How reading can stimulate adventure and vice versa

Five tips for a Swallows and Amazons adventure

When Arthur Ransome wrote Swallows and Amazons back in 1929, children played outdoors and were much freer to explore their natural environment on their own. In today’s society of screens and health and safety this is a less common sight but one we should challenge and not accept. So, capture the spirit of Ransome’s story and reconnect your children back with an outdoor adventure.

The Swallows and Amazons’ adventure involved sailing to a Wildcat island (better known as Peel Island) in the middle of Coniston lake, in the Lake District.

But you can have a Swallows and Amazons’ on any island, so, peel off the kids’ metaphorical cotton wool and head out on an adventure to a Peel Island of your own (in a lake or off the coast, wherever)!

Five Considerations

1. Preparation

Choose an island location that you know you can get to. Find out the weather forecast and any tidal times that affect travel to and from your destination as well as a sensible distance that matches the abilities of your adventurers.

When packing, only take what you’ll need; the kitchen sink won’t be much use! You will need to consider clothing – layers for changing weather conditions and waterproofs; first aid kit – sleeping equipment (sleeping bags, tents / bivvi bags etc.), food and cooking equipment. This will all have to fit into your canoe or boat so plan carefully and take what you really need.

The Swallows used an old sailing boat. Depending on where your adventure is you might consider different means of transport; beg, borrow or hire a rowing boat, kayaks, canoes or a sailing dingy – ideally something that is able to transport the family as well as the provisions.

Swallows adventure 1
Swallows adventure 2

To get to our uninhabited island, we hired two Canadian canoes that we rafted together. This added stability and control as well as providing plenty of storage room.

2. The journey

The journey is as much part of the adventure as anything. Working as a team to paddle or sail to the destination is all part of it! The very nature of it being an uninhabited island means that there will be few people and hopefully a wonderful environment to discover together.

Swallows adventure 3
Swallows adventure 4

3. The island – exploring it

One of the first things to do is explore the island – again and again, finding different routes. Play Follow the Leader, iSpy (spy on and hide from passing vessels) and hide treasure in different spots for others to find (make sure there is no environmental impact though).

Swallows adventure 5
Swallows adventure 6

4. Living on the island – sleeping and cooking

After the excitement of exploring the island, you need to pick a spot to set up camp. Decide where to set up the sleeping area and the cooking and eating area.

Swallows adventure 7
Swallows adventure 8
Swallows adventure 9
Swallows adventure 10

Consider the direction and strength of the wind and build any fire downwind of the camp.

NB. Lighting fires is often frowned upon, so use common sense and respect the area. Wild camping is not encouraged in some places, but as long as you care for the environment and the resident wildlife, and leave no trace that you were there, then no-one can really bear any grudges against you. We always make sure we do a clean up before we leave a wild camp and therefore always leave the location cleaner than when we arrived.

5. Returning home

After a night out in the open air, surrounded by water and the associated sounds of nature, the return journey will begin. Respect the environment; you are a visitor so remember to take everything with you. As the saying goes, “take only photographs and leave only footprints.”

Swallows adventure 11
Swallows adventure 12

Our girls thoroughly enjoyed the book(s) by Arthur Ransome and loved the adventure that it inspired. They worked hard to paddle against the wind up to our chosen island, taking on roles from the book, singing songs and spotting any passing natives or the steamer. Once on the island, they explored freely, climbing trees, skimming stones and spying on any passing possible visitors to their island. After helping make tea, they slept soundly in their sleeping bags before repeating the journey home, arriving back to our base with wind smacked faces and beaming smiles on their faces. They had had an adventure to remember!