Coo, this clay is heavy. After a good deal of waggling – or is it wiggling? – my leg is once again mobile. But simply lifting the mud-caked foot requires the strength of a superhuman; the weight of the boot – needing both arms to lift it – is like constantly dragging a medium-sized child around with you. I’m sure you all know how that feels.
Yet at least we had sea views while languishing in the clay bog; the next stage of the “walk” is beset with inviolable Dorset jungle. As Dad thrashes a passage through a particularly dense thicket – a route that perhaps no man has ever trodden before – the rest of us begin to climb trees. It’s our only hope. But upon reaching higher ground, I think I can safely say that we’re doomed. There is still no path in sight.
A full twenty yards of Dad battling with vines and cougars at ground level ensues. And we all breathe a sigh of relief at eventually reaching fresh air and sunshine. ‘Whoopee! Civilisation!’ cries my sister, on spotting a man-made stile. We have mobile phone reception again – did we ever not? – and feel safe once more. There is seldom a more appropriate time for the thermos flask to emerge. And quite frankly, I think the ordeal warrants an accompanying Hot Cross Bun.
‘It was a bit of a risk,’ admits Dad airily, as though his offspring have been subjected to nothing more taxing than a game of Monopoly. His words trigger childhood memories of amphibious treks at high tide. He unfolds the map again as each of us examines our wounds.
Wounded and Bleeding
Dad is scratched; Robbie and I have jeans frayed beyond recognition; and querulous Josephine is worrying about sunburn. We plod up Golden Cap for cheese-and-pickle sandwiches before it begins to rain.
Could it be a mirage? Nestling between soaring peaks lancing into the sky, is it really the Anchor Inn? Hooray, it is indeed a tangible entity, serving rewarding pints of real ale. We skip down the hill at speed and make a toast. This calls for a group photograph, I think. A passing gull celebrates, too: he launches excrement straight into my lap, just as the last of the clay falls off my boots. Talk about kicking a man while he’s down.
‘Want a hand?’ offers a friendly rambler, as Dad fiddles stoically with the self-timer function. ‘No, that would be far too easy, thank you,’ replies Dad. The camera wobbles on the makeshift platform – he’s used the camera case and a flowerpot – and the shutter clicks. Three out of four of us are captured in the picture.
‘Now why have I done that?’ asks Dad rhetorically. Thawing comfortably at home, we’re poring over a map of New Zealand’s Milford Sound, and he’s just pulled out a red-and-white neckerchief with a huge knot tied in the middle. This is a generational, if curious and eccentric English affectation – supposedly the knot signifies a reminder to do something.
‘Blowed if I can remember what I have to remember to do, though’ he says, puzzled. He rubs his screwed-up eyes in thought and notices his scratched arms. ‘Oh, and do you think they’ll have brambles in New Zealand?’..
[For real adventurous travel, check out polosbastards.com – “going where we ain’t supposed to”.]