Being outside is good for us, and the benefits of access to green spaces have been explored in numerous studies. It’s been shown that hospital patients recover more quickly if they have a view of trees from their window; that regular contact with the natural environment can reduce stress, obesity and heart disease; that living in an area with plenty of trees can reduce asthma.
Being outside and having contact with nature can make us happy and increase our wellbeing. So, given all this evidence that being outdoors is good for you, it makes sense to get ourselves – and our kids – outside as much as possible.
An ongoing National Trust campaign aims to do just that, by getting kids off the sofa and into the great outdoors.
Their list – ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ – includes classic childhood pursuits such as climbing trees (number 1), kite-flying (number 7) and playing conkers (number 10), along with more adventurous activities like canoeing down a river (number 50).
According to a report commissioned by the National Trust, fewer than one in 10 children regularly play outside in wild places, and a third of children have never climbed a tree. The reasons given include safety worries due to increased traffic, less green spaces for children to play in and more time spent watching TV or playing computer.
Out and about in the Peaks
Visitors to the Peak District are spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoor activities. Going for a walk in the country is a great way to get the whole family out in the fresh air – and the Peak is an ideal holiday destination for walkers – but what do you do when you have reluctant kids in tow?
One way to make a walk more enticing for children is to try a spot of geocaching (www.geocaching.com). Geocaching is a sort of treasure hunt, following clues and directions to find a hidden “treasure” – there are thousands of them all over the UK. In the Peak District, there are hundreds of hidden caches – including at Lathkill, Monsal Dale and Robin Hood’s Stride.
When you locate a geocache, you’ll find a small container holding a notepad and pencil (to log your find) and often a small prize to take away. This is unlikely to be anything of great value – a pair of pearl earrings, say – but we have found marbles, toy cars and bead necklaces. You must replace the prize with an item of equal value – and of course if you don’t want it, you can always leave it for the next treasure-hunter to find.
Geocaching is on the National Trust’s list of recommendations (number 49), but when out geocaching – or just out for a walk in the countryside – it would be almost impossible not to tick off a few more along the way. How about roll down a really big hill (2), play pooh sticks (19) or pick blackberries growing in the wild (21)? And if the weather turns really bad while you’re out and about, you can always tick off number 6: run around in the rain!
Rivers, lakes and streams
Getting wet, even if it’s not raining, is always a popular pastime for children – and getting wet is almost guaranteed when canoeing. To learn the skills needed to tick off number 50 on the National Trust’s list, try a canoeing or kayaking course at Carsington Water or Tittesworth Reservoir.
A picnic beside a river or stream can offer paddling of a different kind, and perhaps an opportunity to tick off number 5 (skim a stone), number 8 (catch a fish with a net) or number 14 (dam a stream). Dovedale, with its wonderful stepping stones, and Padley Gorge are great places to paddle.
Check out the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s programme of events – activities may include butterfly hunts (number 31), pond dipping (35) or identifying animal tracks (34). See www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk for a full list of events. Or try the wildlife related events at Natural England’s nature reserves (www.naturalengland.org.uk).
You could, of course, visit one of the National Trust properties in and around the Peak, where organised events offer families a chance to try something new. The Longshaw Estate and Hardwick Hall offer regular family-friendly activities.
Number 11 on the list is “go on a really long bike ride”. At first glance, the Peak District – with all those hills – doesn’t seem an ideal child-friendly cycling destination. Not so. There are miles of safe, traffic-free cycling trails to explore in the national park.
The Monsal Trail is a flat route along a disused railway line that goes through several tunnels en route from Bakewell to Wyedale, near Buxton. Bikes can be hired from Hassop Station, near Bakewell (www.hassopstation.co.uk). Or try the Tissington Trail, from Parsley Hay to Ashbourne, that takes in the picturesque village of Tissington, with its fabulous 17th-century hall (and wonderful tea room). Bikes are available to hire from the Peak District National Park Authority (www.peakdistrict.gov.uk) at the southern end of the trail just outside Ashbourne.
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Fun for free
You don’t have to travel far to have fun outside, though: many of the suggested activities are easy to do in your back garden or local park. How about making a mud pie (13), setting up a snail race (17), making a grass trumpet (25) or go star gazing (27)?
And you shouldn’t restrict yourself to the National Trust’s list, either – there are lots of other outside activities to try. Why not hug a tree, create a leaf maze or watch the sun setting? The great thing about many of these ideas is that, as well as being fun, they’re also completely free!
The Peak District’s hills, woodlands and open spaces provide plenty of opportunities for exploration, so pack up a picnic, pull on your wellies and get out there!
For the complete list of 50 Things to do before you’re 11¾, visit www.50things.org.uk
Little Green Space January 2016