Category Archives: kids

Girls on the Gritstone

In the past two years and eight months, we have had at least three major family trips away with the kids, to climbing destinations where we’ve tried to combine our old pre-child lives with our current situation. I’ve made quite a big deal about getting out with younger ones in tow, being very vocal on social media and writing articles for ukclimbing and for The Project Magazine about this subject, not to mention the countless days out locally. And yet, despite all this experience, there is still a massive amount of apprehension before going away with the children.

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"we're going on an adventure!" that's what I've been telling our eldest before we head off this weekend to the gritstone for a family climbing trip. And its scary! More scary for us, full of apprehension and nerves; what if they're sick? What about their sleeping? Have we got enough stuff? Have we got the RIGHT stuff?! What if we get distracted working a project and the cold disappears into a hole in the ground…? Okay that last one is more me than Em but it is nerving. But that shouldn't hold us back and for the last two and a half years, it hasn't; this photo is by @emks93 on our first baby climbing trip to Ireland. She was four months old. Granted, we've had to do things differently but there's a word for that: parenting. Everything in our lives is now done differently! And, for us, it's really important that they get these experiences and that they get them young. We want to show them that they CAN go and have adventures, that there are no limits to their abilities. We want strong, empowered children that become rounded, enlightened people. We want them to develop experiences from different people in different places, to show them to keep learning. So come on kids, we're going to show you the world. It's amazing, you'll love it.

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This weekend has been planned for nearly a year and yet at the back end of last week, with days to go, we nearly sacked it off on account of stress. Granted there were slightly extenuating circumstances – with sickness and general sleep deprivation – but even at the time, it seemed more that the stresses of getting everything ready and in line were taking their toll and didn’t entirely seem worth it.

Even once we arrived at the hut, we weren’t sure how long we’d last and at one point, even i was ready to pack everyone back up in the truck and go straight home again; stereo screaming echoing in my ears. And yet, partly through our resolve to allow the kids into this aspect of our lives and partly through the knowledge that valuable reinforcements were on their way, we stuck out that first night, and the second and returned having had another fantastic child/climbing adventure.

Girls at the Gritstone

The scene for this particular adventure was the Roaches in Staffordshire: one of England’s most famous crags, with a fantastic circuit of easier grade bouldering to accomany the more established and iconic trad lines of the last seventy years. On the face of it, this weekend should’ve been significantly easier as we were staying in the old Don Whillans Memorial Hut at the basse of the crag.

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An eventful end to and adventure weekend at the Don Whillans Memorial Hut at the Roaches. Such a convenient and awesome place to stay, where you could literally throw the pads out the front door and hit an established boulder! And yet one of the things that struck me was how much was there that wasn't developed! Do people assume that because it's one of the countries most famous crags, there's nothing new left?! Or have they been done before and long since forgotten about? Most likely I imagine is that it takes a different mindset to go off piste and try something green and undone before. Still, I'd love to go spend a week here and do nothing but new lines. I reckon it could easily be done #peak #peakbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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The hut is pretty incredible and dates back to the early 1880s, although later became a gamekeepers hut in 1862 (for a more detailed and interesting history, see this article by the BMC, who now own and run the venue) and is a thing to behold. With a rustic charm indicating it’s history, the hut holds a slightly industrial feel – steel sinks and table in the kitchen for example and distinct lack of sofa – that at first feels a little cold but probably stems from an attempt to live alongside the inevitable wildlife that share the grounds. Still, considering the locale and the intentions of anyone staying there, this makes sense as it is unlikely people will want to spend too much time indoors when staying here.

Such was the case for our crew: our family of four and their maternal grandparents, who had booked the hut, plus their son James and his two friends, Tom and Karl. If it hadn’t been for England and Wales both being in action in the rugby world cup, i dare say we’d have been out even more than we were; which was practically all hours we were awake! Thankfully, we had the weather to make that work.

Routes of All Lengths

The England match coincided with a foggy and murky start to the day, luckily, meaning we could watch the Aussies get a thumping while waiting for the rock to dry out. Once full time had been blown, it was game on and after a short reccie, we were up at the famous and popular Upper Tier boulders.

For me, it turned out to be an apt place to start. I have no idea when i first climbed at the Roaches, probably sometime around 2003, but i do remember the first problems i tried: namely those on the obvious bloc under The Sloth and the very same boulders we began at this Saturday gone. These days i climb a lot harder than back then, meaning i have much less fear of actually trying the tougher lines (see this article written for Prowess last week about grades and performance) opening up more oppotunities than last time.

Having a substantial landing helps too and soon, instead of utilising this fact, i was dangling from the lip on the dyno eliminate Apocolypse Now 7a+ feeling my recent form might carry through to the weekend. There was an infectious drive within the group too and it was great to see the crew studiously working on the tricksome Don’s Crack 4+ to form a bit of a send train up the awkward moves. It spurred me on to flash Broken Wing 7a, although if anyone can shed light on the start of this i’d be grateful, as it appears that a “hanging start” is no longer possible without a one-arm lock off…

Lunchtime timed out immaculately with a heavy shower that stopped just as we finished munching and soon, the lads were off out in search of dry routes on the nearby crag. They managed to find something suitable: a wet hand jam crack that saw multiple ascents again as our little family walked up to catch some of the action. I’m sure there was some disappointment not to get on something a touch tougher but such is life when things are booked in advance; you play the cards you’re dealt and it was great to see people making the most, rather than sitting, complaining about conditions.

The evening rolled around, pizzas all round and while the children slept (mostly anyway) and most of the group played an enthusiastic game of Articulate, Em and myself took the lanterns out for a night-boulder. The last time i was at the Roaches was around the time we got together and i was distracted in freezing conditions on the Tetris boulder with very little in the way of any tangible success. At the time, i’d thought i didn’t need to come back but time introduces an element of doubt and i thought i should give it another try, with the added irony that i am now here with the same wonderful girl i was trying to court from the last time. For me, that evening held a beautiful symmetry.

It did not yield any sends though and did bring a rather bad knock to my arse when i fell hard and landed on a rock. Tetris 7c is hard, high and scary in the daylight, let alone by torchlight and i was happy to get the first four moves or so. I’ve no need to go back now, although i can’t say i won’t change my mind again in the next three years…

Easy Like a Sunday Morning

Sunday saw the lads run out as a foursome, eager to make the most of the sunshine while i cheered on the Welsh in their 20-19 quarter final win over France and the girls recovered from another tumultuous night. A boys bedroom and a girls bedroom kept me separated from any parental responsilibity for the weekend and while i do feel a bit bad, it’s the first time i find myself glad we have two daughters.

Soon enough, after packing some kit, we were kitted out and went in search of the climbers, taking a lovely walk over the top of the moors trying to find them. I had intended to get Rosie on a rope but the one thing we’ve learnt about being active with kids is that you can’t force it; you put things in place to try and make it happen but always remember that it still might not. In this case it didn’t but even so, it was another good day for them to experience the outdoors and to see their family in action.

Once again, the rain hinted that we should stop on the rock and we headed back to pack up and clean before heading for home. We could’ve climbed more if things had worked out differently but it could’ve been significantly worse and the most important aspect to the weekend was to get out with others and have a good time. All told, we accomplished that in spades and i dare say, will be back next year to continue what it fast becoming a very good tradition.

“Ducks are in the water, round and round and round”

Firstly, sorry for the formatting issues in the last post. I’d been using the WordPress app on my phone for these holiday posts and something must’ve gone a bit wrong. Oh well, it was the text that was most important and now, back in North Wales, it’s time to round up the trip, fill in the last few events and have a quick look at how it went in general.

Finding the Gruffalo

At the end of my last post, we’d discovered a neat Gruffalo Trail in Winlatter Forest and followed it through with ear-splitting exclamations from our eldest as she saw each character appear on the track ahead. However we didn’t actually see a Gruffalo statue.

Not ones to leave disappointed, we packed up on the Sunday and went straight back to try and find it. We’d missed the shop and cafe on the Friday too so breakfast was eaten out before we traipsed up the trail again. We ran it in reverse this time and after asking a staff member, crested over a hill and realised why we’d missed it the first time round. If we’d only turned around when we stopped briefly, we’d have seen it clear as day. Oh well, Tess deserved a walk before the long drive back and it offered some closure.

The rest of the day was spent bouncing from place to place, stopping at Booths (yes, again) before taking the A-roads south. Soon enough we found ourselves approaching Carnforth and i swung a sneaky right into Silverdale.

A bit of local knowledge goes a long way sometimes and this was a stomping ground of mine way back when. Mixed with some ducious navigation and arm waving as i suddenly recalled a crag we were driving past, we found ourselves on the edge of Morecambe bay on the most glorious day. The girls even enjoyed lunch on the bonnet of the Land Rover.

The Week in Review

It was a fitting end to a great week that got better and better. I maintain that i can’t be blamed for the weather conditions we encountered but it did make camping just that bit too hard. Don’t get me wrong, if we’d had no choice we’d have stuck it out and would’ve reaped the reward when the weather turned nicer again later in the week. Nevertheless, it just goes to show how you really shouldn’t underestimate how hard camping with kids actually is.

I’ll be honest here and say times were tense, especially in the evenings. Bad weather is always a blight on a camping trip, always a risk you run and can never be predicted. Truth be told we were lucky it didn’t rain on us more as i imagine that would’ve pushed us just that touch too far and sent us home.

From my point of view, the week heralded only one climbing day, albeit an astounding one. That was down to me and i think it was the right thing to do. Having a family forces a lot more compromise and that is exactly what we had and i think it was a fair balance. It was great to climb but to force another day in there would’ve been unfair; the week worked out nicely as it was.

Children have also seen my shoes wear down much quicker, given the amount of walking we end up doing. We did have several good days – walking into Keswick as a bit of a road walk, up Cat Bells, around Derwentwater and around Winlatter Forest – which offer some quality family time. Rosie usually gets to walk large stretches, Hannah rests nicely while we’re out in Happy Mode and of course, it keeps Tess happy and trim. In the the coming years i can envisage us taking bikes too but for now, i’m more than happy trudging for the day.

One major downside is the effect spending a week in the fantastic Lake District has had on my outlook for Snowdonia. They do so much right that we really don’t here; their towns are bustling and thriving while ours are bleak and empty; they have networks of perfectly reasonable paths absolutely everywhere, off the roads while we spend more and more improving the single track in the village while ignoring the bigger picture. I love North Wales dearly, it’s where i’ve chosen to raise my family after all but i really wish the powers that be would open their eyes and look to other areas of the country to learn their lessons.

The mood certainly relaxed too as the week wore on and highlighted to me quite how hard life is at the moment. It was tough with one young child, two is more than double the effort. When camping, that is accentuated and i think it took us a while to relax into the situation. This isn’t me complaining or criticising, it is me pointing things out both for us on the next trip or for others foolish enough to follow our insane example.

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Just the way it should be.

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All told, it was a fantastic family week away and that was entirely the point of the trip. It wasn’t a climbing trip, it was a chance for us to bond and i think our relationship has grown because of it. That said, i’m not itching to do it again that soon. Instead, i might head back up on my own to tick off a few more routes…

“Hungry on a bench”

As someone who has spent the last twelve years working in the retail/outdoor industry and as a consequence has forsaken the typical Monday to Friday routine, it often takes me aback when I’m suddenly confronted by it. Friday night on our site and suddenly the place was busier than a city bar at closing time. On a Friday night…As we returned from our days adventures, a camper van appeared in front of us. As night fell, another couple moved into the pod next door and that’s not to mention the rather large school group that arrived in the field right next to the toilets. I often find groups like that annoying, for no other reason that they forget they’re not the only ones here and this lot are no exception: staff on one side of the only path to the loos, sinks and showers, kids on the other, giving you no choice but to walk straight through the middle of their site. I guess they’ve got safety in numbers.All these people will be doing much the same as us: enjoying some time in the lake District, probably walking the hills and as such, I always feel it unfair to complain about somewhere we want to go being busy. I once read an article detailing why a large number of tourist hot spots weren’t as good as they were supposed to be and do you know the most popular reason? Because they’re busy. It astounds me that people complain that the obvious places they want to visit, because they’ve heard how they’re such good places to visit, attract other people that also want to visit.Our walk yesterday was much the same; a popular and accessible walk up Cat Bells with a throng of other people. No complaints from me, we’ve heard it’s a good walk and so have plenty of others. Sadly we didn’t make the summit proper but we did get up high and the views over Derwent Water were unreal. In fact in every direction, we had a fantastic view, Rosie especially enjoying it from her lofty position in the rucksack on my back…That was fine, for the jaunt up and back down Cat Bells and the bag was easy while she walked a bit along the shores of the lake. But once we decided to get a wriggle on, she seemed to suddenly grow and gain extra weight that wasn’t there at the start. By the time we got back to the car, I was surprised she wasn’t too big to be able to pull out of the bag.Em too was carrying a child, externally this time (a third child, are you kidding me?! Camping with two has been plenty hard enough) with Hannah tied neatly into the sling around her front. Hannah didn’t grow at the same exponential rate as her older sister but the sling did stretch and slew as the day wore on so that by the end of the walk, Em had resorted to practically carrying a nearly-six-month-old in her arms. By the time we were back at the truck, we were both as battered as each other.It had been worth it for yet another wonderful family day and for me personally, looking out over the crags of borrowdale that played host to many of my early ascents (and failures) was quite a nice feeling.And onto the evening. We actually got back at a reasonable time and were able to cook and eat with only a minimal amount of “hungry” chanting; pasta and sauce to compliment some delicious pork and beef meatballs. I know I keep mentioning it but I am really going to miss booths. The rest of the evening would’ve passed even more smoothly, had we not made the mistake of turning the pod into a steamroom.It was by far the nicest evening so far and eased the stress. This morning was much calmer too, as we had a relaxed start before heading into Keswick. We didn’t actually spend that much – a new mug our only souvenir – and a typically family day, pushing Rosie on the settings, an ideal tonic to a frantic week of adventure.That was only half the day though and we finished off our lakeland week going to Winlatter forest. We stumbled across an awe inspiring vista taking a wrong turn to Cat Bells and both enjoy a forest walk so thought we’d check it out. Little did we know it’s a major biking and walking centre and found a lovely pushchair friendly walk focused on the Gruffalo. What a fanatic end to a fantastic week.

Restoring parity

When we arrived here on this rustic little campsite, I noticed three quaint little sheds, or camping pods as they’re called, and I wandered over to have a look. A shed is a good description to be honest: a single empty room in a wood built building with a footprint probably slightly smaller than our family tent. I pulled a face off a mild sneer and repeated my old thought that they’re fine for people who don’t want to camp properly. Last night, as I slightly frantically moved all of our belongings into one of them, I suddenly found the appeal.

If you’re think we’ve gone soft then you probably don’t have two small children. If you do, you’ll totally understand. It cost us one night that we probably weren’t gonna last anyway and an extra twenty quid. After a single night, it was worth every penny.

The fact is, this week, our daytimes have been fantastic but our evenings have been pretty miserable. To combat the draught from that first night, I’d put rocks and turf around the bottom of the tent, to little avail. Now there is no need and while last night was still pretty cold, we can put that down to a combination of having the window open slightly after turning the heating down too much. We are, after all, still learning.

Either which way, it was infinitely nicer and meant we could reflect on the amazing day of climbing I’d had during the day. Back when I lived up here, some fifteen years ago, the bowderstone represented everything I wanted to achieve (in bouldering at least) but was never going to given the ridiculous mentality I had adopted from trad climbing: I climbed V5, I didn’t climb V6 so I had up right to get on them and given the climbs on the bowderstone start at V7, this was not a venue for me.

So much has changed in that time and now I lack the fear to try the harder climbs. Instead, I’m more tactically aware and had spent the week leading up to this researching the best climbs that would let me exorcise those demons. Try too easy and it wouldn’t satisfy my intentions, too hard and risk getting nothing.

I couldn’t anticipate how well this day could’ve gone. After a horrid warm up at V4, I got on Picnic Sarcastic 7a+ as that was the climb I’d been looking at all week. I’d be lying if I said it was a solo effort, as I bumped into a local climber who offered me some invaluable beta; cutting out an awesome cut loose but saving me a heap of energy. As he also offered a crucial spot for the committing last move, I did it and felt a wave of relief after years of regret.

I wasn’t done. The sit start to Picnic at 7b fell much quicker, before I promptly walked over and flashed Statstick 7a. A questionable send of Power Pinch 7b finished the day amid a feeling of euphoria. If you’re gonna have your first success on the bowderstone, this isn’t a bad way to do it!

After a quick look at the delicacies on offer in Booths, we headed back and quickly decided to move house. It meant the lovely looking meatballs we’d bought were put aside in favour of fish and chips in a hurry as we settled into our new abode.

Today is looking like a hill walk in sunshine and more low temperatures. The snow seems to have retreated so I’m expecting a day as good as the last two. Now if we can bring the nights up to that standard, this will be an awesome week away.

On the up

If I gave the impression on my last post that we were struggling and having a tough time of it on our first full family trip, the last 24 hours have seen a significant upturn.

Yesterday, in almost every way, was much better: a lovely day walking into keswick and a much better night. Granted, we still have issues – a burnt dinner, disciplining a toddler and a fussy baby – but we’re infinitely happier as we awake on our second morning.

The first order of business yesterday was to try and get this mess in order. Camping often takes organisation and with two young children, that’s multiplied a hundred fold. That kinda afforded us the opportunity to reset and soon, kids were in the buggy and we were walking the small roads into town. The weather held off and soon we were in a fantastic cafe en route with sausage sandwiches, cream tea and big smiles.

We didn’t stay in keswick long, only to pick up some essentials from Booths supermarket (if you can ever class anything for sale in booths as essential) before reversing our route back. It may not sound like the most exciting day but it was ideal, especially considering our fragile state from the night before.

The evening, too, was much better. Rosie went down with a reasonable amount of fuss and Em “didn’t hear a peep from her all night” and Hannah only woke three times. After realising a fierce cold draught under the fly sheet of the tent, I blocked it off with bricks, rocks and turf. I don’t know how much it helped but we were all much warmer; so I’ll take the credit.

The sunshine this morning further added to the goodwill in the tent; that is until we stepped outside to a biting wind and what I’m assuming are pretty low temperatures again. The hills are still covered in snow, so we shouldn’t really be surprised that it’s still cold but the sanctuary of the heated tent always helps.

Soon we’ll head off to the Bowderstone for what will likely be the only climbing of the week. When I lived here about fifteen years ago, the Bowderstone held an almost mythical appeal, with all the lines on this hardcore bloc too tough for me back then. Ticking off something on there has been a long ambition so hopefully today is the day. Either which way, things are looking up and the family effort is rewarding us nicely.

“there’s yoghurt on the sleeping bag…”

“What am I doing here? Am I insane? Is this insane? We should go home, this is really not a good idea.”

These are some of the things that have gone through my head in the last twelve hours or so. I’m currently in a double sleeping bag, Em asleep beside me and Hannah curled up in front of her after a tumultuous night.

Meanwhile Rosie spent the night in her new little sleeping bag, looking the definition of cute at the bottom of the tent. She slept fine on all accounts. The same cannot be said for the rest of us.

Part of that was certainly the cold. Apparently the temperature hit 0C last night and it didn’t take long for the warm air created by our fan heater to find a new home. Rosie didn’t seem to mind but Hannah was restless (for whatever reason) and I was chilly – incredibly rare for me.

As much as I maintain my opinion that children shouldn’t stop you from doing the things you love – especially something inclusive like travelling and camping – I can’t help but lie here, very still for fear of touching a cold bit of the sleeping bag, and think this an error.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone is perfectly safe, no one is in any danger of freezing or starving or any other ing. Nevertheless, there’s a line between enjoyable and idiotic and as the rain falls steadily on the roof of our tent, Tess continues to be restless in the porch and Rosie repeats the word hungry, all while Em continues her morning slumber, I can’t help feel we’re teetering along it.

So what to do? The girls don’t seem to mind, Rosie bouncing around and Hannah in happy mode and smiling proudly. Tess meanwhile is an old hand at this and as I said before, there’s no concern for anyone’s welfare.

Plus the fact if we did falter at the first hurdle, I doubt we’d actually be able to pack up that quickly, certainly not in the rain. Chances are we’re here for at least another night but maybe that’s a good thing; forcing us to persevere when the obvious thing to do is run home quickly.

Chances are we’ll stay the distance, especially if we can iron out some of the problems – like a pillow that doesn’t hurt and a tent that isn’t in the extreme levels of chaos. Breakfast and, crucially, a first cup of tea since we left the house will improve the mood.

One hour later…

A run to the loo showed we were right to be cold: our tent sits just below the snow line that has engulfed the hills around here. I stared blankly at them for a second, wondering two things: why it couldn’t come just that little bit lower and insulate our tent and why this keeps happening to us whenever we go away at Easter?! After all it was this time last year that I saw, for the very first time, snow in fontainebleau on our family spring trip. There’s no way we could’ve seen this coming when we booked the time off, I think it’s Rosie. Next year I think I’ll take her to the Sudan and make a fortune selling the story to the papers…

Things are looking up, but despite there being yogurt on the sleeping bag and both children complaining of hunger (they’re not actually hungry, they’ve already eaten lots but for big one, it doesn’t include “biscuit” or “chocolate” which is what Rosie really wants. It’s almost like she’ll eat all of other food until the only things left are the ones she actually wants, giving us no choice).

Em has just come back into the tent from outside, exclaiming it’s like a sauna in here, fan heater having been on for a while now. Even Hannah has calmed down, sat on my lap. It seems that all the things that initially got to us first thing are slowly drifting away.

It just goes to show the importance of patience when doing, quite frankly, anything with children. Knee jerk reactions are rarely right and these experiences never come easy; or shouldn’t at least. We’re improving every minute, even if there is still yoghurt on the sleeping bag.