Camping out in the wild may not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially with our unpredictable British weather threatening to deliver a soaking at any given moment. But, with us all living more hectic lives, sleeping under canvas can be one of the best ways to get away from it all. Spending time out in the countryside helps us slow things down to a more natural pace, whilst also teaching us to appreciate the simple things in life like brewing a cup of tea from water you’ve just boiled over your own campfire.
The National Trust is running the ’50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾’ campaign for the second year running, with the aim of getting kids involved with nature and the outdoors. On the 10th and 11th of August we hosted a Family Wild Camp which tried to capture this theme, with everyone getting a bit muddy and discovering their wild side. What better way to spend a weekend?
Six families joined us at Stowe Barton farm bedecked with sleeping mats, tents and wellies. With everyone lending a helping hand, the wild camp crew successfully made it to the chosen camping spot, 10 minutes walk away. The field soon acquired its own herd of multicoloured tents and everyone was able to take stock of their surroundings accompanied by a campfire brew.
With camp established the activities could begin. First up, den building in a copse of trees behind the old orchard, not quite a wilderness but its good to practice your survival skills before heading out into the wild! Being careful not to cut down existing trees, the den teams got to work with saws, loppers and secateurs, searching for suitable building materials amongst the tangle of undergrowth. Fern leaves were a firm favourite for providing roof cover and soft carpet material, whilst some teams got all ‘Grand Designs’, lining up old logs to create a seating area. Large branches previously cut by volunteer rangers were quickly snapped up, while other teams used existing trees as supporting posts and thinner branches as beams. Some dens had walls of weaved branches which melted into the surroundings while other teams leant their branches against a main beam or tree to make tepee and tent-like dens. All the finished dens looked amazing, each one different from the next!
Returning to the camp fire, the children were put to work mixing up camp fire dough to cook damper bread, also known as campfire twists to all you scouts out there! This is a seriously easy dough recipe, mixing self raising flour with a little salt, sugar and water and then wrapping it around a hazel stick, stripped of its bark. These are then cooked over the embers of the fire until the dough is firm and sounds hollow when knocked. An excellent starter to a fine campfire stew cooked up by our volunteer rangers!
After dinner we got stuck into some outdoor crafting, making willow dream catchers to leave outside our tents to catch all the bad dreams. I’m not sure who enjoyed this more, the children or adults but an amazing selection of dream catchers appeared around camp. The craft session was interrupted briefly by a rainy interlude as everyone ran for cover in the heaviest rain shower of the evening.
To finish off the evening, Sarah, one of our rangers with a penchant for bats, took us around the woodland edges where we saw and heard common and soprano pipistrelle bats swooping for midges and small flies. We were also lucky enough to hear some tawny owls calling in the distant countryside.
Exhausted from an afternoon of fresh air, and leaving the moth trap running overnight to see what moths were out and about, people then slowly trickled off to their sleeping bags, leaving a few stragglers around the campfire.
Campers awoke to a beautiful, blue skied morning with the smell of bacon wafting about. After breakfast the bright eyed and bushy tailed amongst the group got stuck into some wild art, using flowers and leaves to make natural paints to create postcards. Those still adjusting to the world enjoyed another round of tea!
A lot of the inspiration for the event came from the ’50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾’ campaign so each of the children were given ‘50 things’ scrapbooks to tick off activities as they did them. Check out www.50things.org.uk to find out more and download the full list. Ticking off number 31, we spent the remainder of the morning hunting for bugs, catching butterflies, grasshoppers and ground beetles and examining them carefully before setting them loose again.
Everyone seemed to have a great time, camping out surrounded by the woods and the rangers always love building a fire of some sort! Make sure you keep your eyes open for next year’s event. Watch this space!
Tom Sparkes, Ranger