Young people growing up in today’s world have fewer opportunities to explore the outside world, to make their own choices and learn from mistakes. At ESMS our outdoor learning programme helps to reverse this risk-based culture, giving our children the opportunity to explore nature, take on challenges and develop essential life skills.
Despite the pandemic, Mr Thomson, Head of Computer Studies at SMC and one our outdoor learning experts, was happy to share that our winter term was busier than ever with various outdoor adventures taking place across the schools. These adventures gave pupils a much needed escape from the constraints of lockdown and the opportunity to revel in the freedom and beauty of the natural world.
Top highlights from our outdoor learning programme during the winter term:
Nature spotting: Our Nursery children relished the opportunity to be in the forest again. Frog spotting around our grounds became a firm favourite with the recent increase in numbers around the site.
Woodland Festive Fun: Our Primary 1-3s enjoyed festive adventures outside including wreath making, using natural materials they have found around the grounds.
S1 Day in the Pentlands: Half of our S1 pupils from MES and SMC spent a whole day in the Pentlands taking part in a range of challenges and learning new skills including decision making, risk management, problem solving and team work. The other half will follow when restrictions allow.
Canoeing: Canoeing was added to the Games programme at Stewart’s Melville for the first time. Each Tuesday afternoon eight S3 SMC pupils accessed either the Water of Leith below Coltbridge or the Union Canal at Harrison Park to learn various paddling skills in kayaks. As the days grew shorter toward the end of term, the activity switched to canoe related skills, such as throw lines, tying knots, rigging sails, setting up salvage pulleys, making fires and camping skills.
Mountain biking: Mountain bikers from our senior schools enjoyed three days at Glentress during the winter term. The children refused to let the rain dim their spirits, arriving back at the Peel Visitor's Centre covered in mud from head to toe but with big smiles on their faces.
Hill walking: Sunday Walks have always been an important part of our outdoor learning programme, but before Christmas they were particularly busy, with six outings to the Borders or Lammermuir hills. In a normal year we would have been heading north to Munros, but there is a certain satisfaction in exploring our hinterland and seeing how many fine hills are within easy reach of Edinburgh. At this time of year we fill the daylight hours, typically spending six or seven hours on the hill, a dose of sanity-inducing natural therapy and exertion for the eager participants. It also provides a good physical and mental challenge (especially in poorer weather) which helps to build resilience and self-belief for all of our walkers.
Great walks near you to enjoy with your family
Getting out for a walk is a great way to spend time together as a family. As well as putting everyone in a good mood it also provides the opportunity to have proper conversations, without distractions. Whatever their age it is a good idea to get the children involved in planning your route.
We asked Simon Love, Head of Outdoor Learning for some suggestions to help your family find some great walks near you:
The current lockdown restrictions have generated a lot of foot traffic around the familiar walks up the Pentland hills closest to Edinburgh. However, a short way down the A702 and the A70 are a wide range of lesser visited hills that are well worth exploring and which may afford a quieter day out reminiscent of less restricted times. There are some excellent guides to the Pentland hills which cover a variety of routes from the North (A70) as well as the South (A702). One of my favourite guides is Rab Anderson’s "The Pentland Hills: The Definitive Guide to High and Low Level Walks in the Pentland Hills” but all of the Pentland guides are full of ideas and by piecing together bits of walks you will find a vast array of walking on your doorstep.
- Harlaw Reservoir, from Harlaw House Visitor Centre, near Balerno, gives a pleasant loop trail which follows the pine-wooded shoreline. The walk can be extended to nearby hills or on to Thriepmuir reservoir. As usual, the further you go from the car park the quieter it gets
- There is a good track alongside Glencorse Reservoir which can be extended to Loganlea and beyond. The route is accessible for pushchairs and suitable for all but can be quite busy of a weekend
- Try the short walk from Blackford Pond to the top of Blackford Hill. This takes around 30 minutes to do and the top offers fantastic views over Morningside and across to Arthur’s Seat. It is also one of the Seven Hills
- If you have older children, you could tackle the Seven Hills of Edinburgh challenge. The Seven Hills are all former volcanoes and include: Castle Rock, Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill, Braid Hill, Blackford Hill, Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill. They offer spectacular views, across Edinburgh and also across to Fife, the Pentlands, the Firth of Forth and North Berwick Law. They can be attempted one at a time, or in interesting combinations, culminating in the route of the annual seven hills race. You can find more information by going to seven-hills.org.uk
- The waters of Leith are often overlooked (literally) and provide a calming alternative to the streets of the city, like the seven hills it offers the chance to connect with nature without leaving the city, a “ribbon of green” as the Trust describe it. Find out more on waterofleith.org.uk
- Those of our families based in East Lothian, Mid Lothian and the Borders have many more options and challenges. The Cicerone Guide "Walking in the Southern Uplands: 44 Best Hill Days in Southern Scotland" by Ronald Turnbull is a good source of suggestions for those with some experience and who are confident of heading into the hills.
Before you attempt a hill walk it is a good idea to consult Mountaineering Scotland’s website for advice: https://www.mountaineering.scot/safety-and-skills.
Thanks to Mr Thomson and Mr Love for their input writing this article.
Find out more about the skills our pupils are learning outside the classroom here.