If You Go Down To The Woods Today: A Tale From The Chalk Face
A woodland scene, painted by Class 4.
As a retired teacher, I have many happy memories of working in schools and there have been numerous rewarding and fulfilling events over the last three decades. Over my time in education, I’d taken part in residential almost every year with the year 6 children at different outdoor centres. One of the most memorable learning experiences happened right at the beginning of my career …
About thirty years ago, as a young primary school teacher, I took my class of 10-year-olds on an outdoor education residential week in the Lake District. The school did this every summer term and it gave the kids the opportunity to experience canoeing, rock climbing, ghyll scrambling … that sort of thing. This particular year, we’d decided that we’d also do some bivvying, which involves wild camping without a tent. As with all these activities, thorough risk assessments had been carried out as you’d expect, we had the correct ratio of adults to pupils and the session was led by two experienced and properly qualified outdoor experts.
We stopped by an outcrop of rock on the edge of a wooded area, made camp, cooked supper and drank hot chocolate before settling down to sleep under the stars. It all went brilliantly well and although it took a bit of time to get everyone to go to sleep, we managed it and I lay in my bivvy bag, reflecting on what a successful week it had been.
I woke up at 5 am, the sun already showing, and feeling a little chilly I thought I’d get up and go for a pee in the woods before any of the kids started to stir. I tiptoed around the sleeping bodies and out of the camp. There was no obvious path through the trees, but I stumbled on a short distance so that I was well out of sight of the class.
The author reorientated.
Enjoying being at one with nature, I closed my eyes, listened to the dawn chorus and breathed in the cold morning air deeply. When I opened my eyes I felt a little uneasy; I couldn’t remember which direction I’d come from. I laughed nervously, thinking what a fool I’d been not taking note of my route or surroundings as I tried to recognise tree trunks I’d passed on my way or anything disturbed on the ground that would indicate a path back to the camp … but there was nothing! Then I did what turned out to be the worst thing possible in the situation, which was to do a 360 degree turn, desperation rising, looking for the slightest clue to help me and wandering around in the hope that I’d stumble upon something familiar. Nothing! The trees all looked the same and after about ten more minutes of confused wandering and with a rising feeling of panic I realised I was properly lost.
Newspaper headlines flashed through my mind … incompetent teacher found dishevelled and confused in a forest five years after going missing. I walked a little further. Then, in desperation, as a last resort, I thought I’d just try shouting for help.
So I shouted.
I waited … listened; nothing.
I shouted the name of the school, the words disappearing off into the forest leaving further silence and the panic rising a little further.
I shouted louder … in the distance, I heard a faint chorus of young voices. I shouted again.
!” came the reply.
After a few repeats, the replies grew louder as I made way back to the camp, eventually stumbling out of the wood mightily relieved and faced by a sea of curious ten-year-olds and some non-plussed adults. I tried to make out it was some sort of outdoor problem solving activity they’d just experienced, guiding me back to base, but they didn’t believe me.
It’s important to learn from such experiences, so I decided that the next time, I’d take a leaf out of Hansel & Gretel’s woodland survival tips and lay a trail of breadcrumbs if ever again I needed to go for a pee in the forest …