We are incredibly blessed to live very close to Cannock Chase – a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s home to wild deer, hundreds of miles of biking trails and woodland walks, plus several family friendly activities such as adventure play parks, Go-Ape and the Stick Man activity trail (previously the Gruffalo Trail). I love going for long walks – they bring back memories of days out with my Mum and Stepdad when I was younger. Nowadays I’m usually armed with my camera and I capture images of my family as well as details of interesting things I find in nature.
We’ve done a few of the shorter walking trails on Cannock Chase with the girls in the past – Seven Springs (we call it The Stepping Stones) which starts near Great Haywood, and the Red Trail (part of the Heart of England Way) which starts at Milford Common. We plan to explore many more of the walks as time goes on and the girls are better able to walk longer distances. They usually complain about going and say that it’s boring, but we always end up having a great time – I try and make it exciting by getting them to draw maps for us to follow and look out for things in nature as we walk (a bit like a scavenger hunt I guess) and after about five minutes their imaginations have taken off and they’re making up their own stories as we go along.
Our favourite place to visit is Birches Valley – we go several times a year. It takes us about 20 minutes to get there by car and it’s free apart from parking costs – only £4 for the whole day. There is a brilliant walk for kids, gorgeous scenery to gaze at (I’m talking about trees so tall they make you feel incredibly humble and lucky to be a witness to their existence), toilets, a fantastic adventure playground and a café that serves yummy ice cream (amongst other things).
On Thursday afternoon in half term we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do – I’d been to yoga in the morning and got the food shopping out of the way without having to drag the girls along with me, whilst they had a lazy morning at home with the husband. I think they were pretty pooped out after a full day of shopping and playing at the park in Telford the day before! It was a lovely sunny day and I was keen to make sure we didn’t waste it by staying indoors. So, after a bit of grumbling from the two middle ones, we headed over to Birches Valley.
We took our usual route – past the Three Bears Chairs, through the Fairy Forest and said hello to the Gruffalo statue that’s still there – and then we headed off the trail slightly and into the forest itself to play at building dens. There are loads of them dotted around that previous visitors have made and you can choose to add to one that’s already there or create a new one of your own. We opted to build a new one from scratch and soon even Ella, who was still cross that we’d made her leave the house when she would much rather be reading at home, joined in.
I love doing this with the girls – it teaches them that it’s ok to leave the path once in a while and forge their own and they learn independence because I let them stray a little further out of my sight than I would normally let them go so they can seek out suitable logs and foliage. They learn that it’s ok to get their hands dirty and be messy, and they have to work together as a team to lift heavy branches and figure out how to balance the wood to make it steady enough to create a structure that holds firm.
Once we were done with our den we made our way back to the trail via a log balanced across a deep ditch. It’s a permanent feature at Birches Valley and very sturdy. We’ve walked across it plenty of times, so one-by-one we made our way across, with Sophie and Daddy there to help just in case.
Mimi made it all the way to the end of the log and then slipped right at the last second. She face-planted right into the dirt, there was a couple of seconds of shocked silence and then her screams rang out and echoed through the trees. I dropped everything (including my camera) and raced over to her as she was getting up, and when she lifted her face and looked at me I stopped dead – her mouth was pouring with blood and it was running relentlessly down her lips and dripping off her chin. I found some tissues in my bag and did my best to mop her up, but it just kept on coming. She was spitting huge mouthfuls of blood and dirt out onto the ground and it was coursing down my hands onto our shoes. I managed to get a good enough look to figure out that she still had all her teeth and eventually saw that her bottom teeth had gone right through her top lip, which is where all the blood was coming from. Neil had hold of her as she’d gone very wobbly and pale, whilst Sophie, Ella and Lola stood quietly watching, wanting to help but not really being sure what they could do.
We eventually managed to get the bleeding to stop and continued slowly on our way round the trail, slightly less enthusiastically than before. We got some ice at the cafe to try and keep the swelling down but by this point her mouth was really puffy and a bruise was already forming. We had a quick play at the adventure playground (she stayed with her Dad while the others played) and then we headed home. She clung to me like a limpet for the rest of the day and didn’t want any tea as her mouth was so sore.
It’s not the first time something like this has happened – kids fall over and end up with cuts and bruises and scrapes, but I’ve never seen so much blood coming out of one of my own children before – it was horrible. I was fine at the time – I’m not squeamish about blood and am pretty good at dealing with things in a crisis – but I did get a bit emotional later that evening when I was on my own. You feel so bad when one of your babies gets hurt don’t you? Because we’re meant to protect them and keep them safe. I know it’s important to let them fall over and figure out how to get themselves back up again, but it’s always a bit of a shock when it actually happens and they get really hurt.
She got up the next morning and her lip was still really swollen, though it had started to scab over, making her smile look a little crooked and her eyes a little sad. Since then she’s been using a straw to drink with and I took her to the doctor to check it wasn’t infected (thankfully it’s not). She was a little worried about going back to school this morning, concerned about what the other children might say to her about it. I told her that she can tell them the truth – that she had an adventure in the forest! She’s been ever so brave as it must have been really sore.
Despite Mimi’s accident, we did have a good time and we won’t let it stop us going back. She’s got a good story to tell now!