An Education By Astonishment must have been what they had in mind when creating Spain’s first university at Salamanca in 1134. It’s a stunning small city, much like Oxford with its many absolutely astonishing sandy-coloured buildings.
These days 30,000 students make up a fifth of its population. The university’s motto even fits in neatly with what we’ve been doing with our Education By Astonishment concept – in which we’ve travelled around four countries these past few months staying on dozens of Club campsites: What Salamanca doesn’t give you, nature won’t supply you.
The 15th Century Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells, 350 scallop designs cover its exterior) was fantastic, it had its wonderful rhythmical theme, as did the busker there. And if Salamanca was awesome by day, which it was, it was perhaps even more stunning at night!
For us as a family it’s been perhaps the greatest joy and learning aspect so far of this term of our educational journey, that despite wonderful cities such as Salamanca and many of the other astonishing cities and places such as museums within those cities that we’ve been lucky enough to visit, it’s nature that offers the most astonishment.
Being in the great outdoors also offers fragrant smells, such as from the beautiful blossoms, and sounds too of course, such as sweet birdsong every morning on the campsites. But what it gives most of all is a feeling: one of wellbeing and tranquility, a knowing that this is where we as people need to be at least for some while every week in order to keep our lucidity and energy. Our family feels at peace from being within nature so much, we’re back in our natural rhythms where we’re supposed to be.
So even though we were headed back “home” – our Devon four brick walls and a tiled roof, although as “home is where the heart is” our motorhome presently feels like home (yes, we live in number 696, as our motorhome is a Swift Escape 696…), nature has been and continues to be our ever-astounding host as we travel from one fantastic picturesque and park-esque Club campsite to another.
As with all the best cities and towns, Salamanca was a great combination of buildings (Roman, Moorish and Spanish) and nature, with its tree-lined streets and squares, and even the sight of huge storks’ nests on the cathedral towers. Much of the city centre is still walled and the river to it can be crossed by walking in the footsteps of an infinite amount of others across the amazing 1st Century Roman bridge.
Our two little boys love exploring places like this or the outdoors on foot or pedaling their bikes. There’s no question that given the choice of iPad game or real-life adventure they’d put the device down quicker than you can say the words fun fun fun! We know, as we’ve tried it as an experiment a few times (although it has to be said there are some terrific educational apps on these devices these days, as well as of course the modern-day bonus of being able to go online to research a place before visiting to bring it even more alive with history and other interesting facts).
After eating the tastiest tapas we’ve had in Spain in a locals’ bar just a few minutes walk from the very lovely Camping Regio (where interestingly a local school had some of its children camping out so they could enjoy and learn from being outdoors), we started the journey to Santander, another beautiful Spanish city that saw us go from the Spain most people know of dry rocky landscapes to España Verde (Green Spain), which looks not unlike England in the summertime.
Santander’s a great city with beaches all around so we had no problem happily whiling away the hours.
We watched the ship sail in, boarded as ever with ease, and then slept across the Bay of Biscay to be woken in the morning to the wonderful sight of the vast expanse of sea.
And then, as we looked – a minke whale came to the surface to say good morning! You could touch the excitement on board as everyone saw him. A really amazing sight.
The rest of the journey (24 hours in all) went by swiftly, helped by some bingo (great for the boys to work at their numbers, “legs 11!”) and the spotting of the ship’s resident animal Pierre the Bear.
Another great sea trip over, we landed to a stunning Southsea sunset. Then back to Devon for a swift turnaround (including opening some exciting parcels from Outwell, such as this brilliant bat and star themed children’s camping table and chairs that our boys put up themselves and insisted on having all their meals there!) as we were invited to take part in the National Camping and Caravanning Week (NCCW), starting with its London media launch where TV presenter and mum (and very lovely person!) Julia Bradbury was on hand to encourage parents to get their children camping and in the great outdoors.
We even got interviewed by radio and television, and often alongside (also very lovely!) Professor Sue Waite from Plymouth University who’s carried out new research that discovered some astounding findings, including: four out of five parents say camping has a positive effect on their children’s education; 95 per cent said their kids are happier when camping; 93 per cent felt it provides useful skills for later life; and the top 5 national curriculum subjects are better understood by camping (Geography, Science, History, English and Maths).
It’s heartwarming to hear all of this, as our Education By Astonishment concept started with a mere inkling that the best way to learn about the world out there – especially for two young children who, like all children, are just beginning to learn how to navigate the world – was to be out in the world out there. As we went along our way we felt increasingly this was right, so to have it officially backed up by findings such as these was fantastic.
As part of this NCCW week we then travelled to Chester Zoo via a stay at one of our favourite cosy campsites at Radnage – with great Chiltern Hills views, and check out the resident sheep and alpacas as well. At the zoo there was a pop-up campsite set up by The Camping & Caravanning Club with lots of fun things for families to show those who’ve never camped what they’re missing and to encourage those that have camped to get back to nature on one of the many brilliant campsites out there.
Other pop-up campsites where we popped up were in Birmingham and Southampton. It was a privilege to be able to play our part in encouraging others to have as much fun as we have, and learn so much as we’ve gone along the way. We also had the chance to try some lovely new campsites for us, such as Hollands Wood in the beautiful New Forest, and return to others that we have enjoyed staying at on previous travels such as the former orchard that’s now a charming campsite in Chichester.
We know not everyone can or is willing to take off as much time as we have to travel and camp, but our message is if you’ve never tried it to give it a go, even if it’s just for a night to start with – perhaps this Ready Camp glamping style is for you – and you will see how awesome it is to sleep comfortably wrapped up in nature and how much more likely you are to make new friends than if you stayed in a hotel. For others who’ve camped but not for a while, you’ll be amazed at how the equipment and campsites have progressed.
We know from our own minds and from speaking with others that some of our best memories as children are from camping. We hope that as parents we’ve passed this forward to our own children and that through camping they’ve made some new friends for life. And, boy, have they (all of us in fact!) learned a lot! As well as us all having the best fun you could imagine – our trip has truly been beyond our wildest dreams.
Now we’re back in Great Britain, we’re going to continue our Education By Astonishment teaching while travelling. We also have another idea that we think will give the chance to many others to get back to nature and camping in this amazing world of ours. Real learning should be something that we do forever. We hope you’ll stay with us, and even come to stay with us, on the journey of life, one that can get narrower and narrower – or ever expanding and even more exciting than any of us can possibly imagine!
So, don’t just hang around (unless you’re enjoying yourself on a giant red ant slide in Salamanca!) – most folks have as much fun as they make their minds up to have… Go for it! 🙂