There were three sorts of people down in the Forest at the weekend:
The Somewhat Filthy
The Moderately Filthy
The Somewhat Filthy were the parents of the most of the Moderately Filthy and some of the Caked.
Most of the people who had walked more than twenty steps from their car were Somewhat Filthy, as the grass was nicely squelchy and most of the paths featured pools of mud of varying depths.
Those who had ventured on longer walks of any description turned into the Moderately Filthy, with tell-tale brown wet spray up the trouser legs from small companions’ puddle-splashing or a rapidly passing Caked Dog – spaniels are most effective – distributing mud indiscriminately over nearby pedestrians.
Moderately Filthy included those who had performed spontaneous acts of comedy for their friends by losing their footing. They wore the evidence on their backsides or coats, featuring both the point of impact and the length and intensity of slide. To be fair some of them were Moderately Filthy veering uncontrollably towards Caked, with multiple skid marks on elbows AND backside indicating major sustained moving contact with the ground.
All mountainbikers or indeed any child with a bike were Caked in the truest sense; pretty much head-to-toe chocolate brown.
A group of four cyclists sitting around a picnic table had left their helmets on probably because it was impossible to remove them, what with the straps being secured with essence of quagmire. One of them had a thin goatee beard, also caked. Some nice, full suspension bikes were parked up nearby – unrecognisable due to extensive caking.
But, sitting people-watching outside the caff at Beechenhurst Lodge, no-one looked unhappy. All this rampant filth is to be expected when the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, is about as wet as I have ever seen it, the tapestry of dead bracken and sleeping woodlands interlaced with lively rivulets and brooks rushing to get somewhere, cascading with vigour where there are usually hesitant dodgy-prostate trickles.
As always, the kids were the most fun to watch. The determined toddlers in their all-in-one waterproofs, stumbling heroically towards the deepest puddles taking no notice of mum’s shouts so she is forced to instruct dad “Get after ‘im or im’s goin in there any minute.”
I admired the strategy of the slightly older toddler, repeatedly throwing the football back into the water to watch dad having to enter the lakelet again, ruining his best trainers in the process.
And I liked the style of the older, rampant under five’s whose idea of fun is to run full pelt into the muddiest morass so that every child and adult within a quarter of a mile feels at least some of the effect.
I had a bit of a flash back to son no 2’s early days. If he’d been there, he would have been Caked and at least partially naked. When he saw water he always began to strip off. A puddle, a stream, a lake, the sea. Any kind of water would do.
It wasn’t so bad when he was a sproglet. You could always catch him as he began to divest, detrouser or unbutton.
But when he grew up a bit, he learned that if he got far enough ahead of us, he’d be able to leg it, undressing as he ran in order to go crashing into the water before we could prevent him.
There a photo of him somewhere in the house of him running along the shore of Ennerdale Water in the Lake District wearing only his sweater and one walking boot prior to entering the water. He’d already cast off his other boot, the sock, the trousers and pants.
Of course, it was the kiss of death to any decent walk, having a four year old with no dry clothes; we all had to just turn around and trudge back to the car. One time we’d taken an hour or so to prepare for a day’s hike with the boys up Glen Rosa on the Isle of Arran. Mozzie repellent, boots, rucksacks, sarnies, drinks bottles, sweets, crisps. Everything had been thought of…apart from the risk of no2 son plunging into freezing, rushing burn, which, of course he did, fully clothed within the first ten minutes.
He broke the record for being a complete pain on a visit to the Cotswold Water Park. I’d gone prepared with five changes of clothes. In less than two hours, he’d got through the lot and we had no option but to return home. He sat in the back of the car wrapped in the last dry towel, naked, shivering yet bizarrely happy.
Give conditions in the Forest on Saturday, he would undoubtedly have been Caked. Maybe Naked and Caked but definitely Caked.
PS Son no2 is a wakeboarder now. I gather it’s necessary to keep some clothes on. At least, he tells me he does.