The evenings are drawing in, the woodburner is lit more often than not and the aga is coming in to its own. Yes, it’s true: Winter is definitely on its way.
And while part of me agrees with Edith Sitwell and her declaration that “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home”, I also think it’s unnecessary to write off our glorious Welsh countryside and resign ourselves totally to hibernating during the colder months. What do the Scandinavians say - that there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes?
Yes, things are definitely a bit bare out there; yes, it’s definitely colder. But nature hasn’t left –it’s just looking a little different at this time of year. There’s still plenty to do and see - as long as you’re decked out in the right gear, of course. So don your hats and layer up; it’s time to rally the troops and get them outside for a nature walk!
And when I say the troops, I particularly mean little ones. It’s a statistic that’s been bandied about a lot in the last couple of years, but I’m still reeling from the fact that three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors on average than prison inmates. Shocking, isn’t it? We know that being outside is important to both our mental and physical health, and yet the poll (funded by Persil, as part of the detergent brand’s Dirt is Good campaign) also found children spent twice as long playing on screens as playing outside.
And that, I’ll be honest, makes me feel rather sad.
So what better activity to keep little minds engaged and little bodies active over the coming months than a thrilling scavenger hunt? Fresh air, even cold fresh air, makes such a difference in attentiveness, and allows children to release their pent-up energy, so grab your wellies and see how many of these you can discover in the coming weeks...
Birds seeking out food
Whether you venture no further than your own back garden feeder or head for the woods for a dramatic conifer backdrop, you’re likely to spot the yellow-striped heads of little goldcrests if you keep your eyes peeled. And make sure you have your camera primed and ready to snap a red-breasted robin for this year’s Christmas card!
Conkers and Pine Cones
Collect the biggest ones you can find and introduce the children to Conker Wars - supervised by the grown-ups, of course. Or you could always gather pine cones, acorns and greenery to take home for some more sedate festive craft activities if you prefer. Wreaths, flatlay photographs, table centres etc - Pinterest is full of inspiration!
Squirrels foraging for nuts
Can you spot a bushy tail darting up a tree or perhaps spot one jumping from branch to branch? Squirrels will be stocking up their hoard at the moment and the lack of foliage on the trees make them easy to spot.
Winter berries such as holly and mistletoe
It’s the time to get in the festive mood, so look out for balls of greenery covered in clusters of waxy, white berries growing high in the bare branches of host trees (mistletoe), or a holly bush covered in glossy red berries. And you could always teach them the words to holly and mistletoe-related songs and carols once you get back home for extra festive points.
Toadstools and Mushrooms Some of our most colourful fungi appear in winter. Look out for little scarlet elf cups among the leaf litter, bright yellow brain fungus sprouting from branches, and purple jelly fungus on rotting wood. Of course, don’t touch or pick them without knowing exactly what you are dealing with, but do let the curiosity add to the mystery and adventure...
In softer soil, mud and even snow you might be able to discover some animal tracks. Have fun making up stories about that lone wolf looking for its pack or a Gruffalo searching out a mouse.
Back at home, compare your observations and finds over a cup of hot chocolate. Did you find anything new or exciting, or discover a track you’ve never been down before? You could even encourage the children to write their imagined tales down and illustrate their very own beautiful winter story books or poems. And if I’ve managed to convince you that a winter walk can be fun, productive and educational family time (while ensuring you’re getting your daily dose of fresh air), keep an eye on the events pages over at countryside business directory and blog The Hills for activities both indoors and out for all the family; with Snowdonia Walking festival and national Tree Dressing Day coming up, you’re bound to be inspired to venture outdoors!