Big adventures!

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?

Setting off, excited and a bit nervous...

Setting off, excited and a bit nervous…

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.


Coming home, brimming with confidence!

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.

Children's Independent Mobility ReportThis 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.

Phoebe climbing a mountainMy 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.

3 Responses to “Big adventures!”
  1. Today, I went to the beachfront with my children. I found a sea shell and
    gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear
    and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

  2. Hi Tim, I remember talking about this with my brother when he was deciding if she should let my niece travel to see me on trains on her own at a young age. He made a valid point that train platforms etc are all so heavily monitored with CC TV footage these days that train travel is potentially one of the safer ways for young people to get about. She did come on her own and was delighted when she got to us for the sense of achievement she gained at having changed trains twice plus it was thick snow at the station when she got off. Being from Devon where it rarely snows, it was her first opportunity to sink her feet in to deep snow! A valuable adventure and thankfully the trains were running in spite of snow! Leonie

  3. Tim Gill says:

    Thanks for the link to my piece Cath, and I enjoyed reading of your big adventure! The point about train travel shows clearly that this isn’t just a problem of parental attitudes. Some train companies (including, I believe, East Coast) do not permit children under 12 to travel unaccompanied. I doubt German children face the same restrictions (though I’m happy to be corrected).

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