We’re standing in the middle of a damp forest right in the middle of England, we’ve just about managed to construct a shelter with the tarpaulin and bungie ropes we’ve spent the last hour hunting down. We’ve built a fireplace and found the right sized sticks to raise it off the ground a little.
Mr A is sternly calling for more wood, Mister G is playing mischievously with the flint trying to get a spark and Miss L is wielding a dangerously huge stick and trying to smack at dead wood on the trees. I’m worried the rain is coming down faster, and we’re getting colder.
I’m wishing I had listened a bit more carefully to the ranger’s instructions, instead of taking pictures of him. Luckily we’re at Conkers Centre, in Derbyshire, in the hands of two utterly dedicated and inspiring forest rangers.
The cotton wool we’ve been supplied with to help start the fire in these tough conditions has already managed to get damp and become a source of bickering between me and Mr A (if you are stuck in a forest without cotton wool, you could use the inside of a coat pocket, tissues, or fabric).
I can feel a primitive kind of panic coursing through my veins, what if this were real? What if we really had to fend for ourselves in the middle of nowhere, could we keep our kids safe and warm? Why am I deferring to Mr A to do it all? But he’s in his element here, making a real fire, with his kids, in the woods, in the rain.
We show them how to use the flint, how to make the tiny spark that will light the cotton wool and then eventually start to burn the carefully constructed pyramid of small sticks. In the end, when it comes to lighting the fire, we both struggle to spark the flint for long enough to get the fire lit. It’s wet, cold and muddy, and the pressure is on.
Eventually we get it to light, the flame slowly moves across the cotton and we painstakingly tempt it with the smallest and driest of the twigs we have carefully collected, to climb up the tiny pyramid of wood we’ve been taught fire loves.
Just as we get it really going, the ranger takes my wood off the fire and tells me it’s green. He then apologises, it’s willow, which is usually means someone has pulled it off a tree, but I found it on the floor, stripped the bark off, and underneath luckily it’s dry. He does give us a great tip though, dry off the next lot of wood around the edges of the fire – it’s a constant battle and you have to keep thinking ahead. We find some more dry wood by knocking dead branches off a tree – if they fall easily they are dead, if they don’t they are green – the rangers assure us we are helping the tree.
It’s a real family challenge that brings us close together.
It soon becomes clear there is nothing to worry about, Mr A is absolutely on fire with this task.
So I take a minute to survey our camp, and to register how happy I am to be here, even in the rain.
The best is yet to come though, the rangers bring round chocolate digestives and marshmallows to make S’mores. We’ve made these on the fire pit in our garden before, but you can’t beat the satisfaction at making them on a camp fire you have battled the elements to bring to life.
By now my eyes are streaming with the smoke, my hands are filthy, but I am warm and happy and surrounded by a very satisfied family. And I have this oozing melted chocolate and marshmallow biscuity bite to devour.
After that we take on the Barefoot Walk, I don’t think any of us thought we would when we saw the weather that morning, but the rangers were right, it is invigorating and gives your feet a real warm and buzzy feeling afterwards. I love the clay, mud and logs. I could have done without the gravel!
Then it is time to board the train, to explore what else Conkers Centre has to offer.
The adventure playground is good fun, with some equipment we haven’t played on before.
The woodland is packed full of things to explore, sensory trails, fairy labyrinth, sculpture park, willow swamp to name a few. There is also go karting, water sports like kayaking and zorbing and climbing. The kids really enjoy the Enchanted Forest play area indoors and press lots of buttons and dance with projected leaves in the Discovery Centre. This area is a bit dated in parts and Mr A who works in video games, enjoys sharing with me his vision for a more genuinely interactive visitor experience, but you can see the newer exhibits have already started to embrace that, just one of the many reasons I think Conkers is a great place to support.
The National Forest is an amazing project and a day out at Conkers Centre is a great way to help contribute to the future of the nation’s forests. The National Forest Charitable Trust is the Trust that owns CONKERS and has the wider objective of reclaiming derelict industrial landscapes, planting trees, creating recreational forests and parkland for the local and regional communities enjoyment and the future maintenance of these areas. I love the idea of creating a new forest for the nation, so many people don’t know about it yet, yet we need to replace trees faster than we are doing.
Conkers has so many different experiences on offer, for kids and grown ups of all ages, and offers a unique mix of outdoor and indoor things to do – great for rainy days too – so do spend some time working out what activities and/or bookable add on adventures could work for you. Also look out for special summer events and activities.
Need to Know
Rawdon Road (B586)
Look out for the high and low rope course – arriving 13th July 2015. These are an add on adventure, extra to the family ticket price, which is £32.95.
For an even more exhilarating day out, consider bookable activities, or a family experience day to maximise the fun factor and cater to your family or friends specific interests. You can choose 3 activities, plus lunch for four of you for £120
- Laser clay pigeon shooting
- Mountain biking
- Pedal go karting
- Bell bottom boats
- Assault course
- Bush craft survival skills
- Orienteering in the forest
Conkers Centre aso offers educational visits, birthday parties and open air concerts.
Check out Stay Play Explore for short break offers for families visiting attractions in and around Leicestershire, The National Forest is close to the border and so Conkers Centre is included in this great offer.
There is cheap accommodation nearby at the YHA.