Andrew and Emma Groves run a handmade camping gear shop and outdoor course business, based in Sussex. They live in a small barn set in the woods with their two year old son Benji, where they make all their own goods, look after the land and study the surrounding flora and fauna.
“Andrew set up Miscellaneous Adventures eight years ago as a side project from his main job as a freelance illustrator. He felt he needed a way to get outdoors more and to use his hands to make things, escaping the screen. We had just moved to our home in the woods and found ourselves adapting to a whole new outdoors way of life. We had just taken a trek thorough the Swedish Wilderness, which had a profound effect on us. Now it’s own main source of income.
We really don’t have a typical day. Every Sunday we sit down together and plan out what we need to do the following week and roughly plan when. Benji goes to nursery for one and a half days a week and to his grandparents for one, so on these days we focus on design work, making products for the store and general admin. Alongside MA, Andrew also looks after the grounds, woodland and a vineyard on the small estate where we live, so jobs are often dictated by the weather and other unpredictable elements, which means that planning can be tricky. We’ve learned to be adaptable and to prioritise on the go.
Since Benji was born we’ve been able to include him in everything we do around the woods and to take him on adventures near and far, with the added bonus of being able to call it ‘work’. We involve him wherever we can in the work we do and so far he’s accompanied us to festivals, workshops and meetings. Now that he’s nearly three, he loves to help with jobs at home too, stacking firewood, collecting kindling and planting vegetables. He has an amazing understanding of nature and the outdoors and a burning curiosity to discover more.” miscellaneousadventures.co.uk
ACTION - Get closer to nature
• EMBARK ON A LIFELONG LEARNING JOURNEY. A great place to start is to buy a few field guides and learn to identify some of the trees and flowers that you see every day on the walk to school, in the park or just at home. Once you start to learn about nature, it becomes more fun - spotting a new tree or flower or bug, or being able to identify one you know is exciting and leads to a desire to learn more. This in turn leads to a deeper connection, which is of huge benefit not only to us as humans, but also to the planet. The more we learn about nature, the more we will want to protect it.
Paul and Gemma Hackman grew tired of living in towns and were seeking a way to live closer to the land. They run a bio charcoal and blacksmithing business in North Devon, where they live with their two children, Olivia, eight and Rafferty, two.
“We found the land here via facebook and although it wasn’t what we were initially looking for, within minutes of viewing it we knew it was perfect for us. We were hoping to find somewhere with the space to grow our own veg. The charcoal burning business was an unexpected bonus. It’s exciting thinking about how we would like to develop the businesses in the future and make more use of the land.
During the winter, we coppice small sections of the woodland, and from April to October we make our charcoal. We load our large ring kiln with the wood we have coppiced and chopped during the winter, it is lit and monitored until it is all burning, then the air supply is closed off which causes the wood to pyrolise. The kiln is left to cool, the charcoal is graded over a mesh to remove the smaller pieces and dust, then put into bags for sale.
We also grow various varieties of salad throughout the year, as well as growing a large amount of our own vegetables so sowing, watering, planting, picking and weeding takes up our time too.
LEARNING EVERY DAY
It’s impossible to not be in awe of our beautiful old woodland when it’s covered in a carpet of bluebells, and we are forever looking up the names of new plants, birds, insects we have never seen before. Most days it feels like incredibly hard work, but never in a way that you would wish you were somewhere else.
Our children love to see the kiln being lit, and they really like collecting bits of wood for the small fire to warm the chimneys for the kiln. Rafferty’s favourite job is filling watering cans and both children love feeding and collecting eggs from the chickens. They often just play close to where we are working, and it’s lovely to be able to have them around.” whippenscottcopse.wordpress.com
ACTION - Get closer to nature
• ENCOURAGE CHILDREN’S IMAGINATION. Rafferty loves to play in his favourite trees, one is his space rocket and the other his hot air balloon. He loves to imagine where he might go in them and gets very excited to show visitors.
• TAKE MORE NOTICE OF WHAT IS AROUND YOU. See how many different flowers you can find in a hedgerow, read a book about tadpoles/butterflies/beetles to learn more about what you find around you.
• GROW SOME FOOD TOGETHER. Even in our tiny garden in town, we grew strawberries and tomatoes in pots. Olivia loved watching them turn from green to red, and really loved eating them.
Louise and Nick Goldsmith are a husband and wife team who are passionate about the outdoors. Two years ago they started a woodland kindergarten in the village of Pensford, near Bristol, to run alongside their other outdoor education courses. The couple have a two month old son, Finn.
“We purchased a small overgrown piece of woodland in 2012. It had no running water no vehicle access and had been unmanaged for over 30 years. At the time Nick was serving as a Royal Marine Commando, he conducted many operational tours and was suffering from PTSD. I was also in a highly stressful job as Detective Constable in Child Protection. The woodland was purchased as somewhere we could relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of our crazy lives. We worked hard managing the woodland and it became a beautiful, quirky retreat for us and was soon helping aid with Nick’s recovery.
Nick then began teaching our family and friends the skills he’d learnt during childhood and throughout his military career. There soon became a demand for Nick to run similar activities on a commercial basis. So, in 2015 we started offering birthday parties and group events from our woodland base and undertook several bushcraft and forest school qualifications.
OFF GRID LEARNING
Realising that the benefits of nature could extend to young children, in 2017 we added the Woodland Kindergarten. We became an OFSTED approved nursery operating three days a week 50 weeks of the year. The nursery is unique as it is set entirely outdoors, is off-grid and is an excellent location to foster resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.
No two days are the same. Our focus is on a child centred approach to learning and development, this allows us to be flexible so we do not follow strict timings. During the day there are opportunities for free play around the main camp from making mud pies to building dens.
I love that we get to be outside in nature all year round and in all weathers. Working outside brings huge benefits, it stimulates senses, improves mood and can make you feel more energetic and active.” hiddenvalleybushcraft.co.uk
ACTION - Get closer to nature
• EMBRACE THE WEATHER. We would encourage children and families to get outside in all weathers and embrace all that nature brings. There are so many activities which families can do together which involve natural resources. They don’t cost much, if anything, you just need some imagination and time to find them.
• CARVE OUT SPACE FOR VEGGIES AND HERBS. Growing and planting together becomes a shared experience and can be very rewarding as you create new life.
Dominic Pearce crafts useful and beautiful items from foraged and storm damaged wood and finished with organic, cold pressed flaxseed oil blended with a little cornish beeswax. He lives with partner, Sophie, a jewellery designer and their two children in North Cornwall.
“Watching my Grandad make chairs in his shed when I was a boy inspired me to seek out a life working with wood. Using his old lathe to turn bowls got me hooked, the alchemy of turning foraged logs into usable objects was immensely gratifying. I continued to make bowls as I began a career as a carpenter but it wasn’t until my Grandad passed away, in 2017, that I realised I needed to follow my passion. The time felt right and I made the conscious decision to follow my heart and make woodenware my business.
RHYTHM OF THE DAYS
What my days look like varies with the seasons… In late spring, I have a large woodpile of green logs sustainably sourced from the woodlands surrounding our home. After making breakfast for our little ones, I head out to the woodpile and prepare blanks for bowls, mugs, jugs or spoons – whatever is needed to fulfill commissions or stock markets or my webshop. This hour is full of birdsong and the rhythmic chopping of the axe (and on some days the jarring dissonance of a 2 stroke chainsaw – we are here to make a living after all).
When my partner gets back from the school run I make coffee and head into the workshop to turn the blanks into usable everyday items. The air is filled with ribbons of wood and the scent of fresh shavings, on colder days I burn these in the wood burner to keep warm. Once I’ve made my quota the wet items are put onto racks to dry and I take down some dry items for finishing – bowls need painting, jugs need spouts carving and mugs need decorating. In the winter months, I bring spoons into the house to finish in front of the fire. When my daughter returns from school we forage in the forest garden to find something to go with dinner.
I love the ‘wholeness’ of working with green wood – seeing the process through from foraging for wood and seeing the shaving fly right through to watching nature add it’s own beauty to the design as it warps and dries but the biggest benefit of living off the land and the woods is how it’s brought our family together to enjoy life as a whole rather than separating work life and home life.
My five year old daughter helps me split logs and plays in deep piles of shavings and my partner Sophie has her own shepherd’s hut workshop where she crafts beautiful nature inspired silver jewellery. We can both keep an eye on our newborn girl while she sleeps. We hope to build a yurt cabin so that we can run immersive craft weekends for people to learn with us. This is our dream for the future.” cornishwoodsmith.com
ACTION - Get closer to nature
• KNOW YOUR LAND AND ITS RESOURCES. Get to know your surroundings and what the land has to offer. If you are rich in a particular resource, go on workshops and courses to find out how to use it and build on that.
FIND Small pockets of land for sale at woodlands.co.uk
READ The Living Wood by Mike Abbott