A couple who used to live as cave-dwellers are urging London parents to take their children outside more — saying living in a city is no excuse not to spend time in nature.
Dan Westall and Naomi Walmsley teach bushcraft and the Stone Age, and run Forest Schools to encourage a love of the outdoors. They called on Londoners with no gardens to use window sills to grow plants and visit their local park, however small.
The couple trained to be cavedwellers on a “primitive skills” course in America before setting up their business Outback 2 Basics. They now want to spread their enthusiasm to children in cities.
They have written an outdoor activity book, Forest School Adventure, which shows children how to light a fire without matches, build a shelter to sleep in, cook on a fire and hunt for bugs.
Mr Westall, originally from Kingston, said: “As soon as kids have spent a day in the woods their whole posture changes and there is a sparkle inside them. It happens that quickly. You can go to any green space, it doesn’t have to be a massive park. Just being outside makes people feel better.
“Obviously a big forest is the ideal but there is always some sort of nature around. If people don’t have gardens they might have a windowsill.
“You can give children a square-foot patch of grass and a magnifying glass. Build bug hotels and bird boxes. In concrete areas you can still look at bugs. When you start inspiring children their knowledge grows and they want to plan bigger trips.”
Mr Westall, 38, and Ms Walmsley, 36, spent four months as cavepeople in the wilderness of western Washington in 2010. They hunted, made tools and wore animal skins.
Back in Britain they set up a bushcraft business, which expanded when the Stone Age was added to the primary school curriculum. Ms Walmsley said: “We go into schools wearing buckskins and showing our handmade tools. It is about getting children outside, using their hands, taking risks.
“If we give children two rocks to make an arrowhead they will happily spend 45 minutes rubbing them together.
“Some of the children have never been into a wood before, and one group had never seen a cow before. I was taken aback by that but it is becoming the norm for children not to see wildlife.”
The couple have two daughters, Maggie, six, and Wren, nearly two. The family live a “normal” life now in Shropshire, though Ms Walmsley said: “I have had to pick my daughter up from school wearing my buckskins when I have gone straight from work, but nobody bats an eyelid.”