Is the UK really that much behind Europe when it comes to outdoor/nature play?

There has been a lot of mention of how badly Britain fares in comparison to other European countries in relation to children playing outside, or having quality play time in nature. As someone who grew up in one of the countries often quoted for better practice, I was keen to dig a bit deeper during our holiday (which was a very German type of family holiday, with the English translation of farm holiday not quite cutting it).

I’ve often commented on how I love German play parks. On the whole, they are much more enticing, with more natural materials. It’s not that you can’t find these kind of play parks in the UK, just that they are usually found in theme parks or outdoor places where you have to pay to get in (and drive to), while in Germany, they can be found in cities and towns, in public and freely accessible parks. On the other hand, the artificial and small kind of UK play park is a frequent occurrence while in Germany I had to often look hard to find any play park at all (many are private for residents of specific housing estates).

German city planning does tend to always create a safe, easily visible play space in the centre of new housing, and new housing there is lots with Germany moving from mainly rented accommodation to owner occupied houses.

There is also a cultural value placed on children accessing the fresh air every single day. This starts with a belief that babies are best outside for naps and should be taken on a walk in the pram at least once a day. Babies are left to nap in sub zero temperatures, well wrapped up of course, outside. I took this for granted but have seen it pointed out as very unusual by UK articles.

There are also more pedestrianised areas in residential areas, or “Play Streets”, a term used for residential streets where cars have to go dead slow because kids may be out in the street, which creates safe streets that allow kids to play out.

However, it’s not like we’re talking different worlds. Germany has probably a higher rate of car ownership than the UK (though also a higher rate of bike ownership and use) and traffic here and there is a major concern for parents which has led to kids being kept indoors. The perceived stranger danger risk (perceived in the sense that the risk is really rather low but seen as real and high) have also contributed to much closer supervision of children.

So when I talked to parents they brought up the same concerns that we have in the UK, that children are not able to spend as much time playing outdoors as parents would like them to, that safe play areas are scarce and that kids spend too much time indoors in front of screens.

On our holiday, we let the kids play unsupervised for the very first time. They were free to roam with only occasional checks by one of the parents. This was clearly a liberating experience for the children, and adults alike, but regardless of where the parents came from (Germany, Netherlands, UK) we found ourselves marvelling at the exceptional nature of this situation and how well it all worked.

The differences are only minor, we all face the same changes that the modern world brings along, just that Germany alongside the Scandinavian countries has a longer standing tradition of valuing nature in the upbringing of children. Germany has been concerned with dying nature, environmental impact of people and the loss of green spaces for a while, in a context that has often been dubbed a kind of transferred nationalism. German nationalism being very much frowned upon, patriotism is expressed in valuing the natural spaces of the countryside which are seen as quintessentially German and need to be protected and enjoyed, particularly the woodlands. All the while people own cars, drive everywhere and have all the latest gadgets which compete for attention with the natural playground.

It’s great to be inspired by different and better practices in other countries, but I’d be wary to stress too much how things are so much better, because they may actually only better by degrees and we may have a lot of opportunites locally which are just as valuable. Is there a city with a better spread of wonderful parks and small woodlands than Glasgow? Nature is literally at our doorstep, and we have the amazing opportunity to reach out for it and just go there. Because the best play park in a German city simply doesn’t compare with what we have right here within an arm’s reach.

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The Children’s Garden under threat?

The Children’s Garden is a little gem in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. It’s tucked away up on a hill, next to a play park, and it’s an oasis for families. For 10 year, volunteers have developed the former derelict land into something really rather special: there are raised beds, fruit trees, a willow tunnel, picnic benches and a wooden play house.

I’m not often in the west end, but if I am, I probably spend some time here. It’s a great place to relax and have a picnic away from the bustle of the city. My little one was weaned on the berries growing in the garden. My big one adores the willow tunnel and the play house. And I have pictures of the foursome of my children and my niece and nephew in the garden swing. Good times, good memories.

Now John Hancox, who has been organising volunteers to develop the Children’s Garden for 10 years, turning it from a piece of wasteland to the oasis it is, received an email requesting significant changes to the garden, with very little notice and unclear reasons for the changes. Specifically, the willow tunnel is to be cut down entirely, two raised beds are to be used by a specific primary school and no longer generally available to anyone using the garden, and 2 fruit trees are to be transferred to another space.

When asked about this, the Botanics phrased the changes as required maintenance work with little or no impact on the Children’s Garden. It seems that there are two versions of what is proposed, but unfortunately no clarity has been forthcoming from the Botanics or Council who weren’t able to attend a planned meeting.

Having had a look at the garden, I cannot identify 2 fruit trees which pose a danger, unless branches are a danger in itself because someone may run into them. If that’s the case, we can’t let our children go anywhere near a tree. Transplanting fruit trees in late spring strikes me as bad practice anyway, as far as I know this would seriously damage the tree even if there was a suitable alternative space. In relation to the willow tunnel, it is unclear if it’s to be cut to the ground or cut back in a less intrusive way. However, it looks incredibly tidy and well maintained and I cannot see any fault with it. If it is to be cut down, I can only say that there will be very sad children in our household, and many others. The tunnel is an amazing feature, it really gives a sense of adventure, seclusion and privacy which is so rare in play areas in Glasgow. Considering that the Government is (rightly) pushing outdoor play I cannot comprehend how such a structure can be taken down, because we simply don’t have enough of them available to effectively any child who visits the Botanics.

Which leaves the issue of the 2 raised beds. These were paid for by the volunteers who developed the garden. The Children’s Garden has worked with many schools, and is also open to children who come with families rather than with schools. So while exclusive use to one school may not seem like a big difference, it will mean that 2 raised beds are no longer available to all the other children that make use of the garden (and there aren’t that many raised beds, so it’s a significant percentage of the growing space). There are some other issues to consider: School groups have to make an effort to come and maintain the beds, which can be a challenge (but one that can be overcome with a committed school). Other users may inadvertently interfere with the beds, so it seems to me that if a school wants to grow vegetables in a raised beds, it would make more sense to do on their own grounds.

The Children’s Garden itself is based along principles of permaculture, thus having perennial plants rather than annuals. This reduces maintenance needs and also gives it a slightly different character – fruit trees and bushes abound, and somehow it combines a sense of a pleasant garden to spend time in which also produces food. Making 2 raised beds into annual vegetable beds will affect this overall character of the garden. It’s not that one or the other is a better approach, just that the Children’s Garden is different from other community gardens in this respect and this is what makes it special. Food growing, relaxation, play seem to blend effortlessly, and this balance would be changed with higher maintenance raised beds filled with vegetables.

Then there is the question of the different information handed out to different people, which has caused confusion and undermined trust. There are many views out there of the real motifs, and I don’t want to comment on these as it is very much based on theories and heresay.

Considering that the space is used by a lot of very different users, my strong view is that there are a lot of stakeholders who should be involved in the proposals. The space is used too much for it to be simply changed at whim, it’s both a community group that has some degree of ownership which should be recognised, but also it’s a community facility which means that the views of the users should be sought. Therefore, I would think that a consultation of users would be needed, as would an open meeting where the Botanics would publicly explain the plans and the reasons behind it. Neither of this has happened so far.

There is a petition against the proposals which can still be signed until Monday, 20th May. It will be presented to the City Council on 21st May at 11 am (and anyone interested can join to support the handing over). There will also be an open meeting and AGM of the Children’s Garden at the Hilton, Grosvenor Terrace on the 21st May, 6.30-8pm (please sign up to get a free ticket by following this link)

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Pirates Ahoi!

Last year in the storm that caused so much damage across Scotland, a tree fell right into the pride of Finlaystone Country Estate’s adventure play area and destroyed the pirate ship.

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Today the restored pirate ship, aptly named Finlay Phoenix, was launched again. It was a cold wet day with snow forecast, so the turnout wasn’t exactly overwhelming, but the kids had bucketfuls of fun. 

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Into the Woods in Toryglen

Toryglen in the southeast of Glasgow is home to both a suburban social housing and private housing estate and a community woodland which is surprisingly rural. The community based organisation Urban Roots has been working here for a while on a range of projects, and most recently, there have been a few projects which have provided a range of opportunities for local children to explore the local woodland, a 8 hectar wild woodland which has so far been underused by the people living nearby. Having recognised the value of this resource, Urban Roots are determined to ensure it’s used much more, by adults and children alike.

So it’s high time to have a look at what exactly has been happening in Toryglen! I was surprised how many different strands of activities there have been over the past few months, sure enough I’ve heard of a few, but the breadth and creativity of activities only came to full light when I spoke to Community Ranger Tom Cooper from Urban Roots, who organises them all. Tom is supported by forest school practicioner Alice Warren (make sure to check out her blog Warren in the Woods)

With quite a lot of the initiatives, Urban Roots have worked together with the 2 local primary schools to help teachers, who had taken the initiative to approach the organisation with a view to using the woodlands as part of their curriculum and teaching. Specifically the project worked a few days  with teachers to show what can be done in the woodland.

Following on from this, last April-June saw a 6 week programmes with schools, where children spent one afternoon a week per school working on particular themes. The children from P6 and P7 had free reign to set their own themes and the activities within their chosen theme. They came up with the forest Olympics and spent time designing games and exploring the woods. It all cuminated in an event where they shared their activities and learning with their parents.

In addition to the forest school sessions during school time, a programme of out of school sessions during the holidays in summer and spring was offered. This ran on 3 afternoons a week and children from the local area took part in it. They had a lot of fun with den building, roasting marsh mallows, climbing trees , making mud cakes and lighting fires. The holiday provision filled a real gap as there aren’t many activities happening locally  during holidays.

And the return back to school didn’t stop the forest fun: Now there is also an after school forest club which runs from 5-7pm, and which works in partnership with the established after school club which is located in the same building. As most after school clubs, previously the kids had played indoors but with the support of Urban Roots the children went down to the woods for 4-5 weeks. They particularly enjoyed wildlife tracking thanks to the variety of wildlife to be found.

The local schools continue to have a keen interest in working in partnership with Urban Roots to extend the forest school activities on offer locally. Next up will be an interpretation project. Normally, information about parks and greenspaces is provided by interpretive panels about wildlife and history. However, Malls Mire has suffered its fair share of vandalism, so the project came up with the idea of developing an audio talk tour instead, and to link this in with working with primary schools. The children now have an opportunity to explore strands of interest, such as wildlife, trees, flowers, insects, beasties, deer/foxes, birds which they research in the classroom and the woods. They will then produce an audio recording which is hoped to make downloadable to smart phones with a QR code, which will be put up in the woods. Effectively this will offer a guided walk through a smart phone.

It doesn’t stop here though, and children from the secondary school will have an opportunity to get involved too, and work on a history project relating to the woodland. “Children know a lot about it already,  they have their favourite little areas, and are very imaginative with the environment” notes Tom.

As a result of all of these activities, and the enjoyment had during the summer, more families are using the woodland now, especially at the weekends.

“The Kids who took part just loved being out there, even in the pouring rain and when doing things like litter picking, they still loved it. The idea of wildness, to be able to see wild deer have such an appeal”. And there’s is more that the children get right into: They are very interested in trees and bug hunts are always a hit. Also having fires and roasting marsh mallows, it’s often avoided by main stream education and they love doing this because it’s a bit risky.” In fact, lighting fires in a protected and guided environment, with the management or risk and adventure feel it brings, also provides a positive outlet for setting fire and may have the potential to reduce unaccepted and dangerous forms of settign fires.

Urban Roots have had great feedback from teachers who are keen to continue and expand their forest school activities. They have noted how extremely well the activities in the woods fit in with the curriculum. Moreover, children who may not do very well in school, or who are labelled as disruptive, show a completely different behaviour and engagement in the woods, which gives them an opportunity to show how intelligent, creative and productive they actually are. 

As for plans for the future: Beehives have arrived and already the preschoolers from the creche have adopted their buzzy friends, so there’s sure to be some bee project or other happening some time soon!

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Top 10 Christmas Treats for the Nature Kid

So your child is a Nature Kid and you’re looking for the ideal Christmas present? Look no further, here are some ideas that don’t cost the world.

1. A kite. Make it yourself (it’s easy!) or get a kite making kit or get the real thing. The choices are mindboggling. Having flown a power kite, I’m rather taken by them but they may not be suitable for the small child as you may get lift off.

2. An annual membership of the Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives. For £12 you get a year’s worth of activities for download which will keep you more than busy.

3. A rope swing or rope ladder. Again, easy to make yourself but if you’re not handy, the Eden Project for instance has a rope ladder for sale.

4. A wheeled object: balance bike, scooter or bike are sure to get the thumbs up. And because kids grow so quickly, a second hand one may be just the ticket.

5. An ant/butterfly raising kit, or a wormery.

6. A bug hunting kit. Easily put together with tweezers, a container, and a small magnifying glass. Kits are cheap to buy too.

7. An RSPB membership. This is also easy on your pocket and comes with a bird identifying book, and quarterly magazines.

8. A den kit. The Eden Project has one on offer ready to go, but it’s easily put together without doshing out £35. All you need is some fabric, string, and a bit of imagination.

9. A tent. Put it up in the garden and camp outside! I think we may wait for better weather though.

10. Chalk. Lots of it. Cheap and so much fun.

Have I missed out something unmissable? Please share your ideas in the comment box!

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Product Review: All in one skisuit

Now that the days are getting shorter and the wind that bit colder, it’s time to get the winter clothes out again. I always find myself slightly surprised that in spite of having rather a lot of outdoor gear, there’s still something that’s missing. So our toddler all in one waterproofs may still fit, but they are no way warm enough, and layering clothes isn’t something my children appreciate. In fact, it’s the single most annoying aspect of spending time outdoors in the winter, it’s all bulky and movement is restricted.

So I embraced the opportunity to review a ski suit from Vertbaudet with open arms, for the benefit of trying out a different type of winter gear. Winter gear doesn’t come cheap and this all in one retails for £65, however, if you keep your eyes peeled, you may well get a special deal with 30% or more off, as Vertbaudet often offer such special deals. In fact, just now the very snow suit is reduced by 30% which makes it much more affordable and very good value for money.

My initial reaction was that I like that there is a red unisex version of the skisuit, although to be fair the pink one looked quite nice too. But nevermind the colour choices, what’s important is functionality. The ski suit is not bulky – at least compared to what my kids usually wear. So much so that I’m slightly concerned that it may not keep 2 year old warm, so this will have to be tested in a cold spell. It’s very flexible so movement should not be an issue at all.

The suit is closed with zips and velcro, with just on button at the neck. I like this because it means that I don’t have to fiddle with buttons which isn’t something I enjoy. It also means that you can take it off quickly for nappy changes. There are 3 small pockets, enough for some stones and acorns and small enough that twigs won’t fit. That’s ok, we have enough twigs at home anyway to build a den, we don’t need to bring home more.

While this ski suit is designed for a winter holiday, we will be using it for general outdoor activities. It’s probably not designed for very muddy outings, just looking at the fabric it seems more wind and water proof than dirt resistant (I could be wrong though and be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to clean), but  if you, like me, take it for granted that kids get dirty and that it’s part of having kids, then this is not an issue. That said, the snow suit is machine washable which should do the trick anyway.

In the past I’ve had slight difficulties with the sizing of Vertbaudet clothes which are often a bit on the small side. The snowsuit in hand is size 3 years and it is actually for a 3 year old child and definitely big for my (small) 2 year old (I had assumed that 3y meant 2-3 years, but it’s a tad bigger than that). I’d recommend to check the helpful sizing info on the Vertbaudet website just below a product to get it right. Helpfully there are European sizes too which measure the actual height of children, so this snow suit at size 3 is for children up to 94cm tall (while 2-3 years usually equals 92cm). The good news is that we’ll get 2 winters’ use out of it.

This may be a bit technical, but if you commit to buy a hard wearing outdoor suit, it’s useful to get the sizing right. Returns are of course an option but it’s preferrable if the hassle of returning an item can be avoided.

So all in all, a very practical solution for the winter, and currently on special offer over at Vertbaudet.

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Nurturing Outdoor Play with Grounds for Learning

In the past year, there have been a few exciting new initiatives which nurture children’s connection with nature and outdoor play. It’s about time that I featured these in a little series here on Nature Kids Glasgow, as examples of good and innovative practice. It would be amazing to see similar projects happening, or for people to be inspired to set up their own little space where children can connect with nature.

First up is Grounds for Learning’s project Nurturing Outdoor Play. Grounds for Learning has a track record of innovative projects that make outdoor and nature play and learning an everyday occurrence. When Nurturing Outdoor Play was set up, I was curious from the outset to find out more because it was apparent that it met a real gap and need.

For many parents who would like to offer their children outdoor play opportunities, there are barriers. I remember being warned not to go on my own into a suburban park as it was not safe. In the city, most people don’t have a garden or may not live near to an accessible ourdoor area. Making a start and taking the children outdoors is not easily done at the best of times. And let’s be honest, the Glasgow weather isn’t exactly enticing, it is easier to play outdoors in climates which are a tad drier and warmer, and with more light in the winter.

Nurturing Outdoor Play tackles all of this in an innovative way. The programme offers parents and their pre-school children an opportunity of weekly sessions outdoors, supported by Julie Buchanan who brings along ideas and materials for outdoor play. This is done in partnership with selected nurseries, where 6-10 families at a time get the opportunity to join the group that meets up once a week to play outdoors near the nursery for 10 weeks.

This setup overcomes lots of barriers: it introduces parents to local greenspaces but also to each other, so that hopefully in the future parents will continue to meet up with newly found likeminded parents – because let’s face it, it’s much more fun for both parents and kids if you do it as a group! Nevermind the safety concerns, there is strength and confidence in numbers.

So far, dens have been built, birdfeeders made, and wormeries created. There has been clay and chalk art, tree climbing, sliding down hills, bug hunting, log seesaws were made and kites were flown. And sometimes it’s been as simple as just rolling in the grass with mum or dad.

Even just a few months into the programme, it’s become apparent that just a few outdoor play sessions can have a massive impact on children. Shy children have become more confident and engaged, concentration and attention spans of children have markedly increased as has the resilience to persevere with tasks. Children have also been observed to be able to follow instructions better, to have made leaps and bounds in their language development and generally increased their wellbeing. Above all, the children had fun: “He’s never built a den before – that’s the most fun I’ve seen him have in ages” as one parent stated.

The parents too have benefited: The sessions have given parents an chance to have quality time with their children, away from the general hustle and bustle of life, which has strengthened the parent – child relationship. For some parents, the group has offered a welcome opportunity to meet other local parents, and reduced isolation. One parent reported that she feels better going outdoors now that she knows people she can go with. All of this clearly increases the wellbeing of parents too, which in turn has a positive effect on the wellbeing of their children. Everyone wins.

It doesn’t end here though. The project also works with the nurseries to provide add ons to these weekly sessions which will ensure that the project has the widest possible impact and can be sustained even beyond the project’s time span. There are open days at the nursery which reach out to all the children and parents with outdoor play activities, and the development of a garden space in partnership with local forest rangers. Nursery staff also receive training in how to encourage outdoor play and how to make it an everyday occurrence in their curriculum. Furthermore there is a development budget for the outdoor grounds of the nursery with expertise at hand from Grounds for Learning themselves.

At present, Nurturing Outdoor Play is happening at locations in Stirling, North Lanarkshire and Glasgow and there are hopes that in future this could be expanded with additional funding.

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Dean Castle Country Park

A cold November Sunday, and finally we managed to pay Dean Castle Country Park a visit, which had been on my would like to see list of places for about a year. Dean Castle Country Park is situated reasonably centrally in Kilmarnock, and yet it took us a while to actually find it as the signage is patchy. If it wasn’t for this, it would have been just a 35 minute drive from Glasgow, surprisingly short.

The park is nestled into the banks of two streams which join their paths only to flow over a road, which is a sight in itself. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a road design that just let a river flow right across a road that is used regularly by cars. “Awesome” was my daughter’s comment. The park is mostly made up of woodlands with a number of walking routes with some inclines to make it appear larger than it actually is. There is more than enough on offer for a full day’s visit. In fact, we only explored half of the park (as we let the children dictate the pace) and left out a visit to the castle.

Instead, we explored the late autumn woodlands, and admired the wonderful world of fungi, generally got very muddy (it has been raining a lot recently and although the day was dry, the ground was still very much saturated with water).

The adventure playground is nothing extraordinary but will keep children of different ages happy  for a good while, although my older daughter was much more intrigued with the saw dust that I’m sure isn’t a permanent feature but had more to do with a lot of work on paths and making pond life accessible going on at the moment.

The small animal area has recently been upgraded to a small farm, which means that there are quite a collection of farm animals on display, and that this part of the park will expand in the future. There were cows, horses, goats, sheep, pigs, llamas, different fowl, and various small animals to be seen.

Some of the features of the park were not as striking as they must be during spring and summer, but the various ponds of different sizes promise a rich pond life that would in itself be worth a day trip. Similarly we didn’t find the kitchen garden, which was probably due to the season. The countryside rangers exploration area wasn’t open but looked promising.

There are plenty of picnic areas which would make for a lovely outdoor lunch but we decided to also test the tearoom. The food was simple with limited choice and the room was not particularly inviting, but staff were friendly and helpful and the food while not exciting, was fine and healthy. I liked that there was a kids bag that could be taken out to have outdoors, and it contained a bug hunting kit which was rather popular.

The shop next door was filled to the brim with interesting and many outdoor play related items, so definitely worth a visit. Just at the entrance, there are plenty of deer which are quite used to people.

We enjoyed just exploring the park which has quite a wild feel to it, although it’s nestled right in the middle of Kilmarnock. There are some access points to the two rivers too, which was very much welcomed by the kids. I’d definitely like to come back in the spring to see the season change in Dean Park and explore the parts we didn’t get to today.

Access to Dean Castle Country Park and the Castle is free.

Travel: M/A 77 southbound from Glasgow, follow signs for A735 and B7038 and the park is signposted (though signposting is patchy). Public transport: Kilmarnock train station. The park is about  1.5 miles to the north of the centre.

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In case you were wondering…

Yes, we are having a bit of a quiet time at the moment. This is not for want of ideas and things to blog about but about lack of time to do so. In the meantime, please like our facebook page (scroll down on the left) where there are regular updates on all things Kids and Nature in Glasgow. Something to look forward to very soon will be the timetable of the Nurture in Nature playgroup for November. Have a wonderful rest of autumn and don’t let the early nights keep you from playing outdoors!

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Guestpost: The South Downs National Park – our Highlights

I’m Jennifer, Mum to Harry (3) and Mia (1). We live in West Sussex, England and I blog about parenting, arts and crafts and days out with the family at Jennifer’s Little World (http://www.jenniferslittleworld.com).
We are lucky enough to live just outside the border of England’s newest National Park – The South Downs National Park. (http://www.southdowns.gov.uk/ The National Park stretches for 140km across Southern England. From the west, near Winchester, the boundary lies north of the coastal towns and cities, but to the east it stretches all the way down to the coast, finishing at Beachy Head near Eastbourne. The South Downs Way (http://www.southdownsway.co.uk/) is a well-maintained National Trail that runs for 160km across the South Downs, and can be picked up at various points for a short or longer walk with some beautiful views.
Our children are still very small, so the places that we enjoy visiting tend to be close to car parks and don’t involve too much walking. Here are some of our favourite spots:
Highdown Hill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highdown_Hill) is a beautiful and historic spot to enjoy some spectacular views across Worthing and the Downs. On a clear day you can even see as far as the Isle of Wight and Beachy Head. If you park at the top then the grassy footpath is mostly level. There is a hotel with a tearoom near the car park, and also the lovely Highdown Gardens which are free to visit. The gardens are vast, with secluded areas, ponds with enormous fish and open grassy areas for children to run around. Just remember, as you watch your children tear down the hill in a carefree fashion, it’s a steep walk back up to the car park!
We also live very close to Cissbury Ring (http://www.findon.info/cissbury/cissbury.htm), an Iron Age hill fort near Findon. The main car park is at the base of the hill with a short but steep climb, but we aim to find a space in the small car park at the top, just a short walk from the ring. Once there it’s a great place for children to run around, with lots of hills and slopes and of course some lovely views. Chanctonbury Ring (http://www.findon.info/chanctonbury/chanctonbury.htm) is another nearby hill fort, this one marked out by a large ring of trees. There are two car parks in Washington, each with a short walk up to the top of the hill. Chanctonbury Ring is presumed to be an early Iron Age fort, but is famous for the beech trees which were planted in 1760. Despite extensive damage during the storms of 1987 it still dominates the landscape as the replanted trees continue to grow.
A little further from us along the coast, the Seven Sisters (http://www.sevensisters.org.uk/) are formed by seven chalk cliffs, with an eighth currently being created by coastal erosion. There is a pay and display car park at the Visitors Centre near Seaford, and an easy access trail (4km return and suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs) which takes you down to Cuckmere Haven on the coast, with some beautiful views of the cliffs.
Birling Gap (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/birling-gap-and-the-seven-sisters/) is a coastal hamlet situated to the east of the last of the Seven Sisters, and not far from Beachy Head. A row of coastguard cottages is slowly falling into the sea due to coastal erosion, and it is a fascinating although rather sad sight. There is a staircase down to a pebble beach with rockpools to explore, and you can also take a short grassy walk up the hill to the top of the cliff. It is likely that the rest of the cottages at Birling Gap won’t be around for much longer, as they will be demolished before they fall into the sea. The car park and cafe are now owned by the National Trust, and you can find some information there, as well as photographs of how it used to look.
At the far end of the South Downs National Park lies the last of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, (http://www.beachyhead.org/index.html), the highest chalk sea cliff in the UK. It’s a windy headland, with a pay and display carpark at the top and a short walk up to the cliff edge for wonderful views and a glimpse of the famous lighthouse below. There is also a pub serving food. You need to watch children very closely here as there are no fences, and it’s a long sheer drop to the sea below.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into our corner of the world. Can you recommend anywhere that I’ve missed?
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