This summer I headed out with the kids onto the south Oxfordshire downs and we headed to Waylands Smithy – its an old burial mound at the side of the Ridgeway – an ancient roadway that runs along the tops of the chalky downs – its been there for thousands of years – a sheep drovers way connecting rural with urban.
At the burial mound the kids can run around the stones and in amongst the trees. They were pretty excited as I’d primed them during the 20 minute walk from the car that it was the home of Flibberty Gibbet – and talked about the giants that lived there during ancient times. Libby also found a ten pence piece inside the tomb – it was pretty exciting – she knew that Flibberty had left it there for her. I then had to hide some more money inside the stones as the boy had the hump that he hadn’t found any. I learnt that day that for around 50 pence with of 5p’s you can create magic for kids by staging a treasure hunt.
While they played I took some pictures of the trees – specifically the way people had carved their names into them. This practice was all the rage when I was a kid – every small boy had a pocket knife and a “whitling stick”.
The Smithy is a protected ancient monument and its not right to carve the bark of the massive trees that surround it – but this had be done many years ago – often people date their graffiti and more than that the trees girth grows the letters fatten – you can see it was done years ago.
When we had that day out it was the same time that a guy was arrested for abusing Tom Daley on twitter (during Olympics) and a guy was arrested for threatening a terrorist attack on Robin Hood airport – both regrettable twitter events – but no doubt when the tweet was being rattled out they didn’t expect the 140 characters to have any real impact.
I dont think people or young kids have penknives in the same way these days and looking at the trees no one had gouged their name in to them for a couple of decades. I got thinking whether twitter was the new tree-graffitti – small bursts of words that capture a moment, shout out an identity and demand recognition in the world. Is there the same energy in the moment of creation?
Has the world of Victorinox Swiss Army knives been disrupted by the 140 Chars of twitter? And is a digital declaration safer than one carved out with a knife?
If you do go to south west Oxfordshire (where I live) do go to Waylands Smithy. Its a beautiful place – the downland always changes through the year – the landscape is very expansive and if you go up their on a mountain bike (without kids) you can head off deeper into the countryside – in some spots there are no roads, no pythons, no telegraph wires – it feels spookily remote. Silent, yet just north of the M4.
If you do go with your kids its a couple of mile round trip – they will be goosed on the way back. Make sure you have some treats and drinks in your backpack to bribe them to keep walking. I didn’t – it was hard work!