A walk in the woods not a day on the DS

Just outside Corby, Northants

This evening, as I was driving Boy the Elder to his Scout meeting(in a field, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere) we saw a barn owl, a muntjack, a weasel, endless rabbits and something small and very fast which flew right in front of the car.  It was wonderful, particularly the barn owl whose ghostly white wings described delicate and silent patterns in the air, like a pale and feral angel.

I was gratified to witness the excitement of the boys at seeing these creatures and pleased that, despite living in the country, wild creatures are still wonderful to them.  As a child brought up on the outskirts of London, I remember reading nature books that would cite certain insects or birds that were apparently ‘common’ throughout England.  Not in bloody Stanwell they weren’t and I remember wondering where all these creatures could be living?  Actually they were probably there for the finding, but I didn’t know where to look.

Of late, I haven’t spent enough time taking the boys on walks in the countryside. The last few years have caught up with me a bit, and on the rare occasions when I sit still I fall asleep.  They play sports at school and spend time outside, but there is no substitute for just being in the woods or the park, taking time to see the detail, making up games that involve trees, sticks and mud, listening to the trees, the birds and the tiny sounds.


A couple of weekends ago, I sent the two of them off into the woods and told them not to come back for at least two hours.  Their mission was to explore their surroundings, get the lie of the land, see what was beyond the Co-op and the fish and chip shop, find out where the railway line went, discover the best climbing trees and viewpoints.

They came back tired and delighted.  They had found footpaths and a tree swing, a circular walk all round the town and the track bed of an old railway line.  They were particularly pleased with a concrete lookout point on which someone had sprayed the word ‘cock’ in large red letters.  This is now known as The Cockpit and is the focal point of many games and rendezvous.


Children need to connect with nature.  They need to have unstructured time in which to get bored, thus giving them the brain space to get really creative.  Separation from the natural world takes away their freedom, their peace of mind and their independence.  Some parents are terrified to let their children go to parks or open spaces unsupervised because they have become obsessed with the idea that there are perverts and kidnappers round every corner.  Those same children may not have been taught to cross the road properly and yet the fear of them being run over takes second place to the threat of paedophiles.

Children’s time has become too structured, outdoors has become a facility not a place to be enjoyed on its own merit.  Children are taught about nature in schools through eco-disaster, floods, famines, global warming and whilst these things need to be taught, I wonder if this encourages them to really connect with nature or whether it persuades them that nature is an enemy to be overcome?  How many people became passionate naturalists without actually experiencing nature at first hand?

Where have the nature tables gone, with their birds’ nests, conkers, multi-hued leaves and shells?  When do the nature walks happen when children can feel the ground beneath their feet, smell the leaf mould, discover wild flowers and learn the difference between moths and butterflies?

We don’t have to live in the middle of nowhere to find these things, any tiny wild area will have something of interest and we need to find them, enjoy them and then pass on our enjoyment.  Note the difference in someone after a day in the fresh air to a day in front of the TV or a computer screen.

Let’s reclaim our natural spaces and in return find some space for ourselves.

How deep?


Filed under Children, Health and Fitness, Leisure, Outdoor Activities, Slider

13 responses to “A walk in the woods not a day on the DS

  1. This is one of the best things you can do with children. And it is as much about getting to know your local patch slowly as it is going on enforced route marches.

  2. And watch Jonathan Meades ‘Father To The Son’ if you can lay your hands on a copy. One of the best films on sense of place I’ve ever seen.

  3. Very well said, WH. And if anyone who reads this lives in a city and needs further encouragement to look at nature on their doorstep, I can recommend Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside, an eye-opener when it was first published in the 1970s, and still opening eyes today.

  4. Julie Ratcliffe

    I couldn’t agree more. I run a Rainbow Unit and the amount of girls who don’t have a single free evening is frightening. Parents seem to think they have to fill every waking hour with some (paid for) activity or their children will be missing out. What they are missing is time to just be children. Julie.

    • wartimehousewife

      It’s such a difficult balance for parents, isn’t it Julie? On one hand we want our children to have exposure to lots of different activities in order to give them choices about what they do with their lives, but if we overdo it, I believe that we are actually limit their choices because we’re limiting their natural behaviour and creativity, to say nothing of the ability to assess risk, make individual decisions and use ALL of our senses instead of just our eyes and tiny thumb movements!

      I heard of a family recently who had very bright children and had fallen into the trap of filling every hour of every day with structured activity. They were all getting increasingly tired and emotionally and financially pressured until the parents suddenly thought ‘let’s ask each other what we really want to be doing and what matters’.

      They were surprised to discover that their eldest son actually didn’t enjoy being in the football team and didn’t want to attend two lots of instrument classes and that actually he wanted to spend more time outside. This suited the parents very well as they never had time any more to go for walks with their children and get muddy or climb trees.

      Coming from a family where we never had any structure or clubs of any kind, I know that I have to be careful about trying to over-compensate with my boys. But I learned fairly quickly that, actually, the thing they like doing best is going for walks and having time to talk to me and their father. And it’s free.

  5. Toffeeapple

    Just what I like best myself, being in the open air with green stuff growing all around me. Especially beside the Grand Union Canal, I can spend hours there, in all sorts of weather. I am pleased that your boys appreciate being out of doors, well done to you for encouraging them.

  6. Mary

    Such wise words, and I too deplore the demise of the nature table. Country Living magazine ran a campaign to revive it – don’t know if it had much impact. I’d like to think so.

  7. I couldn’t agree with you more! We’re lucky to live very rurally and I love that my lot have grown up still in awe of all that’s around them. My only rule when they were kids was keep away from the A road (over a mile away) and stay out of the river. We used to ‘lose’ them for hours, and they didn’t have mobiles then either. There were always enough children together that you knew they’d stay safe.

  8. wartimehousewife

    The point that several of you have made about getting to know your local patch is an important one, because it takes another step towards feeling safe , because it’s familiar, and thus a natural progression towards more independence.

  9. Bunty

    When I was at junior school, we had a wonderful nature table and a wall chart that showed you how to identify trees by their leaves, buds, shape etc. I still makes me feel great to be able to identify them now, although my memory isn’t quite as perfect as I would like! But it was something that really engaged me at school and engendered a love of nature.

    We live in a stunningly beautiful country and it is the most terrible shame that so many people don’t appreciate it and make the most of it. Even in the centre of a city, there are fantastic things to discover and also countryside is never more than a short drive or tube journey away.

    • wartimehousewife

      Gosh, I remember those posters – they were produced by Shell and they had the most beautiful illustrations. I’d kill to get my hands on some of those now – bet they cost a packet.

      Saying that though, I do have copies of the Ladybird Books that we used to use in the classroom – ‘The Sea and Seashore Life’, ‘What to Look for in Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter’, ‘Pond Life’ and ‘British Wild Flowers’. I think I’ll get them out this evening!

  10. Superb piece and an excuse for me to rave about the merits of camping……freedom, fresh air, back to nature and limited washing facilities which suits boys very well! Whilst at work one day in the school holidays I had left the boys (aged 13,14 & 16) with their lap tops and computers and a borrowed inflatable canoe – imagine my suprise when a received a picture message of said canoe with said boys 2 miles down the grand union canal!!! Nothing beats a bit of outdoor adventure.

    • wartimehousewife

      Just what boys and girls should be doing Kyla. And I will go camping, I really will, I’ve got the gear and everything. I’ll just wait until the spring…..

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