Category Archives: Outdoors

Nature-Blind

Richard Louv spoke of young people suffering from “Nature Deficit Dis-order”, in his book ‘Last Child In The Woods’ commenting on the vast divide between todays young people and the world’s natural spaces. In his global campaign his aim is to introduce more young people to the educational and personal developmental benefits of emersing themselves in the Great Outdoors. Increasing scientific evidence is being published demonstrating that this ‘free’ and natural remedy which reduces modern day stress and anxiety supports the cause as the pace picks up in this Natural Revolution (Benefits of Nature: How Nature Helps Your Brain | Reader’s Digest)


Founder of TYF Adventure Andy Middleton from Pembrokeshire, an Outdoor Activist with a passion of changing the way in which we think, play and approach our symbiotic relationship with the outdoors recently guided Richard Parks, a new TV celebrity and formally a Welsh Rugby player, during a coasteering adventure. Andy during the day posed a question “how do we use the wild play in some of nature’s most beautiful places to inspire millions more people to shift the way they live to protect them for ever?”.

I think that both Richard’s and Andy’s philosophy is incredibly important to the health and well-being of our future living, but there is one question I came back to when thinking about the practicalities and strategies – how we achieve this? Introducing more ‘Vitamin N’ into our daily diet and being a Nature Guide may well be the answer, but as the old saying goes ‘you can take a horse…..’.

On a recent canoe trip down the awe-inspiring Wye valley, in its infant autumnal colours, it became apparent that the young people on the journey were not bathing in its radiance. Not curious at the detail in the way in which the river bubbled over the moss strewn rocks, they were thinking of the end of the journey, looking straight ahead, blinkered to the natural medicine that was passing them by. They drifted on past a Little Egret oblivious of the effort this African birds impressive journey had been to display its contrasting beauty against the backdrop of the British countryside. IMG_0593.JPG

As I too drifted behind the canoes I entered a meditation thinking about the strategies surrounding this problem that was visible in front of me. Yes, we can introduce the Outdoors, yes we can guide an individual into an incredible location, but fundamentally it is important to the sustainability of this Outdoor Revolution that we find a way of taking off the blinkers, maybe more than this, we pull off the ‘Blindfold’ that makes us ‘Nature-blind’.

I can sympathise to some extent with not being able to see things in their true light being colour-blind and having my own view of the world. I see one number on the colour chart others see nothing and vice-versa. I have had many journeys in the car with my wife when a loud “STOP’ interrupts the passage at traffic lights as I have not seen the red light. As one person sees the detail in a view others may not, so how do we get others to appreciate the wonders of the Outdoors? Is it just an age thing? Does empathy come with increasing years? Many years ago taking a climbing group to the sea cliffs at Porthclais where the view of the location is hidden from view until the final few metres, a teenager proclaimed looking out over St Brides Bay, “look at all that water…..and thats just the top!”. Is that empathy?

We need to take more time in this ever pressurised and digital world we live in to appreciate the surroundings and soak up the natural remedies. This could make our lives a healthier and happier one, making a more effective population and having a massive affect on the GDP world-wide. Noticing the small details and slowing our journey down, allowing the body to self-heal in the Outdoors is one step forwards in the right direction. We should be walking our pathway into the Outdoors with our eyes wide open and spending more time distracting ourselves with the Outdoors so we spend less time on our phones. This can only bring benefits. Our lifestyle today is one quick blur of so much information that we block out much of what is around us, like the journey down the river, the paddlers of the canoes did not notice the slightly submerged rock waiting beneath the surface until it abruptly stopped them mid-stream. Had their passage over that section been slower and more attentive they would have had been able to respond to altering their course. They had been instructed and informed of the skills to recognise the change in surface water indicating a submerged rock. However during their journey in this environment they had reverted to their default vision.

My thoughts are that all the combined efforts of the members of the Natural Revolution, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant make a valuable contribution  and are much needed with this recent momentum. Every person who loves the Outdoors, works, lives, plays, teaches, guides and reads about it are all crucial to continue this movement. We need to change that other well known saying  ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’.  We need to gather advocates of Nature along this journey in order to succeed. If you just look out through the window and see it as a pane of glass, you are off course. Its a portal to the Outdoors beyond.

“We must teach our children

To smell the earth

To taste the rain

To touch the wind

To see things grow

To hear the sunrise

And night fall”

John Cleal

 

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Beach school

Since growing up on the North Norfolk coast and experiencing the beauty and academic enhancement that going to the beach can bring, I have been an advocate of systematically recieving the ‘salt- injection’ periodically to keep up the levels of  coastal Vitamin N.

Today I was lucky to be invited to the beach with two schools and staff who were coming to the end of their Beach Schools training. We piled into the minibus borrowed from the comprehensive school and set off from the South Wales ex-mining valley primary and headed to where their predecessors used to convalesce beside the sea, Rest Bay at Porthcawl.


Suitably dressed in their fluorescent jackets so that they would stand out as a group against the dull Autumn colours of the beach picture. The children had no problem with wearing these bright additions to their warm jackets as they were too excited to notice. As they  skipped out of the bus the salt air hit them smack in the face from that onshore autumn wind, which set them off into rhythmic dance routines as they headed towards the high tide mark.

The beach school is another brand of Forest school but with sand, sea and pebbles. Not all schools have the managerial support to be able to do this kind of visit, let alone as regular as these two schools have had the fortune to have experienced. The day was planned out with a number of activities but open enough, like any good learning experience should be, to follow an opportunity that has been ‘plucked from the beach’. An example was that at one one moment a young girl came to me with a shell, ‘ but it’s different to all the others, is it a fossil?’ Yes, it was a ‘Gryphea’ a trace fossil from the limestone. But more interesting to the year 4 children was the Victorian fossil hunters name ‘Devils Toe Nail’. 

Like any child that has not been in an outdoor environment for a long time or even not at all, the excitement in the first few minutes can be too much to cope with. As we approached the beach from the car park the lure of the sea pulled the group faster and faster. Unfortunately between us and the sea was the beach road, however previous knowledge of the location meant that systems and control methods were already in place. A grounding in Forest School rules and behaviours did make the class management easier. The same rules were applied, work within the marked area (use of orange flags), ‘keep within the boundaries and explore with care and curiosity’ and a few extra put in – no throwing rocks, public and pets. 
Below are a few of the activities that were done on the day.

Beach Bingo – A prepared sheet set out like a bingo sheet. When each item has been found it is placed on the relevant box and ‘Bingo’ is achieved when all the items are found. This helped as the first activity as it allowed free spirits to run around getting some of the initial energy out of their system, whilst contributing to their team activity challenge as well. 



Pebble Discovery
– walk around the beach using powers of observation and creativity. Pick a pebble that, when you look at it makes you think ‘that looks like a …….’.     When you are satisfied that this rock / pebble has been selected, then it can be turned into that particular animal, bird or even sea creature. I used cheap pens from Wilkinsons for this activity only £1 a packet for 8 coloured pens on tight school budgets this is a winner compared to sharpies. They worked a treat, obviously making sure the pebble is dry before using them. 



Beach Bowls – I had taken a few old tennis balls in a recycled potato cloth bag, in fact the balls had all been found floating down the River Severn last summer when I was assessing a Duke of Edinburgh Gold canoe expedition. The game is simple and uses mental maths skills to play. Draw 3 circles on the sand and label them, I used 1,2,3. A rolling line marked on the sand and the game starts – see how many you can score. It takes a judgement of coordination of throw, accuracy, understanding of forces and needed and mental maths to add up the score. Differentiation could be subtracting numbers from a given starting number using the scoring circles. Having a larger circle surrounding the others so that the outer score 1 point every time, this gives success every throw and promotes continuous maths. I ended this game with the all rolling a single ball,towards a driftwood stick similar to ‘boule’ the string from the bag was used as a measure when it was close to call.

A literacy variation of this game I have used before has been to draw some circles in a connected line, maybe using pebble footprints to connect to each, and these are the parts of a story. Simply move from one circle to the next making up the next part of the story. This can be also done with objects found from the beach and placed in each circle which gives the starting point of the story part, or even a connecting word written on the sand to help ‘ when’ ‘ then’ ‘ and finally’. 

This idea was taken from an activity I use with chalk on the school yard, the beach surface is just and variation and adapted to the new environment. 

The day ended with a quick exploration of the rock pools and reflection of the days activities before the drive back to school. The sea air had waved its wand as we travelled back and the beach dust sprinkled as they dozed giving a much quieter return journey. But lots of stories to tell their friends and family. 

Natural Literacy

I had woken and was lying in bed listening to the rain pounding down on the roof tops and bouncing off the floor and the sound of the cars outside splashing through the puddles as they made their way along their journey. It made me realise that this was the ‘Sound of rain’. 

My new word from nature “Pisthurism’ (the sound of wind in the trees)  has made me think about literacy around us more than ever. I look at running water in a stream and wonder, why is it, that it is running so fast when the sound of it makes me calm down inside and slow my pace?

 

Why, when gazing out over the view of the Autumn gloomy dark landscape does it reflect me back to warmth and ‘ cosy-ness’ by the log fire.

It dawned on me, literally as the sun came up, but not being able to use its warmth for me to bask in, that the sound of rain whilst I lay warm tucked up in my duvet was handing me a feeling just through sound. I was unable to see the ‘stair rods’ bouncing off the road as it was dark. The ‘pitter-patter’ of the rain upon the slates, was not only wet in substance but was onomatopoeia in its true sense.

Dictionary Term.

1. the formation of a word, as ‘cuckoo’ or ‘boom’, by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.

2. the use of such imitative words.

From the Greek  ‘onoma’ name + ‘poiein’ to make.

  
It uses adjectives to its extreme to describe how it is coming into your world at that moment in time. Like it was natures music sounding over the air-waves wrapping you in a descriptive blanket. 

‘Pitter-patter of rain drops’. ‘Listen to that rain.’ ‘Hammering it down’ all describing not precipitation in natures form, but a sound that portrays a feeling. We are all different in the way use our NLP ( neuro linguistic programming) and the journey it takes you on. Some hear the rain and have a downward journey, others are taken back to warm moments and times of a journey with friends- the sound of rain on the canvas with a great view out over valley below.

  

Discovering literacy outdoors is so much more than writing. It’s your expedition into words and their meanings, feelings, shapes and structure. Start your literary journey by going outside first, and not by writing but listening and feeling, the language of the outdoors will come alive.

Why oh Wye?

   
Being the coach of a group of young people on their Duke Of Edinburghs Award Gold expedition taking canoes down the River Wye made me feel young again. ” How long have you been canoeing for Craig?” Was a question mid- morning. “50 years” was the answer with a proud tone to the ever expanding chest beneath the buoyancy aid.  ” You should be well tired by now! ” came the smug reply as the they paddled away creating a wake in their zig zag course. 

The reason for Outward Bound being established after the war was that it was noticed that older more established men, hardened to the ways of the world, were lasting longer than the youngsters set adrift in the freezing Atlantic. I was trying hard to summon all my white Wooley jumper naval heritage, which there was none, to give me strength to surf the wave of the speeding canoe. 

However, within a short distance my wooden singing paddle was stroking through the clear waters of the Wye on a straight course to proving that Kurt Hahn definitely made the right decision and that there was still a need for getting young people out into the wilds. 

They were doing well with coping with their newly aquired skills and were guiding their craft along the winding meanders of the river. As sand martins flew overhead catching flies and diving into the small, holes in the sandy river cliffs they were ignored by the five canoes dancing their way down the river. Not appreciating that these small birds had travelled from Africa to show us their grace and beauty and dynamic flying ability. 

The aluminium canoes were not conducive to getting close to the environment they were passing through, not the way they were being paddled anyway. As our national bird of Wales, the Red Kite gave the group the royal fly-past we crashed our way down mile after mile. I was wondering if the days toil would give the time to focus the mind and bring into play the inherent natural curiosity and nature literacy which we possess but not always switch on. 

Being in tune with the nature around us means access and exposure to multiple lengthy periods of Vitamin N, a process that will re-balance and give that essential needed well-being feeling. Walking through or paddling through as we were, is not enough to acquire Natural Equilibrium without having the knowledge and appreciation of the wonders that were everywhere around. Hearing and not listening, seeing and not looking, touching and not feeling, doing and not appreciation, are all skills that educators in Nature and the Outdoors have said since the dawn of Outdoor Education, that young people are lacking and need to be taught.

But at what stage do we do the teaching? Most organised trips into the outdoors or into nature are beginning to be the ‘first experience’ that young people get. No longer are there great adventures in the back garden or in the woods over the road, no lengthy expeditions down the lane exploring hedgerows or delights of ruined waste grounds. So how much do we put in, how far do we push without it feeling like school? Well for one, it is education, but it’s a different sized classroom. 

  
Today’s paddle gave me a different feeling towards our group. The day was always labelled as the longest day, 28 miles, the challenge was set. But not all challenges can be presented as a choice, life doesn’t work that way and so shouldn’t challenges. Accepting is more that a long way to achieving the outcomes of most challenges set. Maybe more skills need to be learnt or knowledge increased in order to achieve success, but there is something that most of us recognise within working in the Outdoors cannot be taught and that is, pure grit. It was this that Kurt Hahn had sought to draw out in ‘character building’ as a process at Outward Bound Schools around the world. The growth of Outdoor Education centres and many outdoor based management training programmes had also tried to emulate and train in. 

Today I witnessed some grit within our young teenagers, as the last 4 miles against a head wind after 9 hours on the water, individuals had to dig in to finish. Adversity brings out that inherent part of our survival gene and allows us to access parts of our body that would not normally work to the extent of being useful. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and certainly all had dug deep for that extra use of muscle groups that were previously unknown, the dawn of self – awareness that enables you to push on instead of giving up. 

Today’s nature table had a great variety of participants, some noticed, some highlighted and some missed because there was no one there to flick the switch on. ” loads of swans all,over the place” but not just loads, 58 in fact all within the size of half a football pitch. I’d never seen as many in one small place, so to me it was wonderful to others they were just in the way! A small lump on a log was highlighted, ” well, so what ! ” Then once explained it became a Wow! moment, one to mention impressively to others, a small terrapin about 10 cm long was sunbathing on a log. A white bird dismissed as another thing flying around, silently ghosting just above the long grass of the campsite became an excitement as it kept returning. So now they were announcing it to others and myself. It now had a name, Barn Owl.  They had heard the name but never seen one, so the delight of seeing it out in  the open had developed them into nature representatives rather than nature novices. 

  
Another day another mile, but the journey was getting easier as it was not just a canoe expedition, it was a self-journey, a growing of individuals that were appreciating the meaning of the word ‘Team’ and ‘ Friendship’. What it feels like to be really really tired but still have to carry on, in the wild space so no chance of saying ” I give up”, although some tried! In adversity there is something inside that flicks on that switch, that makes the head work in a different way, gives strength to muscles you didn’t even know you had! 

That’s what the Duke Of Edinburgh Award is all about and why it still means something significant to employers and to those who complete it, as they know it has taken effort, teamwork, individual perseverance and more than that participants need ‘Grit’. A quality that will provide the engine for the qualifications when the fuel for inspiration runs out. 

That’s why we did the Wye, to find out if we had that quality within us and judging by the performance, they did.

#walkintherain

As I drove along with the windscreen wipers heavily in motion a strange ritual was being conducted on the pavement by two non- jacket wearing teenagers. A partially blonde teenager was being helped by her boyfriend to stay out of the torrential Welsh sunshine. In order to prevent the vital locks from becoming drenched and therefore unveiling her camouflage he had placed both his hands above her head. This unconventional butterfly shaped fascinator was certainly keeping me smiling as I headed to my destination. As I passed the end of school day gates, the road became clogged with traffic and waiting parents. Surely not all these children lived that far from school? They lived on a large estate only minutes from home why was there a need to protect their precious cargo from getting wet? We live in a Wales we should be used to the dampness of the environment, its in our DNA.

Earlier in the day I had signed up for going wild for 30 days in June with the a Wildlife Trust.  I suddenly realised it was day 1, the 1st of June and the summer had started – and it was raining. What was going to be my first contribution to this fantastic idea, to inspire and get people out into their natural surrounding and be re-connected with nature. 

Being out in the rain was not a problem I had been using the outdoor arena as my office for the last 30 years. But not everybody has had the same awesome feelings of being outside in the rain. Umbrellas, staring through rain spotted windows, newspapers on heads, all images that direct you to an impression and feelings towards the outdoors and rain in one direction – negative. So my first contribution was to try to change that image so hence the idea #walkintherain was pinged into my mind. 

  
Walking along into a new area I had need of refreshing my well- being with a dose of Green Medicine. I could smell the rain, hear the clearness of the bird song and my skin soaked up the radiating tonic of the forest canopy. With no care for navigation it gave time to appreciate the surroundings, the sparkling leaves, the many different hues of green and the softness of wet grass beneath my feet. I had plugged into nature and was recharging at no cost to the National Grid and was becoming brighter by the minute. So why was everyone else feeling down as they rushed home to switch the heating on and I was glowing outdoors? #walkintherain had made a positive charge to my awareness, over the noise of large rain drops heavily falling through the trees the multitude of bird song was being amplified celebrating the ending of the downpour. 

All of natures trophies were still on view, elderflower, bluebell and brightly coloured rhododendrons were highlighted against the green backdrop. An unknown path led me along a journey into a familiar place of contentment and serenity.  Even the noise of the major road only metres away from the park I was walking through did not discharge me from the anti-dote of the green drip that I was hooked up to in this natural hospital.

 

Green Medicine
 
So next time it rains, don’t stay putting bets on the raindrops of the kitchen window. Don’t retreat inside your hood masking all your senses apart from your inner thoughts. Don’t switch on the virtual outside world when you’re inside.  Open up the page of the Adventure Literacy manual that says ‘Rainy Days’, put on a coat and head outside and soak up the nature around you. Go and smell the rain, see the shimmering varnish of natures colour palette, taste the cleanliness of the air and remember the feeling of fulfilment of that #walkintherain.

Spread the # be part of natures revolution and encourage others to race outside when it rains next time. What do they say ‘ no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’ ! What’s the worst that can happen – nature made skin waterproof – coincidence or clever planning?

One thing I did discover on my way round the park today was a natural rescue remedy for the teenage boyfriend. Mother natures way of providing appropriate sized rain protection devices.

  

Your contribution to The Natural Revolution

Walking along the beach for the first time for far too long a period between salt intakes had a different feel. Usually there are children in tow and even adults to consider, but this time I was surrounded by excited children, but they were not my responsibility. 

White sands or Porth Mawr in Pembrokeshire has always had a special place in my heart and the perfect place to re-invigorate and inject salt back into the system. However as I strolled across the sand and between the rocks and seaweed my Outdoor eyes and child-like character imerged and thoughts came to “Wow look at that rock pool!”.  

 

Reverting back to childhood I became excited about the contents of what might lurk beneath the surface and hidden under the blanket of weed. Looking around the beach there were dads doing the same, digging frantically to create a water system that would flow as the tide came in and fill the moat. Basic physics and understanding of natural environment. Balancing and moving smoothly over the barnacle mats stretched out on the rocks, beckoning to the little timid slow moving person behind. In control of the kite zooming back and fro up and down spinning and turning whilst explaining the fundamentals of wind direction and aerodynamics. Mum telling the story of how the jelly like blob turns into a dancing waving sea anemone when covered in water. 

As I watched these enthused adults introduce this new world to their children, it dawned on me how important the need for “The Nature Revolution” is to make our future generations appreciate the environment around them. Not only to find out that it has huge potential as a free wild playground but that the hidden benefits of emerseing themselves in this product would benefit their health, education and well-being. 

As I walked through the rock gardens I heard a small boy ask his dad “which one is it that pops?” A small but fundamental fact about bladder-wrack (Fucus vesiculous – the original source of Iodine) that he would not have known if he’d not experienced the audible sounds of the seashore. As I scrambled over the exposed rocks I met a sister and brother about to enter into  a small cave. Shafts of sunlight danced across the ceiling like natural glitter, inspiring feelings of pirates and dragons. After a few metres they emerged back into the sunlight smiling and accomplished after their adventure.

  

It made me realise that “Yes”, we do need to show our next generation where they can taste, smell and hear the exciting new world which is not “screen-time”, and that innate gene which drives our Adventure Literacy is not yet bred out, it’s just dormant. As adults we need to facilitate and open the door to explore nature and then step back once the fuse has been lit and watch the explosion into “green-time” begin to work its magic.