Between 1962-1970 I lived in Tring, Hertfordshire. It was (and I believe still is) a small market town and it was a wonderful place for a young boy to grow up in. We lived in a new-build on the edge of town, literally a stones-throw from open fields that stretched away to the reservoirs. The new estate on which our home was built had attracted mainly young families, so that there were plenty of children about - and as we lived in a cul-de-sac, the boys that also populated it with me formed a ready gang. Back then 'stranger danger', health and safety and paranoia were largely missing from the world of the grown ups, so us kids were left alone to get on with our lives.
Because open countryside was literally on our doorstep we used to go off an explore it, sometimes on foot, at other times on our bikes. We cycled the pavement-less country lanes as a peloton of seven and eight-year-olds, oblivious to traffic (mainly because there was none). We found farmers gateways in which to rest up, apple trees to scrump from and blackberry bushes to raid if we were desperate. Our travels might take us to the canal, where we would hang over locks in feats of daring-do, scoop up frogspawn or try to master the art of skimming stones - and not one of us could swim. Our time was also taken up, depending on the season, by conker fights; throwing burdocks and grass arrows at each other; blowing on grass leaves until they squeaked; popping bindweed flowers out into the air; seeing if we liked butter by holding up a buttercup to our chin (we always did!); capturing butterflies and imprisoning them in glass jars; trying to find bird's nests; creeping through crops that were taller than us; sneaking into barns to chase rats with sticks and then beating a retreat if the farmer came along the track (and heaven help us if his dog got a sniff of us...) We made camps in the woods, and in them took our first puff on a 'liberated' cigarette.
None of us were into nature, it was just there. To climb a tree, to lay out in a field and look up into the sky, to get grass stains on our knees, to pick goosegrass balls and grass seeds from your jumper - these were all just a part of our life - a part of our growing up. We left home in the morning and appeared again at tea-time. If we were very late our parents weren't so much worried about our wellbeing, they would be more concerned that our food was getting cold.
The sun always seemed to be shining. My six-week summer holidays always seemed to last a lifetime. I was fortunate in that my early childhood was without problems and full of carefree happiness. When I look back now, a lot of that was down to the relationship that I had with the outdoors. It was there to explore, a giant natural playground where I felt at total ease. It was full of adventure and possibility. We were whippet-thin, as fit as fiddles and fearless to boot, all through our walking, running, cycling and climbing. The odd broken arm, cuts and bruises here and there, but by and large no harm done. And who didn't enjoy picking the scabs off a few days later?
How many kids in 2015 can lay claim to all of that? And is it any wonder that there seems to be a disconnection between us and nature.