The calm after the storm

Returning home from today’s adventure involved the big boys snuggled under a blanket in the back of the car, Daddy folding his cycling jacket in half backwards and sitting on it and Mummy making use of the car’s hot air blower system into the footwell and baby sat in his car seat giggling away and that he’s stayed clean and dry. An emergency fast food takeaway followed, the promise of which had got eldest son through the last few kilometres of our expedition. We’d been on a family cycle: Our first one for a while and the perfect opportunity to use our new 4 bike, rear cycle carrier. It was a beautiful winter’s sunny day. It was also the morning after Storm Bella raged through Hampshire.

We decided to tackle some of the Meon Valley trail again, this time from the Corhampton end. (We had a delayed start, while we overcame several teething problems with the new equipment. Then baby fell asleep in the car, but all was not lost when the boys clocked a play area and skate park to entertain them while Daddy unloaded and youngest son snoozed.) Access to the trail would take us down a flooded country lane. This body of water was definitely less ‘large puddle’ and more ‘accidental ford’. The road was covered. Unfortunately, the road was also uneven and had a rather large pothole at the side of it – of course we didn’t know this until we hit it, put a foot down to avoid falling and then felt it plunge into ice cold water. Two minutes in to our cycle and there were soaking feet everywhere. Eldest son attempted to avoid a similar fate and managed to get his front wheel stuck against the bank as he rounded the corner. Happily, a passing dog walker – wearing wellies – assisted and sent us on our way.

We’d been warned about mud. There was indeed mud. We hadn’t counted on quite so many fallen trees blocking our path though. Some we were able to move out of the way; others we found a way around; yet more required climbing over, armed with muddy bikes. Lifting over my bike while our 15 month old infant was still riding shotgun on it, was quite a mission; but with two adults doing the lifting and two small boys shouting ‘helpful’ instructions and running in circles, we made it unscathed.

Realising how close to lunchtime it was, we made the decision to turn around once we reached the Soberton section that we’d visited during the summer. The water level in the river was particuarly high so middle son and I amused ourselves by watching a herd of cows elect to cross it in a line. It was edge of your saddle, nail biting stuff. When one of the smaller cows had a little slip in the fast flowing water, I even held my breath. I am pleased to report that every cow made a successful crossing.

Cows crossing the River Meon

Catching up with Daddy and the eldest should have been simple, if middle son hadn’t felt the need to dramatically fall sideways off of his bike as a protest to an amiable couple daring to walk past on his preferred racing line. This technique is tried and tested for maximum attention. He does enjoy going down like a sack of spuds before reaching out helplessly.

A quick pitstop to refuel with fruit pouches and fruit bars and a rather unfortunate time for the sun to hide behind the nearest cloud. When you stop, you realise how cold finger tips and toes are. The boys also realised they were cold. So began the “I’m too cold to cycle home” tantrum. Typically, we were about 6 km from the carpark at this point. Mummy tried the usual tactics: gentle encouragement, challenging them to a race and brutal honesty. These all failed. Enter Superdad. He promises one a McDonalds if he can make it back and cycles alongside the other pushing him gently along. However, the crying level of our 4 year old was increasing and his ability to balance was apparently decreasing. The odds of making it back like this were against us. It wasn’t a surprise when we didn’t. Husband then came up with possibly the most genius of plans. Place child on back. Carry small bicycle. Ride large bicycle. All at the same time.

Superdad in action!

Middle son found this new method of transportation worthy of a beaming smile and we arrived back at the car without further incident, unless you count the fact that we’d brought enough mud back with us to fill a large bathtub, we’d run out of sunlight to wash the bikes AND the washing powder box was empty!

Posh hot coffee to reward Daddy after he saved us from the pickle we were in. This design from T&Belle summarises the situation perfectly.

Technology free navigation

Apparently eldest son’s love for maps is contagious. After examining and expanding the map selection at work then using a friend’s map to identify a rather elusive footpath, I am now the proud owner of my very own old fashioned OS map. It’s like being back at school in my old geography classroom.

The first few minutes after opening it up consisted of finding our house. Most people do this as standard when presented with a new map, despite their home being the one place that they can quite clearly locate without assistance. This was followed by the search for places with silly names – again inspired by the part of me that never grew up.

Finally we could move onto choosing a destination for our first ordinance survey themed adventure. We found a part of the South Downs way, where there was a conveniently placed car park and footpaths that looped round back to the starting point. We like to avoid linear walks if we can because it’s impossible to convince the offspring you’re nearly back to the car if you are yet to turn round!

Early on, the sky caught the boys interest when we spotted multiple gliders circling over the Harting downs. We were not the only spectators. At least 4 hairy caterpillars were spotted making their way across the grass. The boys felt they required closer examination – I was a little concerned they were dangerous and made the kids promise not to touch them. After some googling my suspicions suggest they are ‘Drinker moth caterpillars’. Disappointingly, they are named because they like to drink dew from grass stems not because they enjoy knocking back a few colourful shots! N.B. Happy to be corrected on this identification by a caterpillar expert.

The caterpillar inspection

Our next discovery was a random gate. No fence. Just a gate on its own, in the middle of a wide open space. Eldest son wanted to climb over it. Middle son chose to go to the right of it, while I went round it on the left. Meanwhile youngest son (and the hubster) felt the need to go through it. The path here led us down to Whitcombe Bottom. We found prickly dens (too small for the grown ups), a hill to roll down, fallen trees to balance across and a wooden circular fence supposedly housing a pond. Upon closer inspection, there was no interesting pond life, not even a lone duck – hardly surprising given that this supposed pond was currently the size of a mediocre puddle.

Next we began a rather arduous ascent through the trees. Eldest son began complaining that his feet hurt, meanwhile middle son claimed that it was just too steep for him. OS map came to the rescue when we reviewed the contours (which are marked in orange – his favourite colour), and surmised – from the way they spread out after the bend – that we must be near the top. We celebrated by finding another tree to crawl along. As you do.

The return route featured the acquisition and appropriate allocation of Daddy sized, Mummy sized and baby sized walking sticks. Goldilocks would be proud. Our newfound equipment wasn’t much use to us when faced with a fallen tree across the path. Although the boys made short work of going under it, I managed to get my 6ft4 frame stuck when attempting to copy them! As a result, I needed to back out and follow my husband – who’d done the sensible thing and found a route around.

Our final encounter was with a herd of cows, who I’m sure appreciated the visitors, plus the added bonus of amusing youngest son.

This was the point when middle son developed a fascination with electric fences. We were required to discuss how they work at length and study the warning signs and picture. Normally, I like to encourage my children to investigate first hand instead of giving them the answers. But on this occasion, I thought it wise not to, preferring my little dude in non-toasted form.