By: Blonde Two
During the Beast from the East’s last visit we Devon belles did eventually managed to squeeze a centimetre of snow out of our Devon skies. To celebrate I went for a quick early morning walk in my local copse, and was reminded of my childhood search for Narnia. I hope I’m not the only person who spent a significant amount of time huddled next to fuzzy clothing at the back of her Mum’s wardrobe (surely not). I’m too big for the wardrobe (the cupboard not the clothes) now but I did find myself keeping an eye out for Mr and Mrs Beaver as I wandered.
Walks with children
This got me thinking about how brilliant children’s stories are for encouraging a bit of outdoor exploration. I often used to roam the Malvern Hills in search of the adventures I had read about in books. Sadly for me it was impossible to find either Cair Paravel (a citadel in Narnia) or Kirrin Island (loved by the Famous Five) as they were both by the sea. However I did find plenty of smugglers’ lairs (Malvern actually has these) and possibly Watership Down locations.
With all that in mind I thought I’d take a look at a few of my favourite children’s books and how they could help us all add a splash of imaginary exploration to walks with children.
Famous Five on a Treasure Island – Enid Blyton
To be honest, when I was young I could have found flavours of Famous Five on almost any of my walks. I loved the books, had the whole collection, and read all of them many times. Some suggest that Kirrin Island is Corfe Castle, which means you’re in luck if you live in Dorset. However, most strolls by the coast, or indeed any lake, lough, llyn or loch can conjure up smuggler stories, and discussions about which island is the most suitable for hiding treasure.
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Most of us were expected, at some point in their childhood, to enjoy a walk around a formal garden. I may have been unusual in that I actually did (and still do) enjoy these landscapes. By far my favourite though are still walled gardens. There is something magical about being so enclosed in an open space. It doesn’t take a huge step in imagination to start wondering where the secret doors are, or if a garden can really have magical restorative powers. These days, just like Mary, I take even greater pleasure in discovering a space that was once a garden. There’s a secret garden just like this down the road from me, I can view it through an archway, and the bird song emanating from it is definitely the stuff magical tales are made of.
Why the Whales Came – Michael Morpurgo
This beautiful book had a profound impact on me. It wasn’t one of my childhood obsessions, and introduced to me by Blonde One shortly after I had visited the island of Bryher for the first (and so far only) time. The Isles of Scilly have a mystical rhythm to them anyway, and Michael Morpurgo’s story Why the Whales Came really picks up on that. When it comes to exploring, well few of us have access to such beautiful islands and the possibility of Narwahls but leaving secret messages with a handful of stones can be fun anywhere.
The Chalet School Series – Elinor M Brent Dyer
As a pre-teenager the Chalet School books (another set I owned and read in its entirety) formed almost completely my opinions on what my adult life was going to be like. I was going to live by a lake in Austria, stride up mountains, marry a man who liked axes, and have at least six children (I named them all and hid the piece of paper somewhere long-since forgotten). As life itself is possibly the ultimate exploration experience, I have included the books in this list. As things turned out I did eventually visit the Tyrol, marry a man who (as it turned out) does like axes, and find myself enjoying walking (perhaps not striding) up mountains. One ambition that changed quite quickly after baby number two however was the ambition to have six. I stopped at three.
Dart the River – Me
Obviously a book that I wrote myself in adulthood couldn’t have been a formative element in my childhood but I think Dart the River, and my other two children’s books, are all a reflection on my childhood love for imaginary exploration. In truth this love never really left me. I still conjure up stories from my hammock, and talk to sea monsters as I swim, and all three books were written to encourage exploration on Dartmoor. The Dartmoor Christmas Tree takes me to my favourite sunset spot, The non-story of Ignatius Bowerman sneaks me inside a famous Dartmoor story, and my favourite, Dart the River takes me on a journey from the lonely bog-ridden tops of Dartmoor right down to the genteel sophistication of Dartmouth.
We’ve seen a marked increase in orders for Dart the River during lockdown, and I like to think this is more to do with people’s yearn to explore than that fact that it ties in so nicely with the national curriculum topics around the water cycle. Whichever is true, at the moment you can order a copy from the Blonde shop, or from Amazon. You might never get up to the High Moor, or even swim beneath Dartmouth Castle, but we aren’t short of rivers in the UK, and all rivers tell stories.