At the start of the year I made a flippant decision to visit all the Northumberland Castles with my two-year-old. We needed to get out more. There are 45 castles, which is more than any other British County, so we could visit one a week, with a few weeks off for holidays. Around 15 castles down and it was the best whimsy I've ever made.
As a southerner, I knew very little about Northumberland or the history of the area, and in a few short months we have travelled far and wide in this beautiful county, taking in hills and forests, coasts and national park. It is stunning, the history is fascinating but more importantly, it has got this chicken of a mama out of the house and on the road.
I'm a fairly confident person. I don't get nervous about going into a room full of people on my own, I've travelled alone and I've spoken in public many times... But something happened when I became a mum; doubt crept in.
I think it might be the lack of control. When it's just you to worry about, the worse thing that could happen is maybe falling in your heels or spitting on someone's face when you talk to them; embarrassing but manageable.
With a little one in tow I'd have anxiety before even leaving the house. Visualising any number of 'horrors' from a screaming fit I couldn't stop, an explosive nappy or an embarrassing breastfeeding moment. Ultimately, I feared being judged and deemed to be an unfit parent.
So I started making excuses; keeping my days simple and limited to a few safe outings. And, this tradition continued well beyond the newborn days.
This castle challenge has brought back my confidence. From our very first outing, just the boy and me, to a ruin, called Mitford Castle, I knew I had changed. That day I had stalled and procrastinated but in the end we made it. I got the bug right there.
I can go on an adventure.
And I can do it with a toddler in tow.
In fact, he loved it! This one scary trip on our own to a creepy ruin reignited my desire to explore and find new places and to share the fun of exploring with my son.
We are now finding castles even locals didn't know existed, like intrepid explorers. Each trip is its own little adventure. Who knows what the future will bring, and whether more babies come along for our family or not, this will always be the year we saw every castle together. Mother and son.
I wonder how many other mothers have anxiety to go out alone? Motherhood can be isolating and lonely. I was lucky to have a few really good friends I could trust and call on, but what if you don't have that? What if all you have is that mean voice in your head telling you that something will go wrong and you're a rubbish mum?
This is why I have opened up our trips to anyone who wants to come with us. You are not a rubbish mum! Just bring a picnic.
I have learnt that you don't have to be the perfect mum to go out and explore (I've found the countryside is way more forgiving than those mum and baby groups!). I rarely have everything we need. Some days I forget the coffee flask, other times I forget his hat, or any warm clothes for myself. But we cope, because actually what is the worst that can happen? You might trip over a mound or spit on your own face in the wind, and no one would care. There might equally be a huge tantrum or a nappy disaster. But that's what motherhood is; it's about dealing with the poop and the tears and still having a good time. It's all part of the adventure.