Latest reviews of Skimming Stones

Of course you have. I mean, who hasn’t bought Skimming Stones and Other Ways of Being in the Wild? Precisely. It’s as vital as five fruit and vegetables a day. But, should you need any further encouragement or reason to prompt your friends and family to get on Amazon, here are the latest reviews. We’re pretty happy with them!

‘Essential reading’ - The Express
‘A brilliant book’ - Huffington Post
‘Two of the UK’s most exciting nature writers…a thoughtful adventure in learning simple skills that help connect people to nature.’ – The Guardian
‘Deeply engaging…appealing and original framed by personal experiences that offers a fresh perspective to nature writing.’ – The Good Book Guide
‘I was simply carried along by the authors’ sense of awe, and their quiet belief that our lives can be enriched through a deeper connection with nature.’ (Four stars) – BBC Wildlife
‘A great book…it somehow manages to say something about nature that the rest of us can’t.’ – Country Walking Magazine
‘Permeated with all the infectiousness of two boys going outdoors for the day on an adventure.’ – Countryfile Magazine
‘Indispensable. You’ll never want to go back indoors.’ – Welsh Coast Magazine

– Rob –

Drawing of a robin

Festival frenzy and new friends

So with the obligatory interchanging warm/wet weather, the festival season enters full swing. Leo and I are never ones to miss a good party (or a wine-fuelled discussion around a campfire for that matter) and with Skimming Stones providing much food for thought among its growing readership, we have been asked to appear at various festivals over the coming months. This has even necessitated a new tab on our right hand menu to keep people up to date. Yes, we’re techno wizards. Anyway, please check out our forthcoming dates!

Rob and Helen Lederer decompress after speaking at Hay

The first festival has actually passed already; it was at the wonderful if very wet Hay-On-Wye in June. Those Hay aficionados among you will be familiar with the fact that the festival site is a fair schlep from the nearest station. I wouldn’t have made it there at all if the brilliant Helen Lederer, comedienne and BBC Radio 4 mainstay, hadn’t instructed me forcibly to join her in a taxi. The next forty minutes was spent editing and drafting her speech and trading chat with the driver, who was both deaf and chatty – a winning combination. Thankfully Helen made me laugh to the point of injury, which had the bonus of completely dissolving my nerves.

I joined a panel discussion at what has to be the coolest philosophy and arts fringe event in the world ‘How The Light Gets In’. The topic was literary ecologies and it featured some great speakers that I nervously joined on a three-piece suite on the stage – Joanna Kavenna, who wrote the brilliant The Ice Museum, novelist and poet Lavinia Greenlaw and the renowned Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate. The discussion ebbed and flowed between the histories of nature writing and the current new wave of environmental literature, revealing lots of interesting insights, ideas and opinions. The festival website will be uploading a video of the full talk to their website in due course, but I hope being able to bring something of the practical application of much of what we were discussing was useful. It certainly provoked great interest from the audience afterwards and a people asking me to sign the book over beers in the bar. Most also asked for a couple of tips on how to build a waterproof den and light the perfect fire first time. It must have been the weather.

Meeting other authors and sharing debate over lots of wine invariably raises the question about what your book is about. It was lovely to have prestigious writers ear wigging for the techniques to the simple skills. Nostalgia and grand plans for nature breaks abounded. Writing can be a sedentary and interior-focused existence and a gentle reminder about the importance of standing in the midst of sheer life, of slowing down and drawing closer to the otherworldliness of nature certainly stimulated imaginations.

We will deliver reports as to our festival antics as they happen. Next up Larmer Tree near Salisbury on the 13th July. Come and see us if you are about.

– Rob –

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Leo’s feature in Western Mail

Leo wrote a lovely feature recently for Wales’ fantastic Western Mail all about fishing on the Teifi using homemade rods that we fashioned from hazel saplings. (Chapter 10 in the book as you ask…). If you didn’t get a chance to read it, check it out and let your mind relax with the drifting, delightful prose.

Unlike the violent attention-grabbing of traffic lights and car horns, the varied attractions of the riverside float up gently for our inspection. It is a feast for the senses. At times, only the sound of the river seems present, at others only the warmth of the sun and the chill of the water around your ankles, or the endlessly recreated sparkling eddies.

Watching a river can become a kind of meditation on the passage of time and thought. Nothing is ever exactly the same from moment to moment, but still the same patterns recur endlessly.

Fishing had given us a reason to get to know a stretch of river, and heightened our experience of it. Catching a fish was icing on the cake.

Read the full feature here.

– Rob –

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How The Light Gets In

I have been asked to appear at Hay-on-Wye’s fringe festival ‘How The Light Gets In 2012′ on June 7th to talk nature and how we define it and, in turn, it defines us. Appearing at the event ‘Red in Tooth and Claw‘, in reference to Tennyson’s poem, In Memoriam, I will join a prestigious panel of leading writers and lecturers to discuss literary ecologies, including Jonathan Bate, Joanna Kavenna and Lavinia Greenlaw.

It would be great to see you down there, but don’t worry if you’re not around; Leo and I are now being booked for lots of festivals over the summer and we will probably be coming to a town near you soon! Watch out for our dates as we add them over the next few weeks.

– Rob –

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Win a Great British Day Out worth £2K

We love to reward our lovely, loyal readers sometimes and the opportunity to help one of you access £2,000-worth of fun courtesy of the National Trust seemed an opportunity too good to miss! All you need to do is ask yourself what your dream day out would be if the trust opened up its vast array of venues for your enjoyment? Perhaps it might be sipping elderflower wine in the soft glow of a woodland glade, a great dinner with friends around the table of one of the trust’s sprawling stately homes or a warming seafood stew on the beach after a day of wild swimming with your mates.

Whatever it may be, now’s your chance to bring it to life. All you need to do is head over to the National Trust’s Facebook page, click ‘Like’ and enter your great idea for a great day out. There are nine types of venue to choose, from lighthouses to Beatles’ childhood homes, and then you can really let your imagination go to town on the shape your ideal day would take. Finally, you just need to get your Facebook friends to vote for your idea.

To provide some inspiration, here are the venue types to choose from: castle, abbey, gardens & parks, historic house, pub, woodland, Beatles’ home, beach, lighthouse.

You’ve got until 31st May to enter so get your skates on. Maybe take me and Leo along too if you win!

– Rob –

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Natural harmony? Listen to your elders

Our latest column in the Independent went in on Saturday. It is all about making elder whistles. To some this may seem an unusual way to spend a day – especially when you can buy a whistle fairly cheaply in a shop – but, as with all the activities in Skimming Stones, the secret is what this simple restorative ritual engenders. It is striking the right note to start a relationship.

Elder is only tree for the job because of the soft pith that runs through the core of its branches, which can be hollowed out very easily to leave a wooden tube that may be used for anything from pipes to primitive paintball guns. Identifying it requires us to look more closely at our surroundings; we have to differentiate between that tree and all the others. Immediately we are drawing closer to the land and to the wood.

Just as we learn to recognise one tree, to handle it and work with it, so too can we begin to familiarise ourselves with others. Soon the whole forest becomes transformed from an amorphous green mass on the edge of our vision to something far more interesting and rewarding. It is somewhere to walk through, to dwell in.

Revisiting at different times of the year we see the different tree types in metamorphosis. Not only do we learn to pick out species, we pick out individual trees. Woods become places to see old friends and watch as they transform through the seasons.

Read our column Natural harmony? Listen to your elders in the Independent here and start your journey back to the woods. 

– Rob –

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Make a ladybird house: guest blog on Miss Thrifty

This week I was asked by the wonderful Miss Thrifty, that one-woman money saving expert, to write up my adventures in making a ladybird house. With lots of elder gathered and dried for whistle making in my log store, it seemed a simple enough procedure to turn some of it into a cosy, new residence for our new garden guests.

Read all about it at www.miss-thrifty.co.uk.

– Rob –

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Allergies and open skies: nature at every level

It comes as no shock to us that a range of recent reports has found time spent in nature as beneficial to the human animal, but it is welcome research nonetheless. Once again the transformative powers of slowing down and being in the outdoors has been shown to have a positive impact at every level, from the microbe to the mass consciousness.

A Finnish report entitled Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ has found more diverse microbiota on the skin of teenagers living in farms or near forests than their counterparts in urbanised areas. One class of such bacteria is linked to the development of anti-inflammatory molecules, stimulating an immunological response in people that is known to suppress the swelling caused by allergy to pollen or animals.

With rates of asthma and allergies on the rise, this has led the doctor who conducted the report to call for city planning that includes green spaces, green belts and green infrastructure, an issue I blogged about for the National Trust recently.

A study published in the journal ‘Landscape and Urban Planning’ reveals that such a measure would reduce stress levels too. By monitoring levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, found in residents’ saliva, the team could directly correlate a link between stress and the lack of green spaces in urban areas.

In Skimming Stones we draw a similar conclusions about simple activities in the outdoors and the positive, transformative effect on the body, from the tangible (the ‘fiero’ pride in completing an igloo) to the imperceptible (the shift from cones to rods in our eyes as our senses adopt night vision in a darkening wood).

One thing is for sure: the human animal adapted over millions of years to live in the natural environment. We are hard wired to respond to it and, as such, we need it in our lives as surely as five fruit and veg a day. It explains perhaps why I felt the need to abandon my car last week and run back to photograph the coming storm as it rolled over the fields of impossibly yellow rapeseed. As J A Baker once wrote, “The solitude of horizons lures me towards them.” I couldn’t tell you why, but I needed to stop and take in that sky as surely as scratch an itch.

– Rob –

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Rob and Leo on BBC Radio 2

Last week saw your favourite ‘outdoors enthusiasts’ wandering through the hallowed doors of BBC Radio 2 for a joint interview on ‘The Big Show’, aka Steve Wright in the Afternoon about our book Skimming Stones and other ways of being in the wild. For everyone who missed it, you can listen again below.

This is not just essential for kids, but for adults as well. Why does anyone pay more for a room with a view if nature is not good for us?

Our appearance was perfect timing and coincided with a busy press week that has seen the issues of getting children outdoors and the joy of simple activities in almost every newspaper. The National Trust released the great ’50 things to do before you are 11 ¾’ list which includes many of the activities in our book. This has driven more interest in the Outdoor Nation project, as well as generating some welcome debate. The fact that these topics are making the headlines is fantastic and will hopefully get people outside and enjoying nature. We will continue our support where possible, writing more for the Trust over the next few weeks.

Listen to Rob and Leo on BBC Radio 2 here.

Give your kids a present to remember this Easter: nature

Asked to picture our favourite childhood memory, many of us will remember something outdoors, but we may well be the last generation to do so. Ask the same of today’s children and they are likely to answer their bedroom, in front of a TV or games console.

A new National Trust report ‘Natural Childhood’ is a welcome and much-needed spotlight on the issue and reveals the extent that our children are suffering from ‘nature-deficit disorder’. Leo and I are honoured to have been asked by the National Trust to be involved in the campaign and ongoing consultation. We will be writing guest blog posts, but also hopefully getting our hands dirty in helping show kids and parents alike the simple things that we can all do to reconnect with nature and the great outdoors. But you can start today. Whatever the weather this week, forget the chocolate eggs and endless film re-runs, get outside and try one of our simple activities; it is a present that your kids will never forget.

For inspiration, we thought we’d show you a few of our own homemade videos so you can pick up some tips:

We recognise that even those of us that want to reconnect and feel the urge to be in the countryside have lost the skills and sense of play that older generations enjoyed with the landscapes around us. That’s why we wrote Skimming Stones and Other Ways of Being in the Wild in the first placeto give people from 8 to 80 the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ to connecting with nature. So, if you want all the techniques to building your own kites, foraging for food, building an igloo, finding fossils, making a woodland den, wild camping, carving a whistle from elder, navigating from nature, damming a stream, tracking animals, making rod and tackle to catch a fish…and, of course, the simple skill of skimming a stone well…please buy the book! It will provide you with the all you need to the start your own adventures in the wild, whatever your age.

  – Rob -

Drawing of a robin