Of late we have taken to attempting to find walks that start literally at our doorstep. Turn left to the woods. Turn right to the canal. This makes it sound easy as if I just fall out of my door into a bucolic paradise requiring no more equipment than my Bo Peep outfit. They are all the rage here in Wiltshire. Pinnies. Bonnets. Croziers. Our usual kit and caboodle involves, at its most basic, a banana and a bag of crisps. It becomes more sophisticated if we have printed off a map from Bing, one with public footpaths outlined and the blue veins of waterways. On those sort of days we pack a flask of tea. If I was going to conquer Everest I would do it with a Thermos of tea.
Of course, the tea is what leads to my new hobby of ‘wild peeing’. This, for the uninitiated is the need, when you have to pee, to ‘return to the wild’ or ‘go native’ and in lieu of the brick and mortar and crinkly papered Public Convenience you have to make do with Mother Nature’s porcelain or, to give it its botanic term; ‘a bush’. Trees are also useful if they are wide enough in girth to screen you from the gaze of other canal walkers. Fortunately we have a canal and a wood alongside each other and a river alongside that too so that you have all your bases covered. Your walk. Your nature haven. Your kayak M25.
I used to be a terrible townie in that I found it almost impossible to pee in the woods. There was always that dreadful moment when the dancing began, the crossing and uncrossing of legs, the odd noises of exasperation due to micturation when I could not find a door with a primitive picture of a lady on it and some twentieth century plumbing anywhere. If it didn’t have a bowl and a lid I was lost. Only in moments of utter desperation would I be persuaded to take my chances with the wildlife. Invariably there were stinging nettles. Sometimes a surprised fox, although never more surprised than me. Once there was a close encounter with some tourists on a Pembrokeshire coastal path. I had not understood that my husband’s frantic calls of ‘Helen. Helen. Helen.’ were code for ‘There’s someone coming.’ I had replied to the most frantic ‘Helenhelenhelen’ with ‘will you be quiet!’ just as the group of ramblers hove into view. There is a reason I love elastic waistbands. Speed. I pretended to be squatting in the flora to identify an orange fungus which , I announced in my best Botany voice “…is in fact called ‘orange peel fungus’.” No one was convinced, least of all the bit of orange peel some previous pee-er had abandoned complete with its ‘jaffa’ sticker.
My husband is Welsh and a bit of a man of the mountains. I don’t mean that he plays a banjo or whittles sticks or anything but he is never more at home than in his hiking boots and pees, frankly, anywhere. He has no qualms about wild peeing although I used to point out that it is much easier for those of us of the masculine persuasion since it involves the undoing of a zip and not much more. The feminine pipework requires the full dressing down of course. Haunches come into play as you squat or hover. That aside he persuaded me, eventually, that peeing in the wild was, after all, the natural thing. Peeing in a porcelain loo is not. Over the years and the hikes I have got more and more used to peeing in the wild.
I have become so accustomed to a wild wee that, if I am being honest, and that’s what a blog can allow you to do, OK, are you ready for this?…If I am being honest… I actually PREFER peeing in the wild. It isn’t just the sensation of the wind on your cheeks or indeed the nettles, it is the fact that you are being ecological and biodegradable. A recent Radio 4 programme offered the opinion, put forward by some sort of plumbing ecologist, that the flush toilet was the worst thing we ever invented. It’s wasteful. No pun intended.
Originally I was anxious of course. I am an urbanite and as such I was worried about attack by wildlife, the bears and the wolves that are in our primal imagination and the actual ants and bees that still cling to existence. I was slightly less anxious about being seen, bottom out. My husband made a joke of it every time I needed to pee on a walk or hike or other forced march fun and frolics. There was one period of time where he actually took photos of me peeing, unawares. He would jump out at me with his camera and a yell of ‘Say Pees’. Hm. Perhaps that’s too much honesty for a blog. He has, thankfully, grown out of that phase and as he has grown out of that so I’ve grown out of my urban hang ups.
Pee in the woods. Seriously. Try it. Obviously don’t go too mad and desecrate a floral clock or the stand of trees in the park perhaps, but next time you’re out there just reach back for your wilder self. It is very freeing. I am not anxious at all on a walk now. I am friend to the stinging nettles and the hogweed.
One of my recent thoughts on the subject was if I pee in the woods often enough will the foxes recognise my scent? This thought occurred this weekend when we were out on a walk, one of our doorstep delight walks and we came across a couple of earths and some fox scat. Scat is poo of course, except for the urban foxes where ‘fox scat’ is something that is popular in jazz clubs. Anyway, stupid jokes aside I do wonder. There are bits of the paths where I can smell fox and I don’t even have that great an olfactory sense. I’m only human, not vulpine or canine. When we are strolling along the canal path and someone is walking their dog and the dog is all over the place, bombarded with and wild about the scents it is picking up I wonder about the landscape it is sniffing. The Smellscape.
I want to be part of that smellscape, to be part of the land. Let the wind whistle where it may, I am content to connect to my primeval past. Next time you’re out, why not try it? Reclaim your land, mark your territory. And watch out for the stingies.