Small Adventures for Summer Evenings
This post first appeared in issue 4 of Creative Countryside magazine.
Perhaps the simplest way to take advantage of the longer evenings is to pull on your walking boots, or climb on your bike, and explore your local area. One mile or ten, new routes or old, alone or with others - it doesn’t matter. Just enjoy the journey, notice your surroundings, breathe in the fresh air… and maybe stop off at a pub on the way home.
Make the most of summer’s plentiful fresh produce and support your local market or farm shop at the same time by picking up some supplies and gathering together your favourite people for a picnic or barbecue - at home, in the park, on the beach or in the woods. If you’re feeling fancy, take your al fresco dining up a notch by hosting a summer supper in your garden. Choose a selection of simple dishes from a seasonally-inspired recipe collection - I recommend The Ethicurean Cookbook or Gill Meller’s Gather - and don’t forget the fairy lights.
The season of ripe abundance, summer is a wonderful time for foraging. Look for elder blossom and wild strawberries, herbs and greens (sorrel, mint, fennel, late nettles hiding in patches of shade) and edible flowers such as yarrow, honeysuckle, dog rose, meadowsweet and mallow. You may find mushrooms, too - chanterelles in the woods, or giant puff balls in the fields. By the shore, keep an eye out for sea beet and purslane, samphire, and sea buckthorn berries. In the later months, wander the heathlands for bilberries and look to the trees for hazel and sweet chestnuts, rowan berries, damsons, crab apples and perhaps even cherries. As autumn begins to draw near, seek out the jewels of the hedgerows: blackberries, elderberries, sloes, rosehips and haws. Always forage responsibly by seeking permission from land owners where necessary, taking a reliable field guide, not picking or eating anything you’re unsure of, and leaving plenty of wild treasure behind for others.
There are few things more satisfying than cooking a meal using ingredients you’ve grown yourself, or filling a vase with flowers from your own cutting patch. Whether you have a huge garden, an allotment or a windowsill, there are plenty of fun and tasty things you can plant and nurture over the summer. If you get going early enough then courgettes, salad leaves, peas and beans should all provide a crop before the autumn. Buying fruits such as tomatoes and strawberries as more mature plants can also be a fun, quick and easy way to grow your own produce at home.
Every summer there are hundreds of cultural events held in green spaces around the country. From open air concerts, plays and film screenings to firework displays and historical re-enactments, there’s something for every interest, age and budget. Take a blanket, pack a picnic, and enjoy the show.
Outdoor games are a fun group activity for children and adults alike, they’re usually inexpensive or free, and can be played in pretty much any location. Set up an obstacle course, fly a kite, play Pooh Sticks, or host your own Olympics. Make a skittle alley, turn your lawn into a croquet pitch, stack up the giant Jenga, hook rubber ducks out of a paddling pool, or pull together a rounders team. Egg and spoon race, anyone?
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” So says Ratty in this infamous line from The Wind in the Willows and, I have to say, I’m inclined to agree. Sail around a bay, canoe down a river, row across a lake, or wend your way down a canal on a barge. And if boating isn’t for you then try outdoor swimming instead, either in the wild or at your nearest lido.
Arm yourself with a nature guide and venture out on a quest to familiarise yourself with our native trees, plants and wildlife. Notice distinctive features, match species to habitats, memorise names and listen to sounds. Simply by paying closer attention to these details, you will soon build up a library of knowledge that will allow you to identify a flower by the shape of its petals or a bird by the tune of its song. If you don’t want to carry a book, there’s a wide range of nature-inspired apps available that store all the information you need on your phone.