Water Orton Primary School prioritise the outdoors…

I hope everyone enjoyed April Fool’s day, I certainly did, my favourite stunt by far being that of the Guardian’s Official Royal Wedding blog that posted: 10.11am: BREAKING: Royal wedding OFF. More as we get it.

You can find loads more here:


Anyhow it’s gone 12 now so back to more important business! A few months ago, at the very start of the campaign in fact I visited a primary school just outside Birmingham; Water Orton Primary School. I totally enjoyed my day at Water Orton, we did all sorts of activities, we learnt how to make 2 different types of bird feeder, I discovered how webcams and nature go hand in hand, and perhaps most importantly I was relieved that children can and do still run around outside, having fun in the trees!

Kate MacRae is a multitasker that’s for sure. As well as juggling the role of teacher and head o IT at the school she also works as an education consultant for Simon King’s new project Wildlife Whisperer, an educational resourse of sorts, aimed at helping reconnect children with the outdoors. (For Wildlife Whisperer interview click here). Both Kate and the headteacher Carl Lewis work tirelessly to help invest a relationship between children and the outdoors by thinking of creative, collective ideas, such as hut building and amphi theatre performances, to inspire their students. It really was like being in my dream school!

*Special Message for Water Orton Primary School Staff and Students:
Thank you so very much for letting me visit your wonderful school, I hear that you may have some blue tits thinking of nesting next to you live camera! Exciting. Watch the video and let me know what you think by clicking on the ‘comment’ button below!

To find out more about what’s going on in Water Orton Primary school visit they’re cool interactive website: www.waterortonprimary.co.uk

Check out Kate MacRae’s website and watch her amazing bushnell footage www.wildlifekate.co.uk

Plus Kate tells me that they have some great materials and lots of live feeds to all sorts of great wildlife appearing on the Wildlife Whisperer site also, to visit click www.wildlifewhisperer.tv

Guest blog: Walk with history or step into the virtual world of geocaching…

A huge thanks to Jake for his fantastic-al blog, I am now totally inspired and will be digging out my old caterpillar kite and heading to the hills. Next to the stage is Steve Falvey from the Boudicca Way, in his blog he shares with us some of England’s best kept secrets.

So, recent research tells us that many of us are losing touch with the ‘great outdoors’ but at the same time we know that outdoor activities, such as going for a short walk, helps to improve our quality of life, health and wellbeing. I believe many of us need an added incentive to get outside and that’s one of the reasons I got involved with the Boudicca Way Project.
You’ve probably never heard of the Boudicca Way in South Norfolk. It’s a long distance footpath, but don’t let that put you off, because it’s much more than that. A voluntary community and small business led project has been formed here to create a sustainable tourism offer and encourage greater access to a relatively unknown unspoilt and beautiful part of the English countryside.

The area surrounding the Boudicca Way stretches from the city of Norwich through rural landscapes down to the Diss in the Waveney Valley on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. It’s scenic, untamed beauty, with miles of meadows, clean air, big Norfolk skies and abundant wildlife is inspirational. As well as walking, the area offers a host of opportunities to improve your health and fitness, such as cycling, running, walking, horse riding, bird watching, canoeing and angling – whilst enjoying the natural environment, scenery and wildlife.

If you’re into history, there’s plenty to keep you interested along the route. The Way is named after the legendary warrior Queen of the Iceni , whose tribes once inhabited the area and sites of interest include a Roman town at Caistor St Edmund, a hill fort, Roman villa, WWII American airforce museum and many historically important buildings, such as Saxon and Norman round tower churches.

If history’s not your thing, and you’re looking for something new and free to try, why not have a go at Geocaching? The basic idea is to locate hidden containers of treasure, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Find out more at http://www.boudiccaway.co.uk/geocaching

Norfolk has a vibrant and growing local food and drink industry with 100’s of small producers. You’ll find many excellent farm shops, farmers markets and pubs and restaurants in the area who serve up delicious, locally produced food – the perfect reward after a walk to build up your appetite!

So, there’s more fun to be had in the ‘great outdoors’ than you may think. Why not visit http://www.boudiccaway.co.uk to find out how easy it is to get to, find out more, plan your trip and come and have a great time in a beautiful part of the world that we’d love to share with you?

Steve Falvey.

Karen Wittaker guest blog: a fresh look at the National Trust

Afternoon all. I wanted to share Karen Wittaker’s story with you today, a complete convert! Gone are her days of chit chatting at the office watercooler (just to grab that extra bit of exercise) now Karen spends her time out and about on the South Downs, soon to become a National Park don’t you know, what’s more she invited me down to the area to show me what Saddlescombe farm and the surrounding area are doing to help reconnect people with the outdoors.

I’d like to tell you my story about how my perception of the National Trust has changed and how I see the Great Outdoors as my new favorite place to be. Already a keen power kiter and lover of picnics and kayaking, but I soon discovered a whole new aspect to the countryside.

Although I knew about the National Trust before I joined them. Of course it’s a well-loved organisation; those nice people who look after big country houses and have lots of tea and cake on offer in their tea-rooms. I didn’t think I would be part of it and putting one of their nice car stickers in my car window – well not yet anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I had visited plenty of their historic houses and yes, I had had a very enjoyable day out. But little did I know what amazing places, spaces, walks, talks and events they offered in the countryside.

There was so much happening on my doorstep that I didn’t know about.

Like most people I worked in an office, a very groovy one in Brighton, but redundancy came along and my life was about to change. I was working in communications for the Arts Council writing for the web and e-newsletters and knew I wanted to try something different and get out of the office environment.

I found out more about the National Trust when I applied for a role as a ‘Web developer and assistant countryside warden’. The last part sounded really fun!

I got the job and started project managing the new pages for the countryside sites. I met all the wardens and listened to what they were offering on the 628 hectares of open access land from East to West Sussex. I wrote about the cycling, walking, talks and events, together with great education activities that they offered. Their days are packed, they are experts at looking after the land, woodlands and cattle. In addition to writing about the countryside, Graham Wellfare, the Senior warden soon had me herding sheep and Llamas up the hill, riding across the South Downs on the back of a quad bike or ‘hoovering’ the Dyke!

This was more like it. What a great days work!

Working at one of the most beautiful places on the south coast (I may be a little biased!) Saddlescombe Farm was such a change. I didn’t even know the farm existed and it is only seven miles from Brighton. Memories of office life soon faded, even making tea was different, filling up the kettle for tea in the old Tudor kitchen, rather than the nice pink carpeted glass walled office.

When I read about Leni and Outdoor Nation I couldn’t wait to invite her to come to the South Downs to see for herself how much fun could be had here. She was soon enjoying it as much as I do. Zorbing down the hill (in a giant blow up hamster ball), flying over the downs and hearing about the high adrenalin activities on offer like mountain boarding, cycling, kayaking and power kiting. But it’s not all about sports there are fabulous places for all to enjoy, take a stroll with a picnic and just admire the views.

The National Trust are really moving with the times, with facebook, twitter, flicker, blogs and new web site pages, there are loads of ways to find out more and get involved – be sure to keep an eye on what’s going on near you. Remember, spending time in the countryside is free, fun and healthy.

Sussex University students hit the hill for some outdoor volunteering.

During my visit to the South East I spent a good amount of time at Saddlecombe Farm, a charming National Trust property outside Brighton. There I met so many wonderful and committed people including senior warden Graham Wellfare who kindly invited me along to a volunteering project he had arranged at Fulking.

And what a breath of fresh air the whole experience was. Around 75 young volunteers from the neighbouring University of Sussex piled out of a huge coach and seemed ready for action. Graham mentioned that in fact 75 volunteers could get more work done in a day than 10 trained men  with chain saws, so in fact the volunteers’ work on the day was priceless. What’s more it seems that some time, out and about in nature, really did the students some good, particularly the sports teams that focused on working on their team skills.

Please watch the video below and leave your comments: Are you a volunteer in the outdoors? Why and where do you volunteer? Is it really worth it?

Are we losing touch with the Outdoors? Rob Sayers of Active Outdoors tackles the question…

Next my Outdoor Nation journey takes me to the South East. Over the next week I will be uploading all of my adventures in the area however to kick start my South East week with a fascinating blog post written by Rob Sayers from Kent who runs a fantastic website http://www.activeoutdoors.info
Active Outdoors provides ideas, information and inspiration on fun outdoor activities and adventure for young people.
Active Outdoors helps you to find something to do or somewhere to go that suits your mood, whether you want fun, action, or to just be chillin’.

So I put our key campaign question to Rob: Are we losing touch with the outdoors?

Why should the urban population bother going out into the countryside. What is the point? How can the nation be encouraged to look after the environment they live in when they don’t necessarily value it? If the nation isn’t aware of what things they can do outdoors, where can they find out?
It’s an amazing world out there, and getting the nation back in touch with nature can be achieved by a simple approach. Promote the awe and wonder of nature, and show people of every age how they can have fun outdoors. People are driven by the “feel good factor.” I don’t want to know the facts, I want to be inspired by being shown things such as how it can be exhilarating to tear downhill through woods on a mountain bike and where I can do it.
If people don’t see the point in going out into the countryside, outdoor opportunities need to be brought into the urban landscape. Everyone should have access to an outdoor recreation area that is within twenty minutes from their front door. This requires focussed investment to provide communities with the right sort of outdoor places for all ages to enjoy. Once the population is able to conveniently spend more time outdoors being able to have fun, they will begin to appreciate it more. They will then travel further a field to experience more of what the outdoors has to offer. Over time, this appreciation will grow into valuing these outdoor resources. Only then will the nation really begin to want to look after it.
There are three distinct age groups that need to be addressed in different ways. Under ten year olds primarily experience the outdoors through their parents taking them out. Significant investment has provided playgrounds and kids activities. Nature trails, treasure hunts, playgrounds and hands-on nature displays provide a lot of interest at National Trust properties and on Forestry Commission land.
18s and over not only want fun, but also actively consider the health aspects of the outdoors. They have the money and the transport to get out of the city and get to places where outdoor activities are on offer.
The urban ten to eighteen year old age group has fallen into a huge gap in outdoor investment and the early years investment is lost. Unless they go on trips provided by their parents or go to a club, teens have a bit of a challenge finding outdoor things to do where they live that don’t cost. Playgrounds tend to be for little kids. Also, they don’t know where to find out about what opportunities are on offer. So, what else can you do except hang around on the streets and create your own kind of fun, which may not be productive. What they need is somewhere safe to hang out (teen shelters are great for this), and to have access to facilities such as multi use games areas. To get 10 to 18 year olds outdoors you need to promote the fun and thrill of outdoor activities. They are primarily focussed on their image and having a good laugh. It is the “feel good” factor that is important to them.
The natural outdoors needs to be brought into the urban landscape in the form of a community area that has something for all, such as demonstrated by Bryant Park in New York. Places to play, ping pong, concerts, free wifi, an outdoor library, games boards, tennis courts…
Outdoor fitness can be provided not only in the traditional forms of sports pitches and tennis courts, but woodland cycle paths, trim trails, and outdoor gyms such as in Eltham Park London and Brighton.
How about visible role models? Richard Branson loves kite surfing, but what outdoor pursuits do Cheryl Cole or Robert Pattinson do? How about an early evening inspirational TV series mixing the amazing cinematography of Planet Earth, with the enthusiasm of Deadly 60, and a plethora of fun outdoor activities that make viewers say “I want to have a go at that!”
We need to show the nation the natural world not only as a thing of wonder and beauty, but as a huge playground where fun and adventure can be had in a vast number of ways.

Rob Sayers: Active Outdoor

A huge thank you to Rob for his blog post, but what do you think?

Do you agree? Please leave your comments below.

Rob was also keen for me to show you two of his favourite mountain biking videos to inspire us, enjoy…
Mountain biking in the urban landscape by Danny MacAskill (Now sponsored by Red Bull)

This could lead on to North Shore Mountain Biking in forests:

GP Dr William Bird tells us why the outdoors is so good for us!

A few weeks ago I met up with GP and Strategic Health Advisor Dr William Bird to discuss the importance of the outdoors in our lives today.

I asked Dr Bird some tricky questions about the real health benefits, what more the National Trust can do and the role of a GP in helping reconnect people with the outdoors.

I apologise in advance for the poor lighting and indoor location of the video – but Dr Bird’s words are crystal clear.

Tell us what you think. Should GPs be encouraged to prescribe the outdoors as a treatment? Leave your comments below.

A truly multi-sensory experience: Hive Beach Cafe: Burton Bradstock

For those of you that watched my Jurassic Coast videos, here is an extra little treat, an interview with Graham rom the award winning Hive Beach Cafe: Burton Bradstock.

I can say, from personal experience, the food at the Hive Beach Cafe is fantastical, and came as a welcome break halfway through my action packed adventure on the Jurassic Coast with Ben Dames.  It’s just a shame that youtube doesn’t have a ‘smellivision’ setting – because the aroma in the indoor-outdoor cafe was just irresistable.

From my point of view, having a good pit stop is an important part of my enjoyment o the outdoors, I’m always keen to return to places where all of my senses are catered for. In this case, the dramatic views of the towering cliffs of Burton Bradstock, the feel of the salty sea breeze in my hair, the sound of waves crashing, the muddled aroma of the sea and freshly cooked fish and of course the taste of a good honest helping of ish and chips! Heaven!

But that’s just me – what about you?

Should we be encouraging a multi sensory experience in the outdoors? Are cafes close to beautiful countryside spots a blessing or a disaster for outdoor lovers? Are newcomers to the outdoors more likely to visit a spot they know has a familier eating spot? Please post your comments below…