You’d think that working for the Jurassic Coast Trust would mean we are always out and about on the coast; exploring this incredible coastline and experiencing all it has to offer. In reality, most days we are working hard to deliver projects in the office and if we do go out we are normally in and out of a meeting room hardly glancing at the sea as we dash back to our car for our next meeting.
So when the time came for me to go on maternity leave for a year, I made a promise to myself that I would try and get out and see as much of the coast as I could. I hadn’t forgotten about the fact that I would have a baby to take with me; I just thought that somehow I would make it work for both of us. Since my daughter was born in October 2011, I had the entire summer to spend with her on the coast with the added bonus that the London 2012 Olympic sailing events were in Dorset. With careful planning and a sense of adventure, we ended up having an incredible year on the coast together.
If you are keen to explore the Jurassic Coast with your baby or toddler, here’s my essential Top 10 checklist:
- A baby carrier or backpack is really useful for getting out onto the coast, especially if you plan to do a coast path walk. There are lots of second-hand baby carriers on Gumtree you can pick up for very little money.
2. Make sure you are comfortable breastfeeding in public or ensure you can adapt in an unfamiliar environment. Whilst breastfeeding at home I needed all sorts of pillows to support me, so when I was out on the coast I used my coat, sweater or a scarf as aids. If you are bottle feeding, take a flask of hot water with you and a container for formula milk. A container with different compartments will mean you are stocked up for feeds during the day. Check in advance with any cafés nearby to see if they are breastfeeding friendly or offer free water refills.
3. Check the weather and tides carefully. Make sure you both have appropriate clothes, headgear and sunscreen that suit the weather. Ensure that you wear comfortable shoes with a good grip on the soles, especially if you are carrying your little one in a baby carrier.
4. Take a few sachets of Infant Calpol with you just in case of an emergency.
5. In a plastic bag, pack a spare change of clothes, pants and socks for your child.
6. Changing nappies in the outdoors is easy if you pack a folding changing mat, some wet wipes and a few nappy bags. Ensure you have some hand sanitiser so you can clean your hands afterwards.
7. A packed lunch means that you can be more independent and spend more time off the beaten track. If you are following baby-led weaning then your child can eat what you eat. I used to pack a picnic of breadsticks, carrot sticks, hummus and chicken drumsticks. If you prefer pureed food, then you could pack readymade meal pouches for convenience or carry your homemade versions in small pots.
8. You don’t need to take toys or books and it’s an opportunity to put your phone away. Nature provides all the entertainment for you from searching for shells on the beach to exploring the wonderful smoothness of beach pebbles between your fingers. With careful supervision, you can let your child explore freely, so that they learn through their own experiences and investigations. I remember watching my daughter sitting in a rockpool as she buried her arms and raised them watching the sloppy sand drip between her fingers. Learning through play is such vital experience for young children and being messy is ok as long as you are prepared for it!
9. Make a nature box! We collected interesting things in a box at home to play with and remind ourselves of our experiences on the beach. Simple things like a piece of driftwood, shells, pebbles and dried seaweed were huge sources of fascination for my young daughter as she rediscovered them after our walks.
10. Do a little research! You will find many child friendly cafes along the coast and destinations where there a good public toilets. Plan in advance so that you can tailor your visit to the your needs. Our Highlights page will give you some hints and tips.
My daughter is now 6 and has a real love for walking and exploring the outdoors. I attribute this entirely to making that huge effort to take her to all sorts of places along the coast and giving her the freedom to explore and play with nature. The only thing you have to remember is that getting your child ready to go out is a unique challenge all on its own!
Anjana Khatwa Ford, Programme Manager for Learning, Jurassic Coast Trust