Forest Holidays Ranger Adventure

Published by : Claire

No matter what you read about developing children’s imaginations, all the experts say the same. Children need the opportunity and encouragement to allow their imaginations to flourish. They need to be without schedule, or agenda, ultimately, they need to feel bored. Because it is here, in these magic moments that children remember how to play. They feed off the environment around them and transport to a make-believe world.

And where better to do that than a forest. A place to reconnect with nature, to absorb the ancient lives of the trees around them and be in the moment. For grown-ups there is no signal on your phone, no place you need to be, just time that we so infrequently allow ourselves, never mind our children.

There has been much talk in recent years that children are over scheduled with structured activities, meaning they no longer know how to play, or how to open the doors to their imagination. But the ability is within them, within us all. It just takes time, practice and the freedom to explore.

Imaginative play is super important because it helps children understand the world they live in, and how they relate to it. By using their imagination children have the freedom to explore all sorts of ideas without boundaries, meaning they can really tap into their creativity. It develops critical thinking that will help children throughout their life.

In today’s digital world, there has never been a more important time to encourage children to be in the great outdoors and return to the simplicity of childhood. Throughout the school holiday’s we have shared daily activities on Pea’s social media channels offering ways to unplug, ignite a love of nature, and inspire adventure.

We are based in Winchester, a small city surrounded by beautiful Hampshire countryside only moments away. A short 10-minute drive and you will find yourselves in the depths of the Blackwood Forest, a designated Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. This means it’s an important wildlife site protected by the local authority as an area of biodiversity vital to our local ecosystem. Mini beasts are on the decline in the UK, so places like Blackwood Forest work hard to keep safe the natural habitat of our wildlife food chain, from plants and trees to insects and birds, that feed the woodland web of life.

As well as wonderful wildlife, Blackwood Forest is also home to Forest Holidays. Nestled deep in the woods, you’ll find their idyllic log cabins offering short woodland breaks. In partnership with Pea, Forest Holidays very kindly invited us to experience a Forest Ranger Adventure. Giving children the freedom to connect with nature, explore the woods and make precious memories.

Den building is always top of the agenda when my children play in the trees, but what does it take to survive in the great outdoors. Together with a couple of my mum friends and our six mini explorers, off we went into the deep dark wood, guided by Alison (aka Alison the Acorn) our Forest Ranger, on a Survival Day to find out.

Two boys carrying a tree branch through Blackwood Forest, Winchester, Hampshire

To survive anywhere, you must remember the rule of threes: 3 hours, 3 days and 3 weeks. That is, you can survive for 3 hours before hypothermia sets in, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. So together we spent a packed 3 hours developing our survival skills learning how to forage for wild food, build shelter and light fires.

It comes down to priorities: shelter, water, fire and food. In that order. Having proper shelter is top of the list. So, first things first you must build shelter. It should be no bigger than needed as you need to stay warm and dry. For that reason, you need to know where north is. Alison taught us that litchen, a cross between fungus and algae, grows on the north side of trees where there is less light and therefore it is colder. So, before you start to build, take the time to find the right spot, and face the open side of your shelter to have sun during the day, particularly in the morning.

Group on young girls inside a den created from branches at Blackwood Forest, Hampshire

Armed with Alison’s tips on building the best lean to-shelter, our mini explorers set off in search of ‘Y’ shaped tree trunks and broken branches to create cross beams and provide sturdy support. They also used their initiative to make use of any materials they could find as thatching to keep the heat in. They even thought about what could be used inside the shelter to keep them off the ground to stay warm and dry.

Once the shelter was up, next on the list was fire. Important in the wilderness because it not only boils our water and cooks our food, it also acts as a primary source of warmth, light and protection from predators. Alison taught us to take what the forest wants to give you. And thankfully it offers us lots of natural tinder sources such as Thistle Seed, which in summer, after they have fully bloomed, expose their fluffy white cotton seeds, that we collected in big bundles to get the fire started.

Young girl toasting a marshmallow over a fire at Blackwood Forest, Winchester, Hampshire

Alison truly brought the forest alive, she taught us that tinder fungus (found on the growing on the surface of trees both dead and alive) is an incredible source of natural fuel. Once bright with an ember, the fungus will keep burning for a significant amount of time, making it a great way to transport to your next location for a ready-made fire. All you need to do is blow gently on the ember and place it next to some dry kindling to get the fire going. Fungus has been known to be used as a Firestarter as early as 3000BC. Infact, when the 5,000-year-old Ötzi the Iceman was found, he was carrying four pieces of fungus, concluded to be used for tinder. That’s the amazing thing about forests, they are the living embodiment of our natural history.

We were lucky enough to toast marshmallows on the white ash of our fire, but in a survival situation we’d need to find food. Together with Alison, we foraged for wild food the woodland had to offer. On a short walk she helped us identify edible plants such as garlic mustard a green salad leaf (although bitter at this time of year); nettles high in vitamins and minerals; and silverweed root high in starch. Washed down with some tasty blackberries found in abundance. Eat 10 and you’ve counted towards one of your five a day. Just remember the “when it doubt, leave it out” rule when it comes to wild mushrooms!

Young girl and two young boys huddled around a pot of insects

The most amazing thing about our time visiting Forest Holidays, is that even when our fires had been extinguished, and we’d say thank you to Alison, the children didn’t want to leave. We literally spent the entire day in Blackwood Forest. They were free, happy and independent running around in the fresh air. Hours sailed past as they played imaginary games, spotted wildlife and explored nature’s playground together. The older children looked out for the little ones, there were no fall outs and no screens. They came home happy, grubby and tired. And happy kids, mean happy mums.

Group of young children at Blackwood Forest, Winchester with a Forest Holiday Ranger
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