Backpacking with an eight year old: a little further, a little higher, for a little longer

Total distance: just over 8 miles

Total bags of Haribo eaten: just over 3

I’ve wanted to take Toby out backpacking ever since he took his first few steps, so a proper trip into the heart of the Lake District to wander up into the hills and spend a night under the stars had been several years in the making.

He’d been brought up on day walks with his younger brother and was out wandering the edges of Kinder Scout at the age of 5. It’s rare that a weekend passes without the three of us heading somewhere to get a few muddy miles beneath our boots, but at the wise old age of eight (and a half) it felt about right to venture out a little further, aim a little higher and to stay out for a little longer.

We spent most of the summer holidays waiting for a good weather window but always got cheated at the last minute by heavy rain, whilst I don’t mind being soaked through to the skin, waking up to the sound of drizzle on the tent and wringing out socks for another days wear the last thing I wanted to do was put the poor boy off the outdoors for the rest of his life. The school holidays came and went and we more or less gave up on the idea for another year, then September granted us a weekend of sunny spells up in the north west. We wondered whether the beginning of Autumn could be a little too chilly at night, or maybe too susceptible to sudden changes in the weather. If we spend too long thinking about the risks then we’d never do anything worthwhile, this was far too good an opportunity to resist.

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We found ourselves winding along the steep narrow course of the Wrynose Pass, the drive up the roller coaster climbs and tight turns is an adventure in itself, I kept telling Toby that the road was only half finished and around then next bend we might just drive off the edge. It was early afternoon when we ditched the car on the roadside under the craggy slopes of Hard Knott, we paused to take a photo on the empty road before walking straight into Moasedale knowing that a long dark night would pass before we returned.

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We carried a pack each, Toby carrying the lighter but bulkier items such as waterproofs, hats and gloves, the size of my pack suggested a three week long trip in the Himalayas, crammed to the top with two winter sleeping bags, a larger tent than usual, two mats, kilos of food and with the power of hindsight enough layers of clothing to keep us warm through the depths of an arctic winter. The valley was baking in afternoon sunshine as we walked the first few miles, the giants of the south western fells rose up in the distance to meet the clouds on the horizon.

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That first hour in the valley was a reminder of the inevitable change of pace required when walking with the kids, although I should say I do get a daily reminder of this in the form of our morning school run where a quarter mile often stretches beyond a half hour of dawdling and meandering. With no school bell serving as a deadline, the idleness was a pleasure, by going slower you notice more, we watched light blue dragonflies hovering above the dense summer bracken and stopped to try and catch tiny frogs hopping in shallow streams that flowed across the paths. Toby caught one, I failed miserably and insisted we move on.

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The route plan was a joint effort, we’d spent hours looking at maps instead of doing bedtime stories for the past few nights, deciding where we could walk, where we could pitch, and looking where the water flowed. Toby chose for us to leave the path and strike out a sharp right across a marshy field and straight up the western slopes of Ulpha Fell. It was a tough climb with no path to ease the way, no doubt there was an simpler way to get up but it added to the sense of adventure and meant that we had the hills to ourselves for the entire afternoon. SONY DSC

There a few understandable moans and groans and an inevitable ‘are we nearly there yet’ on the way up, it was a difficult route and one that would probably leave most adults red faced and breathless. Fortunately this was nothing that couldn’t be medicated with a handful of haribo, a sip of water and a few minutes rest sitting on the rocky slopes. I wasn’t sure whether his silence was due to exhaustion or the sight of the landscape opening up around us, perhaps it was a bit of both. SONY DSC

After what felt like a few hours of travelling vertical the ground finally levelled out, where we both gratefully collapsed in the yellow grass into a heap eating peanut butter sandwiches, sausage rolls and chocolate bars, sitting in silence until our legs stopped aching. A faint track guided us along the broad ridge, the wee mountain goat was enjoying a second wind and skipped on ahead . Without the heat of uphill walking, a noticeable chill started to drop into the air, we threw on a couple of layers and started to search for a place to pitch for the night.

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We found a place to call home just above 700m, just past Little Stand and shy of the ascent to Crinkle Crags, a well sheltered grassy platform tucked away amongst the rocks with perfect views over to the Scafell range. Pitching the tent was a joint effort and Toby made himself very useful by filling our water bottles from a nearby spring and agreeing that the  water that flows fresh from the mountainside tastes better than it could ever from a tap. Drinking from streams and carrying everything you need were just a small part of the wealth of new experiences he encountered that weekend. The length of the journey, the size of the fells and the scale of the land as well as the prospect of sleeping out for the night were all unfamiliar territory. None of these experiences seemed to unsettle or cause any fear, only smiles, awe and fascination, it seems that the outdoors makes a fine parent.

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As night began to set in we left the tent briefly and wandered a little higher taking the stove and a few more snacks with us to watch the sunset and drink hot chocolate on a rocky outcrop. The day had felt like midsummer, the evening was certainly more autumnal with down jackets, gloves and hats at the ready. The sun and sky put on a good show for Toby, a memorable sunset and moonrise before a wild camp among the summits. SONY DSC

SONY DSC SONY DSCYawns and became more frequent and prolonged, the warm refuge of our sleeping bags was calling, packing up our supper we ambled back down to the tent for the night. I’d brought a wealth of entertainment in books and card games in preparation for a long night of wakefulness. I needn’t have bothered, by the time the tent door was zipped closed there was a snoring coming from deep within the red sleeping bag.

SONY DSC I read for a while waiting for him to wake in a panic, but the night was gentle, barely a breeze in the air, Toby was fast asleep by the time the stars came out. I don’t think I could have woken him up if I’d tried, it wasn’t till dawn when a tangled mess of hair and puffy eyes emerged from the bag.

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A cloudless night made for a cold fresh morning, we unzipped the tent door and enjoyed the fresh air and light but stayed warm in our bags, the card games and books came into good use whilst the outside temperature gradually crept up. After a while it was just too fine a morning to stay in, plus he kept beating me at top trumps, so we kept our layers on and shuffled over to some nearby rocks to cook up some breakfast.

SONY DSCSONY DSCThe night had given us a decent rest and we were both keen to gain some height and explore further along the ridge, we packed up quick and hauled our bags onto our shoulders rejoining the path to the summit of Crinkle Crags. Toby borrowed a pair of trekking poles to ease the way after finding that his legs seemed a little heavier than usual.  SONY DSCWe stopped for a break to eat past the summit, because sometimes one breakfast simply isn’t enough, a grand view of a lush green Langdale spread out far beneath us, craggy greyish brown summits dappled with sunlight spread out in every other direction. It was reassuring to see Toby share his fathers penchant for sitting about and doing nothing for long stretches of time. We lounged around in the morning sun eating cakes, drinking spring water and telling silly jokes. I told Toby about the annual ‘biggest liar’ contest that takes place in nearby Wasdale which instigated a good hour of us both talking absolute rubbish.   SONY DSCOur shoulders were now used to our heavy packs and the going was easy, following a path that disappeared and reappeared, we added rocks to cairns and tried to remember the names of fells on the horizon and matched them to the dense orange contours on our map. We both felt it appropriate to rename Bow Fell as ‘Haribo’ Fell in honour of how many sweets we’d eaten since we left the car behind. SONY DSC SONY DSCIn the distance we could see a few other walkers out for the day, tiny figures making their way up to Bow Fell from the paths that follow The Band and Hell Gill. In spite of the good weather we hadn’t seen anyone at all since we set off the day before and we decided that it felt better when we had the hills to ourselves and cut back down to the valley before we got to three tarns. The way back was mostly downhill but involved about four miles of fairly rough walking before we’d be back at the car. Lingcove Beck not only guided us home but also quenched our thirst and cooled our feet when we rested. The valley was a suntrap and we dipped our hats into streams to keep our heads cool. SONY DSC SONY DSCLeaving the scree slopes, summits and streams behind we rejoined the familiar basin of Moasedale, the road shortly appeared as a subtle thin sliver of grey, our black car looking like a small toy in the distance. It took a further hour to reach but of course everything starts to feel lighter and easier when the end is in sight, even more so when there’s the promise of fish and chips in Yorkshire on the drive home. The damp marshy ground was springy to walk on, when we’d arrived Toby had edged around the puddles and jumped from rock to rock not wanting to get his boots muddy, as we left he marched and sloshed through the wet, laughing as the cool water came up over his boots and soaked his feet. What a difference a day makes.

Of all the trips I’ve had the pleasure of undertaking over the past year, this was the best by a long shot. Not that we covered so many miles or stayed out for days at a time, but all because I got to share it with Toby, a perfect companion in every sense.

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11 thoughts on “Backpacking with an eight year old: a little further, a little higher, for a little longer

  1. What a fantastic trip 😊 It makes all the difference when it’s warm and sunny too; I’d definitely save the rainy trips for the future!
    Not sure if 3 bags of Haribo are enough though. They’d better have been big ones…

  2. I absolutely love reading this! 🙂 I’ve said it before but you are so inspiring 🙂 I can’t wait for lots of adventures with wee joseph next year …. who will also be 8 … lots of fun to be had! 🙂

    1. Hey thanks nicola!! I’m really happy you enjoyed it and if it gets you thinking about doing something similar then that’s brilliant. Worth taking a few risks to do something out of the ordinary. Toby is still asking when we can go out again (probably not till may).

      1. Hey 🙂 ….absolutely! Lots of new adventures to be had! Yes I was thinking it would be about that time of year. Gives me and joey time to think about what to do, where to go! 🙂

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