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In the 2001 edition of Marhofn I wrote about hillwalking with babies in backpacks. Now time has moved on and the baby has become a toddler. This article covers several mental diary entries during weekend breaks and our summer holiday in Wales in 2002, the first holiday when Daniel was officially too heavy for the backpack. It aims to show that you can still climb Marilyns if new tactics are employed. I take no responsibility for the reaction of any non-bagging partners.
The last hill Daniel was carried up, in May 2002, was Meall Lochan a'Chleirich near Loch Maree, Jonathan's 800th. The weather suddenly got foul at the top, in the way it can do in Scotland in summer, and he yelled his head off (Daniel that is) despite being adequately covered - but that was probably the problem, as he hates his rain-suit and backpack rain-cover with a vengeance. We got back and celebrated with cake and fizzy wine - not just Jonathan's 800th but also a rite of passage - relegation of Daniel's backpack.
Family reasons suggested Wales for our summer break, although we knew if we wanted to get up any hills new tactics would be needed. As luck or good planning would have it, our first week was spent with my mother, uncle and aunt, with a few days at my cousin's. This offered scope for the first tactic:
Jonathan and I employed this tactic when we had days out on our own on Mynydd Carningli, Frenni Fawr and Foel Cwmcerwyn in the Preseli mountains. A lot of the Marilyns we visited in Wales were reasonably close to a road; virtually unknown in Scotland in my experience. Therefore we didn't need to leave Daniel for too long, so the babysitter's goodwill remained for another day and another hill.
We employed this tactic on May Hill, which involves a bit of an ascent, but bribed with jam tarts, Daniel made it to the top, or to the trees anyway. A cunning game of hide-and-seek ensured his progress through the trees to the trig point. We also got him 'up' Ruardean Hill and Mynydd y Betws. A good supply of chocolate is useful. On Daniel's first Marilyn, Cairnpapple in May 2002, I surreptitiously put a Bob the Builder lollipop on the trig point, having bribed him to climb up to see what the fairies had left at the top. Now the poor child expects there to be one on each summit. I will have a lot to answer for when he realises that I am the hill fairy - the tooth fairy's worst enemy. On the other hand, the persuasive skills sometimes needed to get him up a hill could get me a negotiating job with the UN. When I was little I promised myself I would not lie to my own children. However, 'it's not really far now' has, I regret to say, passed my lips.
Getting the toddler to walk up on his own is a good opportunity to make getting up a hill fun, so hills become associated with pleasant experiences. I would recommend good weather so you can stop and admire things. It may take longer than usual but at least the toddler is being initiated gently and enjoyably into the art of hillwalking. It also helps if some hills are very near the road, e.g. Mynydd Sylen, which we got my mum up too.
A good variation, if the terrain allows, is to take the toddler in an ATP (All Terrain Pram), as on my 700th, Burgiehill, which we reached via forest tracks. Back at the car we met Micky Ross and wife (see front page of Marhofn 84). We had seen another car parked beside ours and reckoned it had to be baggers.
However, by far the most commonly-used tactic, when relatives have been exploited and you have run out of toddler-friendly hills, is the relay:
We first employed this tactic on Hunt Hill, as described in my previous article. It has variations depending on whether you both want to climb the hill. Although it can have disadvantages, we found it the best way for two of us to get up some hills, e.g. Black Mountain, Mynydd Llangorse and Mynydd Troed, where we had good weather and both managed to walk/run up while the other fed Daniel and played, had a little walk, admired sheep, wild ponies, paddled about in streams etc. Great fun. Descending Mynydd Llangorse I had full view of the family by the car, and I did wonder at Jonathan's warming-up tactics when he suddenly dived off at speed down the steep road, but then I realised that Daniel's ball had started to roll off down the hill.
Although it takes longer than other tactics, this method is good but weather-dependent. Try sitting in the car with the rain lashing outside listening to endless Postman Pat stories on tape. The toddler may be happy with lunch and countless tapes but you won't be. Although that is better than having the toddler explore mobile phones or car controls. Sunk in a Postman Pat-induced stupor, I once realised that Daniel had started the car.
The need to accurately estimate time up and down the hill is of paramount importance if the weather is inclement. A few extra minutes can seem a lifetime to the person incarcerated in the car with Postman Pat. As at new year Jonathan went up Troweir Hill with the dogs in windy, squally weather, leaving us in the car scenically parked opposite Ailsa Craig. In the first five minutes on the beach Daniel had gone over the top of his wellies in the sea, demanded that we stay in the car, and Jonathan was later than he anticipated as he had to detour round cows. Alternatively, returning a few minutes early can ensure that all get to hear their fair share of The Wheels on the Bus (with actions).
Another word of warning if employing this tactic - always ensure you both have a set of car keys. Once I ran up Cnoc Mor near Strathpeffer while Jonathan and Daniel, well wrapped up in waterproofs (and with the car keys) set off for the maze in the forest. No prizes for guessing who was waiting by the car for 30 minutes in pouring rain before they came back.
It is probably better if both of you are running (downhill at least) to minimise time. However, if you pick your hill and parking spot, and the weather is good, toddlers can be amused quite happily for ages and you might have time to walk up and down. Sometimes you can strike lucky in unpromising parking spots. During a relay up Meall Mor from the not-exactly-scenic side of the A9, I noticed that a couple were looking worriedly under their car bonnet (Daniel was asleep and Jonathan had gone first - a good ploy on my part, as the first person can reconnoitre the route, beat down bracken etc). Nipping over to ask what the trouble was, it so happened that my car had had the same problem two weeks earlier, so for once I knew what I was talking about car-wise. They were from Barra, and as we had been there the year before the conversation soon flowed while I lent them my phone and gave them AA details. Daniel woke up and played with their kids, Jonathan came down and swapped places with me, and I went up the hill. Occasionally Daniel does still sleep, which is always a bonus, as with Knockdolian over new year when Jonathan and the dogs nipped up and down in 35 minutes while we both dozed in the car.
A variation on this tactic is when only one person goes up. This is handy for picking up brownie points, especially if stuck in the car in bad weather. I amassed quite a few points over new year when pleurisy kept me off the hills and I stayed behind with Daniel. Naturally the bagger will be reminded later that they need to give back 'time in lieu' at some stage!
If only one wants to do a hill it may be possible to drop off and meet up at another spot later. This tactic is no use if both wish to climb a hill on the same day, but is useful for partners who do not like lurking in cars with Postman Pat and insist that toddlers need more quality time than learning to start the car or looking at insect life in ditches.
This approach worked well on Harris when I dropped off Jonathan and he ran up and over Beinn Dhubh and met me on the beach. It worked less well at Alness where Jonathan dropped off Daniel and me to go swimming while he did Cnoc Ceislein. Unfortunately the pool was reached by walking over a footbridge, and Jonathan had driven away before I had read the note on the door saying the pool was closed with boiler trouble. I had trouble too, with a swimming bag, limited outdoor clothing, a disappointed toddler and two hours to kill in Alness. I am eternally grateful to the recently-planted Jubilee gardens and its play area, where we spent the two hours.
Lamington Hill lends itself to this tactic, with an excellent play area where Jonathan and Daniel spent a happy time while I went up the hill. Strathyre also comes into this category, with the added bonus that you can do two hills. At last year's Marhof meeting in Golspie, Daniel and I spent an interesting time at Dunrobin Castle and grounds, where there was an excellent falconry display. While we watched owls flying up and over our heads, Jonathan ran up and over one of the hills nearby.
This tactic also worked well near Poolewe on a rainy afternoon in May, when I took Daniel swimming and Jonathan went up Meall an Doirein (the pool was open - he wasn't allowed to leave the car park until I had checked). We went to the coffee shop and Jonathan met us there. The next day I did the same hill in the sun and Jonathan played with Daniel at the bottom and walked as far as the river.
Whatever tactic is employed, the main thing is to make it fun for the toddler and plan carefully, taking weather into consideration. Hillwalking with toddlers is possible, but it is a delicate operation balancing your own enjoyment of the hills with the possibility of introducing them to something they may, or may not, want to do themselves at a later stage. We don't always get it exactly right but we do try.
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