Matchsticks and marshmallows.

Today our little home ed group of friends ventured into the woods for spooktacular fun. And it was. Fun, I mean. It was also frustrating, exhausting, joyful, mysterious, fighting, curious, dog wrangling, screaming.

20141030-160933.jpg

An army of children mixed potions from ingredients like crushed Phoenix feathers, bog water, and mermaid scales. They made ghosts to send flying with a good old fashioned parachute bouncing. They tried to eat apple halves hanging from trees and ended up playing tennis, using the aforementioned ghosts as paddles. Some pressed clay faces onto trees.

Every now and then hell would break loose. A quickfire punch here and there, someone falling from a hammock and slamming to the ground, people screaming in terror if dogs came too close.

A friend said, ‘Hey, I read that blog post from the day when you lost your shit and came over, then we all talked about how hard it can be. And that was like the best day of my life, and it was purely down to how shit your morning had been.’ We laughed, and then another child related incident broke up our chat.

20141030-161319.jpg

We made a fire in the damp, damp woods…discovering that matchsticks and marshmallows appeared to be the best possible fuel. We swung high in tyres, played tug of war, crammed together in a hammock. Kids ran and laughed and climbed. People used facepaint to colour their nails. Creepy balloon shapes full of water, dangling from a branch, were fun to squeeze, hit, and kick. We ate marshmallows, chocolate cupcakes, chocolate cornflake cakes.

People were upset when friends wouldn’t do exactly what they wanted. Every adult conversation was cut short by various heartbreaks or emergencies. We discovered the ‘joy’ of weeing outdoors when girls are wearing waterproof bloody trousers. One kid collapsed on the ground and sobbed after begging to go home. Another screamed and thrashed when his toddler heart was cracked in half because he had to give someone else a chance on the tire swings.

The adults exchanged glances; we laughed.

The kids hit trees with soft plastic tubes, making a cacophony of sound and music. They screamed with excitement as the adults moved the parachute over their hands. One bent quietly over her mother’s wellies, painting them with facepaint. Some made giant brooms. Some wore werewolf masks and chased each other. We smelled like mud and smoke and more mud.

20141030-162008.jpg

It was the way these days can be. Small moments of peace and ease, quickly followed by discontent and control struggles.

It was the way this life can be. Big moments of laughter and discovery, quickly followed by exhaustion and deep sighs. We are so lucky for friends who get it. For other adults who laugh when one of my children does something bossy or mean or crazy. For other adults who don’t mind when I laugh whenever their kids do the same thing.

It’s a shared experience.

One of the best bits of the day was just sitting in a hammock with my kids, the commotion of the Halloween party at our backs, only the deep woods for us to look at. They leaned into me, my arms their pillows, and we rocked. For five minutes we had such joy and peace…..

And then we didn’t.

Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

Best of Bristol – Willsbridge Mill

20140317-115701.jpg

There is one place we’ve gone that we have never had a bad day at – Willsbridge Mills. Whatever the weather or time of year, whether we’re on our own of with friends, it just never fails. There are so many different areas to explore, but what really makes me love it there is the aura of a bit of magic.

You can park on the main road by the mill, or disabled parking is available right on the site, but we always park in the ‘official’ carpark (on Long Beach road) which means we get to have a lovely little walk through the woods to get to the main area. And in the summer, the first thing you pass are masses of blackberry bushes. Yum!

20140317-115612.jpg

There are hills to climb, rocks to explore, odd little paths shooting off in many directions. Not to mention the big paths that feature history walks or bat walks! There are also brass rubbings, wood carved benches, and the like. But our favourite bit is always standing on the first major drain cover and listening to the water rushing underneath us.

The main pull to Willsbridge Mills is the little river/stream running through it. We’ve spent many summer days splashing in it, and this year we plan to see how far upstream we can hike in it. The rocks are very uneven, so very little ones may need hand holding to help keep their balance. There are loads of larger flat rocks, and you can stack them to make quite amazing rock towers in the water.

20140317-115817.jpg

There’s a long dock that runs along the water, with amazing carved benches (to be honest, the carvings everywhere are one of the main things I love about this place!). The dock also has a couple of steps with a handrail to help smaller or less able people get into the water easily.

Behind the seating area is a sloped small hill covered in vegetation. My kids spent a full forty minutes last week pretending to be ninjas as they created a circuit of climbing up the hill, then sliding down a muddy part on their bottoms.

20140317-120619.jpg

Also near the water is a large pond that is used for pond dipping. There are more wide, carved posts in this area – ideal for a snack break. There is also a larger lunch area that is ringed with curved tables and benches.

The final main bit of Willsbridge Mills is the nature garden. They’ve created beautiful gardens with lots of little areas to explore – more water, reclaimed tyres/sinks/baths full of plants and flowers, an amazing and colourful tile path, more carvings talking about what plants need to thrive, recycling, snails, etc. Plenty of little paths, sunny spots, and more little circle areas that would make for great picnics with friends.

There are also a number of large paths around the area – we’ve not gone far down many of these. Apparently one leads to a quarry, so we will definitely be exploring that in future visits.

20140317-120721.jpg
Last summer.

On sunny days, the area is quite shaded so it stays cool – and protected on windy days, so even in colder weather it doesn’t feel exposed or brutally cold. Last week was neither particularly warm or cold, and we went in the water wearing wellies and waterproof trousers (though I just wore sandals and barefeet! First spring water splashing is fantastic!)….though my wellies plan backfired somewhat as I didn’t account for the fact the river would be very swollen from recent flooding. So as the kids stepped into the water, it was just high enough to immediately spill into their boots! But such is the magic of the place that no one complained…

This is a spot that is usually quite calm and quiet, though obviously we are often there during school hours so that has an impact. There are flowers to smell, letters to trace with fingers, sticks to be floated along the water. I can’t recommend it enough!

20140317-120710.jpg

We love mud. Usually.

I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to see if we went to the woods last Friday. Some of you probably have been unable to sleep, the anticipation was so great.

20140114-170056.jpg

WE WENT. It was colossally muddy, a bit chilly, and everything was very wet, but it was fab. In a massive forest, and one of those playgrounds that mostly consists of huge stumps, trees on their side, a quirky balance beams. The highlight was, of course, the manic rush through the woods afterwards to hunt a dragon, swords and sticks at the ready.

It was altogether lovely, but I’m still thankful it wasn’t pouring with rain!

I’m still totally embracing damp weather. Our plans yesterday to meet with friends fell through, so we drove to Bath, met Suzy for lunch, and then had a quick play in a park (it had a big slide leading right down to an overflowing river. That bit was awesome!) despite the black clouds swirling overhead. Nature repaid my efforts by not cracking the heavens open until the literal second I’d shut the second kid into the car. Of course I got a bit wet, but hey, I’m a rainy day goddess now. Or something.

20140114-171030.jpg

Today after pottery, the nine kids and four grown ups in our home ed pottery class all ended up at a friend’s house, after having a quick outdoor play at the pottery teacher’s house. Let it be known, it was not my idea to shun the outdoors today! Had a really lovely time, and we are now back home for some de-muddying and hot chocolate-ing.

I promise this won’t just become a log of what we do each day, but come on. I’ve been trying to recapture my youth, when I lived outdoors with no electricity for five months a year without thinking I lived an odd life. I thought it was a remarkable life, and I was amazingly lucky to be living it.

I’m getting back to that place.

20140114-170924.jpg