This past Saturday was Wild Night Out 2019, an initiative to get people together, outside for adventures big and small.
Travelling in ultra-lightweight style (we only carried four cricket stumps instead of the full compliment of six) Emma and I marched along the coast path, over the dunes and onto the vast sands of our beautiful coast for a perfect Wild Night Out 2019. And then the high-pitched whining started…
Last year Wild Night Out turned into "Snake Bite Adventure” and a trip to A & E. This year we went to the coast for some sandy fun on the assumption that having been stung by a weever fish last time I was here, there was no way it would happen again.
Travelling in ultra lightweight style (we only carried four cricket stumps instead of the full compliment of six) Emma and I marched along the coast path, over the dunes and onto the vast sands of our beautiful coast. We actually reached the beach a little before 6 pm when the heat of the day was pleasant. Swimming costume on and Emma was off, first splash-splashing in the shallow expanses left by the receding tide and then into the waves.
I think perhaps only hunger has the power to drag children from the unrestrained joys of the sea. So with the lure of peanut butter and jam sandwiches (what a day!) it was time to dry off.
Can I do this with my kids?
I was speaking to another parent the other day who said he would love to take his kids on such adventures but was worried as to how to keep them occupied and whether they might be bored.
On this crowded little island we seldom have space in our daily lives. We are in classrooms or offices, rooms, cars, streets, shops, always hemmed in, restricted and distracted by what is going on around us.
Distraction is a bit of a buzz word at the moment. Many people (myself included) are turning off social media because it feels like an unhealthy distraction and there is legitimate concern with many parents as to how to avoid an overload of "digital distraction" for their children. I think the constant need for “entertainment” is a by-product of this.
What I find outside is that if you train your eyes to look and see there is never any need to “create" entertainment. Look at plants, animals, bugs, what is happening around you or simply the shapes and colours in the land and you will be entertained, whatever the age.
I think Emma is like all other children her age. She likes cartoons and thinks that McDonalds is the height of culinary excellence. The reason I say this is because, although I talk a lot about us in the outdoors, she was not born with an innate love or interest in the wild. It took a little time and care (it still does) to keep her engaged and learning to look for things is perhaps the best way to do so.
We found a starfish, a million crabs and shells, the skeleton of a bird and the skull of what we assume was a baby rabbit. On Friday evening we spent five minutes looking at a stinky dead rabbit, its chewed remains covered in flies. Many people with think this weird (although they are probably not reading this blog) but it's not. It leads to conversation, some of it educational, some of silly and nonsensical, but who cares? How did it die? Who would eat that? What made that sound? Why is there no sea water here? Imagine if rabbits were the top of the food chain and hunted us...
As a parent it doesn't take much knowledge to be able to keep a child entertained. I like to think I have a fair bit of knowledge, but let’s be honest, Google knows better than me. What it does require is some interest.
Space creates entertainment
Space is another valuable resource. Space in and of itself creates entertainment, opening the mind and allowing the body to follow. If I ask my 7 year old daughter to run upstairs to get something she will baulk at the massive and unwarranted torture of the physical effort. If I asked her to run a mile across sand to the sea, she gets her head down and goes.
Emma is a passive child, without enormous amounts of energy so yesterday's 3 mile walk to our camping spot is still a chore but it is a great moment to plan other things, to create anticipation and to free the imagination. We talk about all the people who overtake us, what we will do when we get there, the promise of a proper fry up the next day.
The breeze dropped and the whining started
One of the main motivating factors this year was the chance to see shooting stars. Emma has never managed to keep her eyes open long enough on a summer night. This time, there was no restriction on bed time. We were bivvying so primed to stare at the stars until somnolence embraced us, side-by-side, staring into the dark starry abyss. The perfect end to a half-day adventure.
Perfect that is until the light started to fade around 10pm, the breeze dropped and the whining started. Not the whining of a 7 year old (an hour of walking, waves, running in the wind, plenty of sunshine and a full belly usually takes care of that), but rather the whining of hungry mosquitoes.
I have been to this spot a fair few times and it never crossed my mind that this might be a problem. Obviously I am an absolute rookie because we ended up hunkered underneath our sleeping bags, boiling hot, faces hidden from these blood-thirsty flies.
Occasionally the wind would pick up and we would come up for air. It was a horrid night’s sleep.
I am writing this on Monday morning and Emma is at school with a massive bindi-style mozzy bite in the middle of her forehead. Our ankles and elbows suffered a similar fate. We rose, tired and weary on Sunday morning, and stumbled to the pub for breakfast where our grins returned.
Yes, I should have taken a tent instead of a cricket set. But an adventure is an adventure, right? It is not always supposed to go smoothly.
As always if you do choose to go out and camp in the wild make sure you respect the environment, the plants and the wildlife for whom it is home. And remember to leave not trace.