Is it time to send children out for a walk on the wild side?

How much freedom did you have as kids?

I remember running about fields, climbing about rocks and fallen trees in steep glens, guddling in burns and hiding in woods. Only I’d kind of disregarded it as a foreign land or a distortion of my wishful imagination.

Then, this week, Supersister and I took our Walking Thursday to the village where we went to school. We followed paths up the steep glen, made it to the top of the hill in thick mist, round the back of the castle and back down beside the deep pools and rushing waterfalls.

It’s the first time I’d been back since I was a teenager and now I’ve got a son the same age I was when I first explored the banks of the Burns of Sorrow and Care. Supersister and I recalled the freedom of leaving after breakfast – often equipped with only a packed lunch and a cagoule – and not coming back until supper time, tired, filthy and often smelling of woodsmoke.

We found the deep cold pool where we idled summer afternoons leaping into the breathtaking water. Even the bank where we sunbathed was too steep for my taste now. “Blimey, I wouldn’t do that now,” said Supersister peering into the inky water, under the rope swing. Me neither.

Oddly, we both – decades on – feel a squirm of fear at the thought of exposing the places where we sneaked off to smoke illicit fags or, possibly, snog boys. If we hadn’t had the glorious freedom of the Ochil Hills would we have behaved ourselves? I very much doubt it.

Back then, running about and largely suiting ourselves was the normal, we didn’t question it. I think it was part of the reason our parents sent us there.

On the way down, with lunch in our sights, we started talking: “Would you let Baby G do that when he’s bigger?” “What about your boys? Boy One is the same age we were…” Interesting. Do we see the dangers – the drops, the water, the slippery and the hidden – more easily now as parents and grown-ups or have judgements of these things changed? It certainly wouldn’t be a comfortable decision to let our kids roam at large up there, but, really we’ll have to do it. Not, perhaps, there but to adult-free adventures and self reliance.

I remember solving the problems of crossing fast-flowing burns, keeping dry and warm, and finding the best place to spend an afternoon. Was it useful or were we just lucky not to come to grief? I’d like to think my boys would rather look back on a childhood of outside, of dens, rain and imagination than getting to the next level of Supermario. One day, just maybe, they’ll thank me.

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  1. says

    Excellent post! I think children really should be encouraged to go out into the great outdoors. I was kept very much under parental supervision when I was growing up (I'm 44) and although we had lots of walks in the woods and in nature reserves i was never allowed to climb trees, go exploring etc. I have grown up to love nature and go for lots of walks but i suspect that I wouldn't have such a problem with vertigo if my parents had let me climb around a lot more.

  2. says

    I think about this quite a lot as I grew up in the country (well, from 9) and I had lots of freedom to roam. Days out in the woods which were minutes from home. Getting up in the morning when they were cutting the grass in the fields and spending from after breakfast to bathtime building grass houses. The best was when we got on our bikes and cycled to 'the mizzy' which was part of the River Meon in Mislingford. Most bits were shallow enough for paddling, but some bits were pretty deep. Oh, here's a picture:

    We were sooo young to be doing that without adult supervision! But it was a blast and as far as I can remember no harm came to us at all even though we were primary age.

    However, if we stay urban, I don't suppose C will be allowed those kind of days out until she is a lot older. You hardly ever even see children that age in the playground without parents or nannies. I'd like to allow her the freedom to do stuff on her own (not now, she'd be clueless) but worry that as it seems so rare to see children on their own, that the ones who do are more vulnerable somehow than we were.

  3. says

    Juliet, I think climbing trees probably ought to be on the National Curriculum!

    Jo, I see your difficulty. We've said it before 100yds from your front door is a different planet to 100yds from mine. On the other hand, my kids might be able to build dens but they are very unstreetwise. C, on the other hand, can do crowds and public transport like a pro.

  4. says

    I firmly believe in children being able to play outdoors, as well as the health benefits it feeds their imaginations. We used to walk through cemeteries and K would be Scooby Doo and I would be Shaggy and together we would fight imaginary ghosts, walking through forest we would imagine fairies, pixies and elves.

    It was wonderful and, I think this is going to sound twee, but it fed our souls too, we always had a deep feeling of contentment after one of our outdoor adventures. Being outdoors really makes us feel alive

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