Flat shoes. Can’t overrate them enough. Abseil ropes? Something else that I shall carry from now on.
I had packed carefully for our trip to Durham University as I knew there’d be a lot of walking. Our younger daughter has been offered a place there for September and was invited back for a post-offer day this week. It’s a long ol’ journey – it took us nearly five hours, but it’s such a lovely place that we didn’t mind at all. In fact, we turned it into a kind of mini break. We booked into a hotel on Tuesday night ready for the 9 am start on Wednesday morning.
Durham, like Oxford and Cambridge, is a collegiate university. Our daughter had selected a college to apply to without ever having actually seen it. We had been to Durham’s Open Day in the summer but hadn’t got round to visiting every college. As the college tour started at 10.30, we had a bit of time to spare and decided to have a look at the sports centre first, which was right on the edge of the action – just where the town ended and the countryside began. We left half an hour to get back.
Well, now my tale turns towards my husband.
Unlike me, he has a very good sense of direction… most of the time. However, our hearts invariably sink when he announces that he (thinks he) knows a short cut. As we were heading back along the main road, the very road which we had followed to get to the sports centre (which, in case you have forgotten, is in the middle of the countryside), he stopped at a pathway which disappeared into woodland on our left. There was no signpost, but, he assured us, it was going in the right direction and would be a short cut to the college.
So, off we ambled in the morning sunshine, kicking through the leaves, admiring the view to our left – fields of horses and far-reaching vistas, while on our right was steep woodland. We had walked quite a long way, without a sniff of civilisation, when I suggested that this might not be The Way.
But, hey, what do I know?
On he marched, and on we trotted behind him. On several occasions, I brought up my concerns, but it was only as the woodland trail began to curve to the left that he reconsidered his conviction.
‘Oh,’ he finally declared. ‘It’s heading in the wrong direction.’ It was as though the path had deliberately misled him about its intentions.
‘I did try to –’
He glanced to the right and his eyes travelled up to the top of a very high, very steep slope.
‘All we have to do is take a right here to get us back to where we should be.’
‘But there’s no path –’
Undeterred, off, and up, he scrambled. My daughter, a gymnastic mountain goat, skipped up behind him and I brought up the rear, my over-sized, over-stuffed handbag weighing heavily on my right shoulder and throwing me off balance as I began to climb.
No matter how many steps I took, the summit seemed impossibly far. The reason was that, with every step, I was sliding backwards. Although the surface was covered with dry leaves, underneath was cunningly concealed, slippery mud. I muttered loudly as I teetered and tottered, my arms spiralling like windmills as I tried to maintain my balance. But then the slide of all slides began to pull me, feet first, back down to sea level.
There was just no stopping me. My knees eventually wedged into the mud and my hands sank beneath the leaves. That halted me all right. Did my fellow mountaineers help? No! They did not. They just took pictures as my hair dangled in the mulch.
Suffice to say that I eventually made it, and that when we did emerge from the deep, dark forest, we weren’t that far from the college.
At every tuft of grass, I stopped for a boot rub down, but I don’t think I made the best impression as we arrived to a meet and greet with refreshments. My boots were caked in mud, my knees were dirty, and I was still brushing off humus from the zip of my handbag. I probably had leaf-mould in my hair, too. Who knows? I avoided hand-shaking as we introduced ourselves, preferring to cup my brown hands around a white china mug of coffee instead. And for the rest of the day I picked mud out of my nails.
The moral of this story is: Never veer off the path, as Red Riding Hood would confirm. Oh, and never take a short cut with my husband.