Somehow, on his EHCP, one of DS1’s strengths is listed as: “He loves walking.” This statement comes from the fact, that at the time of the meeting, he had started walking the South Downs Way with his mum. He certainly enjoys the outdoors and loves running around the countryside – once he’s there. The trick is to get him out of the house in the first place and convince him that he does indeed have fun.

“Mega disgusting walking,” he replied when I tried to encourage him to go for a walk with me around a local lake during the school holidays.
“But, you’ve been walking the South Downs Way with mum haven’t you. You enjoy that.”
“We haven’t done that for weeks. So, we don’t do that anymore.”

Ah. Plan B, then.

“I bet you can’t run around the lake faster than me,” I challenged.
He bit. “Of course I can,” he mocked.
We were on.

Two minutes into the race, he stopped.
“I’m hungry, can we have lunch?”
Half an hour later, we were off again, stopping every 50 metres or so to look at the plaque on yet another memorial bench. He likes to laugh at the funny names on them.

Pretty soon, he began to labour.
“I can’t walk another step. I want to go back,” he complained.
“We’re halfway now, so we may as well carry on,” I lied.

Luckily I had brought his scooter – and this seemed to do the trick in getting him moving again. That and the lure of ice cream at the finishing line.

He pelted off on his wheels, seeking out slopes to fly down and then crash into me. But the momentum was soon lost.

The race element seemed to have been lost along the way – and it was now more a battle of getting him to move.

“If you don’t move, we can’t get back to the car and we can’t go home,” I said more than once, knowing that being back at home, in the sanctuary of the almighty mess of his bedroom, was where he wanted to be.
This seemed to spur him on, for a few yards at least.

There were a few people canoeing out on the lake. “Do you remember when we did that in Malawi and we capsized?” I reminisced.
“Yes,” he laughed. “But it was all your fault [we sank] because you’re so fat.”

Whoever said walking is fun, obviously wasn’t doing it with a child.

A dead end

So how did this love affair – albeit a brief one – with walking the South Downs Way come about? One sunny Sunday we managed to entice him out of the house and embarked on a relatively successful three-mile amble down part of the Thames Walk, where we got the boy who does not walk enthused with rambling as each landmark became a Harry Potter scene. The stroll through the woods became an eerie scramble through the Forbidden Forest, an abandoned building the Shrieking Shack. A large estate, Hogwarts Castle.

Seizing on his newfound enthusiasm, the following weekend the wife bravely set off with DS1 to walk a stretch of the South Downs Way.

Armed with a bag full of ink, parchment, a quill, a wand and, by the end of the walk, half of the South Downs’ foliage to make potions with, they aimed to chalk off an ambitious seven miles’ worth.

As with me, the walk was slow progress as he stopped to read the dedications on every memorial bench. Thankfully, he failed to notice the numerous memorial trees, otherwise they could still be out there now.

As they were trundling along, DS1 was becoming increasingly concerned about being overtaken by other walkers.

The wife patiently explained how it was fine for people to overtake them and vice versa because everyone goes at their own pace and stop for breaks at different times, but you’ll all land up at the end at roughly the same time, so it didn’t really matter.

She then told him about an old man with a walking stick who kept overtaking her and me when we were hiking in the Annapurnas in Nepal back in the day.

DS1 considered this for a moment. “Well, I think you’ll find that you won in the end really when you think about it,” he reasoned, “because he’ll be dead by now won’t he?”

One way or another

There are parts of the Way where it splits into slightly different routes, one for walkers only and another for cyclists/horses. Some cyclists went the wrong way onto the walkers-only path and DS1 and the wife had to move out of the way so they could get past.

Being the countryside, and acknowledging their error, the cyclists all called out “Thank you”.
The boy who doesn’t talk to strangers not so politely answered, or rather yelled back, each time: “I’d thank you not to go the wrong way.”
He calls it how it is.

The next weekend when they returned to walk the next section he really got into the countryside spirit, acknowledging every “Good morning” with a “Good morning, stinky.” I have a feeling the wife’s pace increased at these moments.

When the wanderers returned from their exploits, DS1 looked a very happy boy – pleased with his achievement of walking seven miles.
“So how was your day?” I asked.
“It’s been fantastic,” he replied. “Well, except for the walking – that makes my legs hurt.”

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