Adding outdoor adventure to the family mix
NOW summer’s finally here, it’s time to take your whole brood outdoors and create some lasting memories. Lisa Salmon is inspired by two adventure experts who have written The Family Guide to the Great Outdoors
THE electronic age, combined with an increasing tendency to wrap children in cotton wool, means kids are staying inside more than ever. But while hours spent playing on a computer or watching TV may keep kids entertained, there’s one thing for sure: electronic entertainment is not what childhood memories are made of.
Memories come from doing things like climbing trees, making dens, sitting round a campfire and generally having fun outdoors, say Charlie and Caroline Gladstone, who have written The Family Guide to the Great Outdoors to encourage more families to get out and about together. The married couple have picked up a wealth of knowledge about the great outdoors since they abandoned the London rat race when their first child was born more than 20 years ago, and moved to a farm in Kincardineshire. They now have six children, five dogs and six horses, and their children have been brought up to love the outdoor life.
They’ve learned all manner of outdoor skills that Charlie and Caroline share in the book, from building rafts and treehouses, to starting a campfire and cooking on it, and even skinning a rabbit. “Danger and fun have evaporated from normal life, but we brought our children up in the middle of nowhere in a very free way,” says Charlie.
“They were allowed to go off and play in rivers and climb trees, which is how I was brought up. “We think that’s had a profound effect on their confidence and their sense of who they are.” As well as information about outdoor living, the book includes advice on making weapons. Charlie’s great-great grandfather was the famous Victorian prime minister William Gladstone, who had a collection of hundreds of axes, which Charlie still treasures. He gives swinging and chopping advice in the book, after reminding readers never to forget how dangerous the tools are. He also explains how to make weapons including a potato cannon, bow and arrow, dart launcher and catapult, and says: “One of the theories we have is that if boys particularly were allowed to chop with axes, throw things, make weapons and light fires a bit more often, there’d be very little fighting in the street.
“Boys are naturally aggressive, and the wrong outlet for that is computer games or TV. If kids get out and run round, climb something and get really dirty, they’ll come in and be sweetness and light.” But Charlie, 49, stresses that just because his children – who are aged between 13 and 23 – have been brought up spending a lot of time outdoors, it doesn’t mean they don’t have TVs, iPads and computers. “Of course they do. We haven’t brought them up in a way that says outdoor fun is all they’re allowed. “But in a world full of ‘stuff’ and purchases, it’s nice to strip all that back and go for a sense of purity.” He says their outdoor fun is easily achievable partly because of where they live. But we’re not suggesting that children need to grow up in such a remote place – anybody can climb a tree, go for a long walk, swim in a river or cook on a campfire.” Many parents may appreciate the fun side of the outdoor life, but worry about the safety aspects. However, Charlie stresses that as a child he did “unbelievably reckless” things, such as jumping into a river in flood, with a rope tied to his waist at one end and to a tree at the other. “It was fine,” he insists, “and it removes an element of fear. “You can survive unbelievable things in life. Allowing your children to walk to school on their own for the first time in a city is much more risky than climbing a tree.
“You just have to apply common sense, and learn your limitations.” And while he acknowledges modern health and safety rules can have their place, he says, sometimes such rules can be “a nightmare”, which aren’t constructive or helpful. “Stopping children from doing some of these things doesn’t improve their life,” he insists. As well as explaining how to master outdoor skills, the guide suggests outdoor activities for families such as building rafts, dams, dens and tree houses, and making rope swings, smoke signals and even rose hip itching powder.
“You’d think kids would tire of outdoor games by the time they’re about ten,” says Charlie, “but if you add some real challenge and danger, they’ll enjoy them throughout their life.
“You need to be quite bossy with kids though and tell them, ‘We’re going to do it, tough’.”
He adds: “The best fun you can have in the world is sitting round a campfire with your kids. Given the opportunity, anyone can do these things – they’re completely free, and it terrifies me that more people don’t do them.”
• The Family Guide to the Great Outdoors by Charlie and Caroline Gladstone is published by Square Peg, priced £12.99