Make the February half term a natural break. Samantha Laurie has some great ideas for getting kids out and about
On a wet, windy morning, the prospect of a run in the woods might not have your kids leaping up from the sofa. But give them a map, a compass and an electronic ‘dibber’ and it’s a very different story.
By February the orienteering season is in full swing, as competitors of all ages – increasingly young families – discover the thrills of a group treasure hunt. As the most wooded county in the UK, Surrey is perfect terrain. You can walk, run, jog or even mountain bike the timed trails between features marked on a map, using hand-held dibbers to log onto control points along the way.
Check out big clubs such as Guildford Orienteers (guildfordorienteers.co.uk), which has a strong junior section and runs an after-school club every Tuesday to encourage new participants. Clubs come together to hold competitive fixtures, usually on a Sunday morning, with families welcome to attend.
The courses are colour-coded white (ideal for 8 years +), yellow (1-2 kms, aimed at over 10s) and black (longer and more rugged terrain). Many events also have string courses for very young children, where the course is literally marked out with string and the kids and parents run it together.
Find out more from your local club. Mole Valley (mvoc.org), Southern Navigators (southernnavigators.com), South London Orienteers (slow.org.uk) and Berkshire Orienteers (bko.org.uk), as well as Guildford, are some of the biggest players. Or go to britishorienteering.org.uk, which has a postcode search for fixtures.
If you prefer to go at your own pace, buy a map for one of the many permanent courses marked out by Surrey clubs (see club websites). Guildford Orienteers, for example, maintains an excellent course at Newlands Corner, near Guildford, together with the Surrey Wildlife Trust.
Clearing ponds, laying footpaths, hacking back undergrowth: conservation volunteering enables children to take on practical countryside tasks alongside seasoned experts, who are happy to point out wildlife and identify trees. The camaraderie of these ‘green gyms’ is a big attraction. Most welcome kids with parents.
One of the largest groups is the Downlands Partnership, based in North-East Surrey. And, as luck would have it, the Partnership is running its popular coppicing sessions during the February half-term. They take place on Coulsdon Common from Feb 14-16. Come and help out for a couple of hours, or stay for the whole day enjoying lunch and a bonfire.
Close to wildlife
There are 47 Wildlife Trusts in the UK, making them the largest people-powered environmental resource in the land. Their purpose is to protect and manage our wildlife and wild spaces – and getting kids on board is critical.
Surrey Wildlife Trust has a host of events taking place across its 8,000 hectares this month. Join the rangers for a Winter Tree Identification walk on Royal Common, Elstead (Feb 16) or take part in a Wild Families fun nature session at Newlands Corner, near Guildford, on February 11.
On Fridays it’s Wild Tots – outdoor adventures in the woods for 2-6 year olds, also at Newlands Corner. And, for the real enthusiast (9am start!), Early Birds on Nutfield Marsh, near Redhill (Feb 19), promises a fabulous intro to the local beaked wonders.
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