Expedition Lakes, Feb 2019
I wandered lonely as a cloud,
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils...
It strikes me that this poem could be rewritten as follows:
We wander loudly as a crowd,
Somehow summiting some vales and hills,
When all at once descends the cloud and ARGHHHHHHHH!
A host of flattened daffodils...
Welcome to our latest blog on living the life wild with mini people! In sharing our shenanigans, we hope to inspire parents to get adventurous with their kids at the stage when opting for simpler trips is so understandably tempting. Let's be honest though, no matter what type of trip you choose, your under fives will still subject you to random emotional batterings throughout your break. And come to think of it - break? Ha! What a ridiculous word to describe any type of holiday with under fives in the first place.
We want to encourage others to brave the breakdowns and hit the hills with their micro-ramblers but feel it's important to be honest about the experience - behind the many moments of joy lie frequent occasions of crisis.
Verdict: you may as well go massive. The pain is worth the gain! If you survive.
So, the roadtrip.
Expedition aim: to ultimately enjoy four days away in the Lake District without deliberately leaving anyone behind.
The evening of the leaving:
I want to get in that side.
Hurry up then.
No this side.
Why don't you just get in here?
Small child points to the open boot.
GET IN. I DON'T CARE HOW YOU DO IT BUT JUST GET INTO THE VEHICLE.
Pause. Breathe. We've not even left yet.
The epic four and a half hour journey is made slightly more manageable by a Hobbit style stop at Gloucester Services, plenty of Roald Dahl on the radio and our noise cancelling headphones. To be fair, my belligerent youngest makes up for all her major meltdowns by offering to stroke my head when I finally break - whispering "Mummy, you're so cute" and gently patting my eye balls.
Day 1: Rain
So, obviously, when it's raining in the Lakes you stay inside with small people. We head straight over to Bowness's World of Beatrix Potter. It's actually quite lovely and has the added advantage of an enormous mechanical clock in operation above your head while you queue. We all stand staring while we wait 'patiently' (don't-be-ridiculous) to be admitted. Operation Peter Rabbit goes fairly smoothly, up until the point we are very definitely trapped at the centre of the exhibition and my eldest announces she is so desperate for a wee that some has started to even come out. Cue undignified scramble across tangled fake foliage and the toes of tiny onlookers, shoving others to the side and narrowly avoiding decapitating Mrs Tigglewinkle as my crotch-clutching companion is swung into the air and over the exit barrier just in time...
They let us back in.
While enjoying a quick cuppa and cake in the cafe afterwards, we are watched by snotty, sopping faces in the line outside. Families that didn't arrive early enough wait in the rain while our girls stare unabashedly back cramming sweet treats into their happy mouths without a thought for the window licking tiddlers bored in the queue outside. Note to be taken here - arrive at opening time.
Living in a small space such as the interior of a small VW campervan requires you to stay as dry as possible - ideally. Getting kit dry once it's sopping wet is a tedious and clammy experience, even with heating and hot air blowers. Add to that the fact that your two children will be puddling pond water upon the floor as soon as they get in, stepping straight into it in their socks and then padding it up and around everywhere and you can understand why rain is not the road-tripper's friend. Realistically, staying entirely dry is just not achievable in the Lake District when it's constantly raining - but if you head to the Visitor Centre at Brockhole you can dash in (dog in tow), hang out at their soft play, enjoy some arty crafting and finally pop out to the adventure park when the rain eases. This relatively pleasant experience - peppered with repeated phrases such as "In your kind voice, please" and "How do you say that nicely?" in order to appear less feral as a family than we feel - is also made more manageable by mentioning "No one who is screaming will have a hot chocolate" and "Look, I've got marshmallows in my pocket."
Day 2: Rain again
When the rain just doesn't stop you need a castle. Always works for us. The castle today is Wray Castle and it is brilliant because it has barely any expensive antiques to bash into and a huge amount of open space inside. The rooms had been set up for softplay, sketching and imaginative rabbity activities. Yup. More bunny fun. This day is dedicated to entertaining the smalls and once it stops raining we shoot over to the adventure playground and even squeeze in a visit to nearby Beatrix Potter's Hill Top house.
This actually turns out to be a more mindful morning than you would expect. Firstly, I sit quietly in the corner while my daughters take it in turns to bludgeon each other with large parts of the softplay installation. Secondly, the sketching section encourages us all to sit peaceably together concentrating on our individual masterpieces (for five minutes at least before someone inevitably draws on somebody else's picture and Armageddon ensues). Finally, the Peter Rabbit experience has a little wooden shed where children are encouraged to hide inside with their pilfered vegetables. We encouraged much hiding and entertained ourselves immensely flicking the soft toy props at each other while we waited for them to emerge...
Day 3: Out came the sun and dried up all the rain
We totally deserve this day having survived two days of rain with two kids bent on almost constant spontaneous combustion. Everybody is straight outside to marvel at the mountains! Parked up at Hardknott Pass, the girls immerse themselves in examining the local bog frogspawn while we pack the bags. Then it's simply a matter of pointing out scrambly sections ahead and we're on and up to Border End (522m). Unbelievably, everyone enjoys the walk! There's only one moment of madness and it naturally takes place at the sketchiest point on our route. Short-roped and summiting with the wind in her hair and the wild in her eye, our eldest does her best to ignore the screaming sibling now carrier-strapped to prevent her tumbling down the gully.
Our littlest is livid at having been incapacitated in such a manner and wishes only to throw herself off the mountain. Risky bit completed, our youngest dismounts (gifting Daddy with a withering stare followed by a full bellied yell of "GET AWAY FROM ME") before we all settle down for a snuggly session in the shelter for lunch. It's orange by the way. We find it helps to make unhappy people happier - even more so if you hum REM's Shiny Happy People at the inhabitants. Five minutes later and our smallest expedition member is sharing her sweets with us again.
Day 4: And incy wincy spider climbed up the spout again
Boosted by our beautiful day up at Hardknott, we thought we'd have a go at Catbells near Keswick - a short, steep, sharp climb that is richly rewarded by spectacular views of both mountains and lakes! Preparation involves the usual separation of small people while we pack - this is easily achieved by placing pan au chocolate at two distinct locations within the vehicle and buys us about ten minutes between the face-scratching battering / super-loving snuggling that gets in our way when we're trying to get ready.
Incredibly, we're up and off again without complaint! The seemingly obligatory moment of madness occurs when Daddy is outrageous enough to offer our youngest a lift. Solved only when we agree we are baby bears and must walk on all fours up the path (much to the amusement of today's crowd on Catbells) until we reach the very top. We are relieved of this indignity almost immediately when our eldest spots claw marks on the rock and the next ten minutes are spent tracking the beast (thank you crampon marks) up up and away...
Totally cream-crackered knackered, the girls return to a well deserved hot chocolate and sausage by the stream. We're dead proud. Perhaps of ourselves as much as our offspring.
It does not end like this however. Of course not. We've got utterly exhausted under fives. Naturally, as we crouch in companionable silence about the fire, slurping and munching away, someone moves a stick. The stick. The stick that must not be moved.
PUT MY STICK DOWN!
Is your sausage hot?
MY STICK - GIVE IT!
Look, a bird!
In your kind voice please.
I DON'T WANT A KIND VOICE!
I'm sorry, I haven't touched your stick.
I did not.
I most definitely did not.
Sigh. Look, I've got marshmallows in my pocket!
For more details about where you can walk in this incredible landscape, check out https://www.10adventures.com/hikes/lake-district-national-park/