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When Jonathan and I were completing the Munros, we stayed in Gerry's hostel near Achnashellach one snowy February. I think we managed one Munro in three days, but there were others who were up to do the Munros come snow or high water. One family in particular stick in my mind. The father wanted to do as many hills as possible and dragged two crying daughters up hills Jonathan and I would not have gone up in those conditions. Therefore it was a relief that we had completed them before Daniel was born. However, does the advent of a new addition to the family mean an exodus from the hills? Not at all! With a bit of planning, and perhaps a modification of ambition, it is possible to still have enjoyable days out without resigning yourself to packing those walking boots away to the back of the cupboard.
I must say before going any further that I am a Marilyn bagger's wife in the corridor outside the door to the Hall of Fame, and Jonathan had started bagging Marilyns before Daniel was born. However, I will say that climbing Marilyns is a pastime or addiction that is suited to those with babies or toddlers. The hills are smaller so the time taken in climbing them is less, and it is quite achievable to do more than one Marilyn a day. However there are pieces of equipment which are essential to success.
At the beginning when they are small, invest in a front baby sling. We took Daniel in this up his first hill, which was Badandun Hill in Glen Isla, when he was three weeks old. When he was four months old we did all the Marilyns on the Isle of Man with him in a front sling. At that stage it is quite easy to do a hill between feeds if you pick your walk carefully and move at a reasonable pace.
Once you cannot carry them any more in a front sling, invest in a good backpack. Ours is a Vau De Jolly Comfort which has a good head support. It also comes with a rainhood and sunshade, which are essential. Friends of ours have two backpacks without rainhoods, which mean that with any hint of wind or rain their kids are protesting. In Scotland this means in practice that you cannot go very far.
We climbed most of the Shetland Marilyns with Daniel in a backpack -or should I say that Jonathan did. It is also essential to have a motivated Marilyn bagger who is willing to carry extra weight. As I keep telling Jonathan, it is good training. The rest of the Shetland Marilyns we ran up individually while the other looked after Daniel. One ascent of Mid Ward is particularly memorable since Jonathan did it almost twice. First time to the top as he thought (the trig point) and the second time to the actual top. I am glad that I paid closer attention to the map before my ascent.
Once your baby gets older you can time your ascent so that you only need to carry up a snack for them. When we have needed to carry milk in summer I wrapped a cold pack round it and this kept it cool. A judicious choice of snacks means the baby can be kept happy and there is ample room in the backpack for bottles, snacks and nappies. A nappy change before you set off will probably see you through your walk, but if a change is needed on the hill, a nappy and a couple of wipes does not weigh very much. Our backpack came with a mini changing mat which doubles as a seat for us. Daniel has had a nappy change in scenic spots such as Fair Isle and Foula and been none the worse.
Naturally you need to plan your day a bit more when you have an older baby or toddler, as they need to play and move about, and sitting in a backpack for hours on end isn't much fun. Still, they do tend to fall asleep in backpacks, so time your hill for when they need a nap, give them a run round first and you should have a peaceful walk.
Do remember that when in the backpack babies need to be dressed warmly in winter, as they will not get your body warmth that being in the front sling provides. An all-in-one suit is useful as it covers the whole leg, including the bit between sock and end of trousers, and has a hood. Don't worry if it is a bit big: the sleeves will double up as gloves, which is useful if your baby is like ours and a glove hater. Likewise in summer don't forget the hat and sun cream, especially for bits such as hands and legs.
Take care if you are walking through evergreen forest with a backpack in order to ascend hills like Mochrum Fell or Woodhead Hill. The dead stick-like branches which protrude from the tree trunks in such forests could inflict a nasty scratch on junior's face, which could lead to embarrassed explanations to partner or nursery school. It is best to send someone in front to break off any branches which may get in the way. If you are on your own, you will need to do this yourself.
Another good piece of equipment is the all-terrain pram. Ours is a Baby Jogger which is excellent for rough tracks and is our only push-chair for Daniel. It is extremely light and manoeuvrable but is a bit wide for shops and pavements. It does fold up well if it needs to go in a car. Ours has 16-inch wheels which are much better for off-road use than 12-inch ones.
If there are two people who want to climb the hill and don't mind a bit of running, you can try the relay method, which we first employed on Hunt Hill. This is a good method for a hill which is approached by a track. The first person starts off running up the track and runs up the hill as much as they can. They then come down to a pre-determined meeting point on the track and meet the second person, who has set off later walking with the baby jogger, and swap baby over. The first person then walks or jogs back with the baby while the second person walks or runs up the hill and then runs back along the track. If you try this, it is essential to calculate accurately the first person's ascent time or at least leave enough leeway for very rough paths etc. We under-estimated the time it would take the first person to do the ascent and descent, which saw me approach the summit ten minutes before I should have been meeting Jonathan and the jogger back at the track junction. Retracing my steps would have taken too long so I flung myself down a likely looking dry gully and, more on my backside than feet, reached the bottom. My legs felt like rubber bands by the time I reached the jogger. However, Jonathan's time for the ascent confirmed the under-estimation of time needed, not my lack of fitness. In good weather this method could be employed with a backpack, albeit at a slower pace since running with the backpack is not feasible.
There is life on the hills after babies! At fourteen months we took Daniel up a Marilyn a day when on Skye at new year. I cannot comment yet on the time when toddlers want to walk but not very far or fast, and yet do not want to be put in the backpack. So far we have both been lucky to enjoy walking with a happy baby/toddler. It has at times taken planning on a scale of that of Hannibal for his expedition over the Alps, but it has been possible and enjoyable. A future article may cover the time when junior can voice his own opinions on this pastime.
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