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.

Monday, 4 September 2017

The ten best things to do in London that you may never have heard of

Forget Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street and the Tower of London. If you want to begin to get under the skin of one of the world’s most diverse and enigmatic cities, these are the things to do. They may not be as well-known as the usual tourist hotspots but they are unmissable in their own right.  This collection of alternative trips takes in contemporary and ancient London, urban grit and rural bliss, and covers the far fringes of the south to the realms of the north, with a good nosy into the east and west too.  

1)     Get spooked out at Highgate West Cemetery, Highgate
Highgate Cemetery is one of the ‘magnificent seven’ cemeteries built on the outskirts of the city to cope with the demand for burial sites. Highgate has always been a monied area of London so to be buried here represented a high social status. You can find famous names such as Karl Marx and George Eliot here. The cemetery fell into ruin in the early 20th century but has been lovingly restored by a team of volunteers who now manage the site.  

You can only visit the West Cemetery by guided tour from one of the volunteers. This just adds a further sense of intrigue to this magical, otherworldly place. Stepping into this secret garden of death will transport you back in time to a Victorian world of grand tombstones, mausoleums and jungle-like greenery. Very Tomb Raider.

2)     Take a stroll through Morden Hall Park, Morden
Morden. End of the line. Why visit? To be honest (sorry Morden residents) there would be no reason to visit Morden if the charming Morden Hall Park (see picture) wasn’t there. Similar to Highgate Cemetery in that it feels very cut off from the real world, this historic 19th century estate is cut off from humdrum suburbia by a high wall. Step inside and you step into an enchanted land of babbling brooks, old snuff mills, singing birds and breezy meadows. Morden Hall Park is now owned by the National Trust so expect a good cup of tea and cheese scone after your stroll.

3)     Marvel at John Soanes Museum, Bloomsbury
For a bit of old school bonkers in London, stop at the John Soanes Museum. Mr Soanes was a Georgian architect (and not just any old architect, he built the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery). He bought and refashioned three houses in leafy Bloomsbury, opposite the tranquil Lincoln’s Inn Field. He was a bit of a collector of stuff (aren’t we all) but his house is a masterclass of eclectic hoarding of items from plaster casts to Roman marbles – some worthless, some priceless. The way he has presented his wares seems chaotic but there is method in the madness, and the end result is a rather beautiful, never-seen-anything-like-it study of the workings of the mind of a brilliant architect.

4)     Buy antiques at Golborne Market, Ladbroke Grove
Portabello. Yawn. Carry on north, just past Ladbroke Grove and you come to Portabello’s lesser-known sister – Golborne Road. Less busy and touristy, Fridays and Saturdays are the best days to visit. If you are feeling inspired by your visit to John Soane’s home and want to buy some collectables, you’ve struck gold here. Bric a brac, furniture, clothes, vintage, antiques, jewellery. Take your pick.

5)     Take the tour on the 15 or 24 bus
This is one of the best tips out there for visitors to London. Don’t waste your money on an overpriced sightseeing bus. Take either the 24 or 15 bus to see all the major sites of London. The best time to do this is very early morning before the hoards descend and there is a rare stillness to the capital.

The 24 travels from Pimlico, near Victoria Station along the Thames, past the iconic Battersea Power Station, through Parliament Square, Horseguard’s Parade and Trafalgar Square, up Tottenham Court Road heading north through Camden to stop at Hampstead Heath, arguably London’s finest park.
Alternatively, the 15 takes in East London from Brick Lane (curry mile), the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, Monument, St Paul’s Blackfriar’s Bridge, up Fleet Street and past the Royal Courts of Justice, Waterloo Bridge, along the Strand to Trafalgar Square.

6)     Wander the trails of the buried rivers, various locations
For the more active explorer, join a guided walking tour of London’ hidden rivers. 21 tributaries flow to the Thames, and these are just the main branches. Multiple other smaller tributaries join the bigger branches before heading to their source. Some rivers do flow above ground. The Crane. The Ching. The Quaggy. Most though are hidden under the ground under houses and roads which were built on top of river systems when London became more populated. The Tyburn. The Effra. The Fleet. This is one of the most fascinating tours of London you could do and walking the hidden routes of one of the Thames river tributaries is a novel way to learn more about London’s history and geography.

7)     Kayak the River Thames
Now you’ve explored the big river’s branches, what about the Thames herself? Been on a river boat cruise? What about a kayak? Various companies now offer intrepid folk the opportunity to kayak different points along the capital’s oldest attraction. In exchange for a fair sum of money you get two hours in a kayak with a guide who will point out cool stuff and help you avoid crashing into bigger boats.

8)     Go on a midnight run, various locations
For further abstract active ways to get to know London a little more intimately, join a midnight 10km run. These runs take place at different locations but generally take in top London landmarks. Bonus points for running in fancy dress.  This really is a joyous, more playful and unconventional way to see the city.

9)     Have a cocktail in a car park, Peckham
London wouldn’t be London without food and drink. In summertime, head east to the deeply trendy Frank’s Café on the 10th floor of a car park in Peckham. Kick back with a Campari and barbeque as the sun sets over the city. See if you can spot a rare non-bearded hipster. Frank’s café doubles up as an innovative art space too unsurprisingly as Peckham is a hive of creativity and one of the best places to visit in London for a taste of different.

10)  Eat Saturday brunch at Maltby Street, Bermondsey
Forget Borough Market. You want Maltby Street for food. Picturesque railway arches and the recently-developed Ropewalk house a mash up of start-ups and old timers. Saturday morning from 9am-2pm is the best time to go. Maltby Street Market is much smaller than Borough but it’s vibrant and busy with some serious off-the-wall flavours.