Ask me what I did at work last week, or what I had for dinner last Monday, or any number of things related to the daily routine of my life, and I will, most probably, not remember. This not because of old age or the early onset of dementia! It is because these things were routine, they were not special, they were not outstanding.
However, there are many things that I have done or have happened in my life that I can remember as if it had happened this morning. It is a strange yet normal fact that there are somethings that are easier to remember than others. These tend to be things that you have done rather than things you have seen or heard.
My earliest every recollection is going down a street in Paignton in my pushchair to my Grand Parents house and looking up at the way the streetlights sparkled in the light rain. I enjoyed the sensation of the sparkling light and the feel of the rain on my face. I can also remember, from the same time frame, crawling across my Grand Parents lawn. I don’t ever recall crawling across the carpet only the lawn.
In fact, when I think back to my childhood, the only things that really stand out clearly in my mind are things that I have done outdoors. In my early teens, whilst on a Scout Camp to Exmoor, we walked from Watersmeet to Lynmouth. I remember every detail of that walk but nothing of the rest of the camp. Similarly in my later teens at Scout camp in North Wales, I can replay every detail of walking the Bedol yr Wyddfa (Snowdon Horseshoe) but nothing of what else we did.
When I was 13 years old, we went on a weeklong school trip to the Charterhouse Outdoor Centre on the Mendip Hills. I recall very little of the educational stuff we did but what does stand out was the organised trip we made into Goatchurch Cavern, in Burrington Combe. This one event had such a major impact on me and lead to me caving and potholing all over the UK and Europe and encouraged me to take up rock climbing and mountaineering.
My main career was as an Officer and Aviator in the RAF. I travelled all over the world and saw many great sites but remember very few of them. However, I had the opportunity to explore the Empty Quarter of Oman and climb the country’s highest mountain Jabel Shams. On the first evening we were (four of us) sleeping around the fire under the stars. I woke at about 2am absolutely shivering and had to put my fleece jacket on as the air temperature had dropped to 30c (daytime temp was 45c!).
I remember clearly the thrill of reaching the lower summit of the Jabel Shams to be greeted by the local indigenice people trying to sell their handmade rugs. They had appeared from nowhere over the edge of the kilometre deep canyon wearing nothing on their feet and carrying their babies on their backs. This comes back to me like it was yesterday.
Some of my outdoor memories have been more influential than others. Some have even helped to chart the course of my life. One of these stories I have already spoken about in a previous blog, but it will not hurt to run it again. It was basically my introduction to a life of outdoor adventure that would take me all over the world and end up here writing this piece now.
It was a Friday night in May 1966 in a field at Yeovil Marsh, Somerset. The time was about 10pm and I was snuggled up in my sleeping bag surrounded by good friends. We were talking and laughing and had been told on numerous occasions that evening to be quiet and go to sleep. Then it happened, the start of one of the most influential 10 hours of my life.
With a bright flash the sky lite up and out tent glowed green – the colour of the canvas. Then came the loudest crash I had heard up to that point in my life, followed by screams and shouts. But before we realised what had happened another flash illuminated the tent and a further crash within a second. The thunder-storm was directly overhead and the rain was torrential.
We huddled together in the centre of the tent holding up the ground sheet to keep everything dry from the river that was now flowing through half of our tent. Then someone started…….. every time there was a flash this was followed by a boo and then a cheer with each clap of thunder. Before long we were all doing the same oblivious of the adults working in the pouring ran to dig channels around the tents and make sure we were all OK.
Eventually the storm passed and faded out and one by one we all fell fast asleep exhausted from this nighttime sojourn into our own fantasies. I have no recollection of the time but sleep came easily and lasted the night through. Then, it happened – that smell, the one that still takes me back to that campsite every time it enters my nostrils.
Wood smoke pervaded my senses coupled with the distinctive smell of bacon cooking over the fire. Struggling into my wellies I ventured out into the early morning sunshine, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face and clearing the sleep from my eyes I was welcomed by the sight of ‘Skip’ sat by the fire with two of the biggest cast iron frying pans imaginable cooking bacon and eggs.
And so I started my first full day at Cub camp.
Ten hours had passed that would change my life for ever – I had discovered an affinity with the great outdoors which lead onto a life of adventure – walking, climbing, caving and of course camping. Even to this day the smell of wood smoke and bacon cooking takes me back that fateful day in 1966.
As I approach my 65th birthday, I have a lifetime of memories from my family days, RAF days and holidays. However, the ones that stand out as clear as daylight are the ones that have involved me doing something in the great outdoors.
You can put a child in front of a games console, and they will play for hours on end but remember nothing of it. You can encourage your child to read, and they will remember 10%, let them watch a documentary and they will remember 25%. However, take them outdoors and let them learn and practice a new skill and they will remember 75% of it 1
If you want your child to have the best opportunities in life and develop useful and timeless life skills, then there is no better place than the great outdoors. Take them walking, introduce new skills such as map reading. Let them pitch a tent and sleep in the back garden. Help your child create a life time of memories.
- Lee, S. J., & Reeves, T. C. (2007). Edgar Dale: A significant contributor to the field of educational technology. Educational Technology, 47(6), 56.