“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
I built my long term love of just being outdoors simply playing around the the places where I was growing up. Climbing trees, roller skating, den making, breaking into building sites… More distant adventures were had, but they were special. This blog is about the everyday adventures that start just outside your front door. And be warned this is a bit more of a personal blog – but I do include a good few references to thinkers and researchers too, to bring it back to I hope something useful if you are trying to make the case to increase walking with children or families where you live or work.
We moved quite a lot through my childhood and teenage years – Yorkshire, N Wales, Liverpool, Cheshire and Baghdad*. Then post college (in London), I had eight more addresses from the Highlands of Scotland to Exeter before I was 32 and finally ‘settled’ here in Hackney. Moving so often, playing and exploring outdoors was an important way for me to get to know my neighborhood, to put down roots quickly, to feel safe and known, to make friends with both other children (and later adults!) and the lady that ran the corner shop (insert coffee shop!).
Research from a number of sources** shows children and families are safer and feel far more ‘connected’ where they are outdoors in their own places more and know their neighbours. Living in relatively car free areas massively increases connectivity. Whatever, from experience I’d agree that the more time you spend meandering and really looking at your neighbourhood, the more connected and safer you feel. And that still holds however old you are.
In the course of the last few months developing the Hackney Wild Walks with the good folks of Hackney’s Public Health team, and taking professionals for workshops and treasure hunts around some of the secret spaces across the borough has reminded me so strongly how very, very important it is for all of us to simply walk where we live. to feel it in all its seasons.
Yesterday I needed to visit a shop in Haggerston, about a mile from my flat, so instead of zipping there on my bike and decided to go in a #HackneyWildWalk headspace and see what I could find…
One of my favourite pastimes in Hackney is spotting new graffiti. The world is constantly changing. It doesn’t matter how often you go down a path, it is always different. That applies just as much to the built as the growing environment. That’s one of the many benefits parents and educators mention about simply going outdoors – there is simply so much more to talk about!
Stik is a famous local graffiti artist – but this is the biggest piece of his I’ve seen.
Even walking along side streets of an inner city borough on a dull October day you can find beautiful flowers, and I was happy to spot this cornflower, one of my favourites.
Growing up partly in the Middle East, it makes me very happy to see trees like this so close to home! When I’m doing the walk with children these provide a great talking point too.
And curious signs! The British sense of humour is visible in so many tucked away spaces, always nice to see!
Urban walks always have a bench to sit, drink your coffee, and watch the world go by.
Then homeward bound…
There are so many trees to see, plants of all shapes and sizes, animals and birds to both see and hear. This morning – on the way to early yoga – I think I heard a nightingale. Need to check that on my app… but not until I’ve smelt the earth a little longer.
Playing, exploring and simply observing where we live – and chatting to folks on the way, something most people seem to welcome if done with a smile, though the dog helps! – are critical not just to our health, but to our sense of who we are in the place we live. So do try and make space for a wild walk in the next week or so – even if it is just a walk to the shops! And if you fancy connecting virtually then tag your photo #OutdoorPeople or #HackneyWildWalks!
Enjoy the outdoors fellow #outdoorpeople!
*Baghdad is where my dad was – he was making sure all the good folks of Iraq had drinking water coming out of their taps in case you wondered. It was a beautiful country with gorgeous people, food and music. I was a kid, out there with mum and brother most school holidays and didn’t much notice the politics – except we just weren’t allowed to discuss the man on photos in every room and every street corner. We went to Babylon, Nineva and Ur. Places redolent with history. Nothing like seeing 60 year old German graffiti on the side of 3000 year old walls to make a girl interested in exploring…
** research including
Driven To Excess: A Study of Motor Vehicle Impacts on Three Streets in Bristol UK (2008) by Joshua Hart- building on seminal San Francisco study, showing people living on quieter streets have more friends and neighbourhood contacts)
Children and the Big society (2011) – ground breaking report commissioned by Action for Children from Respublica. The report outlines how greater social capital – more friends and connections – keeps kids safer
Kith (2013) by Jay Griffiths – broad sweeping and deep book, with a strong thread about children’s affinity to their kith, that is their community and place.