A Learning Experience on the Tennyson Trail

A Mother and Son, silhouetted against the setting sun while hiking with sea cliffs and the ocean in the distance

The plan was to hike from home to the seaside, camp for the night on the cliffs and return the next morning, a practice run with full packs, tents and stove for our upcoming West Highland Way trip. Things didn’t quite work out as planned but we did hike out to Freshwater Bay and covered nearly¬†11 miles before things started to go awry.

Let me be clear, there was no single issue which caused us to bail on the camping but each issue was a valuable lesson learned with 6 weeks to go until we head for Scotland. I think the decision to catch a bus home in the evening was the right one in the circumstances and as I think I’ve mentioned before, we are not too proud to bail if we have to.

I don’t want to focus on the negatives because we had a great day out but I do feel I need to acknowledge that not every hiking trip with 3 kids under the age of 10 is a breeze. So what went wrong and how can we fix it for next time.

We left late.

Life conspired against us and we didn’t leave the house until just after 11 am. A last minute decision to swap the Storm Kettle for a much smaller and lighter gas stove meant a trip to the outdoor shop before we left and a bit of a repacking session before we left. These delays meant the sun was setting around mile 10, at least 2 miles from our destination. As the sun dropped, the wind picked up while we were still on the most exposed section of trail¬†and the temperature dropped rapidly. The forecast had said that the cloud would roll in around 5 and keep the temperatures up but that didn’t happen.

When we get to Scotland we’ll be breaking camp by 8.30 or 9 am so an earlier start plus the additional light in the evenings will give us a few extra hours on the trail. Also if we had left earlier we might not have seen this marvelous sunset.


Gear Failure.

It might not sound much, but the chest strap on my backpack snapped around 6 miles in. After that I just couldn’t get the pack balanced and it weighed really heavy on my left shoulder and by the time we hit sunset I was in a lot of pain.

As I’m mentioning gear, the new stove was a treat. I wasn’t as quick or as fun as the storm kettle but it was a quarter of the size and weight so that can only be a positive.


A Lack of Snacks and Supplies

Because we left in a hurry we weren’t as fully loaded as usual. We stopped for soup and cereal bars around 3 which went down really well but we had to ration the sweets and chocolate more than we would usually. Water was also an issue and was the final straw in the decision not to camp. The sun was out all day and so we drunk more than we had anticipated and used some for making up soups at lunchtime. That meant that we might not have enough to cook up the noodles for dinner and make the porridge for breakfast. We hiked past several ideal wildcamping spots in the hope that we could get to Freshwater where we could refill our water supplies and find a camp there.

Picking Up the Pace

It was getting darker and colder and a heavy dew was already forming on our coats as the temperature dropped. We started walking quicker and that didn’t sit well with the kids. In all honesty, it wasn’t very fair on them. They had done 10+ miles brilliantly but now they were having to almost jog to keep up with their Dad. In the Dark. Not fair! The first tears came about mile 11, and I bet you can guess what caused them. I voiced my concerns and suggested that we give up on camping, get to Freshwater and ride the bus home. Lil burst to tears and wailed “But we have to do the Camping, I want to sleep in the tent”. We explained our reasoning to her and after about 1/2 an hour the crying stopped.

Lessons Learned

So with 6 weeks until we head North, what have we learned.

  1. Carry plenty of snacks and water
  2. Get out of bed, get organised and get hiking
  3. Check straps before heading out! Failing that carry some paracetemol.
  4. Stay at the kids pace.
  5. Include the kids in the decision making process.

Although this didn’t quite go to plan it’s far more useful before we head off on the West Highland Way. We know we can easily do 10 miles in a day at the kids pace which will still give us 2 days grace in our schedule for a rest day or going even slower if we need to, so I’m calling this trip a success.


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