Warning: this post may contain more countryside than you’ve ever experienced on this blog before. Get used to it. This, my friends, is life in Zone 4.
But don’t worry – it’s the kind of countryside I can handle. It’s a few minutes’ walk from a station (Chingford in this case) and it has a cafe that sells red velvet cake. It’s not quite “The Wicker Man” yet. But you’d be forgiven for having that creeping sense of dread when you leave Chingford behind and see miles of nothingness ahead. Is that an effigy of me fashioned from some kind of basket weaving material? No, it’s just a tree. I get confused, as does my urban-raised boy. “What’s in the forest?” he asked, as we left civilization…possibly for the last time. I replied that there may be a swing. “And a slide?” he chirped up. Probably not, no. “Will there be dinosaurs?” Well yes, if you pretend there are. “I will find the dinosaurs and use a diplodocus as a slide!” Well, there probably won’t be any actual dinosaurs there. Or slides, and certainly not dinosaurs who function as slides. It’s just a forest. A pause and then….”I hope there’s a bench there.”
Remember my #1 parenting technique….keep their expectations low. I told him there may or may not be a bench…we’d have to see. That built up the suspense a little. But as we walked up the hill, using muscles we’d never encountered in Kennington, he muttered about how boring it was in the forest. Well, right now we’re not in the forest Reuben, we’re on a main road. But I get that you don’t have much experience with the wilderness, hence the confusion. My poor inner-city kids – proficient with an oyster card, but helpless in the face of an unmade path. And the buggy is even more helpless in the face of an unmade path, but we’ll get to that.
It really was a few short minutes to the place where we were meeting other folks…but whiney 4-year-old minutes go on forever. Eventually we got to the top of the hill, where there was a huge “Fayre and Square” pub (I do have a weakness for cheapo pub grub!), next to Elizabeth I’s hunting lodge, built in 1543. A strange juxtaposition, and one I struggled to explain to Roo as he didn’t really get how long ago the Tudor period was. Not as long as the Jurassic Era, no. It’s all about the dinosaurs at the moment, in case you can’t tell. I blame that Andy guy.
We passed the pub and the hunting lodge and found Butler’s Retreat – a charming little cafe with a lovely cake selection. But we were here to embrace the great outdoors, not to eat cake so Roo put on his waterproof trousers, we met the group of parents we were looking for, and headed down towards the lake and the hollow tree. The knackered buggy protested slightly at the rocky path, but as usual I’d packed far too much to just put Eva in the sling. I think maybe we’ll drive next time – there is a car park just opposite Butler’s.
I was worried that Reuben would get bored quickly but no, he loved it. There were lots of other children there and together they turned the hollow tree into all manner of shops and cafes. Eva was asleep, which seems to be a running theme this week, but that meant I could follow Roo round and rescue him when he got his wellies stuck in the mud. Or more accurately, I could ask other, more appropriately dressed, people to rescue him. I don’t even own wellies, despite just having lived through the wettest winter in the history of man or dinosaur. I did have some, but there were more hole than welly, and got chucked during the move. Luckily, others were more prepared, and they hauled him out. Several times over.
He enjoyed mud-paddling, and pond dipping….but mostly he loved the hollow tree. He ate his snack in there, and was disappointed that he’d had lunch at home so he couldn ‘t have lunch in there too:
Of course, once Eva woke up she wanted a piece of all of this action….tree climbing, mud-paddling…all of it. So, I stuck her in a tree and she seemed happy:
And then she went into the lake up to her knees, and got her wellies flooded with cold water. She was less happy. I think I need to get me some of those waders…to dry off, we went to find the tyre swing, which Reuben had a lot of fun with, both swinging on it himself and pushing the other boys. Whether the other boys had fun is up for debate.
At some point – I forget when – Reuben made one of his game-changing announcements, that saw us beat a hasty Butler’s Retreat back to the cafe. Luckily, it coincided with a huge rainstorm, which had passed by the time we were done with the business in hand (not a quick manoevure when a boy is in waterproof trousers). Stepping back out with our red velvet cake in hand, it was gloriously sunny again. Not warm. But sunny. And we had cake, which Roo insisted on eating in his tree…obviously.
We didn’t stay too much longer, with the wet-socked girl and the tired
Mummy boy but we’ll go again. I can’t believe how quickly my little urbanites adapted to the wild and enjoyed themselves. Well, they have always been part-feral…