This week my baby daughter is eight months old. It seems a lifetime ago that she was a tiny bundle of baby in the front of my sling, with her head tucked down so far beneath its top fold on walks that I felt I had to keep checking her every 30 seconds. These days she is a (very) bouncing baby whose substantial weight on my back on walks is hard to ignore when I’m slogging up increasingly steeper hills! Yes – hills! For now it is summer (well technically it is anyway, despite the rain) and baby is a bit more robust I have finally given in to my yearning to hit the heights again and am plotting some baby friendly walks with views to be tackled in good weather. So far that includes two county tops and one marilyn, with a smattering of other walks, hill, peaks and trigs thrown in for good measure. Baby ‘s mountain log book begins!
We started easy. In the early days when she was a tiny baby, short walks were the order of the day. When I say short walks, I mean one loop of the field and a hobble home again with the midwife tutting disapprovingly when I recounted my forages out. Even in those very early days though, baby was the key motivator – she would howl the house down but the second I popped her in the sling and marched out the front door with my wellies on she would go quiet as a mouse and beam at all the neighbours, who would give me knowing smiles when I told them that really, honestly, she had only stopped crying that second…!
Gradually the walks have extended to 45 minutes, an hour, two hours, more hills… with my daughter always keen to come along for the ride. Then the hill fever began to kick in again in earnest. I’ve always had what I call ‘bear went over the mountain-itis’ – it’s that feeling every keen hiker knows when you reach the point on the trail where you could take the short way back but then the path twists out in front of you enticingly, beckoning you on as if saying ‘come on – just on more bend, just one more hill, just one more…’
Even at home I am not immune from the mountain and wilderness sirens. Pouring over maps is one of my favourite pursuits when the weather is just too wild to take baby out far on walks. There is something soothing and exciting in equal measure about plotting out routes, adjusting them to cover a million different possibilities for a million different adventures and opportunities to expand the geographies of my mind that little bit further. Walking these routes with baby and putting hills to contours, bringing the paper woods alive with bird song and bluebells is all part of the magic.
Hill walking with a baby is not something to be tackled lightly. Even the smallest of hills which a spot of rain would not cause an adult too much bother can be exposed and dangerous to a little one in the wrong kit or out in the wrong weather. Carrying a first aid kit, extra clothes, food, shelter, good navigational kit, all those things you should already do as a responsible adult hiker…suddenly become of absolute vital and unforgettable importance when you are trekking with two, and the second is hitching a ride on your back. I firmly believe though that if you pick baby walks that are not too challenging or does not involve prolonged exposure, you have a ‘cut the route short’ option, allow plenty of extra time and you have made sure to bundle baby up in the right kit then it is possible to take baby with you and walk to both your hearts’ content. And whilst my daughter admittedly slept most of the way up her first marilyn, Scald Law in the Pentland Hills, Scotland, she was all smiles at the top, enjoyed picnicking in the heather half way up and cooing at the cows on the descent and she is almost always happy, tired and contented after her walks. There is also something special and bonding about having her tucked in close to you on these walks, sharing the scenery and hills with you and interacting with you and her environment for prolonged periods of time. You look at the countryside from a whole new perspective when you are constantly seeking for things to share on walks with your hiking baby!
So, we are back in the harness with hill walking. The White Horse at Uffington circular walk was our first trig point and 3 hour + walk, including al fresco nappy changing and milk stops! It was a good place to start with the hills not too challenging and plenty of sheltered walking once off the ridge. We’ve not looked back and just a couple of weeks ago tackled her first Scottish hills. I’ll be focusing on the lower, easier hills and walks whilst little one is still tiny as there will be plenty of time to head for the big hills when she is old enough to really appreicate the view. So for now it’s anything with a good view and varied walking. County tops and national trails seem promising early targets but really, as long as my boots are on and baby’s up back and happy, that’s all that counts.