You don’t happen to be able to do dinosaur themed parties by any chance?”, asked a lady as her child dashed about with the other treasure seekers in Gisburn Forest. The party was at its climax, the treasure chest on the brink of being discovered under a large Rhododendron bush, and as usual, one Settle Wolftracks Outdoor Party booking seemed to be leading to the next.
There is no denying that kids all love a treasure map. So my aim is to set up a treasure hunt using a proper OS map to take them along a safe yet challenging route, hiding a few clues along the way to keep them motivated. With the promise of a chocolate tree in the deep, dark woods, a stash of hot chocolate or ‘elf juice’ in a tree hollow or a message in a bottle under the next stream bridge, children are soon orientating their maps (twisting the map around to match the features on the ground), recognising lots of basic map symbols and even using a compass to find north, south east and west.
My business started with just teaching adults navigation and offering guided walks to visitors in the Dales. But one day a fellow mum asked me if I did outdoor parties. Well… um… yes I do, I replied. Thanks to Gill, the idea has taken off and seems to be a hit! I’ll never forget that first party - a dozen 9-year old girls on Malham Moor one cold November morning, with a most definite threat of rain on its way – you could see this ominous curtain of grey heading towards us as we set off round the trail… but it held off for an hour, finally wreaking its havoc on things just as the girls had found their treasure in a shake hole – they all crept inside a group shelter in their cosy dip, and happily munched on chocolate coins before piling into vehicles and heading down to the warmth of Malham Village Hall for some indoor navigation games and a home cooked meal of shepherd’s pie and fruit crumble. The best thing about that first party was the feedback! The enthusiastic bunch were full of ideas – perhaps I ought to invite them to do a new improved trail to see what they think!
And yes, from dinosaurs to Lottie Dolls, I will happily tailor a party to add a real thrill to your child’s special adventure. I happen to know a young man who is mad about Tintin and am enjoying developing a trail that will bring Tintin and his faithful, four-legged friend Snowy into the Yorkshire Dales on a mission to uncover treasure left by none other than Captain Haddock’s ancient ancestor, the fine sea captain, Sir Francis Haddock!
Getting back to Gisburn Forest though, I was astounded on Saturday, as I observed the different things the youngsters got out of the challenge. Some were more physical and boisterous and enjoyed tackling the terrain as they hunted for clues. Some simply loved experiencing the outdoors in a way that they wouldn’t normally do - peeping into a bird hide or leaving the comfort of the path to venture somewhere a bit wilder. Others quietly enjoyed walking at the back with the map and compass, watching with fascination as the red needle kept its course whichever way we turned. The trail took them off the beaten track far enough to make them feel independent and give them a true sense of adventure. There were boggy ditches and streams to negotiate, thick branches to crawl under, and plenty of opportunity to run off without running the risk of getting lost. Everyone got a chance to find a clue, solve a puzzle or add their stick to a den. And what could be more magical than finding chocolates hanging in a tree or a flask of forest hot chocolate hidden in the bracken under an ancient gate post… The best fun of all for me? It’s watching the whole adventure unfold on the big day, getting families outdoors and seeing them learn basic map reading skills whilst having so much fun.