We made a little video of our recent hike down one riverbank and back up the other. It’s over on our new YouTube channel so head over and give us a subscribe,
Our first trip of the year was kind of a special one. We went to Portland. Now before you get all excited about artisan bakers/coffee houses/woodworkers/hipsters it wasn’t that Portland. We visited Portland, DORSET. The home of the famous lighthouse(s), cement and some of the best sport climbing and bouldering in the South of England.
Ever dreamed of packing everything into an RV and disappear on a never ending road trip. Of course you have but these guys have only gone and done it.
I’ve only watched the first few episodes so far and, “tainted Mac’n’Cheese” and vehicle troubles aside, they all appear to be embracing life on the road, dogs and all.
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This summer we visited one of our National Parks for the first time. Somehow, after 6 years of living on the South Coast, within a few hours drive, and after countless trips to Devon and Cornwall for family visits and “normal” holidays I had never set foot on Dartmoor.
The purpose of the trip to was to spend a few days down there and just boulder as much as possible and when we first planned it out the forecast was great for Friday to Sunday with a few showers on the days either side. On the week of the trip the forecast changed and we were faced with the prospect of torrential rain over that weekend. I hadn’t had time to plan any wet weather hiking as an alternative to bouldering so I moved some things around, worked like a dog on Monday and Tuesday, cramming 4 days work into 2 and on the Wednesday morning we jumped on a ferry and headed west.
We took a slow drive down as it was meant to be wet in Devon that day, so we stopped at a few places for a wander and an explore. One of which was going to be Lyme Regis but the “park and ride” car park was bursting and we just didn’t want to put ourselves through that. We did stop at Haldon Forest , which was very busy too but we found a quiet spot in the woods for a picnic and an explore.
Back in the car we decided to take the smaller roads through the park rather than the ironically named Devon Expressway, and we’re so glad we did. We so blown away by the landscape, even from the car, and I said to Hazel that “this place should be a secret!”. My mind started whirring, wondering if we could come back and hike across the park. (If there’s an established route please let me know). We were heading to Down Tor and Sheepstor at the western end of the park, near Tiverton, as I’d found a guide to the bouldering on Down Tor and ,after a chat with Graeme at www.wildcamping.blog/ on Instagram, found that we could camp on neighbouring Sheepstor. (Cheers Graeme!)
On the way across we stopped to investigate some boulders, so we parked up grabbed the crash mat and climbing shoes and hiked maybe a 1/4 of a mile to a promising looking Tor. We climbed for about an hour, just looking for any way up. The kids enjoyed squeezing into a crack and making their ascents that way. We were just playing really but having a great time all 5 of us doing the same thing at the same time and all completely knackered by the time we hiked back to the car.
Suddenly it was 7 o clock and as we got to the car, we heard thunder, then the rain came and then we saw the lightening, none of which was on the bloody forecast! We sensibly decided to head for a campsite lower down rather than wildcamp high on the moor with all this lightening around. It ultimately rained until the early hours but that didn’t stop the kids getting soaked in the play area in the dark while I sorted out the tent and dinner.
The following morning was damp but breezy so we headed into town and treated ourselves to a big, dirty fry up to give the rock a chance to dry off. We drove round some narrow lanes and before too long we were there. A 5 minute hike took us to the first set of boulders, which we ended up spending a few hours at. To honest I climbed really badly but really enjoyed myself. The kids had a blast and after trying a few lines from the guidebook were happy just finding their own ways up things.
After a brew we headed on up the hill and just had so much to play around on. We reached the top of the Tor and found some really fun stuff to climb, some in the guidebook, some not but we didn’t care. It was just great to be climbing outside. We were just discussing the plans for the next day when the rain started so we wandered back to the car for a late tea. We were hoping to camp up on Sheepstor but again there was some lightening around so we decided to just go for a drive and see what the weather does.
Then evening brightened up so we stopped for a little hike up onto another Tor from where we could see where we had spent the day getting sore fingers and grazes and then we went to find a spot to camp. The rain had started again so we found a layby, spent 10 minutes wondering if we could all sleep in the car comfortably and just started putting down seat when another car came into the layby. A young french couple asked if we were planning to camp here, so abandoning the chaos in the car we grabbed the tent and sleeping bags and headed only about 200 yards away and pitched up behind some gorse. The other couple pitched only about 10 yards from their car so we felt like we had at least made an effort toward stealthiness.
It rained all night and into the next morning. The forecast said it was in for the day so we had a slow drive back to our ferry. This time the slow drive wasn’t our choice as the rain and holiday traffic turned our drive into an 8 hour marathon! Never mind.
Even though the weather seemed against us for this flying visit to Dartmoor, I know it will quickly become a favourite spot for us. Outside of school holidays, it should be a really accessible and beautiful “go to” place for us. Its huge amount of climbing, bouldering and hiking and being so close (on a good day) may just move it ahead of Snowdonia as our National Park of choice.
Mind you there’s still a few we haven’t visited yet.
We got up nice and early with a plan to leave before dawn which didn’t happen. By the time we had a second bowl of porridge and got everything together it was nearly 9 am but hey, we hadn’t confirmed our plan to hike around the Island until only 2 weeks earlier.
I suppose we had always threatened to hike around this little island we call home but the mainland always seemed a little more enticing. Back in the summer we had moved house and the coastal path was only 5 minutes walk away now so it seemed rude not to hike it. Besides, once we’re done we can get back to the exoticism of the UK mainland!
Most of the guides online showed the route going anti-clockwise from a ferry port, I suppose for visitors from across the water, but we would start at Gurnard Beach just down the lane and head clockwise to Ryde and get the worst of the road walking out of the way first.
So with laden packs and the sun starting to warm our bones we headed along Gurnard sea front which was nice and quiet, through the sailing mecca of Cowes to our first little “cheat” of the trip, the floating bridge which is the only way to East Cowes other than a 9 mile detour inland along the river.
From East Cowes to Fishbourne was some of the worst hiking I’ve ever done. Either pavement or road, with traffic being all smelly and noisy right next to us and having to cross the busy road multiple times for no apparent reason. So when we reached the path from Fishbourne to Ryde I was both relieved and disheartened at the same time. Great to be away from the road but still hiking on bloody tarmac. Plus, we hadn’t seen the sea since the floating bridge and wasn’t this supposed to be a “Coastal” trail.
We pressed on through Quarr Abbey which was beautiful but busy. We pulled faces at the pigs and the kids enjoyed their first opportunity to run on and just hike like kids. Mind you we were seriously flagging when we reached the soft, soft sanctuary of the beach at Ryde, and coupled with a bag of chips and a can of pop we recharged a little.
We had about half an hour on the beach and with the sun starting to make its rapid descent, we pressed on knowing we still had 4 or 5 miles until we could camp and quietly looking forward to hiking along in the dark. The sunset just as we were heading into Puckpool Park, and as Evan and I were ahead we went through the park. Hazel and the the other two went around and we were separated for a little longer than was comfortable but ultimately were reunited after a couple of forays off trail in search of a toilet.
It was proper dark now, but with the occasional street lamp and the bright lights of cruise liners on the water and Portsmouth across it, we had a lovely wander through the night. The trail disappeared at one point so we retraced our steps and found an alternate route which was much nicer and led to a night hike along the beach and we only realised we’d missed the trail when we got cliffed out at the far end of the beach. Fortunately someone else came of the trail as we were looking for it so we weren’t delayed for long as we headed into the trees.
We went from a bright, almost full moon on a deserted beach to thick woods, illuminated by a thin corridor of light from our headtorches, stopping at every turn to make sure we hadn’t left the trail and it was here, on the last mile that the tiredness really hit the kids so you can imagine the excitement when we finally broke from the tree cover onto the beach at St Helens and spotted the campsite.
There were a few other campers on the site overstuffed with static caravans (Funny story, Hazel and I lived in a caravan on this site when we first lived together, long before the kids were around) but there was plenty of room for our little blue tent. We got the beds set up and found out we needed a code for the toilet block. I was going to pay in the morning so I was hoping someone might be around. There was and while he did give me the code for the washroom, he also made me pay there and then. A grand total of £6. I was the happiest hiker ever, we normally have to pay £25 for a night at a campsite so that was a result.
The kids were tucked up with their kindles when I got back and it seemed a shame to turf them out into the cold to use the facilities, but we did and it wasn’t long after that they were snoring.
The night hiking was great and even the walk through the dark, dark woods was alright especially compared to the rest of the day. We had hiked 17 1/2 miles, our longest ever day as a family, and I would guess 16 of it was on tarmac, and 13 of it along roads and nowhere near the sea. Not being funny, I would never, ever, ever repeat this section. Fellow hikers, if your doing this trail, start/finish at Ryde. Do not bother with Ryde to East Cowes, I can think of ZERO redeeming features and we only did it to be completist. Its not even worth that.
Please rest assured better days followed on this trip!
I was just reading another blog about hiking with kids and they mentioned the importance of “Knowing your children’s limits.” Now my first reaction was “Well, obviously” but then I thought about it a little.
Every time I plan a trip, it’s at the top of my considerations.
- How far can they hike in a day.
- How much can they carry in their packs.
- How much food do we need to carry to keep them happy/full/not crying/on a sugar high
- Can they cope with the weather and trail conditions
- How far is it to the trailhead, do we need to stop on the way?
And many other considerations I can’t remember. I suppose its everything you would think about for yourself but your making that decision for someone else, much smaller than you.
So every time we hit the trail, I’ve gone through this process of asking myself these questions and at times they can cause some anxiety, am I doing the right thing? What if we haven’t enough food? or do the kids really want to hike 10 miles today?
The problem is, it’s all wasted time and effort. Every time I thought I knew my kids limits, they’ve surpassed them and more. If you would like some examples please read on;
October 2015. The kids are 4, 6 and 8 and we hike up Snowdon for the first time. It takes us 9 hours up the PYG track and down the Miners. There is no carrying, no crying and nothing but good spirits and excitement. The furthest they’ve walked before today is 3/4s of a mile around the rather flat Gratham Water. Tomorrow they’ll hike the Mynffordd Track up Cadair Idris and our family love affair with the mountains begin.
April 2017. The West Highland Way. I plan the trip to last 12 Days, each one spent hiking for approximately 8 miles. The kids will carry as little as possible, maybe their water bottles, a few snacks, a teddy and their waterproofs in the unlikely event they aren’t wearing them.
We complete the trail in 9 1/2 days, including an almost 13 miler on the penultimate day. The kids carry their own sleeping bags, as well as the stuff I had planned on and Ev carries a full 25l rucksack over 100 miles by the time you add on travel days. Isaac is 5 and hiked every single step.
Easter 2018. Glyndwrs Way. I plan for good, if a little damp trail conditions, cool temperatures and the potential for sunshine, warming days but potentially cold overnight. We aim for 12 miles a day to complete the trail in the time we have.
What we get is a corridor of ankle deep mud, persistent drizzle and a cold wind. We can’t find any rhythm to our hiking due to the constant slipping and sliding. We manage 10 miles on day one and nearly 15 on day two. We wake up on the next morning covered by 3 feet of snow. The kids are excited to press on. We lose the trail in zero visibility. We are cold and wet, the tent is soaked from the previous night and there is no where to get dry. The forecast is for more rain and snow overnight. I make the decision to call it off. Now the children cry, they want to keep going. In the hardest hiking conditions I have ever encountered, they are loving it.
October 2018. Isle of Wight Coastal Path. We have 9 days to do 68 miles (on paper) We travel light. We can pick up food most days. The kids carry all their own stuff (except tent and stove which we all share). We finish the trail in 5 days covering 78 miles (according to the GPS), averaging 15 a day but including two 18 mile sections. The kids are amazing, even on the never ending road walking of day 1.
I suppose what I’m getting at is that whatever challenge we give them, they rise to it. They never cease to amaze me and while there is some sense in “knowing their limits”, surely it’s better to be constantly surprised by their determination, capability and adaptability and embrace it wholeheartedly. After all, they are the biggest adventure.
We were on our way up the South East side of Pen y Fan when we stumbled upon this lovely spot. While the kids tried their hardest to get wet, we cooked tea and brewed up and considered making camp. It was the perfect spot really but by the time the last dog walkers had disappeared from view, the sun had dipped behind the mountain and the midgies were out in force so we pressed onto higher ground and made camp near the the summit of Fan Y Big. Still, it wasn’t a bad spot for supper.
Here’s Lil having just lost her boot in the mud on the Cerne Valley Trail. What you can’t see is the rest of us either giggling or getting the photo taken before rushing to her aid! It was funny really, she had already lost it once before and this little trail was supposed to be our drier alternative after getting snowed off Glyndwrs Way only a few days earlier. I will take this opportunity to compliment her on her balancing skills!
We managed to pinch an afternoon from my Dads 60th Birthday celebrations in the shire and we crossed the border to one of our favourite spots, Rhayader and the Elan Valley. We had been up here for a recce back in February and coupled with some research from UK Climbing decided that it was worth another visit for our first outdoor climb on real rock.
It had been wet in the morning but a combination of a strong breeze and intermittent sunshine dried the rock so we could climb. I set up a top rope on an easier route and away we went, the kids first then Hazel and I. It was so so different to climbing indoors, the holds weren’t obvious and bright red or green, the wind buffeted us and the rock wasn’t plumb vertical. It was also so much more fun and personally, it felt really instinctive, rather than going for the hold because its the right colour it was more like “this feels right”.
Evan had a bit of a moment at the top when he wanted to climb onto the top of the crag and walk back around but I insisted he get lowered for practice and the next time he might be able to just top out and walk down the back way. He managed to come down ok in the end though and we all had a really good time. Unfortunately didn’t move onto other routes as the weather turned against us but we all left rather pleased with ourselves and vowed to return soon.
After the disappointment of our aborted Glyndwrs Way hike we relocated to Dorset for a couple of days. That didn’t quite go as planned either as the rain meant that every campsite we tried to stop in on the way down was either booked up or waterlogged. So instead of camping Wednesday night we had a choice, straight to the ferry and back to the Island, or crash at Gramps and Nana Julie’s place in Weymouth. We weren’t ready for home.
We decided on some light, gentle walking on the Cerne Valley Trail up to Cerne Abbas, about 4 1/2 miles. We told the kids to look out for something special without giving away the surprise of what we would encounter later and they spent ages guessing at what it might be, Evans guess of “an ancient statue” was pretty close.
We strolled along in the sunshine, free of our heavy packs from a few days earlier and played pooh sticks from the little bridge across the stream before we started to run into our old friend from Glyndwrs Way, MUD. To be honest it was expected around farm yards and gates but for about a mile or so the trail ran along a bridleway so you can imagine what horses had done to the track. Ahh, the joys of multiuse trails! I think every child lost a shoe in the mud at least twice and like a bad Dad I enjoyed stopping to take a photo of them hopping around before going to the rescue. Mud aside, it was a lovely little trail through proper English countryside, mostly alongside a sparkling stream, past farms, churches and allotments into the idyllic village of Cerne Abbas.
We made our way through the village, past the old abbey and on to “Giant Hill” with the kids none the wiser. Now we were up close and personal with one of Dorsets most famous residents but although we could easily make out the chalk markings in the turf it wasn’t until we hiked over to the other side of the valley that the kids could finally see what all the fuss was about. “It’s a man” said Lil before Isaac blurted out hysterically “And he’s got a massive willy!!!!”
So after “admiring” the view and enjoying a light picnic we headed back to the car, via the little post office for a can of ginger pop and the children’s all time favourite trail feature, a playpark.