Camping with Kids in Winter | A South Downs Bothy Adventure

Two mothers, five kids, and a lot of mist. What could possibly go wrong?

Words by Sam Haddad | Photos by Sam Haddad & Jonquil Pinto 

We’re walking through a world that is almost entirely white, save the bark-brown skeleton of an oak tree looming large to our right. At this point I’m not sure the pack of kids I’m with, which includes two of my own, have even noticed. They’re too busy telling ghost tales that are “definitely true, 100 per cent, for real, this actually happened…” Though maybe the fact we’re marching through the thickest, most soupy of fogs is precisely why they’re telling such spooky stories in the first place.

We drop into a patch of trees where the mist clears but the shadows darken. The path narrows to single-file and the story pace quickens. Before long the group is borderline hysterical, in a kind of kids from Stranger Things way, albeit without the BMXs or ever-present Demagorgan threat.

“It’s easy to take your children camping in summer and emerge all-smiles. But this winter, we wanted to experience the outdoors in an opposite season. To dive into the weather headlong…”

Still, I’m not complaining, and nor is the other mother I’m with. Eerie stories are a rite of passage and we’re just happy with how far they’ve walked in the dank without fussing. Especially as the five of them have ages ranging from four to eight and no one slept excellently in our stone manger-style bothy last night.

It’s easy to take your children camping in summer and emerge all-smiles. But this winter, we wanted to experience the outdoors in an opposite season. To dive into the weather headlong, and notice it in a way you rarely do when you spend the darkest months hiding indoors or bolting from one building to the next.

Credit: Sam Haddad

This is what an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty looks like in fog. Credit: Sam Haddad

I say we meaning my friend and I, I’m sure our kids would have rather gone to Legoland or Eurodisney given the choice, like many of their school friends were doing this holiday. If you can handle the crowds and the costs that kind of fun of course has its place but there’s something about being in nature and taking on a bit of a challenge that I hope might leave a more lasting impression on them, even if they’re too busy having fun with their friends to realise it.

Gumber Bothy is a National Trust Bunkhouse just off the South Downs way in West Sussex. It’s in the shadow of a hill sheep farm but you can’t drive there directly, you can only reach it via a two-mile hike through a deep forest. When we’d arrived the day before, in spite of the drizzle, the children had found the idea of needing to walk through the woods to reach their bed for the night a surprisingly enticing prospect.

“In spite of the drizzle, the children had found the idea of needing to walk through the woods to reach their bed for the night a surprisingly enticing prospect.”

And there was something quite sweet about watching them head off ahead waterproofed-up to the max, with their backpacks stuffed with soft toys and sleeping bags for the night. It was the tail end of autumn so some of the trees were still aflame with brightly-coloured leaves and we even found the odd super-sweet blackberry to power on the smallest ones.

Carrying their little lives in backpacks. Credit: Sam Haddad

Backpacks stuffed with sleeping bags and soft toys. Credit: Sam Haddad

Fortunately, we reached Gumber Bothy before morale and energy levels dipped too low. You can camp in the grounds but we’re not hardcore enough for that at this time of year so we opted for the hostel and were pleased to find we had one of the 12-bunk rooms to ourselves. It wasn’t heated though and with temperatures set to hover around four degrees the night ahead looked potentially interesting.

“We didn’t end up lost, lost, as such but…”

We’d also promised them a campfire but it had been damp and rainy for days so the prospect of finding dry wood was slim. But it felt good to let them roam free in the woods below the bothy, with the older ones in charge, in a way you could never do in the built environment back home. When they eventually returned arms full of soaking-wet sticks we persuaded them to wait until the next morning for a fire in the hope the wood might have dried out by then.

The bothy had a good basic kitchen so we loaded up on pasta for dinner. By now it was dark but too cloudy for stargazing, which was a shame as the South Downs is now an International Dark Sky Reserve, thanks its great night-time viewing opportunities. My friend then pulled out some sparklers which more than made up for it as far as the kids were concerned.

Forestxxx. Credit: Sam Haddad

It felt good to let them roam in the forest unsupervised in a way you could never do back home. Credit: Sam Haddad

To get ready for bed we put on all of our clothes like a comedy character from a storybook. We then played a few rounds of Uno and listened to some folk story podcasts I’d forgotten I had on my phone, while trying to stop the now-hyper youngest two from jumping from bed to bed. Eventually they calmed down and went to sleep, and a good few hours later my eldest son and I fell asleep too. Though both my kids woke up me a few hours later and to be taken to the toilet, which was outside and in the rain. Leaving my warm sleeping bag for that was a trip low-point for sure.

Diving headlong into winter weather. Credit: Sam Haddad

Diving headlong into winter weather. Credit: Sam Haddad

In spite of the fitful night and mist that was now enveloping this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with an even greater vigour than the day before, everyone woke up with high spirits and after a hot cocoa porridge breakfast and aborted fire-starting attempt, we headed directly into the void for a walk.

We didn’t end up “lost, lost” as such but it’s also fair to say we had no phone reception or exact idea of where we were for most of the hike, though we were also quite confident of the vague parallelogram shape we were tracing out, based on a laminated map we’d found in the bothy. There were no sights to speak of only fog, sheep and the bare bones of trees, but that didn’t matter, as there was something pure about experiencing the South Downs way and winter weather in whatever form it took.

Gumber Bothy and the author's two sons. Credit: Sam Haddad

Gumber Bothy in all its flint-stone glory and the author’s two sons. Credit: Sam Haddad

After a couple of hours of gentle walking, and many snacks, the ghost stories switched to silly songs mostly involving the kind of bum/wee-type humour kids of this age can’t get enough of. We swung past the bothy to pick up our backpacks just as the day’s next hardy guests were arriving, and hiked the final stretch out, wet, muddy and the kind of tired with rosy-cheeks that you only get from time spent in the cold outdoors.

At this time of year all instinct tells us to hole up inside and hunker down for winter. Netflix and screens, cocoons and hygge vibes, but if you do get out into the wilderness for a while you’ll always feel better for it. I know I did, as did my friend, and I’m pretty sure all our kids did too. They certainly talked about the bothy adventure for a long time afterwards, which means they probably didn’t hate it, so that’s a win in my books.

To read the rest of December’s ‘Family’ Issue head here

To read more Great British Adventures head here

Sparklers in lieu of a campfire. Credit: Sam Haddad

Sparklers in lieu of a campfire. Credit: Sam Haddad

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The Plank Walk in the Sky | Welcome to the 7000ft-High Boardwalk Hiking Route in China Dubbed “The Most Dangerous in the World”

While harnesses and are encouraged, walkers are not forced to wear safety measures on the hike…

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Photo: YouTube / User: glenep

What’s your idea of a perfect getaway? A nice hotel and a city break with your loved one? A horrible hotel and a ski trip with all of your mates? Or how about a hiking adventure on a crowded route rumoured to kill up to 100 tourists every year?

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Photo: YouTube / New China TV

Yeah, the last option is probably not for everyone. But apparently it is for a lot of people.

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Photo: YouTube / User: glenep

Welcome to the “Plank Walk in the Sky”, a hiking route made up of narrow walking boards more than 7000ft off the ground near Mount Hua in the Shaanxi region of China.

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Photo: YouTube / User: glenep

Mount Hua is one of China’s five sacred mountains, and is home to Daoist Temples, significant places of worship in Taoism, the religious and philosophical Chinese tradition.

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Photo: YouTube / User: glenep

The hiking route has become famously dubbed the “most dangerous in the world” and is known as the “most precipitous mountain under heaven” online due to the narrow nature of the boardwalks – and the fact that while protection and harnesses are strongly advised, it is not essential to wear safety gear on the hike.

If you’re looking at the boardwalks and thinking that the little space available would be more than enough for you, you might be right – but your opinion might also change when you learn that the boardwalks are a two-way street the whole way. You have to share the narrow space with whoever is coming back down the mountain, making the space on the boards even narrower for both users.

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Photo: YouTube / User: glenep

Of course, the hike has been around for some time – it is rumoured to have been built 700 years ago by the first master of the Mount Hua Sect of Taoism – but it recently came back into the public eye after the stunning aerial footage below was released by New China TV. It’s the kind of video that will get some hiding under the table, and others checking flights to China…

If you fancy doing the full thing virtually rather than physically, then here’s a dude on YouTube to take you through it. Enjoy!

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Mavic Adventures Part 5 | How To Shoot A Hike With A Drone

Out and about with the DJI Mavic Pro

When it comes to epic subject matter, you can’t beat mother nature – and with the lightweight Mavic Pro from DJI, you can now grab awesome shots from the air during any holiday or trip to the great outdoors.

In this tutorial, we’re going to run through some of the funnest things you can do with this amazing little device.

“The Mavic’s camera can shoot super high quality 12 megapixel stills”

Let’s start with photography. The Mavic’s camera can shoot super high quality 12 megapixel stills. Just tap on the screen to focus, and hit the shutter on the top right of the controller.

** Find out more about the DJI Mavic Pro here **

For the ultimate selfie, check out Gesture Mode. Pick a scenic spot, send your Mavic above you and spread your arms to get its attention. Then just signal to take a picture… and say cheese!

Gesture Mode enables you to signal the Mavic to take a shot without using the remote controller.

Gesture Mode enables you to signal the Mavic to take a shot without using the remote controller.

If you’re making a road trip video, you can set the scene by following your vehicle using Active Track – simply tap on the subject and the camera will lock on:

The Mavic's Active Track modes enable it to follow a vehicle automatically.

The Mavic’s Active Track modes enable it to follow a vehicle automatically.

When hiking uphill, pressing Terrain Follow will keep the Mavic at a fixed height above the ground using its forward and downward sensors. No bumps, no scrapes – just smooth footage:

Terrain Follow uses the Mavic's forward and downward sensors to maintain a fixed height above a hillside.

Terrain Follow uses the Mavic’s forward and downward sensors to maintain a fixed height above a hillside.

When you want to capture the whole scene, Point of Interest mode will automatically circle an area for an epic 360 panorama. First, hover directly over the subject and fix your centrepoint. Then, apply a radius:

To set a Point Of Interest, hover over the subject and simply apply a radius in the DJI Go App.

To set a Point Of Interest, hover over the subject and simply apply a radius in the DJI Go App.

You can adjust the speed the drone will complete its orbit. Once you’re ready, just hit ‘Apply’ and it will begin:

Circling objects with a drone used to be a difficult maneuver involving the control sticks, but the Mavic makes it easy.

Circling objects with a drone used to be a difficult maneuver involving the control sticks, but the Mavic makes it easy.

When you’re done with shooting, the Mavic folds back down in a few seconds so you can easily stash it away, and carry on with your trip.

“Point of Interest mode will automatically circle an area for an epic 360 panorama”

Check back for the next tutorial, when we’ll be in the mountains, with some top tips on using the Mavic to shoot snowboarding.

Buy a Mavic Pro direct from DJI here >>

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Walking in Italy | 7 Of The Best Hiking Destinations In the North

If walking’s what you love, you seriously need to visit the northern regions of Italy.

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Think of northern Italy and you no doubt start picturing the steep, iconic, shapes of the Dolomites and the epic, Europe straddling, Alps. These two mountain ranges, which both dominate the region in their own respective ways, mean that northern Italy is home to some of the world’s most spectacular hiking destinations.

We’ve teamed up with Green & Blue, an initiative set up to promote this beautiful corner of the world as an ultimate adventure destination, to give you a flavour of what’s on offer here.

1) Hiking The Alta Via dei Parchi In Emilia-Romagna

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Pictured: Emilia Romagna, Alta Via dei Parchi

The Alta Via dei Parchi cuts its way across the Apennines in Emilia Romagna, as well as a bit of a Tuscany and Marche. It offers walkers over 500 kilometres of uphills and downhills to get their hiking boots stuck into, and is a must visit for anyone who loves putting one front in front of the other in the great outdoors.

Featuring a mouth-watering cocktail of thick green forests, glacial rings, volcanic rocks, chalk cliffs and beautiful lakes backdropped by some of the most picturesque scenery imaginable; a hike here is like no other hike on earth. The route crosses two national parks, five regional parks and one interregional park. With Mount Cusna, Mount Prado, and Alpe di Succiso all situated within its boundaries – the national park of Appenino Tosco-Emiliano is where you’ll find some of the highest peaks in the Northern Apeninnes. In terms of the region’s hiking highlights, this place is definitely right up there.

2) Hiking In Carnia

Friuli Venezia Giulia, which is where you can find the hiker’s paradise of Carnia, is Italy’s north-easternmost region. It borders Slovenia, Austria, and the Adriatic Sea. With its sea, lakes, parks, lagoons, nature reserves, and mountains Friuli Venezia Giulia delivers some of Italy’s most beautiful and varied environments. If getting active outdoors is what you’re all about, this region, despite being one of the country’s smaller ones, is very easy to love and very difficult to get bored of.

Carnia is a part of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region and, as we’ve already said, well worth a visit for people who like to stroll about outside. There are seven valleys here, crossed by torrents which give all of them except the Valcalda, their names. This place is pure, unfiltered, nature bursting at the seams with woods, waterfalls, canyons and mountain lakes to explore.

The Carnic Alps, which runs across Friuili Venezia Giulia in Italy and a part of southern Austria, has a number of jaw-dropping mountains over 2,000 metres. The highest of these and one that mountain hikers, scramblers, and climbers alike will relish is Mount Coglians (2,780m).

3) Hiking The Sentiero Liguria

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Pictured: Trekking in Liguria on the Alta Via

Liguria is a fun, banana-shaped, coastal region in the north-west of Italy that adventurous souls will love. The remarkable nature of this place is perfectly illustrated by the fact that you can surf and do proper hiking/mountain biking within a few kilometres of each other in the same national park; in the space of one afternoon.

This region’s park network consists of one national park, nine regional natural parks, the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri hiking trail, four regional nature reserves and several protected areas. Before we discuss the Sentiero Liguria, big shoutout to the amazing Alta Via dei Monti Liguri that traverses mountain ridges and which is somewhat of a promised land for both walking boot-wearers and mountain bike-riders.

Connecting Luni in the province of La Spezia with Grimaldi in Ventimiglia, the Sentiero Liguria is a hiking trail that stretches for over 600km. Visitors to it can take the trail in either direction, passing olive groves, vineyards, holly oak woods, beach clubs, cliffs, sacred routes, ancient Roman roads, tiny tracks and narrow, atmospheric, Italian alleyways known locally as “creuze” along the way. A magical walking experience this, it will stir your senses in ways you’ll never forget.

4) Hiking The Cammino di Sant’Agostino

If you like your hikes to be rich in history, culture, and religion there’s plenty on offer for you in Lombardy – a region that’s begging to be explored, either on foot or by bike.

One nice Lombardy walk, with a pilgrimage feel very much woven through it, can be found on the very pleasant Cammino di Sant’Agostino between Monza and Pavia. Families that love going for big strolls in wide open spaces that seamlessly merge together art, nature, and history will have a great time here.

Lombardy, while we’re on the topic, is also home to several religious trails which belong to the so-called “Sacri Monti”. These trails features chapels built between the 16th and 17th centuries, and are situated in some of the most peaceful surroundings imaginable.

5) Hiking In Parco Nazionale Del Gran Paradiso

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Pictured: A trekker checks out the scenery on offer in Piedmont. Photo:
Enrico Romanzi

Home to the famous city of Turin, Piedmont is a region in northwest Italy. It borders Switzerland and France; as well as the Italian regions of Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Valle D’ Aosta and Liguria. Situated on the frontline of the Alps, the name Piedmont comes from medieval Latin and means “at the foot of the mountains.”

With some heart-melting hiking trails to immerse yourself in, Piedmont not only brings together “foot” and “mountains” in its name but in its nature as an activity-focused outdoor destination.

Hikers, trekkers, and climbers will love the quality and quantity of adventure and escapism that can be found on the Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso’s Piedmontese slopes. Any chat of the hiking credentials in this region would be remiss if we didn’t also mention the woods, clearings, ancient churches, and castles of Parco delle Lame del Sesia, Canale Cavour, and Parco del Ticino.

6) Hiking The Tour Du Mont Blanc

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Pictured: Man soaks up the views on the Tour du Mont Blanc

The Valle d’ Aosta may be Italy’s smallest region, but what it lacks in horizontal size it more than makes up for in the vertical. A mountainous region, more than 40% of its terrain is situated at over 2,000 metres above sea level. You’re no doubt already familiar with Monte Bianco (also known as Mont Blanc); the highest mountain in the Alps, and west Europe, at 4,808 metres.

Because of the sheer number of epic mountains here, it’ll come as no surprise that Valle d’ Aosta is an awesome place to go hiking in. One of the most loved routes here, and in Europe in general, is the Tour du Mont Blanc. It circles the Mont Blanc massif and covers a distance of roughly 170 kilometres. Be sure to have them cameras ready as the sights you’ll see here are second to none.

7) Hiking The Via Claudia Augusta

Veneto has a lot going for it. And when we say “a lot”, we mean a lot. Golden beaches, pretty lagoons, majestic rivers and wild natural parks with views straight out of a Disney fairytale. A varied outdoor adventure awaits in Veneto, with visitors encouraged to discover the wealth of history, art, and culture that exists in the region’s towns and villages.

There’s trekking and Nordic walking opportunities aplenty in Veneto with countless paths skirting along the slopes of some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. One of the most popular, manageable, and historically significant walking routes that passes through the area is the Via Claudia Augusta. This trail follows an ancient Roman road which connects the Po River with Rhaetia (located across the Alps in southern Germany).

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Fjällräven Polar Fleece Jacket | Review

When the temperature drops, the first item you’ll be reaching for is the Fjällräven Polar Fleece

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Photo: Chris Johnson

Most items of outdoor clothing clearly belong on a hill, or on a trail, or up a mountain. These pieces have obviously been designed to do a job, and to do it well. They’re practical, and made to cope with whatever elements get thrown their way. With fleeces, for example, functionality always seems to takes priority; leaving style to linger behind as somewhat of an afterthought.

Of course, we can understand the logic behind this but that doesn’t mean we don’t absolutely love it when these things look good aswell. Enter stage left: the Polar Fleece from Fjallraven. It’s got that casual, wear-it-down-the-pub, aesthetic which anyone can appreciate. Anyone being most definitely us.

“Perfect for adventures in polar conditions, every aspect of this hoodie screams cosiness.”

Perfect for adventures in polar conditions, every aspect of this hoodie screams cosiness. Trust us when we say that as soon as you put this thing on and experience its warm wool lining, you’re going to be very reluctant to take it off anytime soon – especially if it’s a cold winter’s day.

The thick wool lining in the Polar Fleece is also used in its hood and handwarmer pockets. If you know your textiles, you’ll no doubt already be aware that one of the main benefits of wool is that it insulates even when it gets damp – just one more reason why we think this robust, heavy-duty, fleece is sure to win its way into your heart.

Not only will the Fjällräven Polar Fleece keep you feeling toasty and looking stylish, it will also – thanks to its highly durable construction – be part of your wardrobe for a long time to come. The hoodie’s durability can be put down to the ultra hardwearing G1000 on its sleeves, and its generally excellent outer made from a thick, knitted, polyester.

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The Polar Fleece has a casual, wear-it-down-the-pub, aesthetic that we love. Photo: Chris Johnson

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The durable outer on the Fjallraven Polar Fleece is made from a thick, knitted, polyester. Photo: Chris Johnson

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The thick wool lining in the Polar Fleece will keep you warm during the cold winter months. Photo: Chris Johnson

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The little Swedish flag on the Fjallraven Polar Fleece is a nice reminder of the brand’s heritage. Photo: Chris Johnson

It’s no secret that Swedish brand Fjällräven like doing business in ways that could be considered ethical, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. Evidence of this approach, which we’re very much in favour of, can be seen by the use of organic cotton and recycled polyester in the making of this brilliant jacket.

A really great hoodie this, and the ideal companion for that time of year when the temperature starts to drop and carries on dropping.

Fjallraven Polar Fleece Jacket

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