Hey guys, Eoin here.

I look after the Marketing here at Hiiker. I want to share with you my story of hiking a long-distance trail with my 10-year-old Daughter Katelynn. Embarking on these journeys can be hard for even the most well-travelled adults. Adding a child into the mix can have some big challenges. But it can also be the most rewarding feat for both you and your child.  There is a lot of info and I think people can benefit from this diary, so I’ll try not to spare too much while I split this over a number of blog posts. I hope you enjoy!  
 In July 2019, myself, Katelynn, Paul (Hiiker founder) and his Fiancé Eimer, took off from Eastbourne, UK along the South Downs Way National Trail. A 100-mile trail that ends in Winchester. We had just launched the app (one week prior) and we wanted to have a bit of a break from all the work we had done and to put the app to the test.  When we arrived in Eastbourne, it was hot. REALLY hot. We stayed in a hotel that had no air conditioning (why would they? It’s England). A heatwave had hit the southeast. It was a tough night of sleep with neither Katelynn or I getting much sleep. But Katelynn was excited for the next day and starting on her first long-distance hike.  

Day 1 Eastbourne to Alfriston 

Start/end mark point of the South Downs way. Pictured (L-R): Me, Katelynn & Paul.

It is easy to say that this was the toughest day of them all. It was 33 Degrees Celsius with no wind. Dry, hot and nothing to cool us down but a bit of shade where we could find it. The first stretch from Eastbourne along the Seven sisters was particularly hard. Katelynn was not yet completely used to carrying a bag that size and needed to take several breaks. This obviously was eating into our daily distance goal, but the thought of her having a negative experience of the adventure was more frightening than needing to get a cab at some point.  This was exactly why we chose the SDW for this trip. While being so remote at times, it was not far to go to get back to some form of transport. With Hiiker, we were easily able to find the nearest bus stop or taxi rank. 

The Missing Doll

 One of the stand-out moments of day 1 was the moment Katelynn realised she had dropped one of her barbie dolls along the trail at some point. I knew that this would kill her confidence and determination, so I ran back to attempt to find it. We had stopped in a road-side café for a drink and some shade, so I followed the path back there, scouring every blade of grass and hedge. I entered the café and approached the table where we had sat.

There was another group of hikers there and I asked if there was a doll there. They looked so shocked. They actually happened to find the doll out on the trail and came to the café on the off-chance that someone would claim it or at least it would find a new home. The chances of finding them sitting at the exact same table!! The look on Katelynn’s face when I ran up to meet her was pure delight. She had a skip in her step for the rest of the day.  

After completing approx. 10km of walking over undulating hills, though the heat, we decided to call it and take a taxi from Birling Gap to Alfriston, where we had booked into a campsite we found on the app for the night. Although we were defeated by the heat, the walk was stunning. In cooler weather, it would have been a much easier feat. 

First time camping

I had packed the MSR Elixer 3 V2 3 man tent. It’s slightly on the heavier side, but provided us with great room to spread out. (Keep in mind that I’m 6’5” and she’s her father’s Daughter). I made sure that I packed some games (Uno, regular cards) and a book each to occupy ourselves. Katelynn would gladly sit and watch TV for hours, but thankfully, she understood that we don’t have access to the TV.

I also packed a hammock which Katelynn gladly sat in for a while to read her book.  This all might sound like plain sailing so far, but believe me, there had been challenges. There had been tears about being tired and missing home throughout, but Katelynn was determined to carry on and conquer the task.  

Katelynn enjoying the Hammock at Alfriston Campsite on the South Downs Way
Katelynn enjoying the Hammock at Alfriston Campsite on the South Downs Way

When Paul and Eimer came to join us after completing the first leg of the trail, we checked out the App for some nearby places to eat. Alfriston is the quintessential pretty old English town. It had a good choice of pubs and restaurants and I’m pretty sure everything had “ye olde” before its name.

We ate some excellent food in the George Inn pub and went back for a good night’s sleep. Well… not exactly a good night’s sleep, but some sleep..  In hindsight, I would have taken Katelynn out on a camping trip before going on this trip. Camping with children can be great fun, but also has some challenges.

If you think about it from the mind of a 10-year-old, this is brand new territory for them. They don’t have their normal comforts. They are sleeping an inch off the ground. While she had me right beside her, she was still worried about the unknown. Eventually, though, we got to sleep and woke up to a more cooler morning than the day before.  Stage one completed, it was time for breakfast and to take on stage two!