The Byres family from Lockerbie in southern Scotland have set themselves an outdoors challenge: to walk the whole of the Annandale Way in sections.
With three children aged two to eight, parents Stuart and Sara are being realistic. They are keen for their children to enjoy the walk – and Sara reports that even the smallest, Seth, is a “fantastic wee walker” – but they don’t want to push the kids to boredom or exhaustion.
So the idea is that each weekend and whenever they have spare leisure days they will stroll a short section of the waymarked way between Moffat and Annan. By the end of 2014 they hope to have walked the full 55 miles.
Sara picks up the story: “The Annandale Way has been something we’ve known about for a few years. It opened in 2009 and at the time it was big news locally.
“It also passes through farms belonging to friends although not through our own farm. Part of the route is just four miles from the end of our road.
“The Way is very well signposted so we kept seeing the distinctive logo and saying, 'We should really do it'... And so this New Year, one of our resolutions was to walk the Annandale Way.”
The whole family is walking. That’s dad Stuart, 42, and mum Sara, 39, eight-year-old Rose, six-year-old Gabriel and little Seth.
Sara says: “We are lucky with our kids because they do like being outdoors and this is something we have always encouraged.
“Seth in particular is always on the move and if you want to distract or soothe him, the best thing to is tell him we're off for a walk.
“With all three kids, we stopped using a buggy or pushchair very early on and just got them walking so they're used to the process.
“But this is our first 'formal' family adventure.”
So far, the Byres family have walked about 10 miles in five sections. Sara says: “Two miles is Seth’s max. After that he tires and slows a snail's pace.
“We're being very flexible in our approach. For example, for our last section, we walked from sea to source, that is towards Moffat as opposed to towards the Solway Coast, because it was downhill and the other way round would have been a bit too challenging for Seth.
“All we have planned is that we're hoping to walk the whole route by the end of the year.”
The family are delighted by the waymarked walk. Sara says: “The walk is fabulous and much nicer than I expected. We've discovered lovely tracks that we didn't even know existed.
“One day we followed the River Annan for a bit and found a fascinating fishing hut built by an artist, along with lots of lovely benches. It was idyllic.
“On another section, we walked past the ruins of Dormont House, which used to be a massive mansion and was destroyed in the 1940s. Rose and Gabriel loved it and let their imaginations go with ghosts and all sorts.
“The kids have loved the wildlife aspect of the route and feel very proud of what they have already achieved.
“We play games along the way, nature versions of I Spy for example, but they're curious kids anyway. We don't need to try too hard to keep them motivated but chocolate has helped to keep them walking sometimes. And they adore the idea of taking a picnic.”
For farmer Stuart and Sara it’s the linear concept of the Annandale Way that they like.
Sara, a production journalist, says: “The linear concept makes it easier to visualise. We also have a map that the kids colour in when we’ve finished a section.”
There is another poignant reason for walking long-distance routes. Sara’s dad was a keen walker and had completed many long hikes, such as the Camino de Compostela, from France to Spain, in his seventies.
He was also the first white man to complete the Chemin des Emerillons in the Amazon (the first man got eaten!) and walked across Zanskar and Ladakh in Tibet. Closer to home, he did walks such as the Southern Upland Way.
Sara says: “Sadly dad died two years ago and our family walk is sort of a way to honour him. He would be proud of our adventure.”
Find out more about the Annandale Way.