Who: Anyone, of any age, great for families
When: There are fixed courses in lots of locations, which you can explore any time. Local orienteering clubs organise weekend events.
Where: Forestry England Centres, National Trust properties, Orienteering Club courses around the UK. Fixed courses are popping up all over as orienteering gains popularity with families.
Why: Family fun, exploring the great outdoors, fitness, map reading skills, teaching resilience to our tweens.
This year we started orienteering. We started out with a £1 map for a fixed orienteering course set in local parkland with another family – safety in numbers. The kids loved being in charge of the map, the Dads loved teaching them to read it, we shared a great walk and a picnic – what’s not to like? So a few weeks later we found another local fixed course, this time at a Forestry England centre. It quickly became a regular weekend activity and through our local Orienteering Club we began attending events as one family or two, and we met other families, and we knew we were on to a good thing.
The fundamental skill required when orienteering is navigating using a map, similar to an Ordnance Survey hiking map but with slightly different legend symbols and drawn to a different scale. Each map includes a legend so you can just learn as you go along, the map is much simpler than the OS equivalent. On a local fixed course, the map keeps the kids moving and motivated, it’s a country walk with more focus and more fun for them. Racing each other to the next course marker, taking turns to be the decision maker, doing a short course without the adults once the Dads have done it themselves as a safety check, finishing up with a picnic or pub lunch – and everyone’s had a great day out in the great outdoors.
Every orienteering club welcomes newcomers and beginners and runs training sessions to teach you what to do. There are different levels and lengths of courses, set up across a similar area, with course markers which act as checkpoints along the way. My daughter soon picked up the general idea and started running the easiest, White, courses with Dad. She now runs solo, out there in the woods with her map and compass, in the secure knowledge that Dad, and indeed club instructors, aren’t far away should she need a bit of help. I run (actually, walk, and I’m not alone) the Yellow courses and Dad is working his way up the scale, as Dads do. We’re all at the same event, running similar courses, at similar times, according to our preferences. We see the same and different families on a regular basis, there’s a club feel about the events, we’ve got to know the instructors and everyone looks out for each other. We’ve explored some gorgeous local countryside and made new friends. No particular kit is needed, just old trainers and your usual sports or outdoors bits and pieces.
Teaching our Tweens about Resilience
But here’s the best bit – when the kids set off, each running two minutes behind the previous orienteer, they’re on their own, with a map, and some course markers to find in open countryside, and that’s a great thing for them to be doing. It develops their resilience. They have to rely on themselves, make decisions, sometimes re-assess and retrace, keep going, and cross the finish line with big smiles that say a lot for the boost of self-esteem and self-confidence that finishing the course has given them.
The British Orienteering Society website has all the information and links you need to get started: https://www.britishorienteering.org.uk/goorienteering
This is a great website with lots of tips and inspiration about orienteering with kids: https://www.getoutwiththekids.co.uk/activities/playing-things/orienteering/
Forestry England Orienteering is nationwide: https://www.forestryengland.uk/activities/orienteering
When: August, September, early October across the UK
Where: your local park, canal towpath, public bridleway, country lane, woodland, Forestry England location and National Trust property – blackberries are everywhere.
Why: a good reason to get outside; a ready-made, juicy treasure hunt; apple and blackberry crumble afterwards.
And more than that… I found myself reading the poem Blackberry-Picking, by Seamus Heaney, and something about it caught me unaware, caught me out. It starts with juicy camaraderie but suddenly the mood changes and the poem ends with wistfulness, a child grasping at the adult recognition that nothing lasts, however much we might want to keep it.
Our kids won’t be kids much longer. We just borrow them, anyway, until they reach an age when they’re no longer our kids, when they become other people. As Mums and Dads we’re all part of the big con that we have plenty of childhood left, that it won’t end this year, or next, that they’ll be ours forever, “That each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.”
Read Seamus Heaney’s Poem, Blackberry Picking, here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50981/blackberry-picking
We’re picking blackberries this weekend.
Keep your eyes peeled, wherever you live, for blackberries in the hedgerows. Spot them on the school run, whilst walking the dog, ask around.
Follow this link for blackberries at National Trust properties, here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lists/top-spots-for-picking-blackberries
We pick blackberries as a race to gather the most; as a competition to find the biggest; as many as you can pick in one hand at once; as many as you can eat before Mum catches up with Dad and Daughter. We pick them in our local park, or we drive out of town with a picnic and a memory of last years’ spoils in favourite places – along bike trails, on country walks, in National Trust parkland and, in the north, on holiday, finding the last blackberries in the colder climate in Half Term.
Blackberry and apple crumble is our favourite – go to our Lunch Box Logic post for a crumble recipe, adding a handful of blackberries to the cooking apples. Or blackberry puree – that’s Daddy’s job, just gently simmer the fruit in a saucepan, add a little sugar to taste, then push through a sieve to get the bits out and add to plain yoghurt or freeze, for use on a rainy winter’s day.
Check out some blackberry recipes here: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/how-pick-and-cook-blackberries