironing when I want to. Frankly, when you have a small person whose needs must be catered to, doing anything when you want to is some sort of achievement that should be celebrated by at least a cake, or possibly champagne.  But I sort of feel that This Is Wrong. This Is Selfish. How will he ever be socialised? How do I ever expect him to hold down a job or a functioning relationship in the future if I haven't gritted my teeth through the tambourines and shakers of Baby's First Symphony Orchestra every week? How's he ever going to find anything to put on his UCAS form?

Down Farm farmers doing some ploughing.
I was distracted from these musing by a well-signposted footpath diverting to the left away from The Ridgeway. Going through the gate and crossing the field, you get a view of the route you will take back along a line of trees.

 I like Autumn. I like watching farmers plough up fields, I like all the apples, I can get virtually evangelical about pumpkins and other assorted squash.

Half of the field I was crossing at the time had been ploughed and half of it not, and was absolutely full of chalk and flint.I have a friend with a degree in geology who gets very excited about such views, and will leap gleefully around until he finds an appropriate piece of chalk and then lecture you on how it is the fossilised remains of a track left by a long dead prehistoric worm. Maybe his mother spent all her maternity leave in Baby Prehistory Soft Play - I hear a new one may shortly be opening somewhere near Wendover.

The track joins the field boundary and follows it in a curve until you reach the corner of the field and pop out onto the same yellow road crossed earlier. Turning left up this road for maybe 500 metres (?) you finally come to a right hand road that also comprises the footpath that leads you right through the middle of Down Farm and then continues sharply up a wooded path.
 It was at this point that my great 'skill' at map reading came to the fore. Two paths diverged in a wood, and I took the one that appeared to follow the field boundary as directed by my map. I discovered, as the path became more and more overgrown and finally ended in a barbed-wire-topped gate, that I had gone the wrong. Clearly this evidences the fact that my mother never took me to Baby Orienteering and so by the time I reached the Duke of Edinburgh's Award stage, that ship had sailed. Evidently I would never be able to, say, enjoy a little light rambling across a Chiltern modelling the latest baby-knapsack-tracksuit bottoms-fleece fashions to an unsuspecting Three Counties public. Anyway, a bit of scrambling up a bank (naughty) got me back onto the correct path; you are led left through the trees and out to finally rejoin the Ridgeway national trail at the point where you originally joined it. From then on it is a mere skip down the way that you came up, admiring sheep as you descend. I have never seen a sane looking sheep. They all look like they just paid a clever marketing person to create a big fuss about BSE so no-one would notice that they are, in fact, not the full toolkit.

I realised as I reached the Windmill again and ended the walk that I had been very scathing about baby based activities; more scathing than really I feel. If that works for you, go for it, go every day! My argument is not with people who love a Children's Centre based activity, it's with my own head. I have yet to find Children's centre/baby based group activity that I enjoy, but I feel I should be going to them For The Benefit Of The Baby. But, at the end of the day, I don't like it, and forcing myself to do it makes me miserable. So I won't.  

Things I Learnt
  • I am not very good judging distances on an Ordance Survey map.
  • I need to let go of the things I think I should be doing and just do the things I like. The Chap does need to see babies so it's not a massive shock when he goes to nursery in 2012, but I don't need to hare around organising him a huge social whirl now. He is not Oscar Wilde.
  • Blueberry baby rice cakes are not an appropriate walking snack for a grown person. Some form of high-calorie munchie needs to come with me next time.

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