The art of adventuring successfully with children old and young is being able to balance what you want to get out of the trip with what is going to satisfy the younger members of the party. These worldwide hiking routes manage to do that. Outstanding views, some challenging sections, and a little off the beaten track for the adults, but safe, well-marked trails that can be tackled in small sections, with features that kids will appreciate too like huge trees, ancient volcanoes and warm hostel stays.
What a weekend. I feel like I’ve just come back from a week abroad. We took a spontaneous trip over to the Isle of Wight on Bank Holiday Saturday as the weather was so perfect. We found the perfect Isle of Wight campsite, went orienteering (aka ‘mountain climbing’ according to my son), splashed at the beach, ate ice cream, and went for a bike ride in the New Forest on the way home. I am now completely in love with the Isle of Wight. Why haven’t I been before?
Part of why I set up The Smaller Explorer was to connect with like-minded families. There’s nothing like chatting with others who have managed to do something amazing after having children. It’s so inspiring, and also gives me loads of ideas of what I could do in the future too, and how to do it.
This series hopes to inspire other families who want to get back out there after parenthood, but don’t quite know where to start, or if it’s possible. There was only one lady I could start with – Catherine Edsell. Catherine is an adventurer, expedition leader, PADI divemaster, Reef Check trainer, yoga teacher, FRGS, TED talker, podcaster and mother of two daughters. Phew.
Climbing with kids. What could go wrong?! As part of our adventure, we’re going climbing in May. We thought we’d first try finding an indoor climbing wall before tackling something outdoorsy. There are a few climbing walls around us that allow four year olds to climb including White Spider Climbing, the University of Surrey and High Sports. To find climbing walls near you try the BMC.
Cycling is a great way to explore further distances with kids, so travelling by a safe cycle route is good option if you want to cover a lot of ground. There’s also multiple options cycle wise – toddlers riding their own bikes, tandem bikes, child bike seats or the covered bike trailers. Also, if you have kids of different ages, its a cool way to carry on adventuring as everyone can join in. Other ways of getting around tend to only work when kids are really young and can be carried, or older and can carry themselves further, or are able to do more technical stuff themselves.
Pre-kids I ran a lot, and this is still my first love. But I’m becoming more excited by the possibilities of cycling adventures with kids because of the greater options available. Cycling in the UK is so rewarding as we have such a diverse landscape to explore. It’s cheap once you’ve got the gear, and the mode of travelling by wheel on gorgeous off-road cycle routes gives you the reward of feeling in close contact with nature, yet being able to go further than on foot. Plus you can carry more, so bike/camp possibilities are opened too without breaking your back.
If you want to sort out your own cycle route, the National Cycle Network is the first place to start, founded by the charity Sustrans, it links hundreds of miles of traffic-free and quiet cycling paths across the UK. And there are now tons of fab family-and-bike-friendly beds, campsites and yurts to sleep in along the way too.
Otherwise, here are our favourite family-friendly cycle routes in the UK. Disclaimer: Researching this post kinda made me want to pack up and go now. Some seriously beautiful places out there.
Isle of Wight is also known as ‘bicycle island’ because of its appeal and ease for cyclists. The red squirrel trail takes in 23 miles of smooth, mainly traffic free trail across the isle’s best – from wetlands to its beautiful coastline. A great one to break up with an overnight stay.
Play spot the troll as you cross the many bridges found along the way on the curiously-named Troll Trail. You’ll probably see more wildlife than trolls here however, including buzzards, woodpeckers, wagtails, dragonflies and butterflies. The Troll Trail between Merstone and Shide is a flat and safe traffic-free route perfect for young children just starting to ride.
The Phoenix Trail runs for seven miles between Princes Risborough and Thame. It’s flat and smooth, with seating every 500 yards, which make it one of the most family-friendly cycle routes in the country . A fantastic place to teach your child how to cycle and enjoy the Chiltern Hill views while you are doing it.
Follow the route of the river Stour along the water banks in the iconic landscape that inspired Constable to paint his oil masterpieces. A chocolate box rural idyll awaits. Think wisteria, rolling meadows, trickling streams and birdsong.
This 25 mile cycle route is also traffic free. It runs alongside the River Avon to Chippenham and onto Calne via a disused railway line. You will pass Lacock Abbey (which featured in Harry Potter), the Cherhill White Horse and Avebury stone circle.
30 miles of unbroken traffic-free cycle paths – the longest in the UK. While cycling you can enjoy views across the mouth of the Taw Estuary plus look out for the multitude of wildlife found in the area. There’s also an art trail devised by Sustrans with shelters along the way, in case of rain.
This cycle route runs for 8.5 miles from Chee Dale to Bakewell, through some of the Peak’s best limestone dales. It’s a former railway route, so tunnels, viaducts and cuttings add interest and variety.
This one is on our bucket list for a real adventurous feel. Combine your bike ride with a boat crossing across lake Windermere. Once off the boat, there’s plenty of off-road trails and quiet roads to explore en-route to neo-gothic Wray Castle.
A 10 mile long flat trail which follows an old railway line from Dolgellau to the gorgeous Barmouth rail bridge. The cycle route may be flat but the views are truly magical – with mountains, river and sea for the eyes to feast on. One side of the trail lies Rhinog hill and the Cadair Idris Massif on the other. Plus the Mawddach estuary is also home to two RSPB reserves at Coed Garth Gell and Arthog Bo to enjoy too.
For epic coastline, traditional Welsh villages and Anglesey’s stunning scenery, head to the North Wales coastal route for 105 miles of mostly traffic-free paths and trails.
A stunning 24 mile cycle route in an area designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – saltmarsh, farmland, wetlands and beaches.
The Speyside Way towards the Boat of Garten is a fabulous flat ride that passes through heather moor and birch woodland. You may be lucky enough to also spy a red squirrel here.
Finding UK adventures and having a go at different challenges when you have young children is not just achievable, it’s great fun and a good bonding experience too.
Festival season is a-coming and there is plenty of choice for all ages. If you don’t fancy camping, many festivals offer day tickets, or try a midway option and go luxe in a yurt. Many large name festivals now cater for families, such as Camp Bestival and Latitude, and some smaller indie festivals have been set up solely to cater for families, such as the lovely Elderflower Fields. Here is our list of the best family-friendly festivals.
The March hare is hopping mad right about now, as it’s breeding season. You might be lucky enough to see them boxing too. This is actually the females fending off unwanted male advances.
Hares are larger and rangier than rabbits, and can be found in open fields or flat grassland in early mornings or at dusk. They are super fast, so you may need some binocular practice beforehand.
Frogs and toads come out of hibernation in spring to lay frogspawn, so March is a good month to spot them (with April being the best time to hunt for tadpoles).
Greenwich Ecology Peninsula Park hold an annual frogs day every March (20th March in 2018), where families can get up close to frogspawn, have a go at pond dipping, see some newts and get all crafty making amphibian-related pictures and paintings.
Don’t foget to tick off a #50things if you see frogspawn, as it is on the National Trust’s list of 50 things kids should do before they are 11 3/4. The National Trust also list many places where you may be able to see frogspawn.
One of our favourite birds, the comical puffin arrives back at breeding colonies from March, until mid August. Puffins are actually teeny tiny at under 30cm long, but they are super hardy seabirds.
Most puffins breed on islands –
1 Hermaness and Sumburgh Head, Shetland
2 Lunga, off Isle of Mull
3 Fowlsheugh RSPB, Aberdeenshire
4 Isle of May and Craigleith Island, Fife
5 Farne Islands, Northumberland
6 Bempton Cliffs RSPB, Yorkshire
7 South Stack Cliffs RSPB, Anglesey
8 Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire
9 Rathlin Island, County Antrim
10 Great Saltee, County Wexford
Going on a boat trip to see pint-sized puffins is an adventure in itself, though Bullers of Buchan north of Aberdeen and Bempton cliffs in Yorkshire are two mainland places where you may see them too.
Our book review of Amazing Family Adventures by Jen and Sim Benson.
Let’s be honest, we’d all rather be off trekking up a mountain somewhere, running halfway across some exotic country or just disappearing on a whim one weekend with a map and a vague idea of what to do. But, we’ve got small folk depending on us. So it’s hard to get out the door in under half an hour, let alone any of the above.
Plus kids are exhausting. Sometimes the thought of being extra active when you have children is just too much, and we’d admit that we’d rather be sat in front of the television watching a boxset and eating our bodyweight in biscuits. And that’s ok.
Yes, there will be occasions where some big adventures CAN happen, or you want them to, and we’ll be sure to feature them here. But this post is about challenging you to start having smaller adventures, microadventures, on their doorstep. It can be done.
What does adventure mean to you? Before children, it probably would have been something along the lines of exploring somewhere new, getting out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself mentally or physically. It can still mean the same thing after having children, it just means redefining where and what you do slightly, depending on your circumstances and feelings.
Adventure can be found everywhere. It doesn’t have to be found from trekking half way across the world. Last month, I wanted to do something different with my children, so I dipped into Jen and Ben Simpson’s book ‘Amazing Family Adventures‘, decided I wanted to circumnavigate a lake, found one half an hour away, and had a fab time with my smaller explorers. We pretended we were discovering ruins and bridges for the first time, making up stories about this new adventure.
Back in November, I took my littlest to Richmond Park, as it was deer rutting season. We took the backpack and a lunch and went ‘trekking’ into the park to see if we could get up close to the wildlife. It gave a bog standard trip to the park a different slant, and I talked about it for days afterwards.
Alastair Humphries neatly summed up slower walking microadventures by saying ‘In the time span you have available for an adventure, you will see the fewest places if you decide to walk, but the places that you do see, you will truly see.’ The same is true when exploring with children, and seeing the world through their eyes. Everything is done at a much slower pace. Sometimes, it’s frustrating, as those five miles you wanted to cover may only end up being one mile, but that one mile is explored in great detail. Kids, then, can open our eyes up to things that we might not have seen as adventures on our doorstep. Deep, right?
Try a night walk or run around your neighbourhood.
Visit a new National Trust and tick off some of their #50things
Wild camp in the garden
Wild camp elsewhere
Camp overnight in a bothy
Try a new activity you have never done before like canoeing or climbing
Take a boat trip somewhere
Book a cheap flight somewhere for the weekend
Leave the kids at home
If you are desperate for some adventure time on your own, it can also still be done. Al Humphries’ book ‘Microadventures’ has tons of good ideas, though most are only feasible if you have a willing other who will babysit overnight or for the weekend.
But, similar to the above philosophy, if you redefine what adventure means, there is lots that is achievable close by.
Tackle a long distance path section by section.
Take a bus somewhere random, then run home.
Do a mini triathlon, including a wild swim.
Cycle home from an unknown destination using just a compass.
Challenge yourself to something new, like rowing or kayaking.
As this blog grows, we’ll focus on individual activities in more detail to give you even more inspiration and tips, and don’t forget to let us know about your own doorstep microadventures.