Tynedale: Leading children into a world of adventure
Published at 07:42, Wednesday, 06 February 2013
We broke fresh trails through the drifts like Algonquin Indians, feeling like lone adventurers on an otherwise empty landscape.
We created our own mini-version of the Cresta run and rocketed at a rate of knots down the – whoa, that’s steep! – hillside.
We body-surfed through the snow-hole we’d just built, shrieking with glee as we shot out of the bottom.
And in doing so, we helped push back the ever shrinking parameters of childhood.
This is the National Trust in the 21st century, its staff learning new means of enticing youngsters back into the great outdoors with a series of family fun days this year.
“People don’t realise we are one of the biggest landowners in the country,” said its Hadrian’s Wall countryside manager, Eric Wilton.
“As such, there is a lot we can do to give people more access to the countryside and, in particular, help children reconnect with their natural environment.”
A report, Natural Childhood, written by naturalist, author and TV producer Stephen Moss and published by the National Trust, charts years of academic research into the reasons our children have lost touch with the natural world.
It makes for dramatic – and depressing – reading. One recent survey revealed two-thirds of parents now believe their children have less freedom to roam than free-range chickens.
On average, Britain’s children watch more than 17 hours of television a week; that’s almost 2.5 hours a day, every single day of the year.
They also spend more than 20 hours a week online, mostly on social networking sites.
As children grow older, their ‘electronic addictions’ increase. Those aged 11-15 spend about 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen, in other words half their waking lives.
In a single generation, children’s radius of activity – the area around their home where they are allowed to roam unsupervised – has shrunk by 90 per cent.
In 1971, 80 per cent of seven and eight-year-olds walked to school, often alone or with their friends; today fewer than 10 per cent do, and almost all of them accompanied by parents.
Running errands used to be a way of life; yet today, two out of three ten-year-olds have never been to a shop or park by themselves.
And the end result of these restrictions? An increasingly recognised syndrome termed Nature Deficit Disorder.
It encapsulates, say psychologists, the human cost of alienation from nature and the rising number of physical and emotional illnesses afflicting young people nowadays.
Some of the statistics that had particular resonance with the National Trust included the fact that fewer than 10 per cent of children regularly play in wild places, compared to almost half a generation ago.
And children spend so little time outdoors that they are unfamiliar with some of our commonest wild creatures.
A survey in 2008 found a third could not identify a magpie and half could not tell the difference between a bee and a wasp, yet 90 per cent could identify a Dalek.
Stephen Moss said: “We have all seen the headlines about the decline in children’s play in the outdoors.
“We all know the benefits being outdoors can bring, and as parents we want our children to spend more time outdoors than they do.
“But despite this overwhelming evidence and the different initiatives and schemes run by organisations across the UK, our kids are spending less and less time in the outdoors.
“The time to act is now, whilst we still have a generation of parents and grandparents who grew up outdoors and can pass on their experience.
“Organisations that have an interest in this area, whether working in our towns and cities or in the countryside, have to connect what they are doing and commit to a long-term approach that really makes a difference.”
In a two-pronged approach, the National Trust is running a campaign entitled ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ (suggestions include eat blackberries in the wild, skim a stone, fly a kite, build a raft, set up a snail race, dam a stream and feed a bird from your hand) and providing the means of interesting and adventurous days out for all the family.
Snowshoeing, which is thought to have developed in the wintry wastes of central Asia 6,000 years ago – and therefore one of man’s earliest inventions – falls into the latter category and is just one of the activities on offer in Tynedale.
Bushcraft days at Allen Banks, exploring the mines at Nenthead, climbing at Crag Lough near Hadrian’s Wall, cycling, pond dipping, canyoning ... the list goes on.
Many of those adventures are led by Pinpoint Adventure, aka father and son team Ian and Tom Hopper, on behalf of the National Trust.
A retired teacher (much of his career was spent at Haydon Bridge High School) and one of Britain’s relatively few holders of the International Mountain Leader qualification, Ian said: “Why would you want to spend the day indoors when you can be out here?
“Why wouldn’t you want to go snowshoeing!”
And with that, the trusty band of National Trust staff – with me in tow – learned how to strap on the contraptions that would prevent us sinking up to our knees in snow.
In its day, the snow shoe was as important to Canada’s Athabascan, Iroquois and Algonquin Indians as the wheel was in warmer climes.
The first white people to make use of them were the French when they colonised the St Lawrence area in the 1600s.
And we were the first people to use them in Hadrian’s Wall country – last Friday.
“Don’t expect to get too far today,” said Ian. “Even seasoned walkers find they only cover around a third to half the distance they usually do in a day.
“But it’s great fun and certainly a good way to keep fit.
“You use poles as well, so it gives a full body workout – an 11 stone person burns around 500 calories an hour on snowshoes, 45 per cent more than walking at the same speed.”
He was right. It is good fun and my muscles know they’ve had a thorough workout. Now I’m off to weigh myself ...
l The vagaries of snowfall being what they are, would-be participants need to register their interest with the National Trust and then wait for the green light. They can do so by contacting Cressida Thompson on (01434) 321888.
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk