Explore Dartmoor National Park
Discover the best parts of Dartmoor National Park with this guide
David Mellor is an outdoor family advocate raising the next generation of explorers! Here he gives us his top tips for adventuring with toddlers.
When our kids were first born, we were as guilty as anyone of taking everything but the kitchen sink out with us. This wasn’t just confined to adventuring outdoors either. I remember packing a nappy bag fit for a nuclear winter whenever we visited family and friends. I suppose it’s just one of those things we all do as parents.
As we explore the outdoors so frequently, however, it was imperative that we refined our ‘must-take’ list as quickly as possible. After all, I was beginning to resemble a Himalayan Yak transporting a superfluity of gear everywhere we ventured.
As such, here’s our top 5 essential items for adventuring with toddlers…
If you’re serious about wanting to get outside and spend your family time bonding in the great outdoors, then a carrier is a must.
From about six months old, when our children could support the weight of their own heads, we had them straight in the carrier. Although, as parents, we both used a variety of other baby-wearing things, such as slings, for transporting them around town or to the local park, they didn’t offer the protection or the support needed over long distances in isolated areas.
Firstly, choose wisely and you can get one with a wealth of storage options.
Ours, for instance has a huge storage compartment under the seat area and a small day pack-type storage section on the rear. Consequently, whatever the weather, we have enough room to pack for a full day in the hills with the kids.
Furthermore, included is a fully waterproof rain cover, which is stowed away in one of the storage compartments, and can be deployed in super-quick time, cocooning them from the elements in the event of inclement weather.
In addition, the 50SPF rated sunscreen is perfect for those hot, sun-soaked days when you’re sauntering along a lakeside trail.
Let’s face it: in Britain we are, even during our summer months, plagued by the wet stuff. It seems we can’t string even a couple of days together without dark clouds hurrying over the horizon, ready to dampen our spirits.
Well, dampen no more. By investing in a good puddle suit and layering properly underneath, our kids manage to enjoy the great outdoors at all times of year.
What’s more, given our temperate climate and propensity for rain, mud is never too far away. Even on a dry day we’ll often use their waterproof bottoms to enable them to sit down and rest at regular intervals.
They understand that their waterproofs are for bashing. They can do anything in them. No puddle or rain-soaked grassy perch is out of bounds, we don’t spend ages searching out the perfect picnic spot. We sit whenever we need to refuel, rest or simply want to take in the beautiful view because the last thing we want to worry about when we’re outside is getting wet or dirty.
Don’t underestimate the power of a hot drink or cooked meal. In the great outdoors these seemingly little things can be dramatic mood changers. On a cold, dull, showery day, the warmth and nutrition that you can provide for your family with one of these pocket rockets is invaluable.
We don’t go outdoors during the colder months to test ourselves and our kids in some sort of weird war of attrition. We get outside because we have fun as a family. If we’re warm and kept dry and have activities and beautiful views to engage us, we’re all set. In addition to the layers that you clothe your kids in, refuelling their energy levels at regular intervals is a huge part of keeping them warm out on the trail.
Let’s face it, during the colder seasons a hot meal and drink will provide you and your family with all the warmth and re-energising you could want.
The result? More available time to spend exploring. So next time you go to pack that soggy sausage roll and juice carton, consider replacing it with a small, lightweight stove, some hot chocolate and marshmallows, some homemade soup and a crusty roll, or a bowl of last night’s chilli con carne.
Don’t think that stoves are just confided to the winter months either. We have been known to get up before the crack of dawn (our kids wake us at this time every day anyway!) and head to the beach for a sunrise breakfast during the summer months.
We take our beach shelter, stove and cook up a seaside feast. We’ll spend the first couple of hours of our day there before heading home full and rewarded, usually before any other beach visitors have even arrived. It’s bliss.
The kids love the excitement of cooking outdoors and our eldest toddler is always on hand to offer us a helping hand. Using the stove outdoors with the kids not only teaches them new skills and things to be aware of, it also involves them in the day-to-day running and successes of our adventures.
The result? It keeps them happy and engaged and wanting even more.
You never like to think that adventures will go wrong but, by being prepared, you’ll be able to minimise any physical and emotional discomfort when or if they do.
For instance, we all know that kids who love to go clambering over rocks and boulders will, at some point, bang a knee or scrape an elbow. We also understand as parents that kids simply cannot resist any standing water found on or around the trail. It simply has to be kicked, jumped in, rolled in…you name it!
Consequently, stuffed at the bottom of our carrier is a first aid kit and emergency clothes.
The first aid kit is there because, as mentioned earlier, our hikes take us to some pretty isolated areas. Being a qualified first aider (a course I feel all parents should invest in) and having a range of kit available to deal with cuts, bangs and everything in-between, gives me the confidence to let my kids explore the great outdoors.
As much as I love holding their hands, when they’re outdoors I want them skipping across rocks and climbing trees. It’s not reckless abandon, it’s managing the risk that exists to enable them to have fun and fulfil their childish instincts while providing them with the safety net of our knowledge, ability and kit.
In terms of spare clothes, socks, hats, gloves, and a spare warm layer are top of the list. In the summer, spare socks are a must for toddlers. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve resorted to our spares.
urthermore, if one of your toddlers happen to throw off a glove or mitt because, in their eyes, it interferes with their ability to smear mud on something, socks can make great little hand warmers.
Similarly, having hats and gloves to hand, even on a seemingly warm day, can mean the difference between cutting an adventure short if the weather turns or embracing that change and keeping those big smiles on those little faces.
Lastly, a spare warm layer, such as a fleece or insulated jacket, means that lakeside picnics can last a lot longer.
You have to remember that, although they may look like the physical embodiment of a bath of sweat while they’re tearing around on the hill, as soon as they stop, their body temperature drops. As such, adjusting their layers as they adjust their activity is one of our top priorities.
Lastly, we always carry our group shelter (bothy). These are relatively inexpensive but provide a wealth of fun and protection for us and the kids. Apart from being there for us in the event of a true emergency, we’ve been known to get the bothy out if the wind starts gusting during our picnic. The kids think it’s some sort of awesome den. We think it’s awesome because it’s so flexible. Even if you’ve just got soggy or saturated ground to contend with, the bothy can be pulled out and used to sit the entire family on.
Come on! Surely you didn’t think that I’d leave these off our essentials list, did you?
One of life’s biggest motivators – sweets and chocolate. In our house any sort of sugar is an absolute treat. Our youngest even mimics me by wagging her finger, grinning from ear to ear and repeating ‘no sweets, no choc choc’. Like all kids, they’d have it for breakfast if they could.
However, that makes treats even more powerful on days out in the hills.
The most difficult stage for us personally was when our eldest outgrew his carrier – something our youngest will do later this year. Suddenly, apart from the odd shoulder ride or piggy back, he was having to walk, what was for him, much bigger distances. He coped amazingly well.
It’s something that a lot of parents we know often comment on about our kids: just what great little walkers they are. The trick, apart from keeping them warm, comfortable and engaged using a range of trail games, is sweets and choc choc.
Whether it be Jelly Babies (I personally like the Tropical edition) or leftover Easter eggs or selection boxes, we use them to reward getting to the next notable feature on the walk. It works an absolute…treat!
They have also now become accustomed to café stops at the end of our walks. So, although cake may well be off the menu during the week, it’s certainly back on it weekends.
You only have to look at their little faces, satisfied from a day of adventure and chocolate cake, to realise they genuinely enjoy and thrive from being outdoors.