I woke up early this morning. I’d been feverishly dreaming of video games and my slumber had consequently been spent in outer space, heavily outnumbered by hostile alien forces, cut off from reinforcements and left with nothing but my wits to survive.
Well, my wits and a mighty level 40 rocket launcher that does massive damage to a wide surrounding area with additional post explosion cluster munitions. It’s no picnic in space when you’re a video gamer.
I sat up with lurid images of Jerry Bruckheimer style explosions still in my mind. I could easily have got out of bed, had some breakfast and just switched on my XBOX.
I find that in matters like this Sunday is a crunch day for me. After Saturday weigh-ins I can either choose to relax and think ‘I’ve won! There’s no further effort required!’ or ‘Move your ass fatty!’
99% of the time my bottom experiences motion shortly after this thought process completes. Today wasn’t going to be one of the 1% where it didn’t. I’d checked my phone and the weather forecast was lovely so I decided to go somewhere new and explore.
A few people have mentioned Ryton Pools to me over the last few months and I’ve had a few (subsequently aborted) trips planned to visit there with friends. It’s about 7 miles outside Warwick and is a country park with measured walks. The ‘pools’ in question are several small lakes/ponds that are apparently home to quite a few species of birds and other wildlife. The nearby woodland and plants are managed and conserved – so it seemed like a nice place to spend the morning.
After a short drive I arrived at the already busy cafe and visitor centre and had a look at the trail map.
The yellow route around the lake was shorter than I expected, but undeterred I thought I’d walk the yellow and red routes a couple of times to get some proper exercise.
The paths around the pools were excellently looked after and really good for people with mobility issues or wheelchairs. There were plenty of benches and quite a few decked viewing points by the lake where you could park up pushchairs or scooters and watch the birds, who were busy swarming around anyone that looked like they had bread – even though the signage expressly forbade feeding them.
The seagulls and ducks were flanked on either side by rather bored looking anglers that didn’t appear to be having much luck or fun. Their perches didn’t seem to be in particularly relaxing spots either as the busy nearby road did a great job of drowning out the sounds of nature that I was hoping to hear.
Instead of birds and trees all I could pick up was the continual noise of traffic.
Nevertheless I carried on around the lake – past legions of dog walkers and adventure playgrounds full of intrepid and spirited children on climbing frames.
Everywhere I went there seemed to be an abundance of civilisation, and even when people weren’t present the sound of the outside world still was. Furthermore (although this I don’t really mind because it makes me smile) each puddle and tranquil pool had a Labrador enthusiastically jumping into it chasing sticks.
So – when I came across a fork in the path that said it led to Ryton Woods I decided to investigate. No-one appeared to be heading in this direction so it became instantly appealing.
It became even MORE alluring when I arrived at the gated entrance, which proclaimed that I could get lost and that I was heading into unknown territory.
However – I was armed with technology.
I knew precisely where I was.
As I moved further into the woods the trees closed in. This was indeed PROPER woodland.
The little yellow posts that the sign warned about appeared to follow no logic whatsoever and although I didn’t consciously follow them they seemed to lead to odd places with dead ends. The ‘paths’ were at times extremely wide and solid underfoot, and then suddenly overgrown with brambles or required big detours due to muddy bogs and swampy reeds.
The dew covered grass and bushes either side of the path were filled with intricate silky spider webs that suspended any droplets of moisture on their impossibly thin strands.
It must have taken the spiders forever to construct these elaborate and deadly traps.
But this woodland wasn’t just beautiful. It was blissfully quiet.
There was no-one here but me.
In places it seemed that people had rarely or maybe never trodden on the same ground as me – and in others there were reminders all around me (such as decomposing wooden and metal carts) that people had been moving through there for much much longer than I had.
Randomly every so often I also found little carved ‘stump seats’ which looked like they were missing their resident hobbits. These were too cute for words and were absolutely crying out for some little fluffy woodland creature to pose on them. Sadly none stepped forward.
Thanks (I think) to the boggy, uneven and rough terrain my shin splints had begun to hurt after a while and I was irritatingly reminded once again that I’m not invulnerable.
As there really are NO managed paths in Ryton Woods, after about 45 minutes to an hour of exploring I decided that (as lovely as it all was) there was only so much that I could do off the beaten track.
I decided it was sensible (instead of pressing on and injuring myself again) to make my way back to the lakeside walk – although I’d try and go a different way and see if there was anything more to look at. I checked my phone. I was pretty much in the middle of the wood now. The map looks like there are definite trails – although in reality these aren’t obvious or are now overgrown, so there wasn’t an obvious route to take.
Then unexpectedly a really wide path appeared. It looked like the right way to go, and way less hard going. It seemed like it would lead around the outskirts of the wood and then back to the lake entrance.
I couldn’t have been more deluded.
I think that this was some kind of old river bed – as further down the trail almost every part of the woodland appeared to drain into it, creating an intermittently waterlogged swamp. Once this soggy mire had been (gingerly and slowly) navigated the path then helpfully narrowed into overgrown bushes and brambles – and more mud.
Much more mud. Impassable (at least without wellingtons) mud. Covered with brambles. With trees that had fallen or grown into and through it.
I stopped and looked at my phone.
In the centre of the map was a large brown area without trees. It didn’t look like water from the satellite photo, so I decided to double back and move off the path to see if areas that hadn’t been so regularly trodden were easier to pass.
It turned out to be one of the more tranquil and easily traversed areas of the wood. Instead of water it was carpeted with comfortable soft moss underfoot and topped with autumnal and slowly mulching bracken. The clearing had a vibrant, damp, woody feel that immediately filled your senses with a sense of freshness and life that’s totally absent in my usual surroundings.
Often I fail to remember the world is like this. I walk on concrete pavements from home to coffee shop and back again in between houses and past parked cars, where everything is ordered and rigid.
It’s not like that in the centre of this wood.
As I stood still and listened every so often a branch would move or the undergrowth would rustle and remind me I wasn’t alone. There were animal droppings all over the place and I’m convinced there were gangs of rabbits watching me from multiple vantage points, waiting to mug me and steal the hidden bag of carrot batons I’d brought along with me in my pocket.
After crossing this small expanse (and tramping through some more mud on the other side in between some pointless yellow posts) I was surprisingly almost back where I’d started – and again saw the exit from the woods.
Although my leg was hurting, my jeans were soaked and I was super sweaty I’d REALLY enjoyed exploring on my own.
When I checked the distance on my watch I hadn’t travelled far at all (As I type later in the afternoon Apple watch reports five miles) but navigating the terrain had made it all the more interesting and exciting. Even though I’d never been lost for a moment I felt absolutely apart from the hustle and bustle of the world and completely at peace.
Furthermore (and as regular readers will know this is SO important to me) I went into something completely unknown under my own steam and made my way out again.
It’s all something that I could NEVER have done back in April.
And frankly there was only one way to celebrate. I needed some lunch. I’d walked for hours on a flask of coffee and a bag of carrot batons and I was tired, wet, scratched by brambles and pleasantly warm all over.
I walked back to the visitor centre. There was a cafe there. Maybe they served something Slimming World friendly?
Pffft. Who was I kidding? The entire world seems to be obsessed with eating fattening crap, and all I could smell was burning chip fat through the nearby open window of the cafe. It didn’t look pleasant or smell appealing. There was only one sensible alternative.
A Sunday lunch.
I skipped back to my car, thinking of all the yummy yums yums in my near future and drove to the nearest Toby Carvery. 10 minutes after arriving and asking for some pork, beef, turkey and gammon my plate looked like this.
Then I filled it with lots of speedy carrots, onions, cauliflower and cabbage (peas aren’t speed foods – they’re free) and 5 roast potatoes (2 syns each)
And then ten minutes later, with a few pauses to have a drink (it’s good to drink and eat so that I don’t overdo it) my plate looked like this.
When I’d arrived the waitress had tried to tempt me with ‘pigs in blankets’. I’d declined. She then asked me if I wanted a starter. I had turned down this kind offer as well.
Finally, sitting with my glass of diet coke and a big contented grin on my face she delivered the coup de grace.
‘Would you like any ice cream for desert?’ She asked, almost visibly sprouting little red horns and a long pointy tail.
I could smell brimstone.
‘No thanks – just the bill please’ I replied.
I had a smug sense of self satisfaction when I said this, because the night previously I’d put some frozen berries, oats, cinnamon, stevia and natural yogurt in a bowl and secreted it in my fridge for an evening indulgence.
Screw it. I WAS GOING TO HAVE DESSERT – but I was going to do it on my time, on my terms, with my own Slimming World alternative.
When I got home I grabbed a spoon, opened the fridge and this is what was waiting inside.
That, internet, is what I am going to eat right now.
The perfect end to a perfect day. I hope yours was just as good!