01 November 2017 by Jess Dolan
I always find autumn a good time of year to reflect.
This year, it provokes a jumble of emotions within me as I’m freshly back to work following maternity leave.
My second son was born at the beginning of last October, when Scotland was revelling in the kind of autumn days that have been ordered straight from Instagram – lots of clear sunlight, frosty mornings, and beautiful changes to the leaves set against piercing blue skies.
For me, in those early days of being home with a newborn, the weather mainly gave me hope that we’d survived another (sleep-deprived) night and that the new day meant my little boy and I were slowly but surely getting into a good groove of feeding and napping.
However those glorious autumn days were too tempting to miss out on for long. As soon as I felt I could manage it, I bundled my baby up in a sling and we started to head out for walks.
I am a huge advocate of using a sling with a baby. There are lots of positives. Feeling closer to your child, having your hands free to do other things and it’s easy to get on and off public transport.
But the main benefit for me is that you can access so many more places than you could with a buggy. If you can get there on foot (within reason!), then you can get there on foot with a sling.
With my first baby, born when I was living in London, I walked my way through the trauma of a complicated and prolonged birth and a stay in the special care baby unit.
Walking helped me to heal – both my body and my mind. Instinctively I found myself seeking out green spaces, and quiet.
Hackney Marshes were a favourite then. A wildlife haven in the city crisscrossed by train lines and hugged on one side by the River Lea.
Now I’m back living in Scotland and I’m lucky enough to have an abundance of green spaces right on my doorstep. And not only that, there are hills – something I craved when I was in London. Not that any of my walks of the past year have been of the iconic, celebrated type.
I’ve not been out bagging Munros, Corbetts or even Donalds. I’ve still been bound by the restrictions of needing to feed, nappy change and keep a baby out of too much wind and the rain, as well as the rhythm of daily life – needing to pick his brother up from nursery in the afternoon.
So it’s not been a year of wild walking adventures, rather a year of quieter pleasures. Of getting to know the countryside closest to me that bit better. Of appreciating how the slowly-changing seasons can turn a familiar walk into an unfamiliar one. Of feeling grateful for paths because, even with the added security of the sling, there is something extremely reassuring about following a trail when you are responsible for not just yourself, but also a tiny baby.
It’s been a year where I’ve explored what’s available closer to home and been shown or discovered walks which will remain in our family repertoire for years to come. But mainly it’s been a year when I’ve been so appreciative of this simple remedy for improving my day.
As anyone with experience of looking after a baby will tell you, a baby’s cries sound less awful outside than when you are trapped within four walls at home.
Sleep deprivation is gruelling, but fresh air and gentle exercise do help if you can summon up the energy to get out.
Looking after a baby is repetitive and generally pretty thankless at first. Knowing that I would be heading out to spend an hour doing something that I enjoyed and where my baby would usually sleep made all the difference.
And we loved it! Both baby and I. Walking got me fit again after pregnancy and birth. It meant we went out pretty much every day, in all weathers. It gave me space to think, and meant I could show my baby the hills and the fields near where we live.
Walking provides its own rhythm. It is inherently soothing.
My baby would often fall asleep on our walks, but if he didn’t he would sit quite happily in the sling watching and taking it all in, lulled by the pace of my footsteps, snuggled into my chest.
And those moments would bring such peace and wellbeing to us both.
My footsteps, his heartbeat. His heartbeat, my footsteps.
Over the next few years, Ramblers Scotland’s Out There campaign is celebrating Scotland’s amazing landscapes and world-class access rights – which play a vital role in making memorable experiences like Jess’s possible. Through Out There, we're aiming to get more paths on the ground, more paths on the map, and to make it easier for absolutely everyone to enjoy our outdoors - even those still too young to walk!