You are… craving time in the wild

Hands up if you’ve ever skimmed a stone.

Chances are you’ve had a go at some point, maybe when you were a kid or holidaying on the coast. What feelings do such memories stir in you? A sense of fun perhaps, of a challenge, or an impression of being in the moment?

Skimming stones is a simple activity, it may even seem childish, but in keeping with the other activities in our book Skimming Stones and other ways of being in the wild, we believe it is deeply valuable.

That moment, skimming a stone over the waves, can lift us out of the ordinary rhythms and demands of day-to-day existence. When skimming stones, we enter a different way of being in landscape – we slow down and look more closely at the things around us. Scrabbling in the sand and rockpools in search of the perfect stone, the salt tang heavy in our noses, passing time in the alien terrain of the seashore, we can’t fail to interact with the landscape more deeply.

A great fossil-hunting zone, broken rocks below high cliffs and the sea

And it’s not just skimming stones. Do you remember building dens, making dams, and sleeping out by a fire? These are skills previous generations knew but that are disappearing from our society.

For many of us, growing up and trying to carve a place in the world means submitting to the demands of modern life, letting the daily grind dictate our every move. As urbanites we forget the riches that lie around us, drawing the curtains against the call of the owl and cry of the fox, spending our rare breaks in jet-fuelled escapes or at carbon-copy resorts. At home our experience of nature is filtered through laptop screens and HD TVs, our meals are shrink-wrapped and from around the globe, our daily movements via the climate controlled cages of cars, buses and trains. If we do spend time in the outdoors, we march through it from A to B; we ‘do’ a walk or ‘climb’ a mountain, projecting goals onto the landscape rather than taking the time to really be in it.

It is this unhealthy state of dislocation that Rob Cowen and I set out to redress in our book. As cell-mates imprisoned in the concrete and glass of a central London office, we found we shared a yearning for the open spaces of our childhoods and struck on an idea for a book of simple activities that would help all of us draw closer to the landscapes we evolved to exist in.

When Rob and I first went looking for reconnection, we started out setting challenges for ourselves and trying to push to the extreme, or at least our extreme. We wanted to conquer mountains, but in the end it was the simple things which gave us what we were looking for. From tracking animals through a forest to making kites out of bin bags and bamboo, our book shares techniques that help ease us out of our day-to-day lives. At the same time we explore the scientific and philosophical reasons why time spent doing these things in the outdoors so enriches our bodies and minds. It invites the reader to look more closely at natural world and, in so doing, their own nature.

Our journey showed us that by taking some time to reconnect with nature, you can throw off a layer of exterior concerns, relax, enjoy who you are and the world around you, and gain a more philosophical outlook on life.

The seeds of the sycamore tree, with distinctive 'blades' which make them spin when they fall

There’s a tendency for self help and personal development books to put themselves forward as the one true route to happiness. That can be hubris, certainly, but it’s often part of the efficacy: the placebo effect is very real, but the placebo effect doesn’t function unless you believe it.

Will reading Skimming Stones change your life? Of course it will, but how much so is up to you. Connecting with nature has the advantage over more esoteric approaches that it is something with a growing body of research and evidence behind it, and a reasonable claim to having millions of years of evolution in its favour. That said, it’s all about what works for you.

Ultimately, whether you see a route to inner peace in it or not, skimming a stone is great fun too, so why not give it a go? Skim a stone! Buy the book! Take the time to support the foundations of your character.

- Leo -

Postscript:

We wrote this book so you can open it on any page and find something to take away.

  • The ‘How To’ for each activity is explained so you can try it yourself.
  • It is supported by our reflections on why and how doing these activities has such a profound and important effect on us.
  • Each chapter is also a narrative of our own experiences, which can be enjoyed from an armchair without needing to recreate them.
  • More adventurous readers may want to use the instructional elements as a basis for day trips and long weekends and all the facts and techniques are provided to enrich a personal experience.
  • We also dig up of the ‘lore’ of the land – historical and cultural odds and ends, as well as topics as broad as geology, myths and legends.

Our hope is that you will ultimately discover a new side to yourself and be driven to uncover your own ways of being in the wild.

Why re-tread old ground? Holy Island revisited

In our book Skimming Stones and other ways of being in the wildwe talk about the value you can derive from visiting the same spot across the seasons, rather than always plumping for somewhere new.

This is never more true than when visiting somewhere as inherently changeable as Lindisfarne, or ‘Holy Island’. I spent some time in Northumberland recently; I revisited the island as part of the trip and was surprised with how different it seemed.

The tides sunder Lindisfarne from the mainland every six hours, which means at certain times of year travelling by land requires heading off before the natural curfew, or staying the night. The same is true when travelling by boat because when the tide is too low there is a risk of getting beached.

Going by boat at the height of summer proved quite unlike the same journey by car in autumn. Instead of long, brooding beaches under low cliffs, it was a land of bright grasses, flowers and the sparkling of gentle waves. You can almost (almost) understand why St. Cuthbert chose to sequester himself on one of the relatively tiny Farne Islands to the south.

Having been there twice I would firmly recommend staying over on the island to witness it in both its aspects, and the rest of coastal Northumberland is of course as beautiful as ever too.

Rolling hillside covered in pink flowers

The nature reserve at the foot of Bamburgh Castle

A white sandy beach, blue sky and a rainbow

The beach near Alnwick

Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne Priory

Forage for wild food: The Movie!

When Leo and I travelled about the great outdoors trying out the activities in our book Skimming Stones and Other Ways of Being in the Wild, we filmed some ‘scrapbook’ videos of our exploits, like this little Oscar surety. Here we find what wild food grows on the average British beach (in Kent) and try the best ways to tuck into it.

Certain things really lend themselves to photographic record and wild food is definitely one of them – both recording your own and checking you are picking the right stuff. In an age when we can carry information in our pockets to rival any tribal elder, there is no reason to fear finding your own supper. iPhones, smartphones, access to the internet, etc. all help in the identifying and answering any questions you may have about your finds.

The sea kale in this video is a great example; every book told us the leaves are green and yet we knew what we’d discovered met every other criteria – save for the fact it was bright purple. We reasoned that many plants start with purple/reddish leaves as a form of light protection and some shore-time spent searching Google proved we were right.

Hope you enjoy the film and remember – always pick sensibly and considerately. Never destroy the whole plant or colony and always leave enough to regenerate for tomorrow or someone else to enjoy. Come and see us talking about wild food at Cock and Bull Festival, Salon London and Chateau Marmot restaurants.

FORAGE FOR FOOD from robcowen on Vimeo.

– Rob –

Drawing of a robin

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

A ‘brilliant book’: The Huffington Post joins the call of the wild

We often receive requests to try to boil down the activities in our book into bite-sized bits of information. The difficulty is that this is somewhat at odds with the ethos of ‘Skimming Stones‘, which was written to get across the value of the slow learning of these skills in the great outdoors; the pleasure and rich rewards of slowing down, taking our time to do certain activities and allowing ourselves to really be in nature.

However, when the mighty news site The Huffington Post called, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. They wanted to provide ten things that might get people out and into nature this Easter, especially young people that might otherwise be tucked up around a TV or games console. Now we have nothing against games consoles, indeed we have both owned and enjoyed a few in our time, but it is a question of balance. Recent research states that fewer then 10 per cent of children in the UK play in natural spaces and ninety per cent of Britons live in an urban environment with most never taking or finding the time to be in the outdoors. This despite evidence that spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues; nature improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness; exposure to natural settings is widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms; exposure to environment-based education significantly increases performance on tests of critical thinking skills; our stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces and nature enhances social interactions, vital for community and relationships.

So we decided we would put our best editing hats on and summarise ten of the activities in the book with the aid of our illustrations. Here’s hoping people are inspired to try them out and take their kids along to have a go too. You can read the feature by clicking the image below. Please share it, then get outside and enjoy the sun!

 

 – Rob -

Drawing of a robin

Listen for the real twitterati

Our latest column in The Independent is out and this month it’s all about the splendour of birdsong, plus a few suggestions for places where you can catch the dawn chorus line in full voice. Hop on over via the link below and see what we’re chirping on about.

 

The ones that got away II

Continuing the series of pictures we couldn’t use in the book itself, here are some birdies.

Click on the images to see them larger and read more…

Rob and Leo on The Culture Show!

Here is our seven-minute appearance on The Culture Show in all its glory, hope you like it!

We talk about Skimming Stones, and why it is that we need to reconnect with nature.

If you want more, do please grab a copy of the book, or if you’re in London on April 28th you can join us and Gavin Pretor-Pinney (author of The Cloudspotter’s Guide) on an urban wilderness retreat, courtesy of The School of Life.

- Leo -

What do you get out of slowing down and spending time in nature?

Yesterday, I had a very pleasant chat with Sean Moncrieff on NewsTalk Ireland.

Listen here

We talked in particular about the transformative effect that spending quality time in nature can have.

As you become an adult, there’s a lot of other pressures, and these things fall by the wayside… there are parallels with meditation; little rituals that help you become mindful and bring yourself back into the moment…

There’s so much in favour of spending time reflecting on and experiencing nature. We all know this instinctively, we prefer a room with a view or a house with a garden, and yet many of us rarely take advantage of the abundant (and potentially free!) resources out there.

Listen to Leo on NewsTalk Ireland

- Leo -

The benefits of being in nature; are children losing out?

Rob spoke to Hannah Murray at Talk Radio Europe: Spain a couple of days ago.

Listen here

Nowadays, less than a quarter of children visit a local patch of green weekly. What sort of damage could this do in the long run?

The human animal evolved to live in nature, and it has a very powerful effect on us when we spend time in nature – when we slow down and spend time in it.

Are we so worried about the risks of letting children roam, that we are exposing them to the larger risks of becoming disconnected from the world around them, of becoming too used to fast-cut media and 2D screens?

Listen to Rob on Talk Radio Europe

- Leo -