“The trees are about to show us how beautiful letting go can be”... these words have stayed with me since I first came across them as autumn arrived and I was getting a group of young people on board to take to our campsite on Pertwood Farm in Wiltshire. As is often the case, Silvia and I felt trepidation - would some of the young people have to drop out last minute? How will they respond to an autumnal term-time weekend in the countryside as opposed to a summer camp during the school holidays? Would the mix across cohorts and ages work? But, like the trees welcoming in the new season, we all committed to letting go of any preconceptions, and making space for what would happen naturally.
So, we were so happy to see the young people show up on a Friday afternoon after school, with excitement on their faces. Off we all went westwards from Waterloo. After a smooth journey, we arrived into our site around sunset to a welcome dinner from Sadhbh and Hallie, and ended the evening with stories around the campfire.
Linda, 16, said of her experience: "I am feeling nostalgic, as this isn't the first time I've been here. It's been more than a year and, since the last time, I haven't been connected to nature and away from the mainstream of my day-to-day life. I feel relaxed and at one with myself, something I think I needed to feel for a while with all the chaos of things happening in my life right now. The fire, with all the dancing flames and vibrant oranges and yellows, brings warmth to me physically, but also in another sense. A sense of a part of my inner self that I missed in between the whirlwind of a rollercoaster that is my life.”
For most of the other young people, however, this was a completely new experience, one that originally elicited feelings of, in their own words, being “scared and alone with nature”… “frightened of my surroundings and space”... “disoriented”... “sad”.
Despite, this, there also seemed to be a willingness to attempt to let go of these initial responses. One young person reflected...
“Leaving the city behind, I am feeling undecided. I miss the warmth of my bed, the spider-less rooms and built-in heating. However, the lush green grass, natural organic tasty food and good times all do make up for the homesickness. The dawn chorus, the hooting of owls and even the scuttling of other animals make up Pertwood. I feel like nature has given me life, therefore I must thank it by living side-by-side with its creatures.”
It wasn't just us staff letting go; the young people committed to spending the next two days open to experiencing themselves, each other and the world around them in a different way, with qualities that they wished to embody throughout. So, all weekend, we walked together on the green fields past the sheep and over the patches of clover and thistle. We stood silent and still under the cover of trees, all green, yellow and orange, and worked alongside each other in teams with own distinct roles that contributed to one story.
We encountered friendly, curious herds of cattle, and foraged in the hedgerows for blackberries, rosehips, sloes, gorse, hawthorn and apple.
Jane shared the Three Baskets of Knowledge story, and the young people responded to this by writing odes to their chosen beings and elements… odes to the sunset, the wind, the hawthorn, the trees, the moss, the silence, the pheasant and more were shared the following morning, completing our experience together…
I see how… your legs are intricate. While I am writing this, I am gently pushing away some of you from my body. I appreciate that you kill flies, but please keep your distance as I respect you and you should return it, if you want.
Your look maybe scary but thank you. Nature is very complicated and you are one of the products…
– Assia, 12
Here are some of the young people’s reflections, written during their return back to London.
“Looking back on my Pertwood experience, I showed stillness. On our night walk I think I showed stillness even though I barely could see anything. I think my value helped me then. Maybe I could use stillness when I am in London and it might help me A LOT!”
– Ivy, 11
“Pertwood has been a great experience for me and has taught me many amazing things. I developed and maintained my curiosity on this trip to ensure complete 'oneness' with nature.” – Akshata, 17
“Looking back at my Pertwood experience, my favourite thing was eating Sadhbh's food and all the walks during the weekend. I showed bravery by learning how to do many things that I was scared of, like not running away from a spider.” – Eva, 11
“Looking back on my Pertwood experience, I showed gratitude by appreciating the food that Sadhbh cooked for us, by letting insects sleep in my tent without killing them, and by walking with other people. I didn't react when I stepped on cow poo, and I think that that was a great thing to do.” – Anna, 15
“Looking back on my Pertwood experience, I think that I have showed perseverance. I think that I could have showed a bit more bravery, but saying that I think that I showed a big change whilst doing the night walk. I want to think Rachel, Sadhbh and all the other staff.” – Phylisia, 11