A Childhood made in Norfolk
- Credit: Phil Barnes Photography
Parenting guide author Kate Blincoe shares her love of the county and what it can offer children today
My life is a patchwork of Norfolk moments. Open any photo album on my shelf and there, as a dependable and beautiful backdrop, you will find my county.
Here I am, age four on that sunburnt day at Holkham beach proudly holding a starfish. I’d just tasted coffee for the first time, tepid from a sandy Thermos lid. Then there’s that wonky photo from a teenage trip on the Broads when even the rowdy boatful of my girlfriends were stilled to silence by the great-crested grebe transporting her chicks on her back. There were all those hours of freedom uncaptured by camera or a grown-up’s gaze, spent cycling around little lanes and swimming in a ford; this was my childhood. Now I have two children, a five-year-old and a seven-year-old, and I can see that things have changed. I can’t give them the freedom I once enjoyed because it simply isn’t considered normal nowadays. Traffic levels have changed dramatically and that certainly doesn’t help, but so too has the assumption that it is okay for children to play alone and to roam.
I could feel sad about that, but how can I feel despondent about the upbringing that Norfolk still offers children? There may be fewer feral, unwashed kids going off-radar for the day, but here we can still recreate that old-fashioned, healthy and wild childhood that many of us benefited from.
We are rich here beyond measure. Norfolk’s diverse habitats mean we are never far from beach, woodland, broad, reed bed, farmland, meadow or heathland. There is always something new to discover, some pocket of near wilderness or a heart-stopping moment with nature just around the corner.
In fact, the patch of Norfolk where I grew up is even better than it was in my childhood. I was raised at High Ash Farm, just south of Norwich. Back in the 1980s, the arable land had to be managed intensively; it was hard for nature to find a space and the public were kept at arm’s length, away from the heavy machinery that cultivated the fields right up to the edge.
Now, that has all changed. An environmental scheme means the land is dedicated to wildlife, and open to everyone to walk there and experience it – both such massive improvements for nature and people, as well as offering a safe, exciting place for families.
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Nevertheless, it can be hard to break away from our busy lives, where children are ushered from school to club to sofa, and we juggle all those plates to keep the show on the road. Yet when we do, the fun and peace it brings us is immeasurable.
When I wrote my book, The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting, I wanted to bring to life my Norfolk childhood in a way that was relevant for our hectic modern times. I’ve combined a realistic, fun approach to caring for the environment with action-packed inspiration for outdoorsy, nature-filled family time - especially designed for overworked, stressed and time-short parents. It’s a way of life that helps us all be happier, healthier and to make the most of this incredible place we live.
This county has made me – and I hope it will make this generation of children too.
Kate Blincoe is a freelance writer and author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting (Green Books, £14.99). Kate’s book is a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2016.