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The Ups and Downs of Family Walking

"You're off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way." - Dr Seuss

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My husband and I are parents to a ten-year-old girl. Her name is Loz and her ideal day is to lounge around the house in her pyjamas playing on her smartphone (whose crazy idea was it to buy her that?) whilst generally aiming to accomplish any given task as quickly as possible so that she can scurry back to the above (lack of) activities. For Loz to suggest that we even consider embarking on a family walk together would represent a life-changing moment for all of us.

It certainly wasn't meant to be like this. Before settling down, I was an avid hiker and mountain biker, and my future husband Marc was doing a little of the same. I had completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge and was pedalling my bike around Cannock Chase for a minimum of three evenings a week after work. Life was pleasurable; there's no point denying it!

And then a baby miraculously appeared in our lives. I won't go into the exact specifics of how it occurred as this is a family show, but it was followed by several sleepless years and associated loss of fitness. I believe this is par for the course when children materialise, but I still felt a little like Buck Rogers waking up in the 25th century after hundreds of years of hibernation.


Attempting to instil a love of the countryside into baby Loz

Naively we assumed that we would be able to spring immediately back into action once baby Loz had been familiarised with the outdoors via some pram and pushchair excursions. She would take a few inhalations of fresh countryside air and be instantly set up for a lifetime's enjoyment of long-distance trekking.

Sadly, it didn't quite work out like that - she thoroughly enjoyed visits to the local park for a play on the swings and a feed of the ducks, but as soon as repetitive footsteps started being requested of her we would get tears and stubborn refusal. It was evident that a love of walking isn't inherited - it needs to be learned and nurtured.

We then had the brainwave of taking Loz camping for a weekend  - this would surely inspire her to enjoy the outdoors and qualify as 'training by stealth'! We could stay at one of those campsites with a playground and let her run around with other children, before gently beginning the process of indoctrinating… I mean introducing walks to her.

We bought a big family tent and quickly fell in love with the wonderful variety on offer at UK campsites. We felt a wonderful freedom from coastal sea views to mountainous backdrops whenever we packed the car up with our gear and set off for our destination.


Our family Vango tent

Learning to Walk (for the second time)

And so to the walking itself - or more importantly, how we tried to coerce a rapidly growing Loz into enjoying walking for the sake of it. We quickly found that it was important to use some form of bribery as encouragement. At first, this was typically food-based:

"Loz, if you come on this walk without complaining, we'll buy you an ice cream at the end. Deal?"

or

"I'm sure there's a café halfway around this route isn't there Marc?" (with a wink) 
"Yeah definitely - I know this area like the back of my hand!" (a wink back)

In fact, I often used that second example on my husband himself, but substituted the word 'pub' for 'café'. It's one to remember when all else fails!


Bribery via ice cream - note the smile on Loz’s face

The "bribery via food" concept soon extended into "bribery via fun" - it had become very apparent that Loz disliked the drudgery of walking for the sake of it but positively loved putting a hand to rock and scrambling up outcrops like The Roaches in the Peak District. I could see her engaging with a big smile on her face as the outdoor world transformed into a giant playground, and to be honest that enthusiasm has transferred from her to us as parents. We now seek out rocks or tors to climb as often as we can when we hit the countryside and have immense amounts of fun in the process.


Climbing The Roaches

Make Walking Interactive! Try Geocaching!

I recommend attempting to squeeze a unique feature into each walk to engage your captive audience. Whether it's a lake to walk around, a pub to visit for lunch or our latest discovery - Geocaches to find. These are hidden treasures or 'caches' which members of the public have hidden in surreptitious places. There are millions of these hidden around the world, and you use a smartphone app to find them via a mixture of GPS and cryptic clues.

Geocaching is fabulous fun and gets children walking without realising - they are so obsessed with getting to the next cache a few hundred metres away that they completely forget about the physical exertion required to get there. The perfect training incentive! 

Be Prepared (the Scouts got it right)

There's nothing worse than turning your kids into walking machines only for them to lose all enthusiasm due to blisters on their feet or a soaking from a sudden torrential downpour. Waterproof jackets and sturdy walking boots don't have to be expensive and can make all the difference for comfort when the going gets tough. In fact, with the right gear, exciting moments like thunderstorms can be actively savoured and enjoyed without discomfort.

Similarly, try to make sure you keep some chocolate or other nibbles in your rucksack for dishing out at opportune moments - there's nothing worse than having a moaning kid at your side and discovering that you're all out of treats!


Wearing the wrong gear can be disastrous

Our Favourite Walk - Tryfan in Snowdonia, North Wales

On a scorching August day in 2020, the three of us took our newly acquired Marco Polo campervan to Snowdonia in North Wales with the aim of climbing the mighty mountain Tryfan. My husband had climbed the South face at university many years previously and didn't fancy attempting it again. I think he was scarred by the experience but wouldn't admit it.

Instead, we opted to head up the mountain's east side, skirting boggy brooks and sheep poo. Soon the man-made stone path faded away, and we were scrambling up the Northern slope of Tryfan, putting our hands on the ancient granite slabs and easing ourselves up to the summit. The views were spectacular, but I remember being slightly perplexed when a seagull landed next to me. A very memorable day and one which will linger in my memories forever as I had shared the experience with my family.


Climbing Tryfan in 2020

Future Outlook

So where are we now? Well, as I said at the outset, we have a ten-year-old daughter who likes to relax and watch TV - just like any other kid. However, the discovery of rock scrambling and geocaching has transformed her relationship with the outdoors to the point that she will now actively suggest that we go out in search of both.

The life-changing 'eureka moment' we never expected to happen has occurred, and we are already planning summer camping trips in the hope that Covid vaccination and a lifting of lockdown happens. 

All I can say is "Bring it on!".


Loz on a rock somewhere with not a smartphone to be seen


Written by guest editor Alison Stevens

Alison lives near Birmingham in the middle of the UK and is a software programmer by trade. She loves camping, walking, cycling and the occasional (OK highly frequent) glass of red wine. In her spare time, she also helps maintain Camping Secrets, a website promoting outdoor life.


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