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Jen & Sim Benson
Every Child Wild

Posted: Monday 23rd November 2015 by EveryChildWild

In November 2014 authors and family adventurers Jen & Sim Benson decided to swap their comfortable suburban house for a bell tent. They’ve spent the past year exploring and living wild in Britain with their two young children. Keep up to date with their adventures at awildyear.co.uk.

The inspiration for our wild year came shortly after the arrival of our second child. Life was hectic; Sim was working full-time and I was at home looking after the kids and writing whenever I had a spare moment. We missed each other and the kids missed their dad – often he’d leave before they woke up and get home once they were in bed. We knew it wasn’t a sustainable way of life for us.

We’ve always loved being outdoors: running, climbing, adventuring and generally enjoying the plentiful opportunities for enjoyment and physical challenge to be found there. When our kids arrived we suddenly found our priorities and available time changed completely. No longer could we simply lace up our running shoes and head through the door at a moment’s notice; now everything had to be planned and fitted around our new family.

We craved the kind of challenges we’d enjoyed together in the past, and we desperately wanted to spend more time together, treasuring and making the most of these precious years rather than sitting in an office miles away, missing them as they flashed by. We knew we couldn’t afford to give up our main source of income and keep renting our house, so we made the decision to give up the house and go camping for a year instead. We did some research, bought a bell tent and a wood burner and, in November 2014, set off into the unknown, with a budget of £10 per night.

Our Wild Year has given us exactly what we were after and so much more. For the past year we’ve spent every day together and our family bond is stronger and happier for it. We’ve seen and experienced so much of wild Britain together too: spending at least a month in each of the places we’ve visited has meant we’ve really been able to know them and their flora and fauna intimately. Our knowledge of our natural world has increased massively – there’s nothing like the continuous questioning of a small child to stimulate learning.

Our primary base has been on the wilds of Dartmoor as it’s an area we know really well and have family nearby – very handy when you have the amount of washing generated by two small children. Exploring Exmoor’s incredible diversity was a real highlight, and the Brecon Beacons are perfect for family mountain exploration. The Lake District was absolutely amazing too: we took the kids up to some incredible high places, our 4-year-old alternating walking with riding ‘backpack’ in her carrier, and experienced every kind of weather from hot sun to battering hail storms. We were lucky enough to be offered a spare field on the Welsh borders over the summer holidays, when campsites are full and expensive – having a solar shower (basically a black bag with holes in it, hanging from a tree) each day was definitely a refreshing experience! We spent much of the winter in Cornwall and the South Hams, making the most of the milder climate and fantastic sandy beaches which are just as beautiful out of season, without the crowds or the sunburn.

It hasn’t all been easy though – far from it at times in fact. During last November’s storms our tent was pitched on the south Devon coast when 80mph winds bent our two main poles in half. We had to move into our tiny backpacking tent until we could source replacements. Then in January we all came down with flu and - being constantly outside - found it hard to recover. We ended up in a house for a couple of weeks where we could stay warm and dry and finally shake off the infection. Although it was disappointing to have moved indoors it was definitely the right decision; from the start we’d agreed that we couldn’t put the kids’ health at risk for the sake of our adventure.

One of the best things has been the friendliness and generosity of the people we’ve met. We’ve been offered food, lodgings and equipment to help us on our way and have made some wonderful new friends. We’ve discovered a brilliant community of family adventurers out there too.

Now the year’s over it’s great to be able to reflect on all of the amazing adventures we’ve had together. Whatever happens next, or in the future, it’s a shared experience that we’ll always have to look back on, and we’ll treasure that forever. We’ve decided to move back into a house but we’re definitely not going back to ‘normal’. Our next adventure is going to be living as sustainably as we can, adventuring from our doorstep and hoping we can help other families do the same too!

You can read about Jen & Sim's full year on their blog.

Read EveryChildWild's latest blog entries.

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