After a busy patch a few years ago, Hannah and I came to the conclusion that we were possibly neglecting our kids. We got to see them all day every day, but rarely when we weren't working. Easy enough trap to fall into, working from home. We immediately decided to do something about it, summoning Amelie and Lucie to inform them that we were starting a new family tradition and Family Day was born.
It was really designed as a marketing strategy towards the girls, adding a sense of festivity and occasion to a walk in the mountain, or an afternoon in a cafe. And that's mostly what we did, for family days had to be within a half an hour of home, in case we needed to get back quickly.
Feeling like the sheen was wearing off of our young tradition, i decided to spice it up a bit and found a ruined castle in a book by a local historian that was only twenty minutes from our house, near a shop that sold ice cream. It was an adventure that wrote itself.
We arrived first at the ice-cream place, which meant that according to the book, we were a few kilometers past our destination. We bought a bunch of Magnums and I decided we'd save then until we got to the castle, a decision that was immediately overturned by the unsyncronised, caucaphonous jumping and pleading of my two girls. Since kids don't do deferred gratification very well and I couldn't think of another way to make the noise stop, Magnums were handed out, unwrapped and devoured instantly. I saved mine in my pocket because I knew it would taste better in a castle.
We spent the next 45 minutes driving up and down the same one kilometer stretch of road, looking for an impossibly small lane.
On what we decided would be our last pass along this tiny country road, we found it and the adventure was on.
The lane was just wide enough for a tractor and moving at a crawl. We were able to avoid holes and puddles for a few hundred meters, but were forced to stop. From here on it it would be by foot. In front of us was a closed farm gate and a sea of mud about half a kilometer long, that I would have to navigate in runners. Past that, no sign of a castle. Thinking about it, the words of Paedar the ice cream man kept ringing in my ears,
"Now, you wouldn't make it without wellies."
Before I got a chance to query him further on this however, I was interrupted by bouncing and begging children. Since I was the driving force behind our day out and because there was no castle visible on the horizon, I was selected to do a reconnaissance mission. As gingerly as I could, I jumped the fence and hopped between dried patches of mud and the odd stone. It was a slow process, but I managed to make it out of yelling distance from Hannah, so that when I shouted my assessment that we should abort the mission, she took it as her cue to advance with the children.
As I had now unintentionally committed my family to continue on this questionable quest, I decided I had better find a castle. Thankfully, a few minutes later I did. Through a small gap in the hedgerow I spotted our prize; a 60 foot tall crumbling beauty.
I carefully picked my way back and met up with with the girls, who weren't having such an easy time of it. I grabbed Lucy's hand, Hannah took Amelie's and we squelched our way forward, stopping every few feet to rescue a small wellie, sucked into the mud. After an eternity, we were only half way there. And caked in mud. I think it was around then that I promised Hannah she could pick the itinerary for our next day out.
But, we struggled on and eventually made it to the castle. It was magnificent, just as it was described in the book. We walked around it's front, gazing up at it's battlements and were met around the corner by what looked like four young bulls, staring at us from a distance. These weren't mentioned in the book. As they didn't seem to be moving, we carried on exploring the marvelous ruins until we realized that our dog Roccoco had decided to introduce herself. I think the bulls may have taken this as a threat, or insult, as they began charging towards us, led by our bounding labrador.
As panic took hold, my first thought was, "I'm a bad parent." The next thought was that we should hide in the castle. After all, that was what they were designed for. Once safely inside and with nowhere else to go, we tried to imagine what it would have been like when it was in it's full glory. Safer, certainly, as it would have had a door.
The bulls were also aware of this, and slowly started making their way in.
More contagious than laughter, fear began spreading through the ranks. To show the girls that there was nothing to be afraid of, Hannah took them to see the bulls surrounding the entrance and they were terrifying.
Hearts pounding but with no sudden movements, we moved slowly towards the window behind us, which seemed to be the only option at this point.
Hannah hopped up first and I handed the girls one at a time as the bulls continued to advance. Genuinely shitting myself by the time it was my turn, I jumped up a little too eagerly, banging my head and dropping the now melted ice-cream at the hooves of the beasts. The girls screamed, "You said we could share it!". I didn't say that.
Ah, "Family Days". May the best ones not always be in retrospect.