This article was first published in Juno magazine, edition 43, Spring 2016.
What shall we do today?
A micro-adventure is a fun, easy way to make the most of a free day, Caroline Cole discovered
One Wednesday morning in late February I find my daughter and I home alone without any plans. Amongst the daily list of household chores we could do today, I wonder what we can do which is more challenging, exciting and embracing of the freedom such a day offers. This is a rare opportunity to do something different and memorable, just mother and daughter together. We are car-less, but have countryside right on our doorstep.
An idea takes hold of me; we shall embark on a mini adventure for the day, heading out into the local hills, my twenty-three month old daughter Tessa on my back in the sling, our dog Hector running free, a small rucksack of provisions on my front. Indeed, it shall be what Alastair Humphreys’ calls a micro-adventure, defined as ‘simple expeditions and challenges which are close to home, affordable and easy to organise’.
I have done a similar walk once before, carrying my then two-year-old son Ewan in a sling. I remember that day fondly; the sun shining brightly, my young son content, a peaceful simplicity to the days events. As the day came to an end I promised myself I would repeat this walk soon. The day never arrived. The following three years were filled with my second pregnancy, adjusting to a two-child family, the arrival of our pet dog and a myriad other events. Today I feel I must offer Tessa what I once gave her big brother, a day of calm and companionship in nature.
Our day ticks all the boxes of a micro-adventure; it certainly is simple and easy to arrange and it possesses an element of challenge because we are walking for a longer period than usual across country. It is also local, because we are starting from our doorstep, and inexpensive, only costing a few pounds on a drink in a local pub and the use of our standard outdoor kit. This includes Tessa’s toddler sling, her snow suit, my lightweight rucksack and waterproof jacket. In Humphrey’s words, I am certainly getting out there and doing stuff, what I don’t normally do, stretching myself and having fun at the same time.
Within an hour the spontaneity of my idea has become a reality. I walk out of the door hand-in-hand with Tessa, into the welcoming warmth of a late winter’s sunshine. The simple pleasures of a day outdoors spread before us. Nature lifts and carries me forward, as I leave the endless household jobs far behind me. I let go, breathe in the fresh air and walk down our garden path to the pond, watching the swans gliding gracefully across the water, the trees swaying gently in the breeze, the cool green woods ahead of us.
Tessa walks confidently for half an hour, tiring only when we reach the main road, where I lift her effortlessly into the sling to carry on our day’s journey. Our aim is to walk approximately ten miles on public footpaths, our half-way point a picturesque village, where we shall break in a friendly village pub, then play in the park before the return journey. This is an achievable yet exciting plan.
Local woodland walks
One of our family aims is to explore our local area. Our children therefore experience and spend time in the natural landscape close to home, in the hope this will instill in them a respect and love for their local area, as well as a sense of belonging. It also cuts down on fuel emissions, saves money and time and is easy to plan.
As I walk into our local woodland, I reflect on the many times I have roamed through this beautiful local treasure before, the solace, the peace, the space all around me, with one child, then another, as my constant companion. As my son plays in the woods at forest school today, memories of him as a toddler come flooding back. I fight back tears of longing for that earlier time, conscious that so soon my daughter will also join him and be an infant no longer.
The woods allow me to let go of the past, to walk in my body, to be mindful of the present moment. I am awed by the beauty of now, as I let invading thoughts – what we are having for tea, what emails I must reply to, what we did yesterday, etc, pass me by. Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple philosophy helps guide me in this state of being, which can be very challenging and alien in our super busy, technologically-driven, twenty-first century lives. I also find Sarah Napthali’s writing helpful, a realistic guide to how we can as parents ground ourselves in the present, appreciating our children for who they are and our lives for its many riches. As my yoga teacher advises, I also rotate through my senses as I walk, which offers a fresh vibrancy to the environment around me. I am sure Tessa instinctively senses what I have to consciously slow down to appreciate.
As Tessa falls gently to sleep, lulled by my rocking, I secure her head with the pixie hood of her sling and carry-on, comforted by her rhythmic breathing. I walk out of the woods into open fields, which head gradually uphill onto heathland, the purple heather adding a welcome splash of colour on this late winter’s day.
Eventually I reach the summit, at 299 metres, where I am awarded excellent panoramic views of my local area and well beyond. I pause on this rocky outcrop to breathe in the open space surrounding me, filling me with fresh energy to walk down into the valley. Tessa awakes as I arrive at a the pub to rest, drink and nurse, our yellow Labrador the centre of attention amongst the dog-loving clientele. Refreshed and satisfied at this halfway point, Tessa leads me to a nearby park, where she plays happily, revelling in one-on-one mummy time. We munch on home-made sandwiches before leaving, Tessa holding Hector’s lead, enjoying the sense of purpose and responsibility this brings. Hector acquiesces, slowly plodding along at toddler pace until I release him in an open field.
Headed for home, I nurse Tessa in the sling, a feeding method I have become adept at after much practice. Nursing on the go means I can carry on daily life whilst also feeding on demand. After feeding, I point out sheep, birds and plants to Tessa, who starts singing ‘baa baa black sheep’ in her sweet little voice. We sing heartily together a medley of nursery rhymes and songs from my own childhood. Tessa indicates her preferences by saying ‘gain‘, or stays quiet as I try to remember another half-forgotten song. I walk swiftly as we sing, my body feeling healthy, strong and exercised, my mind still.
As we approach home, I rejoice in the simple pleasures this day has brought. A deeper connection with my daughter, nature, our local area and my own mind. My body is a little tired after the challenge of the walk, yet we both feel refreshed. I am hopeful we shall soon be able to repeat a similar walk. To do this I must grab the opportunity the next free day offers us and the next doorstep micro-adventure, just waiting to happen.
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