Monday, 7 September 2015

Wild child: My best outdoor memories

Anybody who knows me or follows me on Instagram on Twitter will know I'm a real nature girl. I love being outdoors and so do Cherry and Violet, and we all spend a great proportion of our time together outside.

Last week my lovely friend Lucy published her new book 30 Days of Rewilding, a really beautiful and inspiring guide to helping families reconnect with nature. Please do go and buy it, I promise you will not regret it!

I wanted to honour Lucy and her fantastic book by sharing my own best memories of a childhood spent outdoors. At the risk of sounding like a middle-class cliche (which at the end of the day is what I am!) I was always outside as a kid and I really think nature played a huge part in the way I was raised. My brother and I always had lots of freedom to roam and explore and as a pony-mad kid the thought of a day - god, even an HOUR - inside when I could be out running wild and free was just unthinkable.

It makes my heart glow now when I see Cherry and Violet in nature, playing little games and doing the sort of things I used to do and I think everybody who spent time outdoors used to do - making potions and perfumes and soups and salads, climbing trees, hiding in bushes or dens, paddling in streams, looking for bugs and insects, brandishing sticks, collecting stones and eating blackberries and wild plums and cherries and the occasional oh god I don't quite know what that was!

When I look at this list I want to laugh and cry at the same time, because even though these memories only date back 25-30 years it already feels like a simpler, more innocent time. I just wish I had photos but of course, this all happened way before the days of mobile phones, camera phones, and even digital cameras. Wow. That's made me feel old!

When I was young I read somewhere that if you walked around barefoot enough the skin on your feet would harden and you'd be able to walk over any surface without shoes. I loved this idea and spent ages walking around barefoot in the hope of developing those hardened soles. Even now I like to be barefoot and my feet are certainly pretty rough and calloused. My feet wouldn't pass any beauty tests, but I like to think they are happy.

That's the thing about being outdoors. It just makes you happy. Here's my best memories of my life as a wild child.

1. Collecting all the snails I could find in my garden before going to school and arranging them in a line at the top of our patio, then checking at the end of the day to see which one had got the furthest.

2. Losing a boot in an enormous boggy churn of mud while out on a long walk with my best friend. In solidarity, she took one of her boots off too and the pair of us walked the miles and miles home half barefoot.

3. Watching a herd of two-year-old colts charging up and down the length of a fence, eventually gathering enough momentum to smash straight through a metal gate. This was incredible to witness as a reminder of the raw power of the usually placid, domesticated horse.

4. Taking pears from an orchard over a three or four-week period with my best friend while we were riding at a nearby farm. We scrumped the full orchard. To this day I have never tasted pears anything like as good.

5. Arriving for Girl Guides bareback and hatless on an elderly chestnut pony, along with my best friend. I don't think I've heard the words 'health and safety' used so often in such as short period of time.

6. Not strictly an outdoor memory but when I was young we used to go Eurocamping for family holidays, usually to the South of France and always somewhere with a beach. One year my parents found my brother and I a little guide called How To Be Safe At The Shore, I think by Dr Seuss, using bonkers cartoons of bears to depict worst-case scenarios. It was just the funniest thing I had ever seen or read in my life. I cried actual tears of laughter. I was reminded of it recently and Googled it but found no trace, so it seems it's one of those things that is lost forever. Except in my memory.

7. Related to the above yarn, one year we Eurocamped in Spain and our campsite had a swimming pool in the shape of a dolphin and it was the best thing in the whole world. I lived in that pool for the entire two weeks and taught myself to back-flip into the water. I plunged in so often I gave myself an ear infection.

8. Stargazing with my mother one cold November night. We wrapped up warm, set up the sun loungers and got into sleeping bags, I leaned back on my lounger and flipped it straight over and hit the floor with the lounger on top of me.

9. Camping in the garden with friends in my parents' really old brown sleeping bags with orange liners and with heaps of blankets. I eventually did have a proper sleeping bag that was super-warm, whizzy, high-tech, waterproof and all sorts, but I will always have a soft spot for those old brown things.

10. Riding a pony through bluebell and wild-garlic laden woods in the springtime, through a little path that led down to a ditch. I cantered endlessly up and down that path, popping over the ditch, mainly riding one-handed and pretending in my head I was the beautiful and courageous heroine of all manner of fairy-tale scenarios.

I have hundreds more, but I have to stop somewhere or this post will be endless. I'd love to hear your favourite outdoor memories too.


  1. When I was 2 or 3 we went to stay in a very basic hideaway hut near Loch Rannoch. The beds were made out of planks with crisp cotton sheets and blankets. I remember a stream with a rope swing nearby that I loved and claimed all to myself while my two brothers perfected the art of tree - climbing and I cried because my dad wouldn't let me go higher than the lowest branch (which was quite high anyway). Oddly I remember a lot from a young age so thank you for reminding me of this trip. My own family holidays are not too dissimilar now!

    1. It's amazing what we remember, isn't it? I find memories are coming back to me more and more now my children are nearing the age I actually have memories from, if that makes sense!

  2. I must tell you this one too! When we were around 6 or 7 myself and a well - known London beauty PR owner used to take great pleasure in running through the green bowling club grounds (never on the lawn though) on our way home from the park just so the old gents would shake their fists in irritation... Perhaps Grey is helping to redress my karma.

  3. OMG I have just seen this! Your blog is brilliant, this one in particular brings back some dreamlike memories of mud....and a river jump....., I will have to forward you some photos of the pony days :)