I’m Oli, a 34-year-old first-time dad enjoying the biggest adventure of my life. Our little boy Sonny was born on April 10th 2016, and from the second he drew his first breath I knew nothing would ever be the same again. I’ve travelled all over Europe in the past few years, each trip fuelled by my love of mountains and spectacular landscapes. I’ve climbed, walked, camped, cycled and skied in the French Alps, the Polish Tatras, the Spanish Sierra Nevada, the Italian Dolomites and every British mountain range from Dartmoor to the Isle of Skye; but Sonny’s arrival has made me focus my immediate future plans much closer to home. And I couldn’t be more excited about it!
I was lucky enough to grow up in the green and hilly countryside of the southern Pennines with parents who let me roam wherever I wanted. From a young age I was obsessed by the outdoors, but it’s only since becoming an adult with a 9am-5pm job that I’ve really begun to appreciate what it means to me. When I first found out I was having a baby with my partner Gemma, I started panicking about what kind of dad I would be. And then I realised I want to be just like my parents were. I want my little boy to have a childhood filled with adventure and excitement. I want to ride bikes with him, walk up mountains with him, sleep in tents with him, watch sunsets with him, swim in the sea with him and climb trees with him – and there’s so much to see in the big wide world that I want him to get started early.
At the time of writing Sonny is only 10 weeks old, but he’s spent quality time outside every day of his life and I’m keen to make sure that keeps happening for as long as he wants it to. He’s already summited his first peak on Great Rock in West Yorkshire (read about here) and accompanies me on most of my daily dog walks in the sleepy Cambridgeshire countryside. Described below are the techniques and activities I’ve found really effective for getting a young baby outdoors, plus a few slightly ambitious plans I have for the next few months…
1. IN THE GARDEN
We moved house last summer, and the main feature we were looking for in our new home was a big family garden. We’re both very outdoorsy people and enjoy nothing more than sitting in the garden and watching birds bounce between the trees. Sonny arrived in the spring and has always seemed so happy outdoors. From just a couple of days old he was sleeping soundly in his pram in the shade beneath our silver birch tree, and is amazingly content just lying on a blanket and staring at the sky with a stupid grin on his face. It’s absolutely wonderful to watch.
2. IN HIS PRAM
We’ve got two prams, a big heavy Silver Cross Wayfarer plus a smaller and more nimble Quinny Zapp, and Sonny seems very happy in both. Neither are much use off road (check out the Mountain Buggy Terrain if that’s what you’re after) but just laying on his back in the pram, rumbling over different surfaces and experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of being outside seems to relax him straight away. Sonny spends most of the time in his pram either contentedly fast asleep or just watching the world go by. My only concern is that he loves it so much more than being indoors that I’m going to get very cold and wet in the winter!
3. IN HIS BABY CARRIER
Easily my favourite piece of baby kit so far. The Mountain Buggy Juno carrier is about as guaranteed a way to put a baby to sleep as I could ever imagine. The second I strap Sonny into it and start walking, he nods off straight away. It also means I can take him on slightly more interesting walks, along with my mad jack russell terrier Mario, that get us away from footpaths and roads. I wouldn’t even think about taking a baby up a mountain or over any technical ground in this carrier, but it’s perfect for more adventurous routes that a pram couldn’t reach. It has a nicely padded hip belt and well placed tensioning straps that ease the burden on my back, and most importantly feels extremely secure for the baby. The only problem is getting him out of it without waking him up!
4. IN HIS HAMMOCK
Yep, you read that right, my baby has a hammock! It isn’t exclusively his of course, but I recently purchased a Grand Trunk Double Parachute hammock that’s lightweight, simple to put up and tucks into its own little stuff-sack so I can pretty much take it anywhere. It’s designed for two adults so has lots of space, meaning I can either climb into it with Sonny in my arms or simply plonk him in the middle safe in the knowledge that he’ll sink down so low into the material that he can’t possibly fall out. He really enjoys swaying in it on warm summer afternoons and – perhaps most importantly – it’s a great way to send him off to sleep.
5. IN A TENT
There’s no way Sonny’s mum will let me take him on any big camping adventures yet, but that won’t stop me pitching tents in the garden this summer and treating him to some starry nights under canvas. I won’t spend a whole night outdoors with the little dude until I’m sure he’s old enough and robust enough to enjoy it safely, but I can’t wait to see his face when we sit outside at night for the first time and introduce him to the moon and all those faraway planets. After more than three decades I still feel like I learn something new and exciting every day, and the prospect of experiencing those same discoveries with my boy over the coming weeks, months and years is more exciting than I could ever describe.
6. IN HIS BABY BACKPACK
I already have two of these! The Osprey Poco AG and the Vaude Jolly Comfort. Sonny probably won’t make his debut in either until he’s at least six months old and able to fully support his head, but this is the piece of kit I’ll use to take him up his first proper mountain. The conditions will have to be perfect because he’ll be completely exposed to the elements while he’s strapped high on my back, but in the right weather I’d love to carry him to the rocky little summit of either Cat Bells or Helm Crag in the Lake District. Both of these fells hold a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait to show my son the Lakeland landscape that has always meant so much to me.
7. ON MY BIKE
Living in the ridiculously flat landscape of Cambridgeshire does have one huge advantage – it’s incredibly easy to get around on a bike. There’s a brilliant network of cycle paths close to our house that go round lakes, alongside rivers and through nature reserves. We’ve been using them regularly for many years and they’re very safe due to the complete absence of cars and the simplicity of the terrain. Sonny’s a long way off getting his own pair of wheels just yet, but as soon as he’s old enough I’ll be fitting a seat to my bike and treating myself to one of those crazy looking trailers so I can drag him everywhere with me. He already loves it when I jog with him in the pram, so I can’t imagine how exciting he’ll find this.
8. IN MY CANOE
I’m yet to mention this to anyone without being confronted with raised eyebrows, but for 8 years I’ve been the proud owner of a wonderful 2-man inflatable kayak that I use to paddle up and down the River Great Ouse whenever the sun shines and I have a couple of hours to kill. The river by our house is lock controlled with very little current, making it perfect for drifting along with no real concerns about fast moving water. My dog Mario is my usual canoe companion, standing on the front of the boay and barking at everything that moves (including, incredibly, the water) but one of my big goals for the first year of Sonny’s life is get him a little lifejacket and take him on the river with me – even if it’s just for a couple of minutes. There’s something magical about being in a canoe. Being that low in the water, and looking back at the dry land you normally occupy, gives you a totally different perspective on a place you think you know so well. It’s also a great place to spot wildlife because animals don’t view the boat as a threat. I’ve had snakes and seals swim directly past the boat, dragonflies land on the paddles and been within touching distance of every water bird from kingfisher to cormorant. If Sonny gets to experience this from a young age, I’m hopeful he’ll be hooked for life.
Read more from Oli over at his blog, The Outdoor Dad