A kid, supported with a harness, climbs ten metres up a tall beech tree at Hazel Hill

A kid, supported with a harness, climbs ten metres up a tall beech tree at Hazel Hill

I’ve just returned a wonderful weekend in the woods, the first ever Hazel Hill Family Adventure Weekend. The aim of the weekend was to give kids the chance to get out into the woods and to create their own adventures. We ran the weekend in partnership with Monkey Do who create fantastic rope net structures that allow kids (and grown ups) to jump, bounce and swing from level to level between the trees.

When the families arrived on Friday evening, we filled up on enchiladas before going on a walk through the woods to help everyone get their bearings. We finished the evening with introductions around the campfire and a discussion about the weekend ahead. We had thought the kids would want to go to bed, but, as it turned out, not until they had been on a night walk through the pitch-black forest.

After an early breakfast on Saturday morning we went looking for leaves to help us learn about the different types of tree in the wood. Then it was time to get into the nets. For an hour and a half the kids clambered around, daring each other to jump from the highest net to the lowest one, and challenging each other to race from one side to the other. Meanwhile, one by one, kids and adults were strapped into a safety harness and climbed as high as they would dare up one of the tallest beech trees in the wood. When the forecast rain came in the afternoon we retreated to the covered roundhouse for a session on how to light a fire with a flint and steel. My accordion provided background music which eventually turned into everyone singing along.

Earlier in the day we challenged the kids to move from one area of the wood to another without being seen. The idea was to encourage them to go deeper into the woods and explore the secret pathways through the undergrowth created by the dear. This exercise was good practice for our last outdoor activity of the afternoon, a game of capture the flag (tea towel) played right across an area of dense woodland at the westernmost end of Hazel Hill.

The evening began with a dinner of vegetable kebabs that the kids roasted on an open fire. I then ran a solo Charleston class for adults and kids, which was supposed to last half an hour, but went on for an hour and a half as everyone was enjoying it so much. We eventually regrouped at the campfire to reflect on the day and to listen to some poems by Michael Rosen.

Sunday’s start was not quite so early: the kids’ exertions were beginning to catch up with them. We played more stalking games through the wood, this time in the thickest area of forest. We then moved on to the dark wood, an area planted with scots pine, for a game of Owl and Mouse, a blindfold game in which the ‘mice’ must sneak up on the blindfolded ‘owl’ without being heard – an exquisitely silent game to watch! We returned to the nets for more suspended adventures and finished with a final game of capture the flag, this time played among the tall trees of the heart wood where there is much more space to run around.

The weekend was a great success in many ways. All the participants left beaming. The parents told of their joy at managing to persuade their kids to put away their electronic devices for the weekend; and even some of the kids admitted to appreciating this as well. It was also a for the crew, none of us having worked together before, and all of us enjoying ourselves and feeling part of the wood. And I think it was a great success for Hazel Hill, showing how the woodland can be used as a place for adventure.

I look forward to using what we learnt from this event in other weekends at Hazel Hill (especially at our upcoming Autumn Conservation Weekend), to working with all the facilitators again, and hopefully to seeing many of the participants at future Hazel Hill weekends.