The terrifying power of a mudslide can destroy homes, wash out roads, demolish bridges and uproot trees. Meanwhile, the awesome power of dog walkers sliding on mud can be, well, a trifle underwhelming when compared with the aforementioned I suppose, but here on the Isle of Oxney we do have problems.
The Wealden clay that makes up most of the island usually begins to get a bit soggy in October once our rainy season has set in. By the end of November the official footpaths become muddy bogs that are, thankfully, avoidable as long as you don’t mind a sizeable detour. And as we’re talking dog walkers, we don’t, so all is well.
But last year the muddy season started in September and by December the clay was living up to its name, moulding itself to our boots and building up in layers to create earthy platform soles and high heels so we tottered over fields with all the grace of drunken catwalk models. This would then necessitate finding somewhere convenient to sit, like a stile or an upturned cast iron bath (nope, no idea what it was doing there), so that great clods of sods could be levered off before the whole process started again as soon as we continued our trek.
And then, oh joy, over Christmas there were a few days of sunshine, the ground dried just a smidgen and we offered our thanks by sacrificing a cockerel to Apollo. I might be lying about the last bit, but you get the idea.
Our elation only lasted until New Year’s Day when the crowd surge took over and turned back the clock: swarms of mums, dads, aunties, uncles, associated grandparents and numerous children, feet encased in spotlessly clean, see-your-face-in-the-mirrored-shine wellington boots, spewed forth for the post prandial enactment of their new year resolution to go for a walk every day.
Their numbers were so great this year that my husband was moved to ask if there was a street protest taking place as all he could see above our hedge was a wave of bobble hats parading back and forth.
But the crowd didn’t stay on the pavements for long. Convinced they could remember the various public footpath routes from the Ordnance Survey map they last consulted at the same time last year, they left the safety of the highway and demonstrated that their memories weren’t as good as they’d thought because they got hopelessly lost, wandering round fields and consulting others they met on their way who were in a similar situation. You couldn’t compare them to so many ants as ants do actually know where they’re going.
The constant pummelling by the now not-so-clean wellies on the ground forced the soil down and let the underlying water bubble up, creating more mudbaths than there had been before Christmas.
Pleased that they’d managed one day of their resolution, they then disappeared, never to be seen again and leaving those of us who habitually enjoy the countryside up to our ankles, sliding through the new mud they’d so thoughtfully created for us.
People, you know who you are. If you can’t go for walks on sunny Spring days when the woods are only crowded with bluebells, you’re hardly likely to keep it up in January when it’s cold, grey and damp and there’s cake, hot drinks and the warmth of a woodburner tempting you to stay at home.
Next year, forget about the New Year’s Day walk. You know it makes sense.