It’s hot; my legs are tiring fast and the path around the loch feels much hillier than I remembered. The temptation is to ease the pace and take a breather. But here’s the rub: the slower I run, the longer the route will be. It won’t just take longer; it’ll actually be longer, and the risk of having to tackle the hilly section for a second time in this heat is enough to spur me on. I pick up speed.
This run is a relay, and the baton is a moving target: as I run, Ryan is taking the same route round Loch an Eilein with baby Rosa in her buggy and two-year-old Ferdi on foot. When I catch them, Ryan will hand them over and take his turn for a lap. It’s our latest experiment in outdoor adventuring for all the family and, judging by the excited cries of ‘Catch mummy runner, catch mummy runner!’ that follow me down the trail for the first leg of the relay, it’s a runaway success.
The plan is to run our relay circuits of the loch, before changing into wetsuits and taking turns to swim out to the island that gives the loch its name. There, we will explore the 13th century ruin that rises out of the water – former hideout of the Wolf of Badenoch; now claimed as ‘Ferdi’s Castle’ – and alternate this with feeding the ducks and paddling in the shallows on the ‘mainland’ side. It’s all part of my commitment to build a family life that feels adventurous, energised by time spent in the great outdoors.
Aside from the heat – who said Scotland doesn’t do summer? – and my leaden legs, the run section is simply glorious. It’s a 5k circuit around the loch, hence my sprint pace – though I’m mentally prepared for anything up to one and a half loops, depending on the progress of Ryan and Team Baton. The trails are quiet; the views across the water are magnificent, and the woods in bluebell season are spectacular. If only I knew when it was going to stop, I’d be loving it …
I was pleasantly surprised (and, OK, maybe a tiny bit disappointed having psyched myself up for a ‘take two’ on the hill climb) to find that the baton hadn’t covered much ground at all in the half hour I’d been running. The distraction of an ice cream and a nappy change had slowed progress fabulously and they hadn’t gone more than half a mile. I came sprinting in to a big cuddle from a very excited Ferdi who immediately started to propel Ryan down the path, ready or not – ‘Off you go! Off you go daddy runner. Come on mummy, catch daddy!’
As Ryan ran, we dawdled along the track spotting chaffinches, collecting special stones, looking for mousey and badger in their holes; stopping to climb boulders and tree roots; finding dens and singing songs. Happily for Ryan, all our fun meant that, again, the distance covered by Team Baton was minimal. It felt like no time at all before he appeared on the trail behind us – ‘Allez allez allez daddy runner! Catch us!’
Next up, the swim, and this time it was Ryan’s turn to go first – the order of play was determined by the demands of breast feeding; feed, run, walk; feed again before swimming, thereby buying time to shower before Rosa’s next meal. That meant that by the time I put my toe in the water, the heat of the day was well and truly past. The wind was mounting and – being fairly new to wild swimming – I was alarmed at the strength of the current streaming down the loch (and also at the size of the crowd that gathered to watch my progress – where did they appear from?! Nothing to see here …) as I thrashed my way across to the island and ashore to explore.
In through the ancient arch, and it felt like another world: just me, all alone in the tumbledown castle. Trees, ancient archways, one dark room with its roof intact; the rest open to views of the sky and the mountains. No sound except for the water and the birds. A magical moment to end the day – before ploughing back across the water to a very excited toddler, a still-sleeping baby and the promise of coffee, milk and cake all round.
I want to give my children the chance to know a life where family time, exploration, challenge and adventure are interconnected and shared, enriching the experience for all of us. As fun-sized adventures go, this one was a winner …