We’re back in (so far sunny 😎) Britain and well and truly into a British “term” of Education By Astonishment. We have so many astonishing places to go, amazing people to see, marvellous things to marvel at with our open eyes and eager ears as we travel in our trusty Swift Escape on the open road of education and adventure!
Great Britain really is stunning at this time of year, with the sweet aroma of cut grass and hay, late light nights, roadside red strawberries, green rollercoaster hills, peculiar pubs and gentle white candyfloss clouds above straw-topped honey cottages…So we stayed at the lovely Chichester campsite after popping by the National Camping & Caravanning Week’s Southampton pop-up campsite, where we wanted to help spread the word on the joys of family camping and travelling. One of the greatest of those joys is making new friends (unlike when we’ve stayed in hotels!), which we do on every single campsite – and some of our favourite new friends from a fantástico campsite (Cabopino near Malaga, Spain) gave us a surprise visit in Southampton. Thank you Donna & Trevor with their handsome Spanish Water Dog Teddie, and it was fun sharing happy memories of Spanish camping days.
On the way back to our campsite we received an email with a link to a television interview I’d been asked to do when we were in Birmingham, such is the interest in what we’re doing in taking our two little boys Daniel and Darley, aged 5 & 4, out of school to teach as we travel, after downsizing our home to help afford a motorhome. (And from the still above, now I can imagine having hair again, albeit green and bushy!)From Southampton we headed to the picturesque family-run campsite at Radnage in the Chiltern Hills, with the always warm welcome from owner Simon (and his sheep and alpacas!). An hour’s trip from here took us to Bushy Park, the second largest of London’s eight Royal Parks, to see our great old mate Rupert for an outdoor Drama lesson. Rupert’s a fantastic actor who’s graced your TV screens in such as Red Dwarf, The Young Ones, Bottom and Mr Bean. He had Daniel reciting a few lines and taught him how to use body language and project his voice, before finishing off with a sparkling Shakespeare soliloquy: O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night…”Then on the way back to Devon to see if our house (the bricks and mortar one that is!) was still standing, we were lucky enough to see this awe-inspiring Stonehenge sunset. Amazing Britain, yes.House still standing, so it was off to our favourite day out/attraction in Britain: the excellent Eden Project, where you learn from wonder & the wow factor and have fun at the same time, exactly like Education By Astonishment. Eden is, indeed, an unspoilt paradise.First off, congratulations to the foresight of Eden to have special motorhome parking bays. Eden, now we love you even more!
Then this sign at the entrance, which we always find so inspiring. You have an amazing idea – then dream, believe and achieve! Awesome that someone could see a disused clay pit and think, what if… then make it happen and so give thousands of people a great employment plus millions a pleasure from visiting. There are always so many wonders at Eden, including art, plants and this great active machine that showed the workings of the human GIT (not an unpleasant or contemptible person but the gastrointestinal tract). Then there was CBeebies Mr Bloom for a gardening lesson, especially for the children and mums – not necessarily in that order, is it mums…!? 😉
So Mr Bloom was definitely astonishing educational entertainment, singing and dancing and teaching us all about cucumbers and carrots. We were even lucky enough to get a special little gardening lesson for Daniel from the talented Bloom one himself. And Daniel was so delighted that Mr Bloom was lucky enough to get one of Daniel’s high-powered high-fives – that’s not much backlift, then suddenly it was boom Mr Bloom! After Eden it was Dartmoor, southern England’s largest expanse of open land, a romantic rugged landscape of towering granite tors and freely wandering ponies, cows and sheep. Its 368 square miles of moorland is simply stunning, and probably the only place in Britain that was more populated 1,000 years ago than it is today.We clambered and climbed and the boys had astonishing lessons in Geology, Geography, History and Biology. Plus those tors are some way up, so it was a very active Games/PE lesson!As you might see from the boys’ T-shirts, we’re continuing our donations to UNICEF for every person, place or thing we specifically see for an Education By Astonishment. Why not try it one morning, afternoon or day (or longer, and we can definitely recommend months!) by choosing a place/places you know your children will find astonishing and so will learn from, and then make a donation to UNICEF or your chosen charity as part of the trip and part of the learning – that thinking of others is a vital thing to do for deep-down happiness and the gift of giving is a great way of doing just that. We had dinner in the motorhome as we watched an awesome Dartmoor sunset. Then the next day we were in nearby Okehampton to do so more clambering and climbing, this time at the fabulous English Heritage Okehampton Castle, the remains of the largest castle built in Devon – between 1068 and 1086 following a local revolt against Norman rule. We were intrigued by it all, especially these old name etchings, one of which looked to say our surname. From here, we ventured back to Dartmoor to see the prehistoric burial chamber called Spinsters Rock.
Then on to a fantastic riding lesson for the boys from the two Debs on sweet Sweety Pie.A moment to catch our breaths, then we drove to the superb Corfe Castle campsite in Bucknowle, Dorset. What a warm welcome from all there and what a great discovery as it instantly became one of our favourite campsites. Lovely little touches such as the book & DVD exchange red phone box, beautiful flowers and a great woodland-setting playground make it outstanding. As we wandered we got a guitar lesson from another friendly camper who was on his way from the Isle of Wight music festival to Glastonbury (we think as a paying punter not someone playing there, although he was very good on the guitar…). Then back to our fabulous Swift Escape for an Art lesson as the boys decorated it with colourful vinyl stickers. These are great fun for children (and yes, they come off very easily and without a hint of a mark).As you leave the campsite, the view is this stunning one of Corfe Castle. We headed on towards Kimmeridge Bay, passing by some thatchers at work and then a newsagent to grab a copy of that day’s Daily Express newspaper, in which there was a full-page article I’d been asked to write about our Education By Astonishment camping travels and concept.
At Kimmeridge Bay we parked up – definitely a roam with a view! (But be aware it costs a tenner to park motorhomes.) We headed down to the bay for some fossil hunting on this stretch of the wondrous Jurassic Coast. And very successful and much fun it was too.“Here’s another one, and it’s only 155 million years old!” became the boys’ cry. Thankfully they didn’t add any jokes about their mum and dad’s (to them!) Jurassic ages…You only have to see the unconfined excitement in our boys to know this way of learning is way more beneficial than looking at textbook pictures. We spoke to a teacher last week, who’s now homeschooling her son, although we prefer the term “worldwide learning” as we are almost always in the Great Outdoors rather than stuck inside! She told us she thought most teachers longed to go outside more than they do with their pupils, but that red tape/health & safety regulations combined with having to get their children to a burgeoning number of required levels and to pass tests meant that it was increasingly difficult to do so. A crying shame, as we think the best way to learn about the world out there is to get out in the world out there. And it helps with getting and keeping healthy at the same time. We think when most people think of something really memorable from schooldays it usually involves something that was outdoors…
Here’s Debs teaching on a rock desk in the Great Outdoors classroom and playground. Naturally, what an inspiring place to teach and learn! Back atop the bay, we took some time out on our fabulously relaxing and thankfully easy to unfold/fold Outwell chairs and the boys played noughts & crosses with the set that comes with their ace Batboy children’s table. This is great camping gear. From here it was a short ride for David, Debs, Daniel, Darley & dog to Dorset’s delightful Durdle Door! A beautiful natural limestone arch, it was a great Geology lesson, and a steep climb too for another Games/PE session, phew! Next it was to our favourite pub in the world, the wonderfully bohemian and batty Square & Compass in Worth Matravers, which everyone really should go in at least one hundred times in their lifetime! We were here not just for some deserved refreshment from the pub’s serving hatch, but to see its small but beautiful Fossil (and more!) Museum. Back in our motorhome we did some more motorhomeschooling… Then took in the most amazing Worth Matravers sunset through the fantastic treetrunk Stonehenge creation there. Following day, it was off to the T20 cricket at the impressive Ageas Bowl in Southampton, home to Hampshire Cricket. We had a superb evening watching the team take on the Sussex Sharks, which included for Daniel and Darley a quick bowling lesson from England U19 and Hants cricketer Joe Weatherley, plus his very wise advice that anyone with a natural talent at anything needs to make sure they get to the right environment to nurture it. We look forward to seeing Joe bowl out the Aussies in a future Ashes very soon! From the excitement of the game, we stayed that evening at the nearby tranquil Hollands Wood campsite, in amongst the trees of the New Forest, with a wonderful view of ponies and cows. You’ll always get a warm welcome at this site, and whenever we’ve stayed on a weekend there’s an abundance of friendly families; our boys love meeting the other children and playing on the fallen tree trunks. It’s a delight to see playful activity replace staring at tablets and smartphones.Next day, not far away is the city of Portsmouth and its seaside suburb of Southsea. We parked up here and wandered across to the 170-metre tall Spinnaker Tower. We’ve drifted past it a few times in the past year on the Brittany Ferries ship to or from Santander in Spain, so thought it was time to give it a visit and see the stunning views we imagined it offered. It did! The most exciting part for our boys was spotting a Brittany Ferries ship. Plus, the Sky Walk, where you stand on a glass floor 100 metres up, looking down at everything appearing in miniature below.
It was an exciting way to celebrate Darley’s fourth birthday! Yes, as the wise old ladies always tell us, they do grow up so quickly. And as the old ladies also advise: “Make the most of them.” We hope we are – and travelling and camping together is the best way to do this we think as it’s always so fantastic for family teamwork and bonding. And fun!This took us to Father’s Day, the first for me without my own dad. We thought it fitting to visit Hurst Castle, just to see if we could persuade anyone that we were the Hursts it was named after, and find a new rather roomier place than our Devon home… It was some walk in the sunshine but bracing wind along the spit from Milford, with the Isle of Wight almost appearing in touching distance – and with another great Geology lesson looking over at The Needles, perfect examples of stacks (of chalk). The castle was a sturdy place, and alas there was no chance of us breaching it, even with our surname… But it was definitely worth a visit. Overcome with excitement at seeing our surname written everywhere, we allowed ourselves a family selfie in front of the castle. From the castle we took the Hurst Ferry back to Keyhaven and towards the motorhome, and watched Grandpa’s castle dwindle from view in the distance… Then a drive to Salisbury campsite, nestled beneath the mighty huge Iron Age hill fort of Old Sarum. It was where the first settlement and cathedral of what is now nearby Salisbury once stood, with Romans, Normans and Saxons all leaving their mark. Before we made the climb up there, we headed into Salisbury to see the “new” cathedral (completed in 38 years, from 1220 to 1258).
The cathedral was astonishing (with the world’s oldest working clock), as was the Magna Carta that’s there housed in a little tent in the Chapter House, one of the most celebrated documents in English history. It was the solution to a political crisis in Mediaeval England, but its importance has lasted way beyond as it’s now recognised as a keystone of liberty, influencing much of the world. Only four original 1215 copies of the Magna Carta remain – and Salisbury Cathedral has the best preserved of these. It was amazingly clear, the writing exquisite. Written on sheepskin parchment using a quill pen made of a swan or goose feather and ink made from oak galls and iron salts, it is effectively a tattoo in the sheepskin, which is why it’s survived so well over so many centuries.
The morning after our cathedral trip we went for a stroll up to Old Sarum, which we’d been able to gaze at from our motorhome during our stay.And this is how it had been gazing back at us on the campsite, with Salisbury Cathedral beyond.It was an astonishing History lesson and we think the boys gained a great understanding of how life was here in years gone by (of course, they were especially intrigued by the old toilet pit!). But I wasn’t quite sure if Daniel was being earnest when he asked if I remembered it when the king lived there… After our Roman, Norman, Viking and Anglo-Saxon (English) History lesson here, we checked the timetable and it said we we scheduled to head off to somewhere else astonishing on the amazing British Isles. We boarded our motorhome – and headed yonder towards another campsite to discover another astonishing adventure.
We hope you do too – life’s too short not to have adventure!