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Before becoming a Mum you would often find me walking along winding country lanes or across the rugged open moorland - usually with just my camera in hand and when Noah arrived I couldn't wait to have lots of outdoor adventures with him! But I'll admit I definitely felt out of my comfort zone at first, suddenly jumping on a bus and heading for a walk across the moors or the beach seemed daunting.
To start off I walked places I was already familiar with like the lanes behind our house or round the local park with Noah safe and snug in his pram which really helped to build my confidence and before long 15 minute walks turned into 1 hour walks. I soon learnt to pack just the essentials too - for my first 15 minute walk I packed 4 changes of clothes, yup 4. I'm not sure what scenario I was packing for, all of them probably! I would definitely recommend investing in a good rucksack style change bag, they often have compartments for insulating bottles and a really good amount of space to pack what you need for any family adventure. I also started using a baby carrier which I loved because we could wander off the beaten track a little and I could show Noah more of the world around him.
A few essentials for walking with little ones are:
As I found my feet I wanted to venture a little further, I wanted to walk bare feet along the beach and show Noah the sea, I wanted to explore the ancient roundhouses on Dartmoor. But that meant facing a whole new obstacle - I don't actually drive! So getting out of our little home town means navigating several buses and like many other Parents the idea of using public transport with little ones was enough to send me into a slight panic. I would find myself going round in circles thinking what if I forget something, what if he cries the whole time, what if I miss the bus or even what if I need the toilet?
Which is why spending a little time beforehand planning your journey is really important, look at things like bus or train times and depending on the length of your journey or age of your little one plan a few games or activities to keep the journey fun. Things like a simple game of eye spy, we say I spy a lorry/tree etc. keeps Noah entertained sat by the window spotting all the things we pass. I often take Noah's etch a sketch for easy, mess free drawing or print out bingo sheets - kids love having a clip board and a special pen to tick off things they see on their adventures! But bear in mind you will probably end up carrying any toys or things you take so stick to just a few lightweight things that you can easily fit in your bag.
I'd recommend starting off travelling somewhere familiar if you're nervous about using public transport and build your confidence, you want to be able to relax and enjoy exploring with your little ones without feeling anxious. Lots of travel services offer free travel for under 5's so it's always worth checking local council or public transport websites for more information and look out for seasonal deals on tickets for under 16's during the school holidays. Local to us we have some seasonal bus routes which loop around Dartmoor villages and it's a great way to explore more rural areas. Obviously a lot of rural services don't always run as frequently as more built up areas but don't let that put you off!
So now you know how you're travelling it's time to think about where! Circular walks are great with little ones who may tire quickly because you can easily double back and another tip is to plan rest stops, popular walks or National Trust areas often offer lots of places to stop for a quick snack and a drink or simply to rest tired little legs. Look up local walks suitable for little ones, if your using a pram you'll need to make sure there aren't any styles or kissing gates and that the terrain is suitable - I'll admit I got caught out a few times and had to turn around. We often visit Haldon Forest which has lots of walks suitable for even the littlest of legs, there's the Zog walk which Noah loves and lots of dens to play in!
Making the walk fun and interesting can make or break a family walk with little ones, luckily they have amazing imaginations so I'll often pretend we're looking for Noah's favourite story characters in the woods or pretending to be pirates on the beach finding lost treasure. It keeps Noah engaged and encourages him to explore the natural world around us, another good idea if you're walking somewhere familiar is to let little ones take the 'lead'.
Dartmoor is another fantastic place for walking with little ones as the terrain is fairly gentle with lots of wide grassy tracks and an abundance of local wildlife to spot from birds of prey to Dartmoor ponies, hares and even a few grass snakes. Haytor is the most popular of the tors especially with families, I also find it the easiest tor to explore with little ones. There's a beautiful old quarry just to one side of the huge granite tor which is sheltered from the elements or the historic granite Templer Way tram tracks which are about 18 miles long but we often walk part of it and double back. It's easy ground for Noah to walk and the views across the moors are just amazing especially on a summer evening. Fingle wood is a magical place to explore, the ground is uneven with lots of exposed tree roots so not suitable for strollers but with the twisted trees and lichen hanging from the branches it really does look magical! There are lots of beautiful little moorland villages and towns to explore too which is ideal if your little one is in a stroller or if looking for a gentle walk.
We also have lots a beautiful Devonshire beaches to explore which are great for all ages. We love taking the train to Teignmouth and spending the day looking for seashells, paddling in the sea as the tide slowly goes out. Shaldon has a not so 'secret' tunnel leading to smugglers cove, Noah pretends he's a pirate! The cove feels really secluded making it the perfect spot for a picnic. There are some steep steps at the end of the tunnel so it can be difficult to access if you have a stroller. Torquay beach is another brilliant family friendly beach with a long stretch of sandy beach and some lovely walks nearby like Berry Head Nature Reserve and the best bit- they're all accessible using public transport!
Freya Dimond is a single parent to Noah and has a blog Simply Mothering Solo.