When did you first have a big adventure?
I don’t mean the first time you played out on your own, walked to school without mum or stayed out in your neighbour’s garden over night. I mean a really big adventure! When for more than a couple of days you and maybe a friend or two were responsible for yourselves with no back up, no car waiting to pick you up, no nearby safety net?
Mine was the summer of 1984, I was 14 years old and my friend Penny and I decided we wanted to go youth hostelling byourselves. We did a 6 mile walk locally as ‘training’ and then marked out a route on the OS map, found out how much the train tickets and youth hostels would be, scrounged a sheet sleeping bag each, some cash from colluding grandparents and then presented our plans to our parents. Much to our astonishment they said yes, and so we set off on one of the best adventures of our life.
Just getting the train that far – with three changes – was an adventure. Walking over Whin Rigg on a glorious summer morning to see the sun glistening on Wastwater, knowing we’d done it all by ourselves and that we had the world at our feet, was priceless.
My brother went further a couple of years later and walked the whole Pennine Way by himself at the age of 16. At one point he rescued a drowning nameless Japanese hiker on a grim Yorkshire moor in torrential rain. Last summer he proudly told me that his 15 year old son and a friend were setting off to walk across Britain by themselves.
My brother and I had the skills to do this because we’d been taken up hills and mountains often, both with parents
and the brilliant Netherly Youth Trust (a volunteer led youth club in Liverpool in the 70s and 80s), with lots of opportunities to ‘lay down memories‘. Perhaps most importantly from a young age we’d been trusted – and so trusted ourselves – to make increasingly complex journeys independently.
This weekend the Policy Studies Institute published key longitudinal research into Children’s Independent Mobility looking at the decreasing ‘licences’ allowed to children to travel independently from 1971 to 1990 to 2010. It also looks at German children who also have less freedom than they had, but still have far, far more than their English peers.
There has been some good coverage over the weekend in the Times and the Daily Mail as well as a great blog from Tim Gill. Lets hope this can raise the profile again on the importance of outdoor play – including adventures – for all ages.
This weekend I went with my niece and a few friends camping in the Lakes. We climbed a snow covered Bowfell and came down in the dark.
My niece was talking excitedly about the adventures she’d like to do in the future. But she doesn’t have any friends that will come with her walking up mountains. At the age of 13, despite the fact they live in a fairly rural bit of West Cheshire, her friends have only recently been allowed to travel two stops on a train without an adult, and have not been encouraged to develop outdoor skills. She notices the difference in their confidence and willingness to be independent.
The findings of the Children’s Independent Mobility report worry me on a number of levels, but for me a key one is often overlooked. If we keep our children wrapped in cotton wool for longer, then when will they feel they have the confidence to not only take themselves outside to play with friends or walk themselves to school, but to then have the big adventures that can be a critical part of the right of passage to adulthood?
Cath Prisk is Director at Play England. To mark the launch of the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) research on independent mobility, Play England staff will be sharing their personal stories and thoughts on the subject throughout the week on this blog, we hope you enjoy them.