Jen and Sim Benson, authors of guidebook Wild Running, are spending a year under canvas, exploring Britain’s wild places with their two young children. They’ve been “homeless” for 4 months now and in the tent since November. Their plan is to visit all the National Parks in England & Wales this year, climb to the highest point and sleep out for a few weeks in each one so they properly experience them day and night, and see the seasons change as they go. They declare that “it’s amazing how much you can do with kids in tow with a bit of creativity!”
Sim and I have always had a lot in common. It was a love of adventure and the outdoors that brought us together in the first place and since then we’ve completed hundreds of challenges together; running, adventure racing, rock climbing and, most recently, a trip around the UK with our 2-year-old that culminated in writing our first book, Wild Running. Once we’d returned home from the trip, and after the arrival of our second child, life settled back into a ‘˜normal’ pattern. Sim spent his days working, teaching kids to cycle to school safely, whilst I looked after our kids and kept up with the admin side of the book, writing articles, doing PR, answering readers’ questions and updating our website. It seemed like we’d had a huge buildup to publication date and yet here we were, back in a very similar position from a personal perspective, with Sim missing out on our children growing up and us missing him as he spent each day away from us.
Something had to change, and on a more permanent basis than before. We’d experienced for a few months the delight of spending our days together, as a family, doing something we loved. We really, really wanted that back. We were renting at the time ‘“ a warm, comfortable house with a great garden, a good local school and nice neighbours ‘“ but as we talked about what was actually important, what mattered most, we realised we needed to take a bit of a leap and then, well, we’d have to make it work.
The idea of a year under canvas combined our desire to take on a properly testing challenge and explore Britain’s wild and beautiful places with the need for our adventures to be possible as a family. On occasions in the past we’ve found ourselves wondering whether a challenge is possible with small children and proved, with a bit of creativity and chocolate, that many surprisingly are. We’ve conquered mountains, camped wild, climbed trees, jumped into lakes, swum in rivers, foraged our suppers and been on multi-day walks, first with one and, nowadays, two of our kids as company. We wanted to completely immerse ourselves in this way of life for a while, stripping away the parts of life that aren’t really real, and focusing in on the process of living, moment to moment.
We’re hugely fortunate in that our wider family is (outwardly at least!) supportive of our frequently changing, and slightly unusual, life plans. We had tried out living with Sim’s parents previously, while we wrote Wild Running, so we knew it worked. With careful consideration and a bit of planning, being based with relatives can be a great way of enabling greater freedom and the ability to adventure for longer periods of time. It’s never going to be an entirely straightforward solution and there are inevitably going to be compromises that all parties need to acknowledge and accept in order for it to all work as well as possible. We try to make sure we do more than our share of cooking, cleaning and helping out when we’re around in order to make up for the inconvenience that having a family of four moving itself in brings with it. In fairness, I’mm pretty sure they don’t mind too much and it’s fantastic for the kids to have their doting grandparents around.
The question of what we’ll do once we return from our adventure has been raised by a few people. One of the big lessons we’ve learned from writing Wild Running is the importance of being open to, and actively seeking, opportunities. Public speaking, writing articles and taking part in radio interviews and photo shoots can be pretty daunting, however we love motivating others and seeing that infectious excitement spreading as people hear about our adventures and begin to imagine what they might be able to do themselves makes it more than worth it. Self-promotion feels strange at first, but it’s the only way to make others aware of what you’re doing, and therefore more likely to support it.
If you’d like to keep up to date we’ll be putting it all on our blog as we go: awildyear.co.uk