I was born and raised in the suburbs of London. It was Surrey then and is South West London now, less than a dozen miles from the city centre. We lived on a busy main road in Park Villas, salubriously titled in honour of the local authority recreation ground which our long skinny garden backed on to, and which we called ‘the rec’.
As kids we spent hours in the rec, playing in the playground, kicking a ball about, playing mini golf or messing about with a racket and variously annoying the park keeper. If we weren’t in the rec, we were in the garden, playing with the animals, in the Wendy house, on the swing, or when we were older, doing a bit of pretend gardening.
Most of my childhood memories are outdoors: we’d cycled to Richmond Park as a family, and when I was older I cycled there with friends. We got 2 buses to the outdoor pool in Richmond in the summer, completely unsupervised. We played pitch and putt on summer evenings and went to the coast – Angmering-on-Sea, Littlehampton, Bournemouth – on summer weekends. We picked blackberries in the late summer and early autumn. We walked, cycled and swam in the open. Sitting indoors was reserved for winter and really wet days. TV was an evening only activity, and restricted at that.
So, a city girl living in the far north of Scotland is more at home than you might think. I enjoy being close to nature and the seasons. Living on a farm means time passes by the things that happen outside: ploughing, planting, lambing, hay-making, harvesting; passing the year through nature’s rhythms.
Life is less frenetic here. It’s easier to take time to walk, to chat to people. A lot of children walk to school, and get the opportunity to play outside, although I suspect far less than did a few decades ago. Nowhere, however remote, is immune from the spread of technology in day-to-day life: the phones, games, pads, music, laptops and Macs. The gadgets that keep kids, and adults too, locked indoors in bedrooms and lounges across the country. Electro tech’ that’s deemed so vital, yet keeps a generation of children from accessing what really is vital – a connection to nature; enjoying the great outdoors.
We can’t go back in time to those halcyon days, which we remember as more idyllic than they probably were, but we can teach our children and grandchildren that there is joy to be found in fresh air and countryside by encouraging them to engage in outdoor activity from an early age. Being stuck indoors with a piece of tech should be the less interesting option. I’m not demonising technology, simply suggesting that children need to reconnect to with the natural world. We need a generation of caretakers for the earth, and sitting inside watching nature programmes is less likely to spawn one than being outside connecting with nature.
My life-long love of the natural world was kindled by being outdoors, by bringing all sorts of creatures home – rabbits, birds, tortoise, cats, fish, crabs – strays of all descriptions. My tolerant parents encouraged me to be outside if I was moping about and that always energised me in ways I didn’t understand. This still holds true today. A brisk walk, a stroll along the beach, a short run, they all blow the metaphorical cobwebs away and re-charge us in inexplicable ways.
I’m lucky to have arguably the greatest outdoor destination in the country on my doorstep, but whether you’re in the city or another part of the country you’re never far from somewhere outdoors where you can rejuvenate your spirit. Make being outside a part of your week and I promise you’ll feel better.