Stories from my Travels #8 “Happy as a Pig in Shit”

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Pigs at Fordhall Farm, Shropshire

Walking, or so they say, is good for depression.  I use the ambiguous phrase deliberately and this is why…  In the past three years I’ve walked thousands of miles of the English, Scottish and Welsh shores – I’ve stomped through woodlands, I’ve climbed rocky terrains and rambled or coddiwompled over field, meadow, heath and moorland, while all the time keeping my feet warm, blister-free and dry.  Yet here, almost on my doorstep, I step out for a leisurely stroll and within minutes I’m up to my nuts in mud.

On a beautiful Autumn Sunday as the clocks bend over backwards to give us an extra hour of life, we choose to explore Fordhall Farm near Market Drayton.  We kit out in combats with a packed lunch and a hunk of Kendal Mint Cake lest we get marooned in the Shropshire wilds.  But wait a minute; Kendal Mint Cake, who eats that stuff?  I bought a bar on my travels through, well Kendal, and it remained un-nibbled on my campervan for weeks until I finally used it to stick beer mats to my ceiling.

But I digress.  Fordhall is a wonderful community-run organic farm.  It’s policy and its history are fascinating and I’ll let enthusiasts Google it for detail so as I can get to my story.  Next to the picnic garden is a field sloping down to the River Tern, which babbles happily towards the Severn (where my old pal Alfie and I regularly fished and lied about the size of those unfortunate to get hooked).  But here the Tern’s shallow waters are allegedly home to the otters, which avid readers will know is a personal crusade of mine.

So there we ramble and meander along the waterside, full of hope for a glimpse of the otters in their holt.  Some 500 yards into our journey there is a small and ancient copse of decaying willows which I lead us through with Mears-esque confidence.

“Who cares,” say I, “that it’s a little soft underfoot at times?  I have my brilliant walking boots that have served me well all year.  They’re expensive North Ridge Vibram Frame Flex Chassis, made for all terrains.” (I add that detail in case North Ridge are interested in paying for the plug!)

And I even afford myself an affectionately-smug smile at Mandy’s wellies, thinking it’s a little over-cautious on her part.  “And who cares,” I go on, “that the sign in the shop said Walk only suitable for adults and older children and Wellingtons are recommended…?  I’ve walked miles in the last few years, this is a fucking doddle.”  And it’s just then that I sink knee-deep into the bog.

Now it’s very difficult to be cool when you’re floundering in shit, but I do try to reassure Mandy that all is well and I’ll soon regain my balance.  I even ponder lying that I’ve done it on purpose in order to demonstrate how to survive instances such as this while trekking in the wild. But it’s a bit like being pissed – the more effort you put in to appearing sober, the more clumsy and frankly ridiculous you behave.  So I reach out a hand to grip one of the willows, but fall short by some distance and lose my footing altogether.  In the panic I try to run myself out of trouble, but the bog rips off one of my boots and sucks it ‘neath the surface, meaning I’m running and getting nowhere in my stocking-feet through a three-foot deep layer of fecal treacle (as it were).

Normally in these circumstances one looks for sympathy from a loved-one, but Mandy can only wet herself laughing.  Admittedly she helps to fish out my precious boot, but mitigation is only slight because she rather sarcastically points out that I’d been warned about wearing wellies.  At which point I have to laugh myself, I’m rather hoisted by my own petard.

But returning to my original point, lesser souls than I would get depressed at landing in the doo-doo and squelching and farting their way through the rest of their day.  Whereas I am made of sterner stuff; I have all the energy of a bar of Kendal Mint Cake and I have all the uncontrollable or even maniacal laughter of a fairground clown.  So is walking good for depression?  Is it good to walk the dog?  I say yes, banish the dog, there are no otters and I’m happy as a pig in shit.

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