Growing up, I did a lot of walking on family holidays and I was usually the child moaning about being tired and fed up. But now, as a mother to two boys, I have really embraced countryside walks…and even enjoy them too!
It has taken a few years to gradually build our two boys’ ability to walk longer distances. They are now four and six and we still don’t go that far – between three and four miles is about our limit at the moment. The boys could probably manage a little further, but we don’t want to spoil their enjoyment by pushing things too far yet. Unfortunately where we live in Cambridgeshire doesn’t offer much in the way of good walking, so we always make the most of our holidays and camping trips. I just love the freedom – no cars or noisy distractions, and that fantastic feeling of achievement gained from getting somewhere under your own steam.
Here are some useful tips I have learnt for happy family walks….
1. Choose your route carefully. Now the boys are old enough, we tend to choose nice circular walks, no longer than four miles. These kind of walks are much easier when we are on holidays in areas of the country with lots of nice footpaths. Parks and gardens are great for shorter walks too. When we are at home, we try and do a circuit at somewhere like Wicken Fen or Anglesey Abbey.
2. Think about the landscape. Is it hilly or perhaps boggy? Three miles will feel much easier on flatter ground than on a craggy coastal path – I’m still learning to remember this! Think about avoiding too many things your children dislike. Obviously, it’s good to challenge them but you don’t want to put them off walking again. My children are not keen on boggy, wet stuff – so we try and avoid too much of that if we can!
3. Invest in some good walking guides and OS maps. I like the Pathfinder walking guides which have a great selection of walks. I don’t think you need a book designed for children – just choose gentler, shorter routes.
4. Pace yourselves and have plenty of food and drink with you. We have found that longer walks work better if we base them around a picnic lunch. If people are tired, it’s a great way to break up the journey and I find my boys really need a decent amount of food if they are going to walk a few miles. We never do anything too fancy – sandwiches, apples and something sweet. Remember to take a few carrier bags to squirrel away your rubbish. We also make sure we have a packet of sweets to help perk people up if they’re getting fed up – fudge is always particularly good!
5. Invest in some decent footwear, packable waterproofs and sunhats. I am yet to find proper good-quality children’s walking boots in the smaller sizes for sale anywhere near where I live. So for now – until their feet grow into the bigger sizes – we tend to get them substantial outdoorsy trainer-shoes from Clark’s. I make do with some ancient, but comfy walking shoes, while James has some super-duper walking boots.
6. Know when to cut your losses and give up. We’ve had some fantastic walks, but we’ve also had some pretty rubbish ones where everything goes wrong. Recently we tried to walk up a hill in Wales and were totally unprepared for the ankle deep bog that surrounded it. The boys hated it, and only one of us had waterproof walking boots on that day. It was frustrating to have to give up and turn round, but much better to be honest about it.
7. Make use of public transport. Catch a bus somewhere and walk home. In areas of the country popular with walkers there are lots of little shuttle buses. You can enjoy a section of a longer walk without getting too tired. Probably always better to catch the bus there though, rather than risk the one you need to get you home not turning up!
8. Walks with lots of things to look at go much more smoothly. Our boys loved our recent trip to Pembrokeshire because there’s always something exciting round the corner – a rock to climb, a sheep or some horses. Distractions help when little legs start to get tired! It’s nice to collect things as you walk – rocks, feathers or shells. It’s also nice if you know something nice is waiting for you at the end of a long walk – like a teashop or an ice cream van!
9. Take a small first aid kit. It’s always worth having some plasters and something to soothe an insect bite or nettle rash. I usually forget mine, but I must try harder as someone always ends up falling in a patch of nettles!
10. A baby back-carrier is a fantastic investment if you have younger children. The Chicco one we had is no longer available sadly, but this is similar. We used it for both boys – they loved being high up and able to see everything!
11. Remember, its normal and perfectly ok for children to moan a little bit. It’s not a reason to give up and it doesn’t mean the outing is a failure. I always expect a fair bit of moaning, but usually it’s pretty brief and can be remedied with spotting something or an edible distraction. These days the moans are getting far less frequent, and get forgotten about very quickly! Expect little pockets of happiness that make it all worth it. Memories are made this way, not with total perfection.
12. Finally, never ever forget to pack the wet wipes. You’ll need them for everything – sticky hands, muddy knees, cow pats and worse!
What are your best tips for walking with children? I am so excited that my boys are able to walk longer distances now and I can’t wait to have more adventures with them!
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