Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Camping with a baby and a toddler

Camping can vary from glamping it up in a swanky rustic fairy-lit bell tent to roughing it on a Scottish beach with nothing but a sleeping bag, a fire and a bottle of plonk. Having kids shouldn't prevent you from camping how you want to camp, though it might be wise to adapt a little to begin with if you prefer the wilder end of the scale.

Start local. 
Camp in your garden or a local campsite for one night as a trial to see what works and what doesn't. If it all goes horribly wrong (it won't), you can retreat to your cosy bed no problem. Then branch out a bit. Try two or three nights, or go further afield.

If wild camping is your thing, there's no reason why you still can't do it. Take a car and hike in maybe only half a mile or so rather than 10. Children do get tired easily and walk slower so half a mile may well all you manage. And bear in mind you will need to carry all the extra kit that comes with children, particularly younger ones. And that's fine. Make sure it's still enjoyable for everyone. Alternatively, book one of the wilder campsites where you are much more likely to have a pitch all to yourself.

Scale back your expectations. 
Things will be harder to do, as is everything in life once you have kids! The tent will take longer to put up. You will not be able to sit still for long. One night may be enough. You know your children. Go with what you think they will like and manage.

Do go when they are really little. 
They are not mobile. They stay where they are put! Things get all the more tricky (but still fun) when they start to move around. Between 8 months and 2 years are the hardest as they are mobile yet you cannot reason with them like you can do with an older toddler. If you are worried about co-sleeping there are many things you can do such as bringing a moses basket or sleepyhead carrier with you.

Think about where you are pitching your tent.
An open field is going to be more practical than a wooded area or hill with a younger toddler or a crawling baby. Check too for any poisonous plants, nettles or thistles. Ideally you want a space where you would feel happy leaving your children to ferret around in without worrying every two seconds. For younger children a bumbo or bouncer is a great idea to bring to keep them in one place, particularly when a fire is lit or you need to feed them.

Let them help. 
They will love it. Putting up the tent, taking it down. Going on a bear hunt. Going on a firewood hunt. Fetching water. All part of the adventure for toddlers and gives them something to do. Teach them about fire and fire safety.

Bring layers, a first aid kit and lots of wipes. 
Probably what you would have brought anyway, but even more important with children.The weather can be so unpredictable and kids are going to attract ALL the mud. Prepare for rain even if the weather forecast doesn't say it. Don't get caught out. A wailing wet toddler is no good for anyone. Babies can overheat quickly so better to use layers and remove/put on, than tog up in a too-hot sleeping bag.

Don't forget some toys.
Namely a ball and bug hunt kit. Maybe one of your child's favourite toys from home. Children of all ages love throwing and catching balls. They also are all fascinated by bugs and butterflies. Taking a kit, or just printing out a sheet of paper identifying the main creepy crawlies will provide tons of fun. Plus, you get to wear the smug wholesome parent badge.

And a nightlight. 
Another key items to pack. Maybe some batteries too in case the nightlight decides to die on you. If your children don't mind sleeping in the dark at home, they may find the tent is a bit scarier so want a bit of light to comfort them. Makes breast or bottle feeding at night a little easier too.

Make it cosy.
If you're taking the more luxe route of camping, make it as cosy as possible. Bring duvets and pillows. There is honestly nothing better in this world than snuggling up as a family in a tent under a warm duvet, listening to the gentle breeze and hoot of an owl outside. Bliss.

Don't worry too much about routines. 
Toddlers are just going to be too damn excited to go to sleep at 7pm - sorry. Just embrace it and let them stay up. You never know, they may sleep later too. Just bad luck if you have a younger baby who will still wake up at 5am whatever!

Bring fast food and lots of snacks. 
Good options include quick cook pasta ravioli, beans on toast, boiled eggs, pre cooked stew or ratatouille that just needs heating up. Plus breakfast cereal and croissants for breakfast. If your baby has formula milk and still needs to use sterilised bottles, you can get disposable ones, or just take a few sterilised bottles with you if you are only going for a short period of time. You'll need more snacks than usual as the fresh air does something to children to make them ravenous. Breadsticks, raisins, fruit. All good.

Go explore!
Enjoy your environment. After all, that's why you camp. Make the most of the wide open field, shady woodland or shallow ice-cold stream. Scramble over logs, go pooh sticking, jump in muddy puddles, run through swishy grass. Find a grasshopper, eat a gooey marshmellow, fly a kite, listen to the birds. Do all the things you normally do, just add a sprinkling of kids, a bit more mess, and a lot more fun.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

toy's hill

Set in 200 acres of peaceful ancient woodland, Toy's Hill is a idyllic place to come for a short walk. The area forms part of the Lower Greensand Ridge and is the highest point of the Kent Downs, meaning glorious, rewarding views can be found across the Weald of Kent.

There are a few different options walk wise ranging from a half a mile pushchair-friendly option to 6 miles of tramping through Chartwell country. The pushchair route is a nice half hour amble. There is a good viewpoint at the site of the old Weardale Manor plus a couple of dens for the kids to explore.

The 145 room Weadale Manor site is fascinating. All that is left now is the line of one wall but you can imagine how stately it would have been in its time. It was built in 1906 by Lord Weardale, a former MP and opposer of war and suffrage. After his death in 1923 his wife rarely visited, preferring to stay up in London. After her death in 1934 it fell into a state of disrepair and was demolished in 1939. Just 33 years of use.

The natural landscape has also been influenced by history. The old economy at Toy's Hill was based upon charcoal burning, churtstone quarrying and livestock, and its mark can still be seen on walks here. Charcoal pits and quarries can be found and many of the ancient trees have been pollarded, which was done for grazing purposes.

Toy's Hill contains plenty of nature for little ones to spot including bats, dormice, grass snakes, woodpeckers, bluebells, stag beetles and marigolds.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The 10 best places for the family to get outdoors in Surrey

Summer holidays are in full swing and holiday camps are a go-go, but are you tired of the same old playgrounds and farm parks? Want to escape with your family to somewhere a little more wild, but just as fun? From shady woodland to sandy beaches, we review some of the top spots in Surrey to get outdoors and go wild with your family.

1) Box Hill, Tadworth, KT20 7LB
Managed by the National Trust, and now famous for being part of the 2012 Olympic road racing event, Box Hill is the summit of the North Downs. If you fancy a day out kite flying or blowing the cobwebs away with a hilly walk and a top-of-the-world view this is the place to come. Orchids and butterflies are easy to spot here too. The site has an excellent natural play area, café and multiple self-guided walks that make exploring the big outdoors easy for all ages. 

2) Staffhurst Woods, Grants Lane, Oxted TN8 6QR 
Ancient Staffhurst Woods is one of the best places in the UK to see bluebells in spring, though it is very pretty all year round. The woods are remains of the old ‘wildwood’ which covered much of old England in Saxon times. The Woodland Trust have created a self-guided woodland walk of around 3 miles long that is wheelchair and pushchair-accessible. Parking is available at two sites. The Grumpy Mole pub is just down the road for a well-earned lunch afterwards. 

3) Alice Holt Woodland Park, Farnham GU10 4LS
A stalwart favourite with families, Alice Holt Woodland Park can be as high octane or relaxed as you like. There are bikes to hire, a play and habitat trail to follow, horses to ride, and walking paths to explore. Alice Holt is managed by the Forestry Commission. 

4) Limpsfield Common, Ridlands Lane, Oxted, RH8 0TW
Rustic and enchanting, the rangers and volunteers of the National Trust have built several ‘Peter Rabbit’ houses and wooden dens for children to find and explore. A short walk takes in the houses and there is a welcome tree swing mid-way for all to enjoy. Take a picnic as there is no café at the site. Parking is available. 

5) Frensham Great Pond, Churt, GU10 2QB
It may be man-made but it’s no less fun. Frensham Great Pond is in the depths of rural Surrey, but its beach happily mirrors that of one right on the coastline. Built in the Middle Ages to provide fish for the Bishop of Winchester, it now hosts calm waters, shallow edges, plus many shady walks to take in the woodlands around the pond. Parking is available as is a café and a small museum. 

6) Chipstead Downs, Holly Lane, Banstead, CR5 3NR
Engage your make-believe and walk through a wardrobe into the land of Narnia. Chipstead Downs and Banstead Woods have recently carved out C.S. Lewis’s magical world into a nature trail. Children can meet many of the characters from the story including Aslan the lion. This new feature marks the launch of the Downs as a Local Nature Reserve, for its preservation of ancient woodland and chalk grassland – both rare and in decline across the UK. 

7) Wey and Arun Canal, Loxwood, RH14 0RH
Billed as ‘London’s lost route to the sea’, the Wey and Arun Canal originally provided a route from London to Portsmouth for goods travelling to and from the dockyards. The Canal links up the waterway from Guildford to Pulborough. Although derelict until 1970, it now is one of prettiest places to go walking or cycling (traffic free) in Surrey, and an abundance of wildlife can be spotted including herons and kingfishers.

8) Wisley Common, Old Lane, Cobham, KT11 1NA
A very special 800 acres of lowland heath and woodland that is home to many rare birds and a wide range of aquatic life, including dragonflies and damselflies. A wonderful place to explore for the bug and bird lovers in the family. There is a useful café with baby changing facilities and parking located off Old Lane. 

9) Chobham Nature Reserve, Staple Hill Road, Chobham GU24 8TU.
Chobham Common is the largest nature reserve in the southeast of England and one of the best places to spot a variety of creatures big and small. In this ancient landscape you are likely to see insects, spiders, birds, deer and foxes, as well as swathes of purple-flowering heather or coconut-perfumed gorse. 

Old railway tracks
10) Downs Link, runs from St Marthas Hill in Surrey down to Steyning in West Sussex. 
This 37 mile old railway route is traffic-free heaven for walkers, cyclists and horseriders. As it’s a mainly level route it’s great for younger cyclists. Exciting nature finds include bats and glow worms. The route links the North Downs Way to the South Downs Way. There are multiple entry points onto the route including St Martha’s Hill and West Grinstead.