Top tips for walking with kids

Before children we used to spend much of our free time walking. We were members of a local club, and every month we’d head to the mountains, exploring Snowdonia or the Lake District. We knew things would change when the kids came along but naively assumed that after a few years they’d be accompanying us on our trips.

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How little we knew! As our children have grown, they’ve developed their own likes and dislikes. Walking has never featured strongly on the ‘like’ list, but as I’m keen for the children get out and enjoy the countryside, we’ve worked out ways to keep the whole family happy. Our top tips for walking with children are below, if you have any other suggestions please do leave a comment.

1. Food works wonders

Pack a picnic, take plenty of water and snacks and finish your walk at a tea room. This last suggestion is for my benefit, rather than the kids, but everyone deserves a slice of cake after a walk!

2. Choose child friendly routes

Woods and streams offer paddling, tree climbing, den building, log balancing and stick collecting fun. Long treks through featureless fields or along the edge of main roads should be avoided.

3. Incorporate a challenge

Try geocaching, practise map reading skills or have a race up a hill. Any distraction away from the act of walking works well for us.

4. Know your limits

You’ll know how far your kids can walk, and how fast (or slow) they’re likely to be. On average, adults walk around 3 miles per hour on flat ground but this will reduce substantially if you’re walking with a toddler! Similarly, if you’re heading out into mountainous or moorland areas ensure you are confident in your map reading and route finding abilities.

5. Take a camera

I always enjoy seeing the photographs my daughter takes. Whereas I’m the one taking classic landscape photos she’ll be snapping away at a bug, or more usually, herself whilst pulling a funny face.

6. Plan an expedition

As the children have got older, we’ve been on a couple of  ‘expeditions’ with them and both times they’ve gained a great sense of achievement. We walked up Snowdon (the highest mountain in Wales) a couple of years ago.

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Misty view from Snowdon

Last year we took them to Black Sail Youth Hostel in the Lake District for an overnight visit, made more exciting because it’s only accessible by foot.

7. Escape routes

When planning your walk, work out how you could shorten it if the weather takes a turn for the worse, or it ends up being too difficult or long for the children.

8. Let the kids plan the walk

I can still vividly remember route planning for my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. Whilst our kids aren’t at the stage yet of planning full scale walks, they’re certainly old enough to learn how to use maps, and help with decisions on route choices.

9. Get friendly with nature

Take an I-spy or Usborne nature spotters book with you and see what wildlife you can find. If there are no obvious large animals or birds to identify, look at flowers, mosses or small bugs instead. The Woodland Trust Nature Detectives website is also a fabulous resource with lots of suggestions for activities in the great outdoors.

10.  Get the gear

Plan for the weather and conditions you’ll be walking in. All in one waterproof suits and wellies are great for young children out for a walk in the woods. If you’re taking older kids into more remote areas they’ll need decent waterproofs and walking boots. Remember hats and gloves too!

11. Walk with friends

Your kids will be too busy playing and talking to the other kids to notice that they’re walking as well. As a bonus you’ll also get to spend time with friends.

And lastly…..

12. Don’t mention you’re going for a walk

Just about any other terminology is preferable. If we tell our kids we’re going for a walk they’ll often groan. Tell them you’re going on an adventure instead.

Down and up the Caen Hill Locks, Wiltshire.

On a recent sunny weekend we decided to visit the Caen Hill locks on the Kennet and Avon canal. The set of locks are an incredible feat of engineering. First opened in 1810 they were built to carry the canal 237 feet up Caen Hill. There are 29 locks in total, over 2 miles, although the picture you see most often is of the 16 locks stretching up the hill.  The canal became derelict after the Second World War but was restored and officially reopened in 1990. Many of the locks are dedicated to those who helped with the restoration.

We parked at the wharf in Devizes and followed the signs to the locks along the towpath.  The first half mile or so is through parts of the town but it soon heads into open countryside. The canal was pretty quiet with just a few owners out spring cleaning their boats.

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Caen Hill cafe

The Caen Hill cafe marks the top of the hill and is a perfectly located refreshment stop. The cafe is in the old lock keepers cottage, and the tables in the front garden have views down the canal. We enjoyed a cup of coffee, whilst the kids took advantage of the sunny weather and chose ice creams. Suitably refreshed we continued downhill.  Whilst the cafe had been busy, the canal itself was rather lacking in boats.  Boats can take up to 6 hours to travel through the set of locks, but it was slightly disappointing to only spot one boat negotiating them during our visit.

I live in hope that my children are now of the right age that I don’t have to worry about them falling off the edge of the canal into the lock. Whilst my daughter has inherited my sensible gene, my son is of a much more random nature – act first, think later (maybe). So it’s a little hard to relax when he’s running and messing around by the edge off the canal. Suffice to say it was just me being paranoid and the walk passed without incident.

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View back up Caen Hill locks

Shortly after reaching the bottom of the hill we crossed over one of the locks and headed back up the hill which runs alongside (but away from the locks). This takes you closer to the large pools which provide the water to operate the locks.  These were home to a variety of ducks, and some nesting swans which signs warn against getting too close to.

It was at this point that we realised our mistake of stopping at the cafe on the way down rather than up. The ice cream incentive  to finish a walk doesn’t work this way round! Fortunately the hill isn’t really that big or long and we were soon back on the flat and heading into Devizes.

Kids view:

The walk wasn’t very exciting, but the ice cream was really yummy!

General info:

  • The towpath is accessible, although pushing a wheelchair or buggy back up the hill might take some effort!
  • The car parking charges were reasonable.  We extended our stay with a wander around Devizes, the parking cost for our visit was around £4. There’s another car park at the Caen Hill cafe if you don’t want to walk from the centre of Devizes.
  • Further details can be found on the Caen Hill Locks web page.