Falcons, Pine Trees and a Few Dancing Sheep

We had a fantastic time this weekend.

The weather was beautiful. And we went to this!

We were out walking on Saturday when we came across a collection of tents behind the Lee Valley Ice Center. When I saw them, I remembered that Countryside Live was coming to the Lee Valley this weekend (I’d seen the flyers around and thought “hmm, must go to that this year” then somehow completely forgotten about it).

Unfortunately, by the time we spotted the tents, it was already half four on Saturday afternoon and we were an hour into a wander round Hackney Marshes, road-testing our new carrier (Patapum for toddlers. Love it). Also, I was trying to avoid the temptation to stop for a snack, so wasn’t carrying any money. We continued on with our wander, stopping off in Millfield Park to let Tom have a crawl around (and to rest my back – that boy is getting HEAVY), before heading home for tea.

Yeah sure, HE needs a lie down!
Yeah sure, HE needs a lie down!

Luckily, Countryside Live is a two-day event and we were prepared on Sunday, heading off after Tom’s morning nap, entry fee in hand. A day pass cost a fiver, which is perhaps a bit steep, but nearly all the activities and shows within the enclosure were free, which made up for it. A pass for both days would have been £7, but probably wouldn’t have been worth it for us, as Tom is still a bit young for many of the things on offer.

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We reached the enclosure just before eleven, and headed straight for the petting zoo, where we admired a pony, some goats, and a very old tortoise. Then we settled on some hay bales to watch the Sheep Show. Unfortunately, Tom got a bit bored at this stage and made his escape – crawling at speed straight towards the ice cream van. So we missed most of the dancing sheep finale (although we did get to see the hippy sheep shaking his dreads). Taking the hint, I refused to buy Tom an ice cream but did ‘agree’ to share a pulled pork bap, before heading home for a proper lunch (with vegetables) and his afternoon nap.

'Sharing' a pulled pork bap
‘Sharing’ a pulled pork bap

Nap time over and milk duly drunk, we headed back again for what remained of the afternoon. We watched a sheepdog herd some ducks, had a wander round the stalls, and caught most of the falconry show (Tom was hugely impressed by the owls and kept flapping his arms, as though he might be about to take off too).

This bumble bee was made from rubbish! There were also lots of stalls promoting traditional crafts, and for local conservation groups.
This bumble bee was made from rubbish! There were also lots of stalls promoting traditional crafts, and for local conservation groups.

If I’m completely honest, I don’t know that Countryside Live really counts as wild time so much as ‘time spent with a crowd of people watching domesticated animals’. To make up for it, we rounded up our afternoon with a trip to the park, where Tom spent a good 45 minutes poking a pine tree with a stick. He even made friends with a little Russian girl (I’d guess she was about four) who came over to join in. Sitting in the grass, watching my little man give his entire attention to exploring and making friends, could not have been a more idyllic end to the day.

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Taking the Pledge

About a month ago, I signed up to the Wild Network. I pledged to spend one hour a day outside, reconnecting with the great outdoors and introducing my newly minted one-year-old to the joy that is time spent exploring nature. “One hour”, I thought, “that won’t be hard.”

And for the first few weeks, it wasn’t hard. But in my enthusiasm, I had neglected to notice a couple of things. First, I signed this pledge in August, when the sun was (sort of) shining. Then September hit, the heavens opened, and suddenly a day on the Marshes was looking less attractive.

Second, my son has just turned one. He can’t walk. His contribution to arts and crafts sessions at nursery is to scrumple everything up and throw it on the floor. And then try to eat it. So many of the brilliant suggestions and events on the Wild Network’s website just don’t really work for us.

Third, my usual laid back, part-time working, plenty-of-time-to-potter routine has just been rudely interrupted by performance of a major civic duty (jury service) smack bang in the busiest time of my working calendar. So I feel like I’ve been working two jobs, plus trying to keep the laundry pile to an acceptable level, plus the thousand and one other things parents do every day, and making time to sit idle in the park or go on long meandering walks has slipped a little too far down the priorities list. Somewhere after sleep. And buy groceries. And wash some nappies so we don’t have poo all over the floor. Again.

Fourth…oh who knows? Venus was in retrograde. I need a haircut. Or perhaps, these are all just excuses and what I really need is a kick up the arse.

So here it is. A digital kick up the arse. I hope that, by committing to the internet at large to get outside at least once a day with the baby, no matter the weather, state of the house, or level of panic over work commitments, I will be more inspired to keep my pledge and prioritise the important work of raising a child who is connected with the natural world. Even if he was able to use an Oyster card before he could crawl.

And I hope you’ll join me. Whether you are already a nature-loving, walks-in-the-rain family of foragers or just taking a first step to get your kids outdoors, away from screens and running (or speed-crawling) free. Join the Wild Network and pledge to make time for wild time.