The unexpected horrors of Halloween

We’ve been chaos free for a little while now. I am pleased to report that today made up for it. We visited the stunning grounds at Exbury. Our trip did not pass without incident.

We had several factors that were working against us: the relentless rain – a disadvantage of having to book ahead, overtired boys – following early mornings and later bedtimes, and the fact that I hadn’t checked the ‘seasonal status’ of our location. The problem with October half term is that more and more places are now going all out for Halloween, with scary decorations etc. This is great for the majority of children (including middle son), but for the few children who get scared easily and struggle with all things spooky, it can be somewhat problematic. There was panic even getting through the entrance (adorned with horror figures). Next, the bitter disappointment for my little steam train enthusiast upon discovering the the engine had now become a ghost train that he wouldn’t go near.

Once we’d established the places to avoid, I was very impressed with Exbury Gardens itself. A beautiful place full of adventures. Ours started in water…obviously.

Baby turned 14 months today and clearly decided this is a good age to do his own exploring, despite his slow little toddle – the type that results in a wobble or fall every time you cross uneven ground. Evidently he hadn’t read the signs explaining that there were 20 miles of pathways here and felt this was a sensible distance for such little legs to tackle. Every time I tried to put him back in the pushchair he would cry in protest! In contrast, middle son wanted to be in/on the pushchair, even eldest son kept plonking himself on the little footrest at the front. Sometimes I wonder how this pushchair has survived so long without buckling! So, after a few hours of exploration, we headed for the play area with the 4 year old in the buggy and the 1 year old trotting along beside – all whilst trying to shield the 6 year old from all things scary near the rock garden.

Youngest son absolutely loved the wooden play zone. I think it had something to do with everything being wet, muddy and slippery. Handfuls of mud and bark chippings also have an appeal. Rain means faster slides. He made several attempts to go down forwards. Luckily mummy was wise enough to anticipate a head on collision with the ground and assisted him adjust to a seated position.

Lunchtime was interesting. Hand washing three pairs of hands with a combination of water poured from drinks bottles, baby wipes and sanitiser would have been more successful if they didn’t find the dirtiest surface within reaching distance to touch immediately afterwards. I’d managed to supply the whole family with waterproof trousers, so sitting on a wet surface shouldn’t have been an issue but the drizzle meant the small people elected to eat inside a little hut. ‘Little’ being the operative word there. There was no way baby would sit in a civilised manner, this meant I also had to bend my ridiculously long legs into the damp wooden playhouse and hold the baby on my knee with one hand whilst organising, opening and handing out picnic food to the big two. Youngest son was in a ‘wriggly’ mood so a large portion of food ended up on the floor. Further food was discarded on the back of my head as I bent down to pick up the first lot. Having successfully fed the littlest one and cleared up the mess I started my own lunch. Approximately 2 and a half mouthfuls later and my smallest child got restless gesturing towards the slide again. We were back on the move.

The after lunch toilet trip was even more interesting. We found a baby change facility that fitted us all in. Middle son was desperate for a wee, however waterproof trousers with straps over the shoulders take significantly longer to remove when you have a jacket over the top and an elder brother using the tiled floor as an ice rink – evidently taking the opportunity to conduct his own friction experiment. All I wanted to achieve was a nappy change for the baby and avoid middle son’s clothing ending up on the floor.

Many sensible people would have given up at this point and headed home. As we’d driven so far to visit, we continued onwards, hoping to move the hide and seek game that the older two were now engaged in…away from the toilet block. It was a good decision, as it meant the children discovered the giant bell, found the crooked tree, went on a stick hunt, scaled tree trunks, playing more pooh sticks and hid amongst bushes.

Then, when we were at possibly one of the furthest points from the exit, middle son decided he could walk no further and collapsed dramatically on the grass making accompanying groaning sounds. I managed to coax him onward and he began the slow crawl on his forearms (much like a zombie from the ‘Call of Duty’ game). He was briefly amused by a selection of pretty flowers before doing a vanishing act, while I was talking to eldest son on the stone bridge. As it turns out, he’d felt the best course of action was to sit himself at the bottom of a muddy ditch – as you do.

He was done walking. He was adamant. The sense of relief that I had my double buggy with us was indescribable. (I’d only brought it having run into trouble earlier in the week when off-roading – the wheels on the single are not suited to mud, but that another story). Middle son sat beside his baby brother and within 5 minutes they were both fast asleep. Somehow we made it back to the tea room to provide eldest son with a hot chocolate. I never thought sitting outside under a dripping shelter could be so relaxing until today.

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.

Converting a standard outing to an adventure

My children love to explore. As I’ve mentioned before, they’re just not keen on walking any distance in order begin an exploration. Yesterday, we were only going to the nearby woodland, but ended up having to begin a scavenger hunt outside the front door to motivate them enough for the ‘long’ 400 yard trek.

Walking on its own is “just boring.” All walks must be converted to an adventure. Perhaps the simplest type of conversion is by adding an object hunt. I’m often feeling lazy and choose a nature one from online (but equally you can make your own seasonal one themed to the area you are visiting).

When going for a coastal walk, I find myself appreciating the scenery far more when I’m half looking out for random boats, benches, seagulls and ferries sailing towards the horizon. Eldest son is quite inquisitive so we often end up discussing some items from the list at length – such as the black lighthouse (that isn’t actually a lighthouse but an old mill). There have been other conversations such as the one about sea barriers and flooding; it only occurs to you later that your child is likely to announce something along the lines of, “I know what a dyke is.” It’s then you cross your fingers and hope that this happens when looking at a picture of sea defences and not as a random announcement.

Another favourite of ours is a number hunt. For this, you need nothing but a sheet of paper with numbers on, although a pre prepared hundred square is even more convenient. This is suitable for any walk around town or simply when you are trying to get from A to B in a suburban area. In the words of the CBeebies show, ‘Numberblocks’, numbers really are everywhere: telegraph poles, road signs, houses and bus stops are all excellent places to start searching.

If you have a bit more time, or walk the same route often, you can generate clues for the children on the way. This is quickly becoming a hobby of mine and now I can’t help but spot different shapes or coloured mini landmarks to become part of a treasure trail.