Parenting is a tricky and tiring business. In pursuit of much needed respite, many of us will have been guilty of choosing screen time indoors over quality time outdoors on more than one occasion. Alarmingly, this has resulted in a survey recording that 75% of children in the UK now get less time outside than prison inmates; a statistic that has surely continues to deteriorate.
Playing outdoors not only tires children out but provides an opportunity for them to develop self-confidence, independence and learn responsibility. For example, if put in charge of watering a plant, a child soon learns that they must take care of living things to keep them alive. This less structured environment also encourages creativity and imagination. In a nutshell, spending time outdoors isn’t just enjoyable, it’s necessary.
It is one thing recognising this need, but quite another actually putting it into practice. Children mostly greet the suggestion of a family walk with a groan. The trick, therefore, is learning how to turn walking into a mini adventure that is both fun and interesting. This is where The Ambling Path is there to help. Created during lockdown by Clanfield mum and teacher, Sally Broom, The Ambling Path’s premise is simple; to show you how easy it is to enjoy a family-friendly walk in our local countryside.
I first came across Sally through Instagram; the ideal social media platform for her striking photos. At our first meeting, where I shared the location of a ‘secret’ spot that beautifully combines both wild garlic and bluebells in May, I mooted the idea of a Petersfield walking festival; my thinking being that with 2 keen walkers I had the basis of a weekend event. Little did we both realise that a year later the festival would be in its second year and The Ambling Path would have a beautiful, fully searchable walks website, complete with creative ideas that banish all claims of walking being boring.
The other thing that stood out from our first meeting was a shared background. We were both from Devon, spent our childhoods messing around on ponies, loved maps and had recently returned from living overseas. The similarities were verging on the uncanny until you added children into the mix. In contrast to Sally having a young family and being a naturally patient, nurturing teacher, I was in the process of gladly waving my children out the door ….permanently!
Wanting her young family to spend as much time as possible outdoors, Sally began capturing and sharing her walking finds on Instagram. Where to find the best playgrounds, picnic spots, opportunities to get close to animals in the wild, places to play pooh sticks, find wildflowers and so much more. In addition to this, she provided ideas for engaging, educational activities, useful information about where to park, whether routes were dog or pushchair friendly and had toilets. In short, it was everything a parent would appreciate when planning to a trip out. Essentially, she reframed a family walk as an exciting, fun-filled, family adventure.
Although she initially struggled with the concept of other people being interested in her walks, there was clearly appetite for this type of content. Within 3 years she has amassed over 9000 followers on Instagram. Whether you have children/grandchildren or simply enjoy a short walk I thoroughly recommend a browse of The Ambling Path website (www.theamblingpath.co.uk). If nothing else Sally’s photos are a terrific reminder that we live in a stunning part of the country.
From website/social media analytics, Sally can see that the most popular walks are still those in well-known areas, with large playgrounds. It is a slow process helping people feel confident to step outside their comfort zone, but it is happening. In our chat on a more recent walk, Sally confessed that not all her exploratory walks are successful. In fact, one that hasn’t been added to her website is around the lake on Mitchell’s Common near Minsted, outside Midhurst. On the map it seemed to offer similar recreational potential to Petersfield’s lake and those on Midhurst Common. However, closer inspection revealed an off-limits, former industrial sandpit. As she learnt, it always pays to do a recce!
Our recent walk along the river Rother wasn’t a million miles from Minsted, but not one Sally knew. This is hardly surprising, because given a choice between the muddy brown Rother and the crystal-clear waters of chalk streams out West, Sally definitely prefers the latter. In fact, her favourite walk, that ticks all the boxes for a family-friendly, adventurous day out is along the River Arle in Alresford. Here you can find a flat, easy path, wildlife in and out of the water, history, beautiful architecture, a park and cafes/pub depending on your preference. Having grown up on Dartmoor with cold, deep, angry, boulder-strewn rivers as the norm, Hampshire’s tranquil chalk streams provide Sally with an altogether more relaxing watery experience.
Last summer, Petersfield Walking Festival was delighted to offer two guided walks with The Ambling Path; one along the River Meon with a picnic and the other across to Sky Park Farm, thanks to a very generous package they offered our walkers. This year, Sally has once again agreed to reprise her role as walk leader for the festival. You will be able to find more details of these walks on the festival website, with lots more, free, self-guided holiday walking ideas available on www.theamblingpath.co.uk.