Around this time last year I told you a little about the rainy English winter. It’s not unlike a rainy Seattle winter. But when people here ask me where I’m from, and I say Seattle, they have no idea that winters there can be just as dismal.
“Hope our miserable winter isn’t gett-in ya down, love.”
“Not at all! I’m quite used to miserable winters. Makes me feel right at home.”
But aside from the annual precipitation (London – 23.4 inches; Seattle – 38.6 inches) and the similar latitude (London – 51.5 degrees N; Seattle – 47.6 degrees N), there’s one thing which is relatively benign in the Pacific Northwest but often injurious in England: mud. Thick. Peanut butter. Mud.
We got our first taste of the English Mud Phenomenon in July, a few weeks after having just moved here. We enthusiastically packed up a rented camper van and headed to our first English music festival. The sun was shining, the grass was green, everyone was walking around in hippy chick tank tops and…rain boots.
I thought the rain boots, Wellies as they're called here, were simply a fashion statement or protection from an overflowing porta-potty. Personally, I had only brought my nice, strappy leather sandals. On day two it became overcast and by the evening a steady rain began to fall. Within the time it takes to say “Bloody Hell,” the event grounds had transformed from a field of trampled grass to a bog of clay-like mud, perfect for an extreme sporting event.
At least in the summer things dry out quickly. Once the rains come in winter you start planning your day around the route with the most asphalt. Our old walk to school was ten minutes but lengthened to twenty when the riverside went squishy and we had to change course. I tried a few times to walk the river path in January, putting Z in his boots and carrying his school shoes. That ended the day he slipped and got up looking like he’d stood too near the backside of a cow with diarrhea.
Our neighbour in the old house decided he would DIY his back yard so dug out all the concrete and laid sod on top of the dirt. Though this guy was American, he’d been living in England for sixteen years. Even I could see he was going to have a problem on his hands. Sure enough, in the Spring all the sod was underwater and the neighbourhood kids had a party in his yard, sinking shin-high in the results of his labour.
C gets particularly annoyed with the mud in winter because he mountain bikes year round. When the mud runs deep, he and his bike get so caked it takes almost as long to clean up as it did to ride.
I've decided to let go of my aversion to mud. My Wellies are knee high and I can step into them like a pair of favourite slippers. Country walks are slippery and gooey and challenge my aging proprioception. But I see that as a good thing. Plus, my legs look thinner in boots. And no pub will refuse you because you’ve got mud splattered half-way up your back. I think one of the reasons there are so many pubs in England is because people had to stop every few miles to rest from the effort.
So if you’re an enthusiastic hiker, come to England prepared to get dirty. Bring a walking stick, tall boots and putty coloured clothing. Don’t assume the summers are any less messy, though if we have more than three days in a row of sun they can be relatively tidy. It’s part of what makes this country emerald green. Like the yin and the yang, mud simply counters the unbearable beauty of the English countryside. At least that’s what I tell myself. Now excuse me - I need to go chisel the gunk off Z's football cleats.