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...

Friday, 6 April 2012

Tasteless Knitwear For A Hot Water Bottle

Apologies if you came by to read this earlier and found a blank post. Blogger and I are having some... issues... I ask it to schedule something, it schedules it and then promptly moves it to drafts rather than publishing it. Or, when I try and get it to post, deletes the whole thing. Grr...

Anyway, some times ago when I was last ill and my husband had been sent out On A Mission for things like tissues and cold & flu tablets, he also returned with An Unfeasibly Large Hot Water Bottle. It's marvellous. The old one had sprung a leak having survived 10 years of duty as well as the noble service of warming my feet while in labour, and it gave up the ghost.

The positive thing about the replacement Unfeasibly Large Hot Water Bottle is that, being Unfeasibly Large, it stays warm for ever. Or a long time, anyway. The negative thing is that no standard sized hot water bottle cover had been built to take the job on.

Armed with my newfound ability to knit, I adjusted an easy pattern I found in a book (thank you, ability to use ratios) and have knitted an Unfeasibly Large Cover to go over it. Did I march in and cry "Bring me the most tasteless wool in the shop?" I hear you wonder. And how will I ever manage to sleep over the noise of the colour scheme? Time will tell...

Monday, 2 April 2012

Bedford Gurdwara and River - A Short Circular Palm Sunday Stroll

In which we take a short post-Sunday lunch stroll around Bedford Gurdwara, and I get all annoyed at people who think it's their right to shout at other people in the street.

Map: None used
Time: 30 mins
Distance: Not very long... half a mile?

Rating: Super Easy Walk. I didn't even have to change my shoes.

This walk was only a short one, and doesn't require special shoes., but it does fill the important gap on a sunny Sunday afternoon in between having lunch and it being time to justifiably go and get an icecream.

We started our walk at Bedford's Guru Nanak Gurdwara and headed along the path to its left towards the river. The Gurdwara is worth a look in itself - it's a fabulous white meringue of a building diagonally opposite a mosque; in fact, the whole of Bedford appears to fold its arms, raise an eyebrow and say "So, that whole thing about multiculturalism not working, eh? Explain that to me again?". Which is nice, really, because while me and my friends were wandering round feeding ducks, going to the park and then hunting down Kulfi icecream and sating my ever-keen lust for gulab jamun, another friend who is half Chinese-Malaysian elsewhere in the country was having vile children shout ethicity-related insults at her and her children while the father of these little delights watched on.

"Do people still do that?" announced my husband when I told him what had happened. Sadly, indeed so. Again, this was a man who late at night in Euston station asked me why I wasn't eating the crisps we'd just bought, and I had to tell him that he'd never been a woman over a size 14 seen eating anything as the pubs chuck out. The less gentlemanly members of society can be quite vocal if they see you doing that. So sadly, yes, people do shout at others in the street. It's shit.

Bedford river. Not enough ducks.
Anyway, walking. Head past the Gurdwara and continue towards the river. The view was only slightly marred by a group of drunks appearing from under the trees and throwing their cans on the grass. Once at the river, we glared balefully at the river for having a lack of ducks to feed, but it is very pretty nonetheless.

Turn right along the path by the river towards a number of really beautiful willows, much enjoyed by small children for running in and out of. As you continue along this path, you get further views of the Gurdwara.

I'm about to sound really middle class here, but it's the lack of manners that gets me. Who do these people are who think its fine to yell abuse at others? Well, sadly my friend found the answers for me this weekend - they're the ones who have been doing it since they were kids and their parents don't correct them. If in years to come I had found my son shouting anything at anyone in the street I would have some serious words to say to him about my disappointment in his behaviour.

As we continued along the river and did find some ducks to feed, and the view was very pretty.

A few years ago, while waiting to have a meeting with a couple of female students, another male student from another department made a leery. lairy comment at my girls as he passed. I gave him my opinion on this subject and later emailed his tutor reinforce the message about the lack of appropriacy of this behaviour in a learning environment. In the classroom with my students, I apologised on his behalf and reiterated how this was completely inappropriate, and they pretty much shrugged and said "It wasn't all that bad."

It was their acceptance that upset me; this was their life. Having total strangers make smutty comments was normal for them; it was a minor annoyance, like making tea to discover you've run out of milk.

Not long down this route, the path moves slightly away from the river, and a path leads off the the right, doubling back on the route you've taken. Follow this path under the willows, and then take the left hand fork leading you to the path you first came to. Turn left and return to the Gurdwara.

Things I Learnt

  • Bedford is the place to go to source a number of delicious sub-Indian continent related sweeties. This a good thing. They are also highly calorific in their deliciousness, and therefore must be saved for special occasions!
  • Where are all the ducks when you want to feed them?
  • Just don't shout at people in the street. It doesn't make anyone happy. Go home and have a cup of tea instead.