Water magnets.

I’ve deduced that my children have magnetic properties. They naturally repel any activity that is calm, slow paced and results in them staying clean and dry. In contrast, they attract to water. The muddier it is; the stronger the allure. We’ve only reached day four of the summer holidays and they’ve found themselves soaking wet every day so far. First there was the outdoor pool that beckoned to them, then there was the enticing sea waves, yesterday was a rainy day complete with multiple puddle splashing opportunities. Finally there was today…

The Meon Valley Trail

We’d gone for a family adventure down the Meon Valley trail. This beautiful trail was perfect for us to explore on our bicycles, because not only was the setting pretty idyllic (when you’re in need of a bit of freedom), but also fairly flat: eldest likes to whine about not being able to keep up with his brother, if faced with the slightest of inclines. As steam train enthusiasts, my boys were also excited to learn that this path was actually an old railway line and we did a little detective work, searching for evidence of this. We found two original sleepers at the end of the track and an unidentifiable metallic structure suspected to be from a set of old ‘points’.

The damaged archway

Husband expressed mild agitation at the amount of times the boys felt the need to dismount, abandon their bikes (usually in the middle of the path) and explore something new. It would seem there was a lot to explore. Points of interest included a new ‘humps and bumps’ discovery, the collapsing arch held together with wire, picture clues from one of their books at home, and a path to nowhere. Every bridge we passed underneath immediately turned into a quest to find the way up onto it, leaving mummy waiting below with the deserted two wheeled transport.

Finding a route up onto the top of a bridge.

At one point, middle son found an interesting looking slope and was eager to see what he might find at the top, so he set off with husband in pursuit. I stayed watching eldest son, who was in the process of disappearing behind a tree up the opposite bank. Unable to follow him as youngest son was sharing my bike with me (and unsurprisingly his legs don’t reach the ground), I asked my first born to go slightly higher up the bank past the tree – so I could see him. His response: ‘I can’t’. Upon further inspection, I become aware that the ground he’s standing in was not nearly as solid as the rest of the vicinity and significantly boggier – unlike anywhere else we’d passed (give or take the odd muddy puddle). Except this was no puddle, it was a vast quagmire! Eldest son was fairly centrally placed, doing his best flamingo impression. By the time it had dawned on me that the mud had pulled his shoe off and he was probably not far away from toppling and obtaining a face full of sludge, husband and middle son were back on the scene. Obviously middle son’s instinct was to try and join him – this predicament looked ‘fun’ apparently. We persuaded him to stay on the path, while Daddy began the rescue mission. He maneuvered several solid sticks into stepping stones to prevent meeting a similar fate himself and retrieved eldest son minus a shoe. A return to the incident epicentre and accuracy with another stick ensured the remaining, elusive piece of footwear could be returned to its rightful owner.

Spot the shoe which, at one point, was completely submerged in mud.

Our next discovery was a clear, running stream. It caught the boys’ attention and they were quickly down the bank investigating. Middle son requested a turn on the rope swing, while eldest gently threw pebbles to make ripples. He’d discovered a little beach type section where he could be level with the water. Of course the temptation was too great and it wasn’t long before he was paddling. His theory was that this was essential in order to clean the mud off his shoes. This small section of water was so exciting the boys didn’t want to leave. I find it peculiar that my child, who removes his T shirt or trousers completely if they have a tiny splash of water on them, was content to plunge his feet into this stream while his shoes and socks were still on. Middle son managed not to fall in but he did manage to pedal through all five of the sparse puddles scattered throughout the whole route we covered. In doing so, he got stuck in one of them and took the opportunity to spray mud splatters right up his back in the others.

Fun by the stream

The trip ended with both of my bigger boys caked in mud and with exceptionally soggy feet – just what you expect when you go for a cycle on a gravel path on a sunny, dry day.

The Swamp

The start of February half term, renowned for being wet and cold, is also when you expect all indoor places to be incredibly over crowded. So instead we opted to invite some friends over, with a view to going outside (regardless of the weather) after lunch. After several games of dressing up, hide and seek and an indoor picnic; eldest boy, middle boy, youngest boy, mummy, her friend and her friend’s 2.5 children were ready to go. If your offspring have a tendency to become slightly feral in the afternoons then there is nowhere better than the great outdoors. We took the 5 boys to explore the heath near our home. Somehow I’d ended up sending both sets of eldest child’s wellington boots into his school. So, in the aftermath of Storm Dennis, we were prepared to get wet. The friend I was with was forest school trained so nothing could possibly go wrong. She was equipped with welly boots and a backpack. I was possibly a little less prepared with a baby strapped to my front and a packet of wet wipes.

We had great fun on our exploration: chopping through the brambles, splashing in puddles and investigating which items float and sink. Assorted feet had already slipped into the mud and youngest boy had a rather well placed splash mark on the centre of his forehead. We also learnt something new from our knowledgeable companion. The knopper gall wasp produces knobbly brown galls on acorns – if you’re interested. Next, we opted to follow a raised footpath, mimicking trains as we did so, until we came across a large mass of muddy water. Too wet for a bog, I’d like to call it a puddle but given the enormous size of it, ‘pond’ might have been a more accurate term, except for the absence of the ‘token duck’ swimming in it. So perhaps the word ‘swamp’ is a better descriptor. It was at this point that eldest boy made the single, fateful decision to push middle boy in. Only a gentle push, but that was all it took. Stumbling forwards, away from the safety of the raised pathway, he initially landed on his feet. There was no time to consider any form of relief, as he continued to slip in the murky slime, eventually landing up to his armpits in muddy water. I’m incredibly grateful to my friend who promptly returned him to solid ground. Now dripping a mixture of tears, bog particles and rogue bits of rotten grass; he stood there wailing. We were able to distract him by another stick search and a passing puppy dog. He made a swift recovery and continued to play ‘sticks in the mud’, that was until it came to walking back. He refused. Point blank.

Trying to persuade him to head back seemed to take decades. This would have been fine, if at the end of them he’d actually been closer to home. In reality, he’d managed a 180 degreee turn only. Diversionary attempts (including finding larger sticks, having races, looking for other puddles etc) all failed. He just kept whimpering “I don’t want to walk!” on repeat. His comments weren’t entirely accurate because he didn’t want to hop, skip, run or crawl either! I know this because I attempted to try and persuade him to try any of these methods. Of course, what he actually meant was that he wanted to be carried. Now weighing over 20kg – probably significantly more if you count the galleons of water his clothing must have absorbed – I contemplated the feasibility of trying to carry him and youngest son home from here. I thought about putting him on my shoulders but couldn’t bring myself to allow his saturated shoes to drip foul smelling, dirty water over his baby brother’s face as the little dude snoozed innocently in his sling. On spying a conveniently placed bench, I came up with a new plan: removing middle son’s rancid shoes and socks and using this seat as a means to allow my soggy child to climb onto my back. When he couldn’t even lift his own leg halfway to bench height (primarily because he was refusing to bend his knees) I also aborted this plan.

The minutes that followed involved various attempts to take his hand and coax and encourage him forwards. Although I expect to the casual observer, it might have looked more like I was just dragging a crying boy along. Mirroring the paralysis caused by a venomous bite, his movements decreased and decreased. At one point I was holding one of his hands, while my friend took his other hand and his feet stopped moving altogether. We called it ice skating – his shoes glided across the pavement. Except there was no ice, just friction. Then he lost the ability to support his own weight and crumbled himself into a little ball by the kerb. He felt cold and his protesting got louder. It was at this point it began to rain again.

Youngest son was snuggled in his baby carrier under our kangaroo jumper. Removing all three of these items meant I could pass this precious bundle to my friend – who had offered to carry the little one the remainder of the way. So now down to my short sleeved shirt, I lifted my heavy, drenched preschooler in my arms and struggled the remaining distance to home. I really wished I had some kind of upper body strength. Middle boy got a kilogram heavier with every step I took and the lactic acid was building up. I’m pleased to report we did make it back, with all 5.5 children still in tow. Once inside, I’m ever grateful to my smallest boy for being so happy and smiley when I left him (still snuggled in a cosy bundle) in the lounge doorway while I sorted a warm bath for medium sized boy. Biggest boy had now begun crying, as it dawned on him that his friends were leaving earlier than planned. Washing load on, eldest boy entertained with lego, middle boy thoroughly cleaned and youngest boy attended to, we were all feeling a bit happier and the four of us snuggled up to read a Tinga Tinga Tale. Our verdict on this adventure was a unanimous – “Let’s do it again soon!”