Two Wee Adventurers

Rediscovering the great outdoors with a little one

Author: Kerry-Anne (page 1 of 4)

An Off-Grid Adventure at Skiddaw House Hostel

Skiddaw House is the highest hostel in Britain, nestled among the northern fells of the Lake District, 470m high.  It’s also one of the most remote hostels in the network and can only be reached by foot or cycle along a rough track, 3.5 miles from the nearest road. All the pre-requisites for an mini-adventure!

Approaching Skiddaw House from the north

The hostel is off-grid, with lighting powered by solar panels and heating powered by two woodburning stoves (there is no heating in the bedrooms but extra blankets and hot water bottles are provided!) There is no mains electricity (so no plug sockets) and no phone signal , TV or wifi. As a sign in the hostel declares: “We don’t have wifi. Talk to each other!”

Dinner in the hostel’s cosy kitchen and dining area

Starting out last November the wee one and I have been on a mission to walk the Wainwrights together (the 214 hills and mountains described in A. Wainwright’s seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells) and have been sampling the network of YHA hostels in the area along the way. Over the winter and early spring months we’ve tackled a number of the low and mid-range fells but with the coming of warmer days and longer daylight hours we decided to get our teeth stuck into something a bit higher. Skiddaw is England’s 4th highest mountain and where better to summit it from than the Skiddaw House Hostel! Not only have you already climbed half of the height of the mountain by the time you reach the hostel but it gives you the opportunity to climb Skiddaw and the surrounding fells by the lesser known, quieter and more intersting routes. We ascended from via Sale How and didn’t meet any other walkers until joining the main and most popular path from Keswick, at which point we met not only walkers but fell runners and even a couple of guys carrying their bikes up the mountain.

Ascending the Skiddaw Little Man with Keswick and Derwent Water beyond

A short detour off the main path up Skiddaw takes you up to the summit of Skiddaw Little Man. After getting as far as the col between the two summits Finn took a lot of persuading to climb the additional Wainwright and he didn’t share my logical thought that having come so far, we might as well put in a tiny extra bit of effort, which would save us having to ascend all the way from the bottom in order to summit the Wainwright at a future date. Neither did he thank me when he reached the top and was almost blown off the other side (although I somehow managed a smile out of him for a photo before the wind blew him over!)

Although Skiddaw is a fairly ‘easy’ mountain to ascend as there is no difficult terrain to negotiate, the summit is very exposed and the weather can be fierce. Luckily it was dry when we reached the top and there are a series of roughly built shelters on the ridge which did such an effective job at blocking the wind that we were able to hunker down for 45 minutes having a good chat with a fellow walker we met.

Sheltering from the strong winds on the summit of Skiddaw

We descended via Bakestall, another Wainwright, making a short detour from the track back to the hostel to see the Dash Falls.

Dash Falls, on the way back to Skiddaw House

Our room with a view!

Back at the hostel, Suzy and Martin, the hostel managers, are friendly, helpful, informative and very welcoming of kids, and if the visitor book is anything to go by, lots of families make the trip to the hostel. The facilities are more basic than you might find in a number of hostels but Suzy and Martin have done a fantastic job at creating a homely atmosphere and I appreciated their little touches and attention to detail, which really make the hostel what it is. There may not be wifi but the views are fabulous and the small and cosy common room is well stocked with books, musical instruments and the finest collection of board games, word games and other games that I’ve ever seen in a hostel. Suzy was even talking to me about getting hold of a box of Lego to add to the collection. Perhaps it’s lucky they didn’t already have any when we stayed or I never would have managed to persuade Finn to leave the hostel!

Practicalities

  • We parked at the free car park next to the Blencathra Centre near Threlkeld. From there it’s about a 3.5 mile walk to the hostel, first on a wide track then on a slightly boggy path. Navigation is easy, but remember, you are walking into some remote mountains and the route is exposed in wind and bad weather so plan accordingly.
  • There is a small shop at the hostel where you can buy the basics as well as alcoholic drinks and you can also purchase a do-it-yourself breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Alternatively, like us, you can carry your own food in and use the hostel kitchen. If you want a pub meal for dinner it’s a long walk!
  • You can find lots more information about the hostel itself and things to do in the area on the Skiddaw House website https://www.skiddawhouse.co.uk/  and the YHA website https://www.yha.org.uk/hostel/yha-skiddaw-bunkhouse

90 Miles, 5 Days and 7 Islands: Walking the Hebridean Way from Vatersay to Berneray

If last year I bemoaned the fact that the West Highland Way was too busy with walkers, even in early April, I certainly found my match on the Hebridean Way. In 5 days of walking I could count the number of Heb Way walkers I met on the fingers of less than one hand. On several days I walked for hours without seeing another soul (only those passing in cars on the road walking sections). I found myself talking to the birds, of which there are many (particularly oystercatchers, lapwings, sandpipers, curlews and sea birds and ducks. You might even get lucky and see an eagle). I do this at home anyway but at least here there was no-one about to give me a funny look. At the summit of Ruabhal, the highest point on Benbecula (at a very modest 124m) and a popular destination for day walkers, there were at least 8 people gathered. I panicked at the intrusion and fled down the opposite, path-less and people-less side of the hill to have my lunch in peace (but only after asking one of the day trippers to take a photo of me at the summit of course 🙂 ).

At the summit of Ruabhal. It may only be of modest height but with fabulous 360 degree views.

In all seriousness though, if you’re after a scenic, varied trail, off the beaten track but waymarked, you can’t go wrong with the Hebridean Way, just so long as you’re prepared to either carry your accommodation and equipment or spend a lot of time organising your trail plans beforehand.

The Hebridean Way walking route (not to be confused with the established and more popular cycling route) only opened in 2017 and as yet there is limited infrastructure created around the trail. If you like your creature comforts and daily cafe latte you’d best look elsewhere. Shops, pubs and cafes are all sparse along the route or involve a detour (not always considerable but bear in mind even an extra couple of miles off route are significant if you’ve already done a 20 mile day.) The first and only time the route directly passes a shop between Castlebay in Barra and Berneray is during the latter part of day 3, when ironically you pass two small supermarkets within a couple of kilometres. I visited both, just for the novelty of it.

Forget Starbucks. DIY coffee to go.

With this in mind I chose to be self-sufficient and carry a tent and camping paraphernalia along with a lightweight stove and enough food for 5 days (having walked the Isle of Harris section of the Heb Way last year with the wee one, this year I was just walking the section from Vatersay to Berneray). This gave me the freedom to walk as far as I wished in a day without having to veer off track to find food or accommodation and also allowed me to do the minimal amount of planning. I.e. none. Or you could do what two women I met were doing, staying at a mixture of campsites, hostels and bed and breakfast accommodation depending what was available. Doing this you’d still need to carry your tent and you’d need a bigger budget than I had and organise your b & bs in advance as accommodation in the Outer Hebrides is limited and fills up quickly in the summer months.

Spot the tent! First night’s wild camp on the Isle of Barra.

I mostly wild camped. There are a few campsites along the way, all packed with motorhomes and camper vans and really set up to accommodate these but they make an adequate enough stop if you’re needing a shower and flush toilet. I made an exception though to camp at the wonderful Gatliff Trust hostel at Howmore. For £16 you can stay in an actual bed for the night (plus an extra £2 if you don’t have your own sleeping bag) in a traditional Hebridean building. They don’t take pre-bookings, you just turn up and bag your bed. For £10 you can camp outside and have access to all the facilities – toilet, shower, common room with kitchen, woodburning stove and a well-stocked bookshelf. For me, this was a perfect stop halfway to shower, wash underwear, dry out after a wet day and socialise (thanks to the wonderful Fiona and Tony whose good conversation and humour kept me in high spirits as I battled with a pretty nasty cold!)

Hostel at Howmore. I completely forgot to take a photo (and it was raining) so you’ll have to make do with the stock postcard!

The trail itself is wonderfully varied. There are road sections (especially crossing causeways), old tracks across the machair, pathless moorland sections, white sand beaches and the odd low level (but often steep) hill climb thrown in to stretch the legs and reward you with some superlative views. I think the path developers have done an amazing job considering the difficult terrain. Just glance at a map of the Uists and you’ll see that the landscape is dominated by water; freshwater lochs, sea lochs, not to mention the rain (yes I did get some, it was torrential, but I kept my head down and didn’t hang around to take photos).

I don’t know how the path developers weaved a trail through that!

I should add that although signage is generally good, along the pathless sections in poor visibility you may struggle to see the waymarker posts, especially as the route often veers off at odd angles to follow the driest terrain and there are no directional arrows on the signs to point you in the right direction. I made the odd blunder but nothing serious and it’s good to keep the brain active with a little hands-on navigation now and then. Just bear in mind you’d probably need to take a compass bearing on some sections in the mist to keep you on course.

On my final day I rose at 6.30am to hazy sunshine and the very odd sensation of stillness. Up until then stong winds had buffeted both me and the tent consistently to the point where, even with earplugs I found it difficult to sleep over the noise. Note to reader: if you decide to camp on this trail make sure you tent is sturdy enough to stand up to some rather breezy conditions.

I had a ferry to catch from Berneray at 17.20 on which I could miss on no account, and 19 miles to walk to get there. Even by the time of my second breakfast, eaten on the hoof, I had fixated on the idea of coffee and cake (my first of the trip!) at the cafe on Berneray, providing I arrived with time to spare, and this thought kept me walking at a brisk pace the entire day. Today there were several miles of road walking, the monotony alleviated by a series of random bilingual signs at 100m intervals, which put a smile on my face.

 

Rounding the last hill of my walk the island of Berneray and Harris beyond were revealed. I could almost taste the coffee. As I descended, trying hard to pull my eyes away from the view and remember to watch where I was going so I didn’t end up in the bog, I met two local Benbecula ladies out walking their dog. I asked them if they knew if the cafe on Berneray was open today. “Yes”, they replied, “we’ve just come from lunch there”. Then, looking at their watches “only until 3.45 though”. (What??! I thought to myself. What kind of cafe shuts at 3.45?) The ladies continued, “well it’s 2.45 now and once you reach the road it’s only 3 miles to the cafe so I’m sure you’ll make it”. Obviously a statement that could only be made by someone who had DRIVEN to the start of the path from the cafe and wasn’t carrying over 10 kilos on their back. Despite the blisters I practically ran those last 4 miles, (forget the view,) arriving at the door of the cafe at 3.44pm, a sweaty, exhausted mess. The waitress was none to pleased to see me and groaned audibly as I entered. As she opened her mouth, presumably about to tell me they’d closed, I pre-empted her with an attempt at a joke. “Don’t tell me you’re about to close after I’ve just walked 100 miles for a piece of your cake?!” “I don’t care” she replied, “do you know how much I’ve got to do?” Oh dear, not a lady with a sense of humour then. I turned to polite pleading instead. “Do you think I could just get a piece of cake to take away please?” More sighing as she pointed to the only other couple in the cafe. “Well they’ve not long arrived and are having a cup of tea so you might as well sit in”. I started to thank her profusedly but was interupted “well, just hurry up and order then”. Nothing like being made to feel welcome (I recalled my walk on the Cumbria Way where as I finished up in a cafe in Carlisle the cafe owner announced my finish to the entire cafe, both to my surprise and embarrassment, and someone anonymously paid for my dinner. Now that was a welcome!) The other couple gave me a collaborative look and commented out of earshot that I’d got a better reception than they had!

Looking over to Berneray and the Harris hills beyond from Beinn Mhor.

Given the logistics involved just getting to and from the trail, I imagine the Hebridean Way will never reach the popularity of the more accessible Scottish trails but if you do make the effort, and if the sun shines, you will be amply rewarded, just don’t get precious about finishing with coffee and cake!

Even getting to the start of the trail is an adventure, whether by boat or plane. Flying to Barra is a noisy experience and the only scheduled beach landing in the world.

Where on Earth have we been??!

It’s been over 6 months since I last posted on Two Wee Adventurers. Alas, we’ve not been off travelling the remotest parts of the planet, battling through extreme environments trying in vain to find a wifi signal. No, we’ve been, like most sensible people, hibernating at home under a blanket in front of the fire (well, I admit that’s not completely true either…) The reality is, family life got in the way and despite plenty of half written blog posts I never seemed to grasp the opportunity to sit down and finish them. So I’m scrapping them all and starting afresh, it being springtime (albeit it’s snowing again while I write this), with a bit of a summary of what we’ve been up to…

Microadventure Challenge 2017

July bivvy at the top of a very windy Tinto Hill

Last year we set ourselves the challenge of a bivvy microadventure on one night for every month of the year. We managed 8 months out of 12, missing June because we were away, September and November because of illness and December because we just didn’t get around to it! We had bivvies in the snow, rain and long daylight hours of the summer. We bivvied in the garden, the neighbour’s garden, at the beach, in the forest, on an Iron Age Hill Fort and at 700m above sea level. We bivvied with friends and by ourselves. And through all of that we somehow managed to avoid being eaten alive by midges! Result!

April bivvy on the beach, East Lothian

Our first, snowy bivvy of 2017

North Coast 500

Well, there’s not much to report here. I’d planned an epic “just get up and drive off into the sunset with our tent” sort of trip sometime in the early Autumn, but I was ill for much of the month, so although gutted, decided it was best to postpone until this year.

Exploring Montenegro

We took the road less travelled up to St. John’s Fortress in Kotor via the “Ladder of Kotor”, a centuries old trail that switchbacks up the mountain from Kotor to old Montenegro.

In October, we took a departure from our usual UK based adventures and booked a last minute week-long trip to Montenegro. Montenegro is a small, mountainous country in the Balkans, blessed with both picturesque medieval villages and stunning coastal, mountain and lake scenery. We did a lot of touristy sightseeing but also fitted in a couple of walks off the beaten track and a zipwire across the 1km deep Tara Canyon! For outdoor enthusiasts there are plenty of hiking trails in the mountains, white water rafting down the Tara River in the summer months and skiing in the winter. The compactness of the country means (if you have your own transport) you can be sunbathing on the beach in the morning and having a snowball fight in the mountains in the afternoon.

Our first snowball fight of the season high in the mountains of Montenegro.

If you’re interested in the details we flew with Easyjet direct from Manchester to Tivat for a little less than £150 return for the two of us. We based ourselves in a small, basic self-catering apartment on the outskirts, but within walking distance of Kotor, which cost 200 euros for the week. Public transport was easy enough to navigate and we took several bus trips to smaller towns and villages and along the coast. The more mountainous areas and National Parks, especially in the north of the country, were difficult to reach without a car, however, so we signed up for a couple of reasonably priced day tours to Lovcen and Durmitor National Parks. Finn was welcomed all over in Montenegro and on one of the tours, on a boat trip and in many museums he travelled for free (it seemed to be at the discretion of the tour/museum operator). Traditional Montenegrin cuisine is heavily meat/fish/cheese based (although we found one restaurant in Kotor that served vegan pizza as well as a small wholefoods shop) so we mostly bought food in supermarkets or street markets and made up picnics or ate in our apartment.

All set to zip wire over the deepest canyon in Europe

Winter at our Nature Spot

One of many snow picnics this year

We tend to move in rhythm with the seasons with our adventures, venturing further afield in the summer and retreating to the hearth fires during the winter months, with plenty of locally based adventures. Our emphasis this year was just to get outside, for as long as we could, whatever the weather, so we spent a lot of time at our nature spot, getting to know our immediate environs more intimately. We would pack a flask of hot chocolate, a woollen blanket and some books or nature study materials and just hang out, in the welcome the presence of the resident heron, cormorant and swans that we saw most days.

A Winter Solstice picnic at our nature spot

Winter alfresco dining in the back garden!

Sheltering from a surprise hail shower under the beautiful big beech at our nature spot

When we had time to spare we also took short day walks further afield, mostly within the Scottish Borders, exploring new routes we’d not previously walked as well as more familiar routes in winter conditions.

Picnic at the top of the Three Brethren in the Scottish Borders. The cairns date back to the 1500s built to mark the boundaries of the ancient burghs of Selkirk, Yair and Philiphaugh and to signify the meeting of the three great rivers of the Tweed, the Yarrow and the Ettrick.

Cooling off on a Christmas walk near Broughton in the Borders

 

Minch Moor in the Borders via the historic Minchmoor drovers road, today part of the Southern Upland Way

Our Annual Hadrian’s Wall Hostelling Trip

There’s a brand new, flagship YHA hostel, The Sill, recently opened at Hadrian’s Wall but we love staying at the remote and cosy Ninebanks hostel, former miners’ accommodation based south of the Wall in the north Pennines. There always seems to be snow on the ground when we arrive and this year was no different. We explored the usual Roman forts and more intact parts of Hadrian’s Wall and did some walking from the hostel including what became a rather challenging walk over some exposed and bitterly cold moorland.

Family Hillwalking

One of the members of a home education group that we belong to set up a hillwalking group at the beginning of the year so once a month we’ve been joining together with some other outdoor-loving families, which has made a lovely change to our more usual mother and son adventures. There are members from as far apart as Fife, East Lothian and South Lanarkshire so we’re also looking forward to walking some new routes in different areas. Raising the next generation of hillwalkers!

Walking the Wainwrights

Finn and I have done a lot of walking together, but generally cross country than with a specific hilltop summit in mind. Last autumn I suggested to Finn that he might like to walk some more ‘big’ hills. We talked about Munros but Finn was more inspired by the name ‘Wainwrights’. I think he was particularly enraptured by the popular image of Alfred Wainwright atop a hill, pipe in mouth (for some reason he has a current fascination with pipes and moustaches!). There are 214 Wainwrights, which are fells (hills and mountains if you’re not familiar with Cumbrian dialect) described in Wainwright’s seven volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells.

Beginning with an overnight trip at Keswick YHA last November we started with Catbells, Walla Crag and Blaeberry Fell, and in March of this year took a couple more short trips to the Lakes, staying at Grasmere, Keswick, Patterdale and Helvellyn Youth Hotels and walking a further 8 Wainwrights (Helm Crag, Gibson Knott, Calf Crag, High Rigg, Loughrigg Fell, Gowbarrow Fell, Place Fell and Hallin Fell). We’ve concentrated mostly on the low and mid fells at this stage and because on all occasions we’ve been the higher fells have been beset by ice and snow.

We plan to continue ‘bagging’ Wainwrights over the coming years. In some ways it’s easier encouraging little ones to climb a hill, with all the excitement and sense of achievement of reaching a summit, than it is walking on long, monotonous forest tracks, for example. Many of the Lakeland fells are easily accessible, giving little ones time to work up to the larger fells and the compactness of the Lake District means if you’re able to base yourself in the area, you’re never too far from a suitable fell (or a cafe serving hot chocolate!).  Over the winter we’ve stayed in several of the YHA youth hostels in the area and as we can be flexible with our dates (and as the YHA have had a few sales over the winter and we’re members), we’ve managed to get a double room for as little as £15 a night. In the summer, when the accommodation pressures are larger and prices higher we’ll go back to camping!

And Finally…

The highlight of the year though surely has to be achieving ‘poster girl’ status in the Summer 2017 Mountain Bothies Association Magazine with a picture of us outside on of the bothies we stayed in on our 5 bothies with a 5 year old challenge.

 

August Microadventure: Hill Fort Bivvy

We left our monthly microadventure to the last minute last month, squeezing it into the last couple of days in August. But now into our 7th month of our ‘Year of Microadventures’ (we missed out June) and with plenty of camping in between, packing for a bivvy adventure has become a smoother, more refined process, verging on my ultimate bivvying goal of… spontaneity! It took just an hour and a half between arriving home after a full day in the city, and getting packed up and leaving the house for the night and I’d even managed to bake a batch of oaty banana cookies for breakfast in that time! Go me. I’d also managed to drop a bag size; my backpack was the lightest it’d ever been, partially aided by packing some of the lighter but bulky gear into Finn’s pack on the one hand and the realisation that I could make do without always carrying a book or two in my bag for the one night.

Turning off the main road down a rutted farm track, I could hear the loud barking of several dogs from the building nestled out of sight in the forest a mile away. Our route would lead us directly through the farm yard and although I’m a dog-lover, the thought of being nipped at the ankles by a collie mistaking me (or worse, my son) for a sheep made me think twice. We double backed to the road and were just scouting out a possible alternative, involving jumping a metre wide ditch, crossing a field full of cows and scaling a couple of barbed wire fences, when I saw a car emerging from the forest up the track. Racing back to the junction, hauling our bags, we arrived just in time to halt the car and were assured that the working dogs were tucked up in their kennels for the night so we continued confidently along our original intended route.

Sleeping out regularly each month with nothing between you and the elements brings a new awareness, or rather appreciation, of the changing of the seasons. As it became obvious that the sun would set a full hour and a half earlier than our last bivvy in July, it was a bit of a push to persuade Finn to keep up his pace as we climbed the hill in order to set up camp in the last dregs of daylight, especially so as we passed the impressive remains of an iron age hill fort, (cue Finn launching into his own Celtic battle re-enactment). We eventually found a flattish spot between two ramparts of a second extensive hill fort on top of the hill and put our wee orange toilet trowel to good use in clearing away a carpet of sheep poo – a necessary precaution against ending up face to face with the stuff in the morning.

It was a beautifully calm evening and the atmosphere couldn’t have been more different than our July hill top bivvy when it was blowing a hoolie. The night was so still that we could hear with clear precision the everyday noises from miles around; the hoots of a tawny owl, the occasional barking of a dog from a farm and the traffic from the distant A702.

With an earlier sunset we were also perfectly timed to be snug in our bivvy bags but still awake to watch the stars emerge one by one (in unison with the electric lights from the nearby town of Biggar). A we competed to be the one to spot the most stars Finn whispered “It’s lovely mum. I wish we could live outdoors”. “Well, we could pitch the tent in the garden and sleep out” I replied. “No mum, I mean without the tent. In the bivvy bags”. Oh dear, what have I got myself into?

After a blissfully non-eventful night we woke to the sun behind us andthe town of Biggar below us blanketed in a thick mist. One of the benefits of bivvying is that you see your usual, mundane, day-to-day surroundings with new eyes, from a fresh perspective that makes it feel like you’re on holiday. And another benefit of bivvying (particularly up a hill) is that you get to enjoy a glorious morning walk that’s downhill all the way…

The morning warmed up and we basked in what has felt rather rare in Scotland this summer… sunshine. We took the long way home, not meeting a soul, just a hare and the ubiquitous sheep, until passing the farm. “You’re out and about early” remarked the kindly farmer emerging from a tractor. I came clean and told him we’d slept on the hill. He was nonplussed and only wanted to know whether or not we were ravaged by midges. But no, despite the calm evening we’d managed to thwart the biting beasties once again.

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…

 

 

 

 

July Microadventure: Bivvy on “The Hill of Fire”

We failed miserably to bivvy in June. I had planned a Summer Solstice microadventure on the west coast of the Isle of Harris where we were already staying to walk part of The Hebridean Way but while the rest of the country was apparently basking in a heat wave, we were inside in front of an open fire sitting out a cold, wet evening. I was exhausted from several days of walking with Finn listening to his storytelling extravanganzas. It works in that it keeps the wee one walking for hours without complaint, but 6 hours daily of non-stop chatter leaves me feeling a little bit mentally frazzled 🙂

Having recently returned from some island camping I’d not thought ahead to this month’s bivvy but with a couple of days of wonderfully warm weather at the beginning of the week I felt a beckoning desire to sleep outside and was inspired to make an impromptu bivvy happen.

I’d had it in the back of my mind for a while to bivvy on the top of our local and iconic Tinto Hill, which stands 707m and is visible from our home. It’s distinctive in the region both for it’s rounded shape and form that’s observable throughout much of Lanarkshire, dominating the otherwise flat Clyde Valley and for it’s interesting history. It’s been a beacon post in Roman times and the place of Beltane fires and it’s name is derived from the Gaelic Teinnteach, meaning ‘Fiery Hill’. The 60m diameter 2000 year old Bronze Age circular cairn on the summit is one of the largest in Scotland.

Having already participated in a full day of outdoor activity I knew that F would be less inspired than I at tackling the hill come evening so I tempted (ok, bribed) him with a Indian take-out for dinner on the way. We ate at the foot of the hill, watching the steady descent of day walkers and fuelled up by his high carb meal of pilau rice and poppadoms his Duracell bunny endurance kicked in, along with a new inspiration for a story and we began our slow ascent. Despite it now being past 7.30pm, it was still warm although a fresh wind was increasing in strength as we climbed. By the time we reached the summit not long after 9pm, Finn’s excitement at sleeping out gave him a second wind and all he wanted to do was to charge around the summit. I consoled myself with not having that kind of energy with a celebratory can of beer. But now the wind chill had supercooled the sweat on my back, the sun was fast going down and the last of the day walkers were heading back to their cars and beyond to their homes and beds. Needing to find some place to lay our own heads for the night we descended a few metres down the lee side of the slope aiming to find some shelter from the increasingly strong gusts. The wind was just as strong but we found a spot that when we laid down kept us out of view from the summit giving us a modicum of privacy from any late night visitors to one of the most frequently climbed hills in southern Scotland.

It’s the midge that usually concerns me most about a summertime bivvy, but they stood no chance against the 35-40mph gusts now battering the summit (and ourselves!) I was glad I wasn’t trying to single handedly erect a tent and trusted Finn to the crucial job of spread eagling himself over our bedding as I unpacked to stop us losing it to the wind.

 

By now the last of the fire red sun had disappeared over the horizon and any residual heat from the day had dissipated so we lost no time in shuffling into our bivvy bags, no easy feat when you are wearing every item of clothing you have with you in order to keep warm. The wind rapidly chilled any exposed skin and we were buffeted by the gusts all night. This was our first bivvy in very windy conditions and I found it was quite a different experience being blown about in a bivvy bag compared to sleeping out a storm in a tent, although it was not an altogether unpleasant one. I not only felt more secure and stable in a bivvy, but also more connected with and part of the natural environment. I lay awake listening as I would first hear a gust of wind coursing around the side of the hill before it hit us in our bivvy bags.

I didn’t get a lot of sleep as I went from worrying alternately about Finn suffering from wind exposure as he shuffled out of his sleeping bag and suffocation as he unconsciously burrowed down into it. Still, frequent waking through the night allows you to really experience all the sights and beauty that you only experience when you are open to the skies; the appearance of distant twinkling of lights from nearby settlements, the emergence of the first visible stars and satellites, the realisation that the skies never get completely dark at this time of year, the breaking of dawn (which was a lot more spectacular than the sunset) and being transfixed at the speed that the low cloud raced by, both above and below us in the early morning. After Finn woke we huddled in our bivvy bags and enjoyed the last, ever so slightly warm, dregs of hot chocolate from a flask for breakfast and appreciated the peace of having the hill to ourselves before the first early morning hill runner arrived.

As we left the summit we passed a guy laying prone under the shelter of a makeshift wall, eyes closed and sporting a helmet. Finn, not yet understanding the etiquette of discrete speech blurted out his concern that the wall might collapse and kill the man at which point he abruptly woke. Losing my own British politeness, I asked bluntly why he was wearing a helmet (I was sure it wasn’t purely to protect him from wall collapse) and we listened as he explained how he’d finished work in Glasgow at 8pm the previous night but after a few drinks couldn’t sleep so at 2.30am jumped on his bike and cycled nearly 40 miles south, leaving his bike at the foot of the hill and hiking to the summit. Thinking he must be completely crazy it dawned on me as we descended that perhaps, at that precise moment, he was thinking the very same about us.

 

 

Summer Magic and Adventure on the Ross of Mull

As an advocate for budget-friendly explorations close to home and wanting to inspire both my son and others with the adventures you can have “on your doorstep” we headed to the Isle of Mull this summer. Scotland in general has so much to offer families looking for escapades of all sorts and even in the summer season there is the feeling of being intrepid adventurer discovering somewhere new and unexplored (or at least unexploited by highly commercial tourism). I suspect that Scotland’s reputation for poor weather and biting insects deter a lot of people. Of course it depends what you and your family are seeking from your travels, but if you can put up with the rainy days I’ll let you in on a couple of secrets… 1. Providing you stay long enough, you WILL be rewarded with sunny weather (not to mention the incredible sunsets) and when the sun does shine, you will appreciate it so much more! 2. It really is possible to find some Scottish midge-free destinations.

Watching the rain

Breakfast on a sunnier morning

I have been to the Isle of Mull on several occasions but despite it’s famed wildlife and varied landscapes, I had never considered it one of my favourite islands, remembering it mostly for those colourful harbour front houses in Tobermory and some ferocious summer midges. However, it’s one of the more accessible Hebridean Islands and seeking an affordable adventure relatively close to home for me and the wee one, opted for a week on the Ross of Mull. The coastal Fidden Farm campsite sounded like an ideal place to set up base camp; informal, no advance bookings (meaning we could just turn up and stay how long we felt like), right beside a white sand beach with sheltered waters and a westerly coastal location that I hoped breezy enough to deter the midges (it did, we weren’t bothered by a single one of the critters the entire week). We couldn’t have been happier with our choice. Most mornings we spent hanging out on the beach spread out below our tent and over the week we never strayed more than a few miles from the camp site (except by boat to Iona and Staffa!)

Most mornings after breakfast it was straight to the beach!

Approaching the magical island of Staffa

Plenty of clambering opportunities on the naturally formed basalt columns of Staffa.

Getting up close and personal with the island’s avian inhabitants

He’s behind you!

It’s a long, scenic drive along 40 miles of single track road to get to the campsite, with many travellers straying this way purely to reach the small village of Fionnphort in order to take the ferry across to Iona. Whilst Iona is certainly deserving of it’s popularity and well worth a visit (or several), the result is that the Ross of Mull area feels relatively quiet and unexplored, although those who stay long enough to experience it’s delights tend to return year after year. I met several extended families on the campsite who’s enthusiasm for the area had never waned and who have continued to visit every summer for 20-30 years first with their children and now grandchildren.

There are a great many stunning white shell beaches scattered across the Hebrides but I’d say the beaches on the Ross of Mull are among the best and there is an overwhelming choice within a relatively short stretch of coastline. They are beaches to be explored in all weathers. We spent hours searching the rock pools and digging channels on rainy days, and paddling and swimming on the sunny days. The pink-granite rock, the turquoise waters and the white sand beaches give the landscape a bright colourful appearance on even the dullest of days. And even on the sunny days and despite it being the Scottish school holidays we had most of the beaches we visited to ourselves, at least for a while, even on bustling Iona.

Leaving the crowds behind on Iona.

Exploring the Ross of Mull coastline on a rainy day.

Watching the tide come in on Iona.

OK, so we didn’t always have the beach to ourselves.

After some intermittent days of very wet weather during the week, our final day dawned sunny (although rather windy) and the Ross of Mull had saved the best for last as we visited the magical island of Erraid. Erraid is a small island accessible from Mull at low tide across it’s tidal sands. It was used as the location in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped and many of the small number of present day residents are part of the Findhorn Foundation community based in Moray. Making a careful study of the tide times, Finn and I began our walk across the sands and around the populated side of the island, passing the study former coastguard cottages and the white communication tower built to relay signals to offshore lighthouses. We picked our way along a rough, boggy path to the small cairn marking the top of the island. We surveyed the scene spread out before us; the numerous skerries of the Ross of Mull, the whole length of Iona and further afield to Staffa and the Treshnish isles, but my draw dropped when I spied the sandy cove some way below us.

I haven’t read Kidnapped but seeing that hidden cove with two small yachts at anchor in it’s turquoise waters and not a soul to be seen it was like being transported to a scene straight from a book. Feeling as though I was in a fictional adventure story myself with the opportunity of discovering a secret cove and perhaps pirates lying in wait on the boats I urged Finn to follow me as I looked for a sheep track that would take us through the thick heather down to the shore. At close range it did not disappoint and although absent of pirates, the only other inhabitants of the beach were a gaggle of kids straight out of another book, Swallows and Amazons. The five of them sailed and rowed ashore in their tiny wooden boat and busied themselves with adventures of their own while Finn got to work diverting and damming the small stream running through the sands and out to sea. Returning to the campsite and staying with the theme of tales of seafaring adventuring we read a few chapters of Arthur Ransome’s We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea while watching the sun set over Iona.

On the top of the island of Erraid

Our first sighting of the secret cove…

Island paradise?

Ending the day with a suitable adventure story and a spectacular sunset.

The practicalities

  • Getting to the Ross of Mull requires a 45 minute ferry crossing from Oban to Craignure followed by 40 miles (about an hour and a quarter drive) along a single track road.
  • Fidden Farm campsite is an informal site where you can just turn up and find your own pitch with modern clean facilities including toilets, showers and an indoor washing up area. It costs £8 per adult and £4 per child per night (rising to £10 per adult and £5 per child in 2018) and you just pay at the farm house on arrival. If you can nab a spot overlooking the beach it’s a perfect spot to let your kids roam free for hours with new found friends while keeping an incospicuous eye on them!
  • The small village of Fionnphort is 1.5 miles from the campsite along a quiet single track road (perfect for young cyclists!) and has a small shop, seafood shack, pub/restaurant and is the departure point for the regular passenger ferry to Iona.
  • The coastal landscape is mostly low-lying but with beautiful sandy coves that if you have children who can spend hours digging in sand could keep you occupied for weeks!
  • The offshore island of Staffa is well worth a visit (£30 for adults, £15 for children for a 3 hour round trip including an hour onshore to explore), both for the scenic boat trip and for exploring Fingal’s cave and the puffin colonies. There are a couple of companies operating boats from both Fionnphort and Iona to choose from.

Exploring the quiet roads of Iona by bike.

On top of Dun I on Iona, with the Abbey in the background and just across the sea and the Fidden Farm campsite.

Exploring the incredible geology of Fingal’s Cave.

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

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