The school holidays are nearly here and if there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the last few years, it’s that even a short walk is good for the soul, the head and the heart. But getting kids excited about just going for a stroll isn’t always easy.
As a family-friendly walking tour creator, my top tip is that if you make outings mini adventures, suddenly it’ll be a walk in the park. But what if you’re not a natural trailblazer – or just too busy? How do you shoehorn these things into a walk while trying to keep everyone safe, fed, happy and involved?
If you know the area, earmark a couple of landmarks along the way. Not only statues and buildings, although a few quick facts about those can work. Think smaller. Think hidden. Finding something on a building, say an odd carving or a date telling how old it is. Get them to look up: I’ve found all sorts of curiosities on roofs. And down, where whole worlds lie on pavements and paths.
Clues work well. Use them to direct them to something with a tale to tell. In my Lymington’s Smugglers tour, if they find the golden post-box on the high street, they hear the story behind the fancy colour.
Spooky tales, depending on age, and pondering the purpose of curious objects always gets them engaged; repeating odd names or phrases, one of my favourites is ‘crinkle-crankle wall’ (Lymington), really fast five times usually cracks them up and throwing in the odd challenge – say, guess how many steps lead to something and closest gets to choose when to stop for lunch – is fun.
And if even that sounds like too much hard work, help is at hand. My – in fact, all – the walking trails on Ordnance Survey’s family-friendly app, Secret Stories, do everything for you, bar the walking.
In a nutshell, it’s a free download with a virtual library of digital trail maps showing where to go, what’s there, where next, what to look out for and info about it if needed. Choose from short- or long-distances from a trove of national and local locations that include Sherbourne, Shaftesbury, Blandford, pirate-packed Poole and curiosity-rich Christchurch.
All have short, no-nonsense instructions for the tour leader and they are stealth educators, too, with bite-sized stories, brilliant, often gleefully gory or yucky, facts, micro quizzes and activity suggestions. There’s no convoluted stuff, just snappy, relatable tales often delivered in an irreverent tone.
The app takes you by the hand, pointing things out, explaining local quirks and even shows where dodgy pavements, busy crossings, muddy puddles, picnic spots and toilets are. Suddenly, you’re an authority.
The app’s free and many of the tours are, too. Others cost between a couple of quid to a fiver and you can keep and share them.
by Lorraine Gibson