Two Wee Adventurers

Rediscovering the great outdoors with a little one

Category: Things to Inspire a Family Adventure

A Couple of Days in the Cairngorms

There is a complete dearth of traffic-free cycle routes where we live, which is disappointing when you have a young child who likes to cycle. What a delight it was to spend a couple of days based near Aviemore where we could leave our ‘front door’ armed with a route map and a choice of miles of scenic off-road, family friendly cycle trails to explore.

Cycle and walking trail around Loch An Eilean

Day 1: Afternoon

On our first half day excursion we cycled the Old Logging Way, a linear traffic free cycle route between Aviemore and Glenmore/Loch Morlich (6.5 miles each way). The trail is well-surfaced (manageable for my Brompton folding bike), easy to follow and is signposted. It ascends gently towards Glenmore, with a few short sharp hills to negotiate, but nothing a 6 year old can’t manage. Arriving at Glenmore there’s the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre to visit, a choice of cafes, or as we opted for, a picnic on the shores of Loch Morlich.

Day 2

You can’t visit the Cairngorms without climbing a hill, so on Day 2 we swapped our bikes for our walking shoes and set off from Glenmore on a narrow ascending path to the Ryvoan Pass. We stopped at An Lochan Uaine (the Green Lochan) intending to have lunch, but no sooner had we unpacked the sandwiches than we were swarmed by a cloud of biting midges, so we abandoned what would have been a very picturesqe picnic spot and headed for more elevated (and windier) ground.

A quick stop at An Lochan Uaine (the Green Loch). Legend has it that the colour is attributed to fairies washing their clothes in it.

We continued to Ryvoan bothy, an simple shelter open for anyone to use, which was packed with people eating their lunch when we arrived. The view was much better outside and the air was midge free.

Ryvoan bothy. A small but popular bothy (even at lunch time) situated within a RSPB nature reserve.

From Ryvoan bothy we took the well maintained mountain path which ascends the heather covered eastern slopes of the Corbett, Meall a’ Bhuachaille (Shepherd’s Hill, 810m), with spectacular views over the Cairngorm plateau.

The summit affords clear 360 degree views, over to Cairn Gorm and Loch Morlich. It was windy on the top so Finn and I took refuge in the large drystone shelter and got chatting to a woman and her two young teenage sons. They were on holiday from Devon and after about 20 minutes of talking we discovered that they knew my keen mountaineer cousin who lives in Exeter. Small world!

Looking out to Loch Morlich

On the summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille with the summit cairn behind

Arrving back at the car park, after plenty of stops on the descent to chat to other families out for a hill walk, Finn was still full of energy so we headed south west to Inshriach forest and the Uath Lochans (via a cake stop at the highly recommended Potting Shed Tearoom at Insriach Nursery).

There is a lovely waymarked circuit of the lochans, which takes you through pine forest and over sections of boardwalk. This is one of my favourite spots in the lowland Cairngorms, imbibed with magical qualities!

The Potting Shed Tearoom at Inshriach Nursery with views of the resident red squirrels and birdlife. The tearoom serves a selection of Norwegian-style cakes and teas and coffee, but note, they have become so popular that from March 2018 they will only accommodate you if with an advance booking by phone or online.

Cycling in the forest around Glen Feshie

Cycling the boardwalk around the Uath Lochans. The 1.5 mile circuit is perfect for little legs (or little bikes) with plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities

Day 3

It was back on the saddles for our final day, beginning with a waymarked circular cycle from Aviemore along one of the Rothiemurchas trails to the popular Loch an Eilean, fringed by pine forest and with a tiny island complete with ruined castle. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic and the local mallards knew it. We circumnavigated the loch, which was no problem for Finn but demanded a bit more concentration for me on my tiny-wheeled Brompton folding bike.

Passing the ruined castle. It also makes a good wild swimming spot. We stopped to chat to the mum of three teenage boys while we watched (and cheered them on) as they swam over to the island.

The trail became rougher after the turn off towards the Lairig Ghru and there were a few rocky sections that required us to dismount and push, particuarly when we took a wrong turn and ended up on a narrow, uneven footpath. But the sun was shining and the scenery spectualar and the accidental detour was well worth it in spite of a few complaints from the wee one.

Finn didn’t really appreciate the extra uphill section after I took us the wrong way.

All smiles after being back on level ground

Trail riding on a laden Brompton folder. Interesting, but not recommended!

We were back in Aviemore by 3pm and wanted to make the most of our short visit and the favourable weather (it felt like summer had finally arrived), so we drove out to Feshiebridge for a walk. The trails here are quieter than around Loch An Eilean and we had a three mile circuit through the forest and alongside the river to ourselves. We spent an additional half hour exploring the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail (easily accessible from the Feshiebridge car park) and were still home in time for a well-earned tea.

Around the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail, Feshiebridge

Our short two and a half day adventure felt a lot longer but you could easily base yourself in the area for weeks with no shortage of places to explore, either by bike or on foot. There are options for all ages from easy short walking trails for little legs to strenous mountain climbs and trail riding for older teenagers, and plenty inbetween.

Around the Uath Lochans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hebridean Way Adventure for our John Muir Award

At the end of June Finn and I travelled to the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides to walk 40 miles of the newly designated Hebridean Way to acheive our John Muir Family Discovery Award (more information about the award and our proposal can be found here). Although it was F’s first longer distance, multiday hike, our experience was about more than just the walk. We observed and found out about the plants, birds and archaelogy of the island, undertook litter picking along the route to contribute something to communities we were walking through and discovered more about nature and conservation through our studies of John Muir himself.

Day 1: An t-Ob (Leverburgh) to Sgarasta Mhòr (~7miles)

Beginning our walk through Harris at the Leverburgh pier.

As we walked through Harris we collected litter along the way. Thankfully the trail itself was overwhelmingly free of litter but there was a surprising amount of strewn cans, bottles and other rubbish to collect from the roadside, even on quiet, single track roads.

There is good signage for most of the Way.

We always carried a field guide to British Wildlife in our bag in order to identify any wildlife we observed on the way. We’d never seen The Magpie Moth before, but they were nice and easy to identify.

Cutting peat for fuel is still carried out in many parts of the island.

Along many boggy stretches of the trail over peat bogs paths have been constructured using a traditional ‘raised turf’ method, whereby two parrallel drainage channels are dug, with the removed turves placed down the middle to create a section of raised path. Finn increased his daily mileage by hopping back and forth over the channels (and only fell in once).

Stopping for lunch on the newly constructed footbridge over Abhainn Horsa-cleit. Given we had yet to meet a single other walker, it was unlikely we would be blocking anyone’s way. In fact we met very few people walking over the entire five days.

Taking a closer look at the local flora. Our philosophy was to “take only photographs, leave only footprints” but Finn had already picked a frond of this Hard fern by the time he remembered, which provided a good opportunity to reiterate our John Muir Award aims. Thankfully these ferns were ubiquitous throughout the island.

As we climbed over the bealach, or path, between Maodal and Bolabhal Sgarasta we had our first sight of the West Harris beaches, quite a contrast to the peat bog and moor of the morning.

Pausing for thought (and watching the rain showers moving over Ceapabhal in the distance).

Finn enjoyed looking ahead to spot the next Hebridean Way marker post.

The final stretch of Day 1 involved a walk over the beach and a play in the dunes (Finn still had plenty of energy to burn off).

Reconstructing some bones found on the beach.

At the end of each day’s walking, Finn and I would spend some time journalling what we’d seen or how we had felt during the day.

Day 2: Sgarasta Mhòr to Carran (~7 miles)

Leaving Sgarasta at the beginning of Day 2.

Along the way we tried to observe the changing archaelogical landscape and discuss what we were seeing. Here, stopping at a ruined sheiling provided the inspiration for a discussion about the Highland Clearances.

Stretches of walking on rock made a nice change from heather bashing.

After a full day of rough, pathless walking, the final climb up the flanks of Carran were the final straw for Finn. It was particularly hard going through thick heather and he couldn’t even be placated by the extensive views over Tràigh Sheileboist and Tràigh Losgaintir.

One of Finn’s journal entries from Day 2 of a Dunlin and two Heath spotted orchids.

Day 3: Carran to Sgadabhagh (~9 miles)

Day 3 was thankfully considerably easier walking than we had seen on Day 2, beginning on the coast to coast “Coffin Road”, from the fertile machair and white shell beaches of the west to the barren rocky landscape of the east along the route once used to carry the dead to be interred in the deeper soils of the west coast.

Our final view of the west coast beaches.

Spotting a Heath spotted orchid.

As we walked past old, abandoned crofts we tried to imagine what life was like for the people who once lived there.

Walking the The Scholar’s Way, a section of path once used by children in the townships of the Bays of Harris to get to school.

The rugged cnoc and lochan landscape of the Bays area on the east coast of Harris (a cnoc is a hillock and a locan is a small loch).

A typical zinc-roofed croft house in the Bays area of Harris.

In beautiful weather towards the end of Day 3 looking over the mirror calm Loch nan Uidhean.

An extract from my journal on Day 3.

Day 4: Scadabhagh to Urgha Beag (~7 miles)

Beginning Day 4 with a walk around Loch Plocrapoil.

Recently abandoned croft at Aird Mhiabhaig, reached by footpath a quarter of a mile from the nearest road. Until recently it was occupied by a lady who had lived there all her life and who in her seventies still carried her groceries and coal in a bag tied with string to her back.

The old corn mill at Miabhaig, later converted into a Free Presbyterian meeting house.

Reaching the milestone of Tarbert, the main port and village on Harris.

Shortly after spotting our first Golden eagle we ended Day 4 at Urgha Beag where the Way leaves the road to head into the more mountainous North Harris.

Finn’s Golden eagle inspired journal entries.

Day 5: Urgha Beag to Beyond the Lewis Border (~10 miles)

No shortage of water in North Harris!

While the rest of the country was apparently basking in a heat wave, on Harris it poured with rain the entire day. As I passed a layby on the road, dripping wet, a kind couple invited me into their motorhome for a cup of tea. An hour later I reluctantly left having felt like I’d met two new friends.

Pummelled by sheets of rain as I walked over the pass below Cleit Ard and Clisham to the west.

And finally, after a stretch of wet road walking I reached the border!

Having completed the four days required to achieve our John Muir Award, Finn opted for a litter picking and a nurdle hunt on the beach on Day 5. Nurdles are small plastic pellets used as a raw material to make plastic products. Unfortunately they can cause damage to wildlife, birds and fish, which can eat them. Fortunately after a half hour hunt, he hadn’t found any on that particular beach.

 

And finally, to end with some words from John Muir…

 

 

 

 

First Time Family Bivvy – What’s Holding You Back?

Summer. The days are longer, the weather is warmer and unless you live in a particularly midge afflicted part of the country, it’s the perfect time to give a first time family bivvy a go. This time last year I took the plunge and persuaded the family to join me in spending a night without a tent atop a local hill. It was such a worthwhile experience it left me wondering why I hadn’t done it sooner. The fear of trying something new and the perceived effort of organisation and persuading the rest of the family held me back for a whole year before I worked up the courage and psychological motivation. What’s stopping you?

Time

There are so many pressures on family time these days, from parents with long working hours and commutes to the kids being involved with structured activities after school, not to mention the general tiredness that comes with caring for babies and children. I appreciate that finding a time when everybody in the family is free is a challenge but like all challenges the lack of time is an obstacle to overcome. It requires commitment to schedule a night out when everybody in the family is free but it is a great opportunity to spend time together as well as introduce little people to the great outdoors little by little (not to mention all the learning, developmental and emotional benefits…).

The beauty of microadventures is you don’t have to go far or for long – it’s up to you how challenging and time consuming you want your bivvy to be. If you’ve got a whole weekend you can travel further, backpacking in to wilder country. If it’s a school night there’s the possibility of a quick bivvy somewhere locally or in the garden. Although Finn and I have ventured further afield, on all our bivvy adventures this year we’ve not actually left the house until around 4pm and we’ve been back home before 9.30am the following morning. Regardless of how close to home we are or what little time we’ve spent away, it always feels like we’ve had such an adventure!

Money

I love microadventures because they’re practically free but the rewards are great. There will be an initial financial outlay for any kit you might need, especially if you’ve never done any sort of camping before but the good news is that you need very little to begin with, especially if you’re sticking to a summer adventure close to home. The fundamentals are a sleeping bag, sleeping mat and bivvy bag. For summer microadventures you don’t need anything fancy, a basic cheap sleeping bag will do (wear more clothes if your bag isn’t particularly warm) or borrow a sleeping bag if you can. You can pick up cheap foam sleeping mats for a fiver and to start with it’s fine to use an orange survival bag instead of a more expensive, purpose built bivvy bag to protect you and your sleeping bag from wet weather (or go without if a warm, dry night is guaranteed). Several years ago I slept in a snowhole in Scotland one freezing February night in a 3 season sleeping bag and an orange plastic survival bag. I’ll admit, I would have had a much more comfortable night if I’d had a winter sleeping bag and proper bivvy bag but I’m glad I didn’t let a lack of fancy gear get in the way of having such a memorable experience!

A stove is a useful addition to make hot drinks and dinner and/or breakfast or take a flask and something pre-cooked wrapped in foil or food you don’t need to cook. Once you’ve got hold of some basic equipment you can enjoy a cheap but cheerful family night out with memories that will last you a lifetime.

Effort

Finding the headspace to come up with a plan and execute it often threatens to hold me back, especially as it’s normally just myself as the sole adult and organiser. A first camp or bivvy can feel like a truly epic adventure; the preparation and packing both for yourself and the little ones, the effort of trying to enthuse reluctant kids to get out the house, especially when the weather is less than favourable, carrying enough kit for several children, getting very little sleep when you’re out and then just the thought of all the unpacking to do when you get home again! Yes, when your children are young it’s a lot easier to stay at home safely within your comfort zone, but keep your adventure simple and it can be a lot easier than you think.

I’ve reduced my preparation and faffing time by making a very detailed list of everything I’ve found it useful to take on a microadventure, which means I can now do my packing on autopilot. I’ve also discovered that it will take me however long I have to pack. If I only have an hour I will take an hour to pack. If I’ve several hours it will take me several hours. So I leave the packing until later in the day and try not to think about it until then. It also helps to keep everything you need for your family microadventure in one place if your storage space allows. Wild camper Phoebe Smith recommends a “Go Bag”, a rucksack which she has packed at all times filled with all the essentials she needs for a night’s wild camping.

Once you’ve been on a few family bivvy adventures and have worked out exactly what you need planning becomes easier and your adventures can become more spontaneous. At the end of the day, there’s no escaping the fact that even a one night microadventure with kids will require some effort but as I’ve discovered, it’s worth it.

Fear

It took a year of pouring over the ideas in Alastair Humprey’s inspirational book “Microadventures” before I shrugged off my trepidations and instigated my own family microadventure. Whatever your fears, try and find a way that sets you at ease. Lack of experience in the wild? Start close to home or somewhere you know and feel safe (a friend or relative’s garden?) and gradually head further afield. Afraid of going by yourself with your kids? Persuade another parent and kids to go with you. Not sure about “roughing it”? Sleep in the back garden with your duvet, pillow and hot water bottle (and an accessible toilet). Don’t like the rain? Wait for a dry evening. Not sure if your children will cope? Try it and see.

Personally I’m still fearful of sleeping out in new places on my own with F (my post about Bothying in Burley Whag says it all!) but I do my best to face those fears (the dark, wild animals, people wandering about over wild moorland after dark, irate farmers, bogeymen etc) because realistically I know I’ve blown them all out of proportion. Logically and statistically I’m much safer up a hill after dark than on the streets of my nearest city. For women worried about solo microadventures (or taking out children by yourself) this advice by adventurer Anna McNuff is a good read.

A few tips to help you get going

  • Read some inspiring books or blogs. I love Microadventures by Alastair Humpreys,  Extreme Sleeps: Adventures of a Wild Camper by Phoebe Smith and 100 Family Adventures by The Meek family. Plenty of inspiration and advice for families of all ages can be found in this compilation of different families’ microadvenure experiences gathered by Alastair Humpreys.
  • Sign up to or pledge to take part in a microadventure challenge or create your own challenge. Alastair Humprey’s summer microadventure challenge was the catalyst for our first family bivvy last year. Commit to this years Summer Solstice Microadventure challenge anytime between 5th June and 9th July or join in with this year’s Wild Night Out on July 1st.
  • Strenghten your commitment by sharing what you’re doing, face to face or on social media, or join forces with another family and hold each other to your word! I’ll admit, if I hadn’t announced publically on my blog that my son and I were going to bivvy out a night each month this year I probably would have given up by February!
  • Weather watch. Dry weather certainly makes for an easier first time bivvy so if you’re able to make your plans flexible, hang out for a good weather window.
  • Start small and local, especially if you’ve not camped out a lot before.

Finally this is my more detailed kit list for anyone who’s interested in that sort of thing!

  • Bivvy bags
  • Groundsheet or tarp
  • Sleeping mats
  • Sleeping bags
  • Extra clothes for night-time
  • Hats, buffs and gloves
  • Waterproof jackets and trousers
  • Stove, gas and matches
  • Food, snacks, tea bags
  • Drinking water
  • Large travel cups, sporks and a sharp knife
  • Headtorch
  • Wet wipes
  • Small first aid kit
  • Small trowel (for digging a toilet)
  • Insect repellent and sun lotion (summer)
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • Map
  • Ziplock bag for rubbish
  • Black bin liner to keep things in if wet
  • A book (if it’s just F and I we like to read stories!)

The John Muir Award via The Hebridean Way

This week Finn and I have been officially registered for a John Muir Family Discovery Award, which to achieve will involve us walking part of the newly designated long-distance footpath, The Hebridean Way.

I first became acquainted with the John Muir Award while volunteering with a wonderful Edinburgh based conservation organisation, The Green Team, through whom I undertook an individual Discovery Award while facilitating a group of young people in conservation work on the Isle of Arran. The philosophy of the award; to encourage awareness and responsibility for the natural environment in a spirit of fun and adventure, continues to resonate with me and is one I want to introduce to my son, so this summer we propose to undertake a challenge together to achieve a family award.

John Muir at Washington Column (Yosemite online)

A bit of background if you’ve not heard of John Muir

The John Muir Award is named after the pioneering ecologist, lover of the natural world and “founding father” of the world conservation movement, John Muir. Although Scots born, his family moved to America when he was a boy. Here, he developed a deep love of the natural world, which took him on adventures including a 1000 mile walk, and it was after his explorations of the country that he became aware of the threats to wild places and encouraged him to help set up the first National Park.

The message of John Muir – that we need to experience, enjoy and care for wild places – is at the heart of the award. Following his lifelong journey of discovering, exploring and conserving wild places and sharing his experience with others, there are four challenges to complete:

  • Discover a wild place for yourself
  • Explore your wild place (find out more about it)
  • Conserve – take some personal responsibility (do something to look after wild places and nature)
  • Share your experiences (let others know what you’ve done, achieved and learned)

I think the award is such a great way for children to not only learn, in a purposeful and active way, about environmental awareness and about taking personal responsibility for a wild place, but also presents a valuable opportunity for kids to spend meaningful time outdoors and really experience the incredible spiritual and mental-health benefits of being in nature. As John Muir described it;

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into the trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

Our Award proposal

There are three levels of award; Discovery, Explorer and Conserver, each demanding a progressively greater involvement and time commitment to complete. For our Discovery Award we are required to spend a minimum of four days to complete the challenges. After discussion with F, he chose the Isle of Harris in the Western Isles of Scotland as our wild place. We have a family connection with the island so as well as encouraging a general sense of environmental awareness, understanding and responsibility it will be a great way for F to foster a deeper understanding of the home of his ancestors and to appreciate a place we visit regularly in a new light.

One of the many beautiful beaches on the Isle of Harris

We will be walking the 38 mile Harris section of The Hebridean Way, a long distance walking route that in it’s entirety runs the length of the archipelago, over 10 islands from Vatersay to Lewis. The Harris stretch is the most challenging, much of it being across wet and pathless terrain, but as F seems to have a fondness for wandering off the beaten track and getting wet and muddy I’m hoping he will be enthusiastic about his first long distance, multi-day trip. (It was, incidentally, his choice to walk. I suggested we cycle it but F was adamant that we should walk, just so you know it’s not a case of me putting ideas in his head!) On one night of our trip we intend to bivvy or wild camp along the route to more deeply immerse ourselves in the landscape.

In the course of walking we will keep a collective journal of observations, drawings, poems and photos and get more actively involved by litter picking, monitoring plastic pollution, collecting data of wildlife sightings to contribute to various citizen wildlife surveys and by applying a “minimum impact” philosophy to our walk. We will begin our adventure by taking the opportunity to find out more about John Muir himself, his life and work, using a variety of online resources and books before attempting our walk next month.

Wish us luck!

Further information 

If you’re interested in achieving a John Muir Award yourself or with your family you can find out all you need to know here

Information about the John Muir Trust, a charity that aims to make sure wild places are valued by all sectors of society and that wild land is protected throughout the UK can be found here

Mission:Explore John Muir is a unique set of activities to inspire children to follow in the footsteps of John Muir

Further information about walking or cycling the The Hebridean Way can be found here

10 Tips for Winter Family Microadventures

It might not be an obvious choice to camp or bivvy out with your family in the cold and dark of a Scottish winter but it can be done, even with just a small amount of organisation. It may or may not be fun but it’s certainly an experience! If you’re thinking of trying it yourself I’ve come up with a few tips that I’ve found useful to get you started.

1. Pair up with another enthusiastic family. It helps both morale and sticking to your plan if invite another family along and prevents any ‘oh it looks a bit wet/cold/dark tonight, let’s do it another time’ thinking.

2. Stay close to home. There’s no need to head far to have an adventure, especially in winter. Any location feels different in the dark so it’s still exciting for kids even if you go no further than the back garden (or a neighbours’ garden). This requires a lot less organisation and preparation, makes it easier to go back and forth if you forget something and means that if anyone ends up really miserable they can just pop back home.

3. Hot water bottles. If you’re close to home take advantage of it and issue everyone with a hot water bottle or two. Especially good at keeping toes warm.

4. Take a bin bag. You can keep everyone’s things together, including extra clothes if you need to put more layers on during the night and it’s a good idea to keep your boots undercover so they won’t get wet if it rains or snows in the night.

5. If you’re bivvying close to home arrange for someone to bring you a cup of tea in ‘bed’ in the morning! What a way to wake up!

6. As well as plenty of warm thermal layers, wear a buff and hat (and even gloves) to keep otherwise exposed places warm though the night. Finn always pushes off his hat after about 20 minutes asleep but on our January bivvy he still didn’t notice it was snowing until he woke up in the morning. I wonder if a balaclava would work?

7. Make an evening of it. Go on a star gazing night walk before settling down, make a fire or drink hot chocolate while tucked up in your sleeping bags telling stories…

8. …Or, if you’re pressed for time or less organised (as we were for our February microadventure), stay inside doing whatever else you’d be doing for the evening then grab your things and head out last minute ready to bed down and sleep.

9. Accept that you’re probably not going to have the best night’s sleep of your life. I find my son wakes a lot more when bivvying and in my mother protector role I’m always half awake checking that he’s not out of his sleeping bag or suffocating in it, that he’s not too cold, that he’s still breathing etc. etc. It helps if you can schedule an early night for everyone the following night. Then just think how much you’ll appreiciate a warm cosy night in a proper bed!

10. Make a commitment, tell others about it (so it’s more difficult to back out) and just give it a go! If anyone gets too cold, wet or miserable though the night you can just pop back home and wait until summer (but then you’ll have midges to contend with!)

You’ll need a bit of kit to comfortably sleep out in the winter but if you’re going no further than the garden the essentials are;

  •  Something to sleep on such as a foam or inflating camping mat (you’ll want to use a couple together unless they’re winter-specific mats)
  • Something to sleep in. As warm as possible. (Use two lighter weight sleeping bags together if you don’t have a super warm sleeping bag)
  • Lots of warm clothes, including a hat. (For our February microadventure I wore a couple of pairs of warm trousers, a vest,  long sleeved thermal top, a fleece, an insulated jacket, a buff, hat, thick socks and my slippers.
  • A bivvy bag or orange survival bag
  • Torch
  • Fluffy pillows and hot water bottles!

A more detailed year round kit list can be found here

8 Books to Inspire a Family Microadventure

For those families who would like to try out a microadventure but aren’t sure how or what or where to start, or for families who just want a little push to get them outdoors more I’ve compiled a short list of books that offer both inspiration and advice on the practicalities of cooking and eating out of doors. Get in touch if you’ve any suggestions of inspiring books that I’ve missed!

1. Camping and Walking by David Watkins and Meike Dalal

First published in 1979, I had to put this book first on the list as it was THE book that inspired me when I was younger. I spent many hours pouring over the pages dreaming of the day when I could go off camping alone. After I started taking my son on microadventures I sought out this book online to give to him and although he can’t read it yet, he too loves to look through it’s pages.

2. Microadventures by Alastair Humphreys

This was the book that inspired me as an adult to try a microadventure. I had this book for a year and read it several times before I psyched myself up to take the family on our first microadventure last summer. Although not specifically aimed at families, it’s packed full of good ideas for adventures with minimal time and cost outlay and most of Alastair’s ideas can be adapted to family situations. There’s also a great section on microadventure practicalities including how to find a wild bivvy spot and what essential kit you need when starting out.

3. 100 Family Adventures by Tim, Kerry, Amy and Ella Meek

I love this family who are so enthusiastic about spending time in the outdoors together and their book provides inspiration for all sorts of family adventures. After reading it, it really gave me the confidence to think ‘I can do it!’ Some of their ideas are expensive and require some prior knowledge and expertise or to go with an organised group like sea kayaking and skiing trips buts there are plenty of ideas for lost cost microadventures too. Some of my favourites are the ‘midweek eat outs’ and the snow and scooter safaris. There’s also information about different ways to sleep outside.

4. Swallows and Amazons and Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome

The quintessential kids adventure story. I never read it as a child and didn’t realise that Swallows and Amazons was just the first of a whole series of books following their adventures. Winter Holiday is an great story and inspiration for a winter microadventure.

5. The Scottish Bothy Bible by Geoff Allan

This guide hadn’t been published when Finn and I undertook our 5 Bothies in 5 Weeks with a 5 Year Old adventure but we’ve been using it to plan some bothy trips this year. There is an element of fun in finding a bothy for yourself and this was the prevailing attitude for a long time when bothy locations were a well kept secret. If planning for a family bothy trip, however, this is invaluable because of the good advice on how far the walk is, how big the bothy is and how busy the bothy generally is (i.e. the bothies to avoid with your little ones!)

6. Wild Guides by various authors

I really like the format of the Wild Guides and their beautiful and inspirational photography and although they’re not specifically aimed at families, most list family friendly options or just general inspiration to plan your own family microadventure. Choose from titles such as Wild Swimming, Wild Ruins and area guides such as Wild Guide Lakes and Dales.

7. Cool Camping Guides by various authors

Good if you’re not quite ready for a wild camping adventure, we’ve  used the Cool Camping guides to direct us to a number of campsites, one in Wales which we love so much we’ve camped there for 4 years in a row. There is a Cool Camping Kids edition specifically listing family friendly sites which include both basic camping and glamping options and ideas for campsite games and recipes.

8. Books by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks including The Den Book, The Wild Weather Book and Go Wild!: 101 Things To Do Before You Grow Up

Lots of child and family friendly ideas of activities and things to do on a microadventure. They are all well written and packed full of fun, simple ideas and I highly recommend them!

Mountain Bothies for the Uninitiated

As Finn and I prepare to embark on our 5 nights in 5 bothies in 5 weeks adventure, I thought it might be an idea to explain a little about mountain bothies and bothy etiquette for the uninitiated. I came across my first bothy in the summer of 2000. While a student I worked for a summer at a guest house in Elgol on the Isle of Skye. On my days off I’d head out to explore the local area. There’s a wonderfully scenic walk from Elgol to Loch Coruisk in the heart of the Cuillin Mountains, via Camasunary Bay where there’s a bothy popular with walkers and climbers. I guess I had a sense of adventure then, even though I didn’t have much outdoor knowledge, experience or decent kit and one weekend I walked to Loch Coruisk staying overnight in Camasunary bothy. I feasted on spaghetti with tomato purée cooked on my tiny, cheap gas stove and slept in a very basic sleeping bag placed over some newspapers spread out on the stone floor. Tip #1 Always take a camping mat! If not improving comfort all that much it will at least insulate you from a cold stone floor. I speak from experience. I spent one more night in that bothy before packing up and heading back to Edinburgh earlier than planned to sort out some boyfriend trouble. That summer I ended up losing one love (all for the best!) but I discovered many more loves, including one for wild landscapes, time spent in the outdoors and the Scottish Islands.

Bothy Nights: The Lookout, Isle of Skye

Bothy nights

Bothies are essentially open shelters with four walls and a roof that are available to anybody and are usually found in remote locations, the majority in Scotland but also in wilder parts of Northern England and Wales. There is no booking system and they are unlocked and free to use but the majority are very basic with few, if any, facilities. They all contain a spade, which is as close as all but one or two bothies come to having a toilet. There might be a wooden sleeping platform, a stove or open fire and a motely collection of chairs and tables. Or there might not. Water needs to be collected from a stream nearby (and boiled or treated) or carried in. Basically, it helps to think of bothying as wild camping without the tent. Yet it’s so much more than that (and it still might be wise to carry the tent as a back up!)

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The now demolished Minch Moor bothy

It’s not a luxurious accommodation choice to say the least. Some bothies are abused by people who visit and leave rubbish or don’t follow the toilet etiquette and in many you’ll be sharing your abode with mice (while once staying alone in a bothy on the Isle of Islay I was kept awake most of the night by mice partying in the walls). However, there’s just something about getting spending a night or two in a bothy, in a beautiful, wild place, away from everything. A bothy offers more space than a tent, a more weather-tight shelter, a refuge from the midges in summer and if there’s a fire, warmth in winter.

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Deluxe bothy with a wooden sleeping platform

Given that bothies are open to all you never know who you might meet when you arrive at one and without fail I always feel a bit anxious on opening a bothy door! We’ve often had bothies to ourselves, especially when we’ve been staying midweek, in the winter or in some of the island bothies away from popular hill walks and munros. On the other hand, time it right and you could meet some wonderful people who will share with you their stories and offer you a drink and a place by the fire.

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Self catering kitchen

My most memorable bothy experience so far was a trip with my husband to Glengarrisdale in the far north of the Isle of Jura to see in the New Year 2003/2004. The north west of Jura is incredibly inaccessible (unless you have your own boat) and involves a four hour drive from Edinburgh to Kennacraig, a two hour ferry to Islay, a further short ferry journey from Islay to Jura, a drive over an hour long on Jura’s only road, most of it single track and finally a five mile walk over rough ground to reach the bothy on the uninhabited west coast. We hired a car especially for the occasion but there wasn’t a bed to found anywhere in Jura for New Years Eve. However, the hotel at Craighouse were happy for us to pitch our tent in their garden and we planned to camp there for a night before heading to the bothy the following day. As we drove west the weather began to worsen and after a rough ferry crossing we arrived in Islay to be told the Jura ferry wasn’t currently sailing because of the adverse weather conditions. The ferry to Jura is a lifeline to the island so we hung around until the end of the day when the boat made a single crossing in some appalling weather to stock Jura with essential supplies. We made it but there was no way we could put up our tent in the gale force wind and torrential rain, so we parked up and went to the pub. Unfortunately the ceilidh band booked for the New Year celebrations never made it because of the weather and the locals all abandoned the pub for home just before the bells. We were offered some space on a floor by a kind local but instead opted to sleep in the car, so the turning of the year was spent listening to the car radio as the wind swayed the car from side to side and gave me a minor case of seasickness.

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Leaving The Lookout bothy, Isle of Skye

The wind had calmed by the morning and we set off north. I had heard that a path of some sort existed from the road to the bothy but we never found it so struck west over the rough ground. As well as all we needed to survive in a bothy in winter conditions we were each carrying 10kg of compressed peat blocks to fuel the fire and my bag was so heavy that every time I got my foot stuck down a ditch between the grassy hummocks (of which there were many) I had to call for my husband to come back and push me upright again. As a final obstacle we had to wade through a river to reach the bothy. At least we’ll have the bothy to ourselves we thought, for what other crazy people would make this kind of journey?! No one as it turned out, but we did meet some very much more sensible bothy stalwarts who had chartered a boat over from the mainland to carry them and all their supplies for a week directly to the bothy door. So while we hunkered down with our instant cous cous, our companions dined on a three course meal complete with china plates and a tablecloth. Still, they were great company, expect at night when one of them snored very loudly. So tip #2 Don’t forget your earplugs!

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Finn’s first bothy adventure

Not every bothy presents the same level of challenge and some are a lot more accessible to families. Last autumn when Finn was four we took him on his first bothy experience, closer to home in Galloway. As anyone with children can imagine, there were challenges but Finn (and I) enjoyed it enough to propose spending five further nights in a bothy this autumn. You’ll be able to read more about the bothies we’ll be visiting and about our trip in a future blog post. There’s sure to be plenty of stories for the bothy log-book!

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Tips for family bothy visits

  • For a first bothy visit with the family it’s best to locate a bothy as close as possible to home with a short walk in. Grid references for MBA bothies and basic information are published on the Mountain Bothies Association website. You’ll obviously need to have some basic map reading skills but for first timers seek out the bothies accessible by obvious tracks rather than those accessed over pathless moorland.
  • Find a bothy close to home with a short walk in take a picnic and a stove to make a cuppa and just go for lunch rather than an overnight stay!
  • Take a tent with you as a back up for if the bothy is busy.
  • Some bothies can get busy on a weekend and a few can get rowdy, so opt to go mid week in the school holidays.
  • One night in a bothy is enough for a first visit and means you don’t need to take many clothes or much food with you and don’t need to worry too much about whether the kids are getting adequate vitamins! You can buy fancy backpacking food from outdoor shops but it’s just as easy and a lot lot cheaper to take your own food. If we’re keeping things quick and simple we opt for basic meals brought from home packaged in ziplock bags. We’re a vegetarian/vegan family so take things like oats for breakfast (we add extras like hemp, chia seeds, raisins, cinnamon, dried apple pieces and brown sugar before we go, then just add boiling water), oatcakes and nut butter for lunch and vermicilli brown rice noodles (just add boiling water, no need to cook) and make your own combinations using different seasonings and extras before you leave home such as vegetable stock powder, onion and garlic powder, chilli powder, freeze dried vegetables, nuts, dried seaweed, pre-chopped vegetables to add if I’m happy carrying a bit more weight. I like to add noodles to a miso soup paste or make up a peanut sauce using a spoon of nut butter and some seasonings. Don’t forget plenty of snacks, treats and hot chocolate!
  • Bothies get cold so bring plenty of warm clothes for everybody and some thick socks. A fire really makes a difference if your bothy has a stove or fireplace. Wood is in short supply at most bothies so you’ll need to carry in your own fuel and kindling – definitely worth the effort if there are a couple of adults to share the load. We also take plenty of candles to give the bothy a nice warm glow.
  • Get the kids involved in some bothy tasks depending on their age and abilities, such as collecting water, washing up, making a fire, making up the ‘beds’, sweeping the bothy floor and digging a toilet!
  • Finn likes to take his own headtorch and a story to read while cuddled up in his sleeping bag. Or take a pack of cards or small travel game for entertainment in the evenings.

More information about bothies

  • For more information and before planning a trip it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with The Bothy Code.
  • Most bothies, and all those I’ve mentioned above, are maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), although there are others maintained by landowners or climbing clubs. The MBA was founded in 1965 and only owns 1 of the 100+ bothies it looks after. The Association relies on volunteers to carry out most of the maintenance work and administrative tasks. The majority of maintenance work is financed by membership subscriptions so if you’re interested in supporting the maintenance of ‘simple shelters in remote country for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places’, please consider joining the MBA.
  • All bothies have a Bothy Log-Book, where you’ll find all manner of things recorded and can record your own visit. One of the first things I do when entering a bothy is to locate it and have a read. If you’ve forgotten to take a book, you’ll find some great stories with it’s pages.
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Approaching Burleywhag bothy

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