Caught by the River

Free Range: Child Free

Amy Liptrot | 10th June 2023

A long-planned solo walk helps Amy Liptrot get back into the rhythm of parenthood. 

It’s a walk I’ve been intending to do for six years, since I moved here: getting the bus to a town ten miles away over the moor and walking home. I empty nappies, babywipes and small socks from my rucksack and fill it with sandwiches, map, notebook, flask and towel. The boys are still in bed when I leave.

Some days I hit the rhythm of parenthood well: energies are balanced and needs met. 

But yesterday we were offbeat, and my tired hungry older boy wailed for a full 20 minutes up the hill from town as I pushed the younger one, heavy in the pram. My stress levels spiked and later dissipated as I read stories, an arm around each, smelling their hair: an everyday hormonal rollercoaster.

Today I can go at my own pace (fast, with plentiful stops) and my mind can roll free, not just dealing with immediate needs. I think about the last time I walked some of this stretch, 6.5 years ago, new to the area, heartbroken and strung out. A couple of months later I met Dom and a year later our first son was born. It’s now my seventh spring here but I’m only beginning to write about the wooded valleys, rivers and moors. 

It is perfect walking conditions: warm with soft cloud and breeze. The curlews and skylarks are in full voice and lapwings protect nests. May, my powerful month, has been bright green, life coming fast, wildflowers abundant, the film of my book finished on my birthday, a visit to a great grandma, potty training, finding birds’ nests, diamonds falling at my feet. Two hours in, I come over a hill and into a large expanse of open moor which can’t be seen from the road — a place I’ve seen on the map but never with my eyes — and I am elated, limbs flowing now. I talk briefly to a man coming the other way, four days into walking the Pennine Way and dizzy with birdsong and solitude. A cuckoo calls. I gather a posy of cotton grass for the kids. 

It’s not an untouched wilderness but a worked landscape with remains of different stages of industry: a reservoir, a hunting road. I’m following a beaten track including the Brontë tourist tail, part of the Pennine Way and National Trust land at Hardcastle Crags. 

A friend put it well when she said she appreciates being on her own more since having children. I’m only able to be a good mum by having time alone and that requires both support and the confidence to claim space outside of work and responsibilities. 

Over another hill, Stoodley Pike appears and I know I’m on the way home. I watch a buzzard. I come among a bank of bluebells shining and scented. Back down in the valley bottom, I follow the river for a while and, near home, strip off and swim in a millpond with tadpoles and herons.

I make it home for 3pm, having taken 25,000 steps in a school-hours solo adventure. There is fish and chips for tea and we’re back together in sync.