“You have to trust yourself you can do things like that”

author walking across footbridge in Irish mountains

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Publish date

8th August 2022


Dr. Kate McCann

We went hill-walking this weekend.

As we came down the path back to the carpark, T. turns to me and says, “Do you know what I learned?”

Me. [Pause while I thought silently to myself:  Stay away from cliff edges? Mountain spring water is colder than it looks?  Grasshoppers chirp? It is not funny to poke your brother with your walking stick?]

Me:  No.

T.: “You have to trust yourself you can do things like that.”

Ok.  I was not prepared for that. I rarely am.  I may be his mother, but the Tao of T. still takes me by surprise many days.  I was kind of expecting a discussion again about all the sheep poo.

This past weekend, we did a little hill walking. I love hill-walking.  Now, it’s not the sport for everyone.  But I do love it. Luckily, DH loves it as much as I do.  There were a few years recently where we didn’t get many walks in, but as soon as older son T. was able to do a bit and baby brother was good in a carrier – we were off again**.

But the initial reaction from some is sometimes a bit negative. And I’ll lie if I said I did worry about being judged walking up a mountain with a toddler on my back.  One woman stopped us on our ascent.  She looked at our boys and asked us, “Have you done this before?  It’s dangerous up there.” I’m sure she meant it kindly but yes, we’ve done it before.  Yes, we are safe and experienced hill-walkers**.  And what has made it easy is this:  older son T. took to it like a duck to water from the start.  He started with parts of Slieve Foye two years ago. Last summer, he was delighted to do An Earagail in Donegal with us (little brother C. in a back carrier for most of that one).  This weekend, we did Spink Loop in Wicklow – first one for C. to walk large parts of.

What do we do on a walk with children?  Well, besides setting a much slower pace with many more snacks, the whole day is great learning:  checking the weather before we go, packing a bag, choosing clothing, being sunsafe, healthy snacks, staying hydrated, about nature.  And problem-solving (“Yes, that part is too muddy. Do you see a safe way to get around that?”)

Like so many physical activities, it’s screen-free and good for the mental health.  The mountainside is a great place for some grounding practice:  stop and focus on one thing we can hear, one thing we can touch, one thing we can smell, and thing we can see.  And the Irish mountains are full of gorgeous sensory experiences.  And it’s what T. valued most:  his sense of accomplishment. Without winning, without competition, without score or times or marks.

I’m glad my boys like it. It’s a win-win.   I’m now back doing something I love — and I’m able to make that part of my family time.

Hill-walking is my outdoors.  What’s yours?   Trust yourself – you can do it.

This week is #HEROutdoorWeek 2022.  #FindYourOutdoors  This week, there are events all over Ireland.  Find one near you on @sportireland.

**DH and I are experienced hill-walkers, have the equipment, and have a good level of fitness.  If you are a beginner and want to get into hill-walking, one of the safest and easiest ways to get started is to join a local group. Ireland is a hiking paradise, so worth trying.  If you are unsure about your fitness before starting out, talk to your own doctor.  My children may not be a typical experience, so this may not be the right family activity for you and yours. But if it is, what a joy!

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