Miles Kington: A muddy winter ramble with sulky Uncle Geoffrey

'As if you could take seeds to the wrong place in Nature! Nature sows its seed where and when it can. Nature is profligate! Nature is randy! '
Click to follow

Hello, children. Do you think winter is boring? Ah, but that's because you haven't kept your eyes peeled and noticed just how much is going on in nature! Yes, it's time for another nature ramble, so put on a scarf and gloves, get stuck into a pair of stout boots, and let's accompany Uncle Geoffrey as he goes out and about with his favourite nephew and niece, Robert and Susan.

"Not much doing this time of year, Uncle Geoffrey," said Robert, as they shivered along the lane, and climbed the stile into the field. "Why don't we go back home and curl up in front of the fire with a nice David Attenborough wildlife DVD?"

Uncle Geoffrey's lip curled at the thought of that boyish, globetrotting knight. Some people had all the luck...

"Sir David doesn't know everything," said Uncle Geoffrey. "Oh, he's very good on easy things like the rainforest canopy, and penguins in the Antarctic, but put him down in Wiltshire on a cold January day, and what could he show you? Whereas, if we use our eyes properly ..."

He looked round him. There must be a few birds, surely. A fallen tree, perhaps. Some old hedgerow fruit...

"Great time of year for mud, Uncle Geoffrey," said Susan. "Look at your boots. They've both accumulated about two inches of mud. You're walking a lot taller than usual."

It was true. It was a bit like walking on very small stilts.

"That's because you're sticking to the path," said Robert. "Muddiest bit of the field there is." That was true, too. Without thinking, Uncle Geoffrey had kept to the footpath across the field and Robert and Susan were walking on the grass. That's why he was making such heavy weather of it, and they were making such good headway.

"What beats me is why the animals make this path in the first place," said Robert. "You can see from the prints that it's the way the cows and sheep come. It's weird, the way farm animals follow each other down the same track, like ramblers following Janet Street-Porter in single file."

"Yes," said Susan. "When you would expect them to spread out in a long straggly line, like a cordon of constables tramping across the moorlands looking for an escaped murderer."

"You never see a copper on the beat on the moorlands any more," said Robert. "In my day you'd pass a copper every five minutes on the moors. He'd tip his hat and say, 'Good morning, young sir.' "

"Then box your ears and send you home," said Susan. "And you'd never go scrumping for mushrooms again."

"What a lot of rot!" said Uncle Geoffrey.

They stared at him in mock amazement. "Were you never young, Uncle Geoffrey?" said Robert.

"I don't believe I was ever was," he confessed. "I think I was always old, but in a young person's body. Hold on," he added, pausing to kick his boots against a post. "Just going to get rid of some of this mud."

"I met an old gardener once," said Robert, "who told me he had been trained as a lad to clean his boots and his spade every time he went from one flower bed to another, for fear of taking seeds in the mud to the wrong place."

"As if you could take seeds to the wrong place in nature!" scoffed Susan. "Nature sows its seed where and when it can. Nature is profligate! Nature is randy!"

"Whereas the world of the garden is a world of eugenics and racial breeding," said Robert. "A garden is a sex laboratory, where all gardeners should wear white coats as they lean over the evil experiments in their beds."

"If a garden is a sex lab, then I suppose nature must be a red light area," said Susan. "What do you think, Uncle Geoffrey?"

Uncle Geoffrey felt that he would like to cash in his nephew and niece for any two of the children from Swallows and Amazons, but thought that it might be a bad time to say so, and spent the rest of the walk in sulky silence.

Join us for another nature walk soon, children!