Hiking, USA
Comments 21

Three Kids & Four Miles: Now That’s a Battlefield

I’m a battlefield groupie from way back. I remember on the first of my six visits to the States, in 1993, spending a cold and atmospheric hour or two with a then-girlfriend wandering in the rain through the misty Union lines outside Vicksburg, Mississippi. Somewhere there’s some pictures in an album. Sometime…

My two-day “thru-hike” of Gettysburg in 2006…

Recently Discovered Mathew Brady Shot of Barefoot Infantryman & Little Round Top

Recently Unearthed Mathew Brady Shot of Barefoot Infantryman & Little Round Top

..following the course of the battle while everybody else there flew between lookouts in cars or tour groups, is a highlight of my walking CV: the combination of perfect walking weather, poignant history and some of the prettiest rural scenery I’ve seen in America.

On the Appalachian Trail you’d often come across remnants of Civil War history right there next to the path. And sometimes glimpses of far older conflicts, like this one, also in Pennsylvania, one misty morning just a few days after the Gettysburg ramble:

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America’s great for that satisfying blend of war and walking.

Kate and I often discussed what I wanted to see and do during my last trip. Time was scarce, but a walk through the Saratoga National Historical Park was an early goal. The Revolutionary War seems positively ancient compared to the Civil War; Australia had only been “discovered” by Europeans a few years earlier. A good stroll through the site of the turning point of the whole conflict, and indeed of world history, would help me visualise things — but really who needed a good excuse for a walk in the woods with Kate?

The welcome spell of balmy weather was only just getting started that afternoon when we spilled out of Kate’s van at the Visitor Center (might as well stick with the American spelling here). Check out that sky and those nice lush woods:

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As you’ve probably guessed from this post’s title, the “we” on this day was not Kate and I on a romantic ramble through the site of this momentous pair of battles. Nope, we had company. And after a necessarily rushed spin through the historical displays inside the Center (three-year-olds can inflict appalling collateral damage on battle dioramas, and even safely neutered vintage firearms can quickly become weapons of mass destruction in their devilish hands), we retreated to the lawns.

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Soon we had more company: one of the rangers came out to gently warn against the cartwheels and other acrobatics being executed with great flair (if anyone from Ringling Bros. happens to be reading, maybe we can work something out) on Park property. He could see lawsuits, or at at the very least a visit from the paramedics.

Not to worry. There across the lawn was the beginning of the Wilkinson Trail, the main battlefield path, and I for one was itching for a walk. We left the plaques behind (how nice to see a Fraser rather than a Frazer or Frazier in the States — I actually have a cousin called Simon Fraser)…

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..and began wandering.

I was in a cranky mood. My back was giving me hell — it took a while after every car trip to walk upright — and I’ll confess this is not how I’d imagined my pilgrimage. I like to get the context clear in my head before any walk through a historical site, study the maps, work out my directions. I need some time to, er, “get into character”. It’s not like I dress up in period garb and go belly-crawling through the undergrowth in my quest for authenticity — not in company, anyway — but I like quiet, and solitude, the freedom to pause and backtrack and circle and try to see the place through the eyes of a participant.

The Wilkinson path is beautiful…

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First of Many Stops on a Very Stop-Start Walk

..but I confess I still have only the vaguest idea of how the battles played out on this scenic spread of terrain.

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“This was YOUR freaking idea!”

That angle could wait till another visit. It was obvious that this was not the day for patiently exploring the unfolding of events as I had at Gettysburg.

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This would be a nature ramble. I could live with that.

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After labouring up a slope, it’s good to run all the way down again at great speed. A tall person will be along soon enough to carry you back up.

We didn’t even have a map and there’d been no time to study the information boards. And nobody ever said, “Let’s walk the entire path and loop back here to the Visitor Center.” We were just moving, and rather selfishly, I suppose, I aimed to keep us moving. The more I walked, the better I felt. The better I felt, the more I wanted to keep walking. Back straighter, spirits floating higher, I kept on strolling, kept the caravan inching further from the VC.

Nobody complained. At least not at first.

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We progressed at an erratic pace into the trees and the Summer afternoon. Flowers leaned onto the wide, freshly mown track from the tangled grass and weeds of the bordering fields. The trail wound on, almost deserted, between shady copses where bracken flourished and the mild sunshine bathing the fields. The kids would run, stop, run back, sit, throw the occasional tantrum, laugh, cry, and demand to be carried, often within the same minute.

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More Finger Pointing, Stomping & Wild Accusations. This Whole Hike was Going to Hell.

I’d love to do this walk again in early, dewy morning, or even better, in a light rain.

A Moment of Reflection or Just Plain Exhaustion

A Moment of Reflection or Just Plain Exhaustion

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What Better Way to Conserve Energy Than a Nice Relaxing Foot-Race?

What Better Way to Conserve Energy Than a Nice Relaxing Sprint?

The kids did really well, actually, for their first real “hike”. Nobody else was dressed for it — take my word for it, I made up for that — and I wouldn’t recommend thongs (as we call them back home) for even a stroll to the mailbox, let alone a 4.2 mile loop.

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Kate is Dragged, Whimpering, up Another Gruelling Peak

Kate handled the occasional complaints (“Mom, I’m getting bored”) much better than me, as well as  the demands to be carried, and I was secretly plagued by spurts of guilt for leading the party beyond the point of no return.

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I Wasn’t Even Granted Time to Play with the Cannon

The afternoon stretched on, shadows lengthened, woods darkened, and I was grateful for the headlamps in my pack.

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There is an Auto Tour for Weirdos of That Persuasion

But we didn’t need the lights.

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The Sight of the Visitor Center Sparked an Outpouring of Joy

By the end, when the Center came into distant view across the fields,  I was helping out with twin-carrying duty. Whoever designed kids, by the way: not your best work. How about something more ergonomic, or at least a nice handle?

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Feel the Smugness

Anyway, we made it with no casualties. Overall, our light infantry had performed admirably and a bloodbath was averted.

Camille marked the end of her first forced march by breaking into a little jig…

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Victory Dance

..and we made it to the closed Center and the deserted parking lot without further rebellion.

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Dusk Spreading across the Battlefield

Kate and I will be back, but next time we’ll be travelling light — if you know what I mean.

The Death of Simon Fraser:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADF5e-ATPZc

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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21 Comments

  1. Those girls are sooo cute!! Once I was a girl that had to read every sign on a walk or a visit to the museum and art gallery, now I’ve spent many years with only the vaguest notions of what I’m looking at … I know your pain… I also love how children complain they are tired because they walk/run/dance the equivalent of twice the distance. Mine had to toughen up because I do not carry (though sometimes they might get a shoulder ride from their dad).

    • Yeah, super-cute. That was a great walk but the historical connections totally passed me by, so next time…

      I tend to avoid museums nowadays. I like the idea of them but they make me DROWSY!

  2. Hey Goat, trying a new approach to this commenting thing! I just watched the video for Simon Fraser and I was interested in the epic commentary, “…General Simon Fraser had a huge breakfast and of course, in the guts, he had no chance…”

    You’re a brave man taking small children on a battlefield tour! At a guess, I don’t think you had much contemplation quietness to yourself…?

    Lovely, lush countryside though. Those blue skies are definitely polariser worthy!

    I can understand your battlefield mentality. I’ve always wanted to go to Volgograd (Stalingrad) one day, but due to Russia being slightly mental, it’s been on the backburner. Maybe the States would be an easier alternative for a tour?

    • There are lots of battle sites in the UK I’ll visit one day, and another idea I have is a walk along the WWI front in France, where so many of our countrymen (my grandmother lost two brothers) fought and died. That would be great, I reckon.

      Can’t wait to go back to the Saratoga path. There are monuments and a historic house or two connected to the battle that I still haven’t seen.

  3. Trouble says

    More immersion therapy!
    So my dad used to take us all over New England to historic sites, battlefields, forts. It was great, I loved it. My dad loves history and nature and my mom was a science teacher and so it was always full of fact-oids and learning. I did however, dress in period costume, flech arrows, mold clay bows out of mud. It was great! That did eventually take a brief turn towards Renisance Fairs and nearly running off with a very handsome snake handler. ( He trained Ligers too, no joke. Lion/tiger hybrid. Ahh high school…. Those were times, indeed!) so I think next time the girls should be in costume as was spouses, nurses or natives. It might make all the difference. Or it will turn them in to thru-hikers running through the trees in skirts….. Hmmmmm

    • Trouble says

      That should say, “WAR spouses.” I was bleary eyed and just droning my coffee.

      • Trouble says

        DAMN IT! Auto correct I hate you! That should say ” I was bleary eyed and just drinking my coffee.”

      • Heheh, I often think auto-correct wastes more time, especially on a phone, than doing without it. But I appreciate you pushing my comment tally through the roof ;).

  4. Interesting post. I’ve just watched the video. It reminded me of the English Civil War and Dumb Dyott – who shot the Roundhead commander Lord Brooke from the steeple of Lichfield cathedral in 1643.

    • You’d think the odds would be stacked against young DD with a moniker like that, but he certainly found a way to make a name for himself! I looked him up just now, though, and it seems that as with the killing of Fraser (yikes, don’t like the sound of that), there are conflicting versions. They just didn’t document reliably in those pre-social media days!

      • Yes – there are conflicting version in such cases – was it the roof or the spire? etc. The most interesting usually (and sadly) turns out to be the least reliable. I suspect anyone into battlefields would find the civil war siege of Lichfield fascinating. I only know a bit about it because I went to the school attached to the cathedral – which is actually within the walls of the “cathedral close” as it’s called, which were turned into a makeshift fortress.

        To go back to the business of conflicting versions – it’s probably not just a matter of time and documentation. It’s probably at least as much to do with the nature of the beast: conflicts, by their very natures, are seen from conflicting viewpoints. The recent Syria attacks are a good case in point. And what would a future historian make of all that’s been written about the assassination of JFK?

  5. Difficult to imagine such serenity was once a battleground. And how peace will eventually reclaim strife if only we left peace, peacefully alone.

    Such a beautiful walk.

  6. A fine series of portraits of Kate and her lively girls. Liked the Mathew Brady shot, too. I agree with what Anil wrote.

  7. Very good! This brought back memories of forced marches with my own kids. And the first time I took my son camping it put him off for life. Oh, well. Finally, one word of advice, my friend: don’t wear those thongs again. Ever.

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