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Posts Tagged ‘national trust’

‘Waters. Waters wheel,’ says Milo, splashing in his bath after a day out at a Cheshire stately pile.

He says it with a slight furrowing of the brow, making it apparent that he’s not talking about the murky waters he’s splashing about in.

‘You mean today?’ asks Simon. ‘The water wheel we saw today?’

Milo grunts and nods at the same time. He never says yes.

‘It’s funny how articulate he can be when it comes to saying no,’ I say as I stand in the doorway and watch, ‘but grunting is as good as it gets when it comes to the affirmative.’

‘Dory,’ says Milo, studiously ignoring me. He still has his serious face on.

Simon obeys the royal command and begins to tell a story. It goes: today we went to a big park in daddy’s car, and we saw lots of deer, and loads of deer poo, and then Milo went down some steps and saw a giant water wheel. Milo nods when Simon gets to this part.

‘Waters wheel,’ he says solemnly.

The wheel in question is part of an old sawmill, fully restored and powered by the rushing, gushing water of the stream outside. The sawmill itself is old and cramped; to get to the waterwheel you have to first descend a set of narrow, slippery steps and duck through a darkened doorway.

When Milo first saw the wheel, he jumped: it could be described as of the dark, satanic mill variety. But when the object proved to be benignly inanimate, and not at all like the big scary monsters that litter children’s literature, Milo was hooked. Simon and I were dragged to see it three times – that’s why, presumably, it stuck in Milo’s mind after we got home.

As I stand in the bathroom, it strikes me that having kids is something of a sci-fi science project. First there’s the whole oh-god-I-have-an-alien-in-my-belly part (better known as pregnancy). And then there’s the Alien Resurrection part when the bugger comes bursting out (also known as childbirth). Anyone that reckons either of these things is ‘natural’, by the way, either hasn’t done it or is just plain lying.

Anyway, then there’s the bit after all that, the fun part. The part where they grow up and a fully formed little person emerges. Like the one sat in the bath right now, earnestly learning how to tell a good tale. The story of the ‘waters wheel’ now joins that of the broken ball and the one where the cake shop had run out of cakes (I don’t know who was more upset – me or Milo).

There’s a part of me that hopes that these stories, or perhaps the slightly less mundane ones at any rate, will be taken by Milo and moulded into the stories of his childhood, the ones he’ll tell his own kids when I’m long gone, the stories that he will embellish until they become part of our family folklore.

We all do it, don’t we, make up stories out of real life? Or perhaps it’s just me – and my boy.

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Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes. Cafe: Yes. Buggy-friendly? In parts – lots of steps and rough ground, though there is a buggy park if you’re going into the stately home. Cost: Garden only, £6.50 per adult, £3.25 for kids, family tickets £16.25, free for National Trust members. Worth it? Yes, though take your own picnic – we almost had to get a second mortgage out to cover the cost of lunch.

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‘Aren’t your legs cold?’ says my Mum.

We’re at Quarry Bank Mill and it is very, very cold. I am togged up in duffle coat and fleece, thermal vest, two pairs of tights and long boots with extra socks. But I also have a mini skirt on.

‘Nope.’

We’ve arrived late and everything bar the shop is shut. Dad decides to break into a small section of garden that says ‘CLOSED’ and we all follow him, telling him off as we walk down a little path that leads to the river.

‘Daaaad,’ I say, sounding like my teenage self, ‘we’ll get told off.’

A National Trust man walks over to us. He doesn’t tell us off. Dad bounds triumphantly along towards a crashing weir and a river swollen by winter rain.

‘I’d almost forgotten you’d got legs,’ says my Mum.

She has a point. For many, many years, my legs have remained swathed in fabric, on show to no one. You see, I have fat knees. I also have solid little legs (I’d like to say stolid but I’m not sure that’s actually a word) but I can live with that: they’re good for running and walking and pushing the buggy. And if all else fails I can slip on a pair of heels and, bang, instantly have longer legs.

But there’s little that can be done about fat knees. You can’t buy an uplift bra for them, nor wear knee slimming pants. And I shouldn’t even joke: both my Mum and my Grandma had knee replacements and I know that the same fate awaits me.

The most wonderful thing happened, though, after Milo was born. After seeing what my body was capable of, after the swelling and stretching of pregnancy and the hard work of birth, I was and am in awe of my body. I am woman, hear me roar etc. So when the baby weight finally disappeared, sometime around Milo’s first birthday, I threw caution to the wind, dug out a miniskirt and wore it in public.

Toddlers didn’t toddle off screaming. School kids didn’t taunt and laugh. Bright young things didn’t recoil and sneer.

So here I am, in the middle of winter*, wearing a mini skirt and riding boots.

Milo runs across a very muddy field and falls over. I pick him up and, together with Mum, Dad and Simon, we all stare at the ferocious tumult of water in front of us. It pummels the rocks below, hurls itself against the trees on the bank and churns up great spumes of roaring, angry water. It’s mesmerising.

The light is beginning to drain away into dark; Dad’s already halfway across the field by the time I decide to turn back. As the light fails, the cold creeps in and, by the time we make it back to the car, it’s nibbling at my bones. My legs are like slabs of frozen meat: dead and heavy. I imagine the flesh beneath the thin fabric of my tights turning a bruised purple. I rub them but feel nothing except a slight tingle.

My knees, however, are nice and toasty and, for once, I’m glad of the extra layer of cushioning.

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Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes. Cafe: Yes. Buggy-friendly? Partly – lots of cobbles and rough ground outside, and some steps into and around the buildings. Cost: £12.50 family ticket to the garden only, or £4 to access the estate – it’s a National Trust place. Worth it? Yes, the play area for older kids has just been renovated, and the grounds and gardens are beautiful. As with all NT places, take a picnic as the food ain’t cheap.

* In case you’re confused, I wrote this back in March and never published it. It’s not because the weather is so crap in Manchester that we’re all walking around in thermals in June. Honest.

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