Out Walking in an Enchanted Fairy Forest

This article by John Freeman was published by Little Tigers a couple of years ago, in his ‘Dad’s Eye View’ column.

If I’m honest, I’m a bit of a city slicker. My favourite places tend to be built up – New York, Rome, Barcelona or San Francisco – and I will happily spend hours pounding the streets of any given metropolis.

Until recently, the countryside made me a bit nervous. It was too quiet, too green and entering into it would inevitably lead to me getting mud on my inappropriate choice of footwear. It was better to stick to a city, where there is always a bookshop, coffee house or museum to aim for.

However, I now realise I’ve been a countryside-shy fool. Within 90 minutes drive from where I live, as well as Cheshire’s innate beauty, is the Peak District, Snowdonia and the Lakes. I’ve idiotically missed out on this ‘Walker’s Nirvana’ for most of my life and I’m hell-bent on not allowing my children to suffer a similar fate.

So, now that they are old enough, we are beginning to enjoy regular walks in the countryside, and with the onset of spring such adventures have become a real pleasure. The kids are now happy to walk for a couple of hours without too much complaint, don’t require the paraphernalia of prams and are too heavy (for me at least) to have to resort to carrying at the first whimper of protest.

And I’ve cottoned on to the fact that there are a number of ways to increase the chances of a fun day out. Firstly, kids need the correct footwear – and that probably doesn’t mean Day-Glo wellies. We decided to invest in some reasonably priced walking boots, which provide much more support and instantly made the children feel like “proper walkers”.  Secondly, we choose our routes carefully. I’ve discovered a number of good books outlining kiddy-friendly walks in and around Cheshire – and such tomes are a godsend to someone who couldn’t use an Ordinance Survey map to find his way out of his own bedroom.

And while we all may desperately hope our kids will wander in wonder at nature’s inherent beauty – there is a chance that they may sometimes find countryside walks a little dull. I’m not averse to a bit of role-play – woods have become ‘enchanted fairy forests’ or ‘jungles filled with alien monsters’ to help brighten a young mind. We’ve also found that using ‘spotter’s guides books’ (so the kids can tick off plants, insects and animals during the walk) or even taking walkie-talkies (so they can talk to each other across a field) really helped keep their interest levels high.

But, the main thing is that we are out walking as family, having finally ditched the lure of town-centre concrete for fresh grass and glorious mud.