One particular film scene that really captured my attention as a kid came from Crocodile Dundee. Grizzled bushman Mick pretends that he can tell the time by observing the position of the sun. In the movie it is a trick. The charming chancer sneaks a sly look at his business partner’s watch before claiming to read the sky. But I always wondered whether it was possible. Thirty years on, I am sure it must be because I have developed a similar skill in real life. I can set my watch by the five things that always happen on a walk with children.
If there are any positives to take from the coronavirus pandemic, one of them is the newfound acceptance of spending the whole working day in your pyjamas, and another has to be the opportunity it has presented us with to explore our local areas.
We live in Burley-in-Wharfedale, near Ilkley in West Yorkshire, and we are lucky to have so many spectacular routes on our doorstep. However, one walk in particular has captured the imaginations of the entire family. And we rarely all agree on anything. Seriously. It takes about three hours to pick a film we all want to watch.
Our Favourite Lockdown Route
We deliberated, cogitated and digested for weeks before settling on the Walkshire route that suits us all best. Eventually, the walk along the old railway line from Burley, crossing Otley Golf Club and returning to our village via the footpath that leads to the Otley Old Road won out.
It has everything. Trains for my locomotive-obsessed three-year-old lad on the section where you walk parallel to the current railway, trees and nature for my seven-year-old daughter, a budding naturalist, and beautiful views across the expanse of the Wharfe Valley that us parents appreciate as we emerge from the wooded canopy by the golf course.
And, having enjoyed that walk with children in all seasons and weathers, I can categorically state the exact point at which all of these events will occur. Like clockwork.
Five Checkpoints on a Walk With Children
1. Taking an Hour to Get Out of the House
Obviously this occurs before we begin. I have never understood how it can take us so long to leave the house at the same time. It might be understandable in winter, with gloves, scarves and hats to find, but it also happens in summer.
No matter where children put their shoes when they come home, the footwear instantly disappears and hides. Usually, the pairs split up and take up position in two separate, tricky-to-find locations, just to delay your exit even longer. Surely there is a research team at one of the great Yorkshire universities looking into this exact problem right now. I am keen to read that paper.
Once everyone is fully clothed, you ask the all-important question, “have you been for a ‘just-in-case’ wee?”. The answer is invariably “no,” so the children take off their coats and gloves to oblige and the whole process pretty much begins again.
2. There Will Be Mud
Have you ever seen footage of dowsers attempting to discover sources of ground water using those v-shaped sticks? Well, children don’t divine water, but they do have a natural and highly tuned ability to seek out mud wherever it may lay.
This is understandable in winter as this is Yorkshire after all and the rain is all part of the charm of that time of year around here. But even following a Yorkshire heatwave (definition: two days of sunshine), they will uncover any patch of sludge there is to find en route, no matter how miniscule.
This occurs within seconds of us heading away from the residential streets and climbing up onto the old track bed. It is preceded by parental warnings that they will have to suffer wet feet for another couple of hours’ worth of walking, but that always falls on deaf ears. Every time.
3. Someone Will Fall Over
No walk with children is complete without someone falling over. Usually a child, but sometimes me. The paths are uneven, there are jutting tree roots and, let’s face it, children are always in danger of tripping as they charge about and release some of that energy they tend to store up.
When it is a child that tumbles, there is an assessment to make. Is it sufficiently serious to turn around and go home, or will it be okay once you’ve bribed them with sweets and fizzy drinks for pushing onwards? It’s almost always the latter, but either way, are you even a dad if at this point you don’t look sorrowfully at the injury and say, “I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to amputate?”
This is usually just before we cross the A65 Burley to Menston road for some reason. Perhaps it is the point where they are so engrossed in running around and having fun that they forget about the need to do something as silly as look where they are going. The same goes for when I’m the falling victim too, by the way.
4. “You Brought the Wrong Snacks”
Once we have crossed the A65 and we are walking through the woods on the edge of Otley Golf Club, I deem that we have made it sufficiently far to reward ourselves with snacks. The initial burst of energy is on the wane and we all need a boost.
However, whatever I bring to replenish ourselves, it’s the wrong snack. Every time. If I bring apples, they want bananas. If I bring bananas, they want apples. Same with chocolates and sweets. Even if I asked them what they might want before we set off, that has changed by the time we reach this point on the walk and I should have pre-empted that when packing the bag.
Short of lugging a suitcase filled with the contents of the newsagent’s confectionary aisle around the Yorkshire countryside, there is no way of avoiding this.
5. “Can I Go On Your Shoulders?”
Eventually, once the disappointment dies down, they eat the treats and that energises us to carry on. We cross the golf course (making sure we use only the marked paths, avoid interrupting players mid-swing and keep an eye out for eagles, albatrosses, bogies and other potential hazards) and make it to my favourite part of this walk with children.
You get to stroll through a meadow with spectacular 360 degree views filled with lush green landscapes, sweeping around from the Otley Chevin, past Burley Moor, round to Weston and back to Otley itself. With the cattle and sheep grazing in the pastures and the dry stone walls dividing the fields, every time it provides the proof I need that we were spot on when we decided to move here.
And then I am shaken from my reverie by those six words. “Can I go on your shoulders?” The three-year-old simply runs out of puff this far in. We have walked more than two miles by this point, so it is no surprise. But as I eye up his mud-caked footwear and consider how recently I washed my coat, it is far from an enticing prospect.
Still, I lift him up and think about all the good that the resistance training is doing me on the mile-long slog back home. My thought process is only broken by his occasional comments about how I could “speed up a bit if I tried.”
Then it’s back home, hot chocolate on the go, coat in the wash and kids’ shoes scurrying around the house ahead of the next family trip in Yorkshire. Then we snuggle up on the sofa to watch a film. Minions? No. Frozen? No. Trolls? No. And so on for the next three hours.
Maybe I could tempt them with Crocodile Dundee next time…