So here we are: Summer Holidays, Week 2. Onward with our adventures…or maybe I should say Ultreia!
Your mission, if you choose to accept (but as a parent, you have no choice but to accept!), is to come up with lots of fun and interesting experiences for your kids over the course of a 6 or 7 week period and (mainly for your own sanity) find ways to eliminate whining/moaning or any utterance of the worst ever adjective: ‘bored’. And of course, entertaining kids can be wallet-busting if you are really trying not to let Cbeebies be their main source of childcare, so school holidays have the potential to cost you more in a week than you usually spend in a month.
Society will try and make you think that to have fun (especially where kids are concerned), you need to spend lots of money. Of course I would love to take my kids to DisneyWorld, but I also quite like not having to sell any major organs. Even just the cost of a day trip to a UK theme park – or even a farm park – for a family of 4 is pretty eye-watering. For us, and for most families, those sorts of days are saved for special occasions or as rewards. So the trick is finding free or low-cost days out, and finding ways to entertain and challenge the small humans. I believe that challenging them with new experiences is definitely the key to keeping them happy and curious and (hopefully) creating an overall contented vibe. We’ll see how well this theory has worked out by the end of the summer holidays!
We are fortunate in that we live close to the beginning/end of one of the stretches of the Southern Upland Way walking trail, which offers up the opportunity for lots of free days out. This walk covers a 214 mile stretch across Scotland from Portpatrick on the west coast, to Cocksburnpath on the east, with Sanquhar situated not too far from the middle of the route and in between the two highest peaks of the trail. Because the Sanquhar to Wanlockhead stretch is the shortest leg of the route, at just over 8 miles (13km), I knew it would be something my 8 year-old could achieve…with just a bit of pre-walk encouragement (“It’s a theme park of nature!”) and a bribe in the form of a Lego job lot off ebay.
Although I had planned for us to set off earlier, it wasn’t until 11 am when we finally began our mission. Jay gave us a lift up and dropped us off just before Black Loch so we probably saved ourselves an hour of walking by not actually setting off from the town. This is possibly classed as cheating. There was a break in the drizzly morning rain and the sun shone down on us for the first 30 minutes, before the rain came back and never really left us for the rest of the day. But to my surprise, the child didn’t moan about this, (which she has been known to do, despite the fact that she spent the first 6 years of her life in Manchester).
We had a bit of a ‘test run’ with this route a few weeks ago by walking from Sanquhar to Cogshead which lies just past the half way point along this stretch, so I knew that since the girl had managed this, then with a better arsenal of snacks and supplies, she would be okay with continuing on to Wanlockhead. Because of this, it took us just under 2 hours to reach the familiar ruins of Cogshead where we sheltered from the rain under the trees above the hidden kist of treasure! (more information about the treasure of ‘The New Hoard” in an upcoming post). We figured this was the best spot to have our lunch as I figured it was perhaps the last place for any kind of shelter (which turned out to be correct)… but of course we were attacked by an angry swarm of midges who didn’t take kindly to our invasion of their patch, and thus our picnic was ruined in the classic Scottish way.
After exploring the ruined shepherd’s cottage of Cogshead, and having a brief scan for evidence of a supposed (but-possibly-not-at-all-true) Celtic burial ground, we continued our journey at 1.45 pm, heading up the side of Lowemill Knowe and into the mists atop Glengaber Hill. It was our descent down Glengaber Hill which provided the best emotions for both the kid and me. As we came out of the mist and descended the hill, I realised that the silvery ribbon down in the valley to our left must be Wanlock Water and as we turned a corner, there before us on the opposite hillside of Sowen Dod sat the old mine ruins which we love exploring. And on the right, nestled in the hills sat the beautiful white cottages of Wanlockhead.
I suppose perhaps the fact that the last half hour of the walk covered familiar territory made it a lot easier for the child (although she had discovered the joy of blisters by this point – “All part of the experience!” I tell her). The rain was falling harder by the time we reached the mines so we sadly didn’t have a mini adventure here – the call of the pub was quite loud for both of us by this point so we powered on through Wanlockhead – happily surprised by the recent renovation of the beautiful old church – and up to the Wanlockhead Inn, to be greeted by a roaring fire, a hot chocolate and a pint of Guinness.
We had called ahead a couple of days previously and booked one of the wooden cabins around the pub so, after another pint (me, not the 8 year-old), we headed across and settled into our little wooden tepee (complete with toaster and kettle). It was wonderfully toasty, thanks to a little heater which Dean, the landlord, must have switched on for us whilst we were in the pub, so we pulled out our sleeping bags and books, with all the intention of reading for an hour and having an early night. The girl had other ideas. The walk had not tired her out, as I had hoped, and in fact it seemed to have quite the opposite effect; perhaps partly due to her feeling proud of herself and happy to have achieved a seemingly difficult goal, she was a giddy wild thing until she finally went on stand-by at 11 pm.
But overall it was an experience I will treasure forever, and one which I hope will foster an on-going sense of adventure for the child, coupled with knowledge and respect for nature and the hills. Being out in the wilderness, just the two of us, with no distractions (or a bloody tablet!), gave us the opportunity to simply talk to each other and learn from one another. No jobs, no 3 year-old, no bounding puppy…just me and the girl. It was lovely.
So if you live close to any part of the Southern Upland Way, or if you are holidaying anywhere along it, why not take up the opportunity to walk along a beautiful trail, challenge your kids and give them the chance to really explore this beautiful part of the world. You’ll be surprised at what they are capable of when they have the opportunity for a real adventure (and one with a real-life treasure hunt!). I’m now busy planning our next SUW adventure…