Living, moving and learning out of doors

Submitted by Andy Barclay on Thu, 07/05/2012 - 08:51

Having just spent a very wet day on the northern part of Dartmoor you can’t help but admire the young people who undertake challenges like the Ten Tors or Duke of Edinburgh Award, both of which require participants to complete a self-reliant expedition.

Dartmoor

Dartmoor midday June 30th 2012

Such experiences provide a real challenge in planning and completing such a journey, totally at the mercy of our fickle British weather. Walking through wind and hail (on the last day of June unbelievably) I was bemoaning my lot when I thought back to a recent visit to the Natural History Museum to see their excellent exhibition of Scott’s last expedition.

For those interested in exploration and journeying this is just an amazing experience with artefacts, clothing, journals and equipment as well as films and photographs all on display. In addition there is a full-size representation of Scott’s Hut, home to the South Pole party for 3 years, along with vivid descriptions of life in this unforgiving and harsh environment. What is fascinating is that so much exploration in the past was driven as much by science and geography as by the challenge of living and travelling in these new and difficult environments. George Mallory’s first visits to Everest in the early 1920s for example took place at a time when no maps of the region existed so it was as much about finding the way to Everest as about getting to the top. Hard to imagine that they travelled to the sub-continent by boat then took two months to walk into their basecamp area. Mallory referred to Everest as his “wildest dream,” the title of a largely excellent film about his expeditions there. The film ends with a haunting song entitled “Edge of Heaven,” the lyrics of which were drawn from letters exchanged between Mallory and his wife Ruth. Have a listen, have a look at the 1920s footage and marvel at the clothes these men were wearing in their attempt to climb the world’s highest mountain.

The popular understanding of outdoor education early in my career was “living, moving and learning out of doors.” Nearly 30 years later it is still my default setting when asked for a definition and I believe we have made massive strides in learning out of doors. At the same time I am not sure we have done the same in terms of living out of doors. In a conversation last week with Mark Peters, Head of Porthpean Outdoor Education Centre, he was bemoaning the fact that he had 160 children with damp sleeping bags. Why? Mainly because in a wet and windy June children exit their tents and leave the doors wide open. This is symptomatic of a generation which seems oblivious to the environmental conditions around them. Every morning I regularly drive past hordes of secondary students on their way to school. Irrespective of the time of year or the prevailing weather they are mainly in shirt sleeves with ties akimbo. I heard of one young man suffering mild hypothermia waiting for the school bus last winter!

Whilst it’s not as exciting as canoeing, climbing or archery, teaching young people how to be dry, warm and comfortable in the outdoors is a fundamental part of outdoor learning. It is the foundation stone for all worthwhile outdoor experiences and challenges, and is critical for extended time in the outdoors such as those undertaking expeditions in the D of E Award. Hats off to you guys; maybe the next Scott, Mallory or Shackleton is out there right now.