We’re all guilty of it. None of us are immune to the addictive powers and instant gratification of TV, the internet, social media. We all spend too much time staring at screens. Time that, outside of working hours, could be better spent doing something else.
And whilst social media, smart phones, video games and technology are now part of the everyday fabric of life, it can also be damaging to our mental and physical health, particularly where young people are concerned. Luckily there is a cure, and sometimes all it takes is getting out the front door.
We try get out with our own girls as often as we can, but still not as often as we’d like. Life, laziness, lack of time, lack of funds, lack of suitable weather conditions. There’s always an excuse or a reason not to go outside.
Dragging two teenaged city girls away from the comfortable embrace of Youtube sometimes doesn’t seem worth the screaming protestations, or their determination to remain rigidly inert before the temptations of Netflix, refusal to pack bags, get their ‘stuff’, or find their shoes. But to persevere (usually after the promise of a small bribe) is to witness a magical metamorphosis take place. Gone are the lethargic couch potatoes, replaced instead by (mainly) happy, energised, chatty kids.
Admittedly, said change is usually preceded by a car journey conducted in shunned silence. A glance in the rear-view mirror revealing a headphone-clamped head denying your mere existence. However, as soon as we skirt around Wareham and the great, humpbacked hills of the Purbecks hove into view, the transformation begins. Sullen silence gives way to excited conversation in anticipation of the adventures to come. The Purbecks have always felt like a spiritual home. The scenery is so dramatic; rolling hills giving way to steep cliffs and stunning coastline, wooded coombes and hidden valleys.
Here, you can do more of the things we love (well, more of the stuff I love and therefore force my children to do). Walk, cycle, run, climb, swim, kayak, surf badly, burn sausages. Walks follow a familiar pattern, usually beginning with the question “Can we get a taxi back from the pub?”. Somehow, whether by happy accident or design, walks always seem to involve a pub where the protesters can be sated with liquid refreshment and complex carbohydrate. After which the requests for a taxi ride tend to be relegated to a distant memory.
This is a landscape that doesn’t reveal its secrets easily. It’s still possible to discover places that feel wild, untamed and untouched. You have to be prepared to work for them, to discover hidden coves and deserted beaches. Eerie abandoned quarries, caves, even entire villages.
The Isle of Purbeck gets under your skin and stubbornly refuses to be forgotten. There’s never enough time to explore, which means there’s always a reason to return. This is a place where we’ve shared some of our happiest times with our girls, plunging into the sea or scrabbling up the cliffs at Dancing Ledge, pasties and apple cake on blissful summer days outside the Square and Compass, perfect sunny days at Chapman’s Pool, drizzly Sunday hikes on a winter’s afternoon. The weather is always perfect if you’re perfectly prepared.
The modern world can be a scary place for kids. Social media, peer pressure, body shaming, rising anxiety, exam stress, the pressure to look and act a certain way. Our eldest daughter has suffered bouts of anxiety for a few years, and our youngest is also starting to show similar traits in situations she finds stressful. But when we can get them away from the trappings of modern life and spend time together outdoors, all these pressures and worries seem to melt away. Nature is one of life’s greatest gifts, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
We all need to encourage kids to explore and enjoy the great outdoors. To discover for themselves the simple, incomparable joys of messing about in nature. We owe it to the kids to show them a life away from the small screen.
So, let’s make the time. Ditch the phones, forget the filters, switch Fortnite epics for fortnightly epics in the great outdoors. Life is out there in all its glorious technicoloured beauty. Discover the glory of grey days, with coasts and castles shrouded in mist and mystery. Run. Ramble. Seize the day, feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, and taste the salt in the air. Fall off, get back on again, get wet, get cold, warm up by a campfire. Share stories. Create memories that will last a lifetime. Climb, clamber, scrabble, swim, paddle, swing, giggle, gasp. Get a grip. Loosen up. Stretch your legs. Feel the burn. See the sun set and the dawn break. Try something new. Do something that scares you. Don’t be afraid of trying. Or failing.
With this mantra in mind, we’ll be heading to the Purbecks this weekend. The weather’s looking good. The van is already packed, or rather, the van is still unpacked from three weeks ago. We’ve braced ourselves for the inevitable arguments, and we won’t be taking “But we went out last weekend!” for an answer. We’ll head towards Dancing Ledge, where we’ll park up, unload the van, enjoy that glorious walk to the cliff top and feel our hearts soar as we see the sea. Then feel our hearts sink as we remember we’ve left the packed lunch in the van, trudge back, collect the forgotten provisions, and head back down again. We’ll throw on the water shoes then spend 20 minutes dipping our toes and trying to summon the courage to take that first icy plunge.
If you see us, come and say hi.