Friday, 2 December 2011

Totternhoe Quarry (Circular Walk)

In which I admire the chalk landscape around the Totternhoe Knolls, see lots of pretty coloured berries and unburden myself of my fear of putting The Chap in nursery. Sorry for getting all maudlin. It happens now and again (indeed, it happened the other day, and my husband made me google pictures of Aidan Turner until I shut up. "Stop reading the interviews!" he cried. "Just look at the pictures of the hot man.". To my shame, I must confess I quickly became distracted from Mr Turner and we ended up watching videos on The Hobbit blog, which I think illustrates why my husband and I get along so well).

Ordnance Survey: Explorer 192
Distance: 3.5 miles approx (not sure yet as I've misplaced the map. Will get out a bit of string when I find it and will let you know).
Time: 90mins (still feeling a bit ill)

Rating: Easy-Moderate Walk (Bare minimum of map-reading!)

I should have been going to Occupy London this week, but from Monday - Tuesday I was so full of cold that it was all I could do to leave my bed, let alone traipse round London I was fine by Wednesday, but the thought of venturing into the capital while the strikes were on and risk being kettled with a baby did not appeal. Ideally, I wanted to avoid a conversation that would sound something like this:

"Let me go, Officer! I was just going for a walk!"
"Past Occupy London on the day of the strikes, madam? What's your job?"
"Well, I'm a teacher."
"Member of the Union, are you?"
"Well, yes, but honestly-"
 "Grumpy about your pension are you?"
"Well, yeah, I'm going to have to work until I die and frankly, I've seen the way 16 year olds treat all teachers over, say, 60, and I think the last 15 years of my career as I work up to 75 are going to be horrific."
"So, you're a teacher, a Union member, sympathising with the strikers and you just happened to be walking past Occupy London on the day of the greatest mass-Union action in your lifetime? And you're not involved? And this one's got bells on it, darlin'".

So instead I left the ChapDad heading off towards to picket line and went and hid in the Totternhoe Quarry/ Knolls. Actually, I'm doing a lot of hiding at the moment. I'm not sleeping well, and it's almost completely to do with the fact that, when I return to work, I am going to have to put The Chap in nursery. It makes me feel sick. It terrifies me. I have a barely-contained panic about it. In fact, when I think about it I find myself sort of... running in my head, looking for doors, looking for a way out. It stimulates my fight or flight, and it all happens in my head.

I parked in the Totternhoe Knolls car park (follow the brown signs from the B489), which also has some picnic tables. These must be appealing when it's not December.

Leave the car park from the back (through the gap in the brown fences) and climb the steps. As you come through the fence, turn right up the rise for a very short distance  When you reach the main path, turn left and then take the next right down a wide-ish byway that takes you in between a field on the right and part of the nature reserve on the left. Continue down this road for about a kilometre.

The ploughed field and a chalk cliff left from
quarrying, looking all lunar landscapey.
I like walking. Walking is simple. It drowns out the noise in my head. You have the world, and you have a picture of the world on your map, and you look at the picture and see how the world matches it and then you go, step by step by step by step and it is all so beautifully simple. The fear is simple too, of course. I feel so panicked about having to leave the Chap in nursery that some days I fear I will start to scream and if I let that happen it will never stop. It's strange to try and explain it, because my work is part time, and what with the ChapDad sorting out his hours it looks like the Chap will only have to be in nursery for a day and a half. A day and a half! How ridiculous to get wound up about it! It's nothing! We went to a Bumps & Babes thing on Monday and within ten minutes he was on the other side of the room, as far away from me as possible and investigating something with wheels! Frankly, put us in a room with other babies and I may as well not be there - there are much more interesting people to be poking in the eye. But what it feels like is that there's something in me hardwired, something evolutionary in me that tells me this is all so wrong. My mother sat in a pub after dropping me off at University for the first time and cried into her half pint, and now I understand why. Because there's this thing, a voice in my head that when I start thinking about putting the Chap in nursery cries mybabymybabymybabymybaby. Something primeval in me is crawling up the walls and telling me that to leave my child is all wrong.

But there's no choice for us. The mortgage doesn't pay itself on the ChapDad's salary. Or at least, the mortgage does, but there's no heat or light or food or Counsel Tax or petrol or electricity or water or travel.

Pass by the wooded(ish) rise on your right an continue down the road until you reach a byway that heads off to your right. After doing this, you'll be on this road for quite some time, so you might as well settle down to plod, plod, plodding and enjoying the pretty berries standing out on the now leafless hedges.

The weird thing is, I panic over a day and a half of The Chap in nursery, but if I think about it, and I did have a choice, I think my choice would be to return to work. Money no object, I would happily tootle off to work and leave the Chap with a childminder/nanny and not have a second thought about it. It's the concept of nursery that frightens me. The more my life has continued, the more education has gone away from teaching people stuff for the joy of it and more standardised tests, more measurement, more institutionalisation. Every level of development is assessed and fretted over. And I feel sick that my child will have to go into that, particularly so young. Everyone's child goes into the machine and 4, and that I'm sort of prepared for. When we were thinking about having a baby, what we'd do with it when I had to go back to work wasn't something we even thought about, to be honest. It's fine! I thought. By one, he's won't even be a baby any more, he'll be a toddler! He can hold his own for a day. And yes, it's probably true. But the voice in my head cries mybabymybabymybaby, and it will cry that from the first time he goes to nursery, to his first day at school, to the day he leaves home. I never expected having a child to feel like this. I never thought it would be so... raw...

One grey view you pass by on
the long road around the knolls

Finally you leave the chalk grassland behind and start to head down a tarmaced path along the side of a green field, heading towards the outskirts of Dunstable. The path forms a dog-leg to the right, and shortly after this you come to a cross-roads from which you can see the Ivinghoe Beacon and the Chiltern's Gateway Centre.

At this crossroads, turn right and continue along this path. When you come to another crossroads, turn left heading towards the big white chalk cliff you first saw at the beginning of the walk, although now from this angle it looks like this.

When you reach the end of the field, turn right and climb up the rise that has had part of dug away to make the cliff, enjoying views of the plain in one direction and Dunstable and the Downs in the other. The rise isn't arduous, and we were soon at the top and on our way down. As you descend, you will recognise the path you met at the start of the walk. Turn left down the road you came up and pop back through the gap in the fence to descend the steps back to the car park.

Dunstable and the Downs.

Things I learnt

  • Being a grown-up sucks. There's a lot of fretting about the world and the country and our situation in general to be done.
  • The fact that my go-to name for this area is the 'Totternknoll Hos' and my husband's is 'The Rottentrolls' clearly indicates which one of us has spent more time in nightclubs, and which spent part of their youth painting the occasional Warhammer figurine.
  • Chalk is grey, berries are pretty colours, and wandering around near both is a generally good distraction. Better than moping around at home, anyway. Although should Aidan Turner wish to come round and offer some distraction, I could see if I have a window in my schedule...


  1. I think you'll find that Rottentrolls has nothing to do with Warhammer and everything to do with this:

  2. Right... I'm afraid I was too busy doing my GCSEs and A Levels to have been watching this, whilst you, Sir, were enjoying your University career...

    So, to amend the above:

    "clearly indicates which one of us has spent more time in nightclubs, and which spent more time watching children's TV and messing about on messageboards". Fair?

    In conclusion,