It’s been a year of highs and lows. Regular readers will note the lack of any meaningful writing on the blog for a couple of months. I’ve been tired. And busy. And I’ve been wondering if the blog is worthwhile so I’ve not had the headspace nor motivation to write, let along the capacity to work out my path and place in life now Caroline’s cancer is in remission and she’s progressing well.

Coming to terms with this new life, with monitoring for cancer side effects, with the disproportionate worries and fears for her health every time she coughs or gets a headache, as well as experiencing various degrees of grief, has made for a year of dramatic learning and change. Both for me, for Caroline and for Wild Daddy. And with it, of all things, I’ve struggled to get outdoors. Ironic in the extreme.

3 Adults, 3 Kids, 2 Dogs & a Picnic

Some friends invited us for a family walk and picnic at Northumberland’s Simonside Hills on December 30th which seemed a perfect way to end 2018, and get me outside. Wild Daddy was working.

Image of family group of five people and two dogs eating picnic sitting under rocky outcrop

We met at the Forestry Commission car park at the foot of the hills near Tosson Hill Farm in the Northumberland National Park. The car park is at grid ref: NZ 037997 OS Explorer OL42 Kielder Water & Forest

Leave No Trace

There are a couple of picnic benches dotted around and a noticeboard with trail details but no public toilets and no litter/dog bin facilities. So, wild wees ahoy should you need to, and please come prepared to take your litter home to leave no trace.

It was a stunningly clear day and though we’d driven through weather fronts of rain and cloud en route, there was sun in the hills. It was busy given the weather and the walk was wonderful; uplifting, invigorating and exactly what I needed. The power of friends and fresh air!

Simonside Hills, Harwood Forest

Caroline and I have explored Simonside once before with some home schooling friends; several families, multiple dogs, a couple of babes in arms and an active group of children. Consequently we didn’t get more than about 500 yards up the track that time because every tree stump, mossy boulder and drainage sewer under the track became an adventure!

Image of group of children and toddlers climbing tree in woodland
Simonside a couple of years ago, Caroline in pink T-shirt

I LOVE outdoor kids (it’s a good NB for wild parents – wear lots of layers when the kids are young as you can do a lot of standing around while they incessantly explore!)

This year, over 2 years later, Caroline walked more than 4 miles on some fairly challenging terrain given her current leg pains (since October she’s been experiencing increased nerve pain in her feet and legs which is possibly nerve ‘replay’ from the Vincristine chemotherapy drug but more likely to be from the underlying Neurofibromatosis condition that I really must write about soon. Either way, the pain can make her limp or pull her up for more frequent rests than usual.) She was a trooper at Simonside, not showing the pain once.

Image of man in red coat walking along stony path along ridge top of hills with distant fields in background
Stunning views along the ridge top trail

There are dozens of routes and trails among the forests and crags along the ridge so I haven’t recorded our exact route here. You can meander where you like or follow any of the trail routes on a map. We were out for a good four hours.

The trails are mainly stony paths, with a steep ascent up the main crag (which the youngsters attempted like mountain goats, leaving us adults to occasionally stop to ‘admire the view’!)

For more details and history of the area, this National Park article has lots of information.

There were boingy trees to climb, craggy outcrops with priest hole caves, stunning views, water-filled ditches, a picnic sheltered beneath some crags, steep climbing, pools, caves and tunnels to discover, scrambling, bouldering and rock-leaping, an annoying drone, a Christmas wish tree and those drainage sewers again!

These pics tell the story better than me…

Image of two girls looking over distant view using monocular

Image of three children playing near hillside pool at bottom of rocky crag with distant views behind

Image of three children, a man and a dog standing on craggy outcrop on top of hill ridge with distant views behind

Image of girl in blue jacket lying in rocky crevice on high hill crags with views behind

It’s great to be inspired by friends and family to get outdoors.

As Caroline is an only child it increases motivation and fun for her.

Adding other children to the mix changes the dynamic even for siblings, and all three kids created a day of laughter and adventure.

Taking friends into the great outdoors is one of the tips in my post on how to make walking with children wonderful.

Image of three children barely visible up evergreen trees
The boingy trees – spot 3 children!
Image of large rocky outcrop on edge of woody hillside
Little Church Rock, possibly an ancient gathering place
Image of two children in a cave entrance in a large wall of rock
Priest hole-like cave in Little Church Rock

At the top of the Simonside ridge someone had erected a Christmas wish tree.

Simonside Christmas Tree

I’d seen it online but didn’t realise the tree was at Simonside. It seems to be a replacement for a tree that had been decorated at Christmas by locals for 20 years, sadly cut down in 2017.

Simonside Christmas tree

It’s heartwarming to see the tradition continuing as it was a great surprise for us to discover and is apparently beloved by fell runners whom it cheers up on a grueling stretch!

Mountain Rescue Incident

As we tramped down the stony path to the car park at twilight, several Mountain Rescue vehicles went flying up to the ridge. Excited conspiracy theories ensued amongst the youngsters, imaginatively wondering what the incident must be – we’d seen no accidents during our trek.

It turned out to be a septuagenarian with a leg injury, requiring 22 Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue team members to share the stretcher 10 at a time for the difficult rocky and steep extraction in the dark.

At the end of a fantastic day it was a sobering yet proud reminder of the unpredictable nature of the hills and the amazing dedication of the men and women who volunteer day and night to help those in trouble in the mountains.

If you’d like to volunteer for mountain rescue in the UK you can find out more here.

Image of girl jumping across gap between two rocks high in hills

Caroline achieved great things in the hills, ending the year on a real high!

Image of woman and girl in outdoor coats and woolly hats on top of hill ridge with distant view behind

To read more about Caroline’s cancer journey or childhood cancer generally look at Caroline’s Rainbow.

2019 here we come!!!

Buy the Map

OS Explore OL41 – Kielder Water & Forest