Monday, 15 October 2012

Institute of Outdoor Learning Conference 2012

This last week I travelled up to Stafford away from the coast (but never the sea!) and headed for the Institute of Outdoor Learning Conference - a biannual conference bringing together all those involved and passionate about learning outdoors.

It was a hive of activity with workshops, forums, talks by Paul Rose and another on "mental toughness" and a pub-style quiz in which our team - "it's all about the cheese" did pretty badly! Although I did know where animals from the pelagic lived - phew!

Within the conference I ran a workshop trying to remind folk that the sea is never very far away wherever we live - driving our weather systems, influencing our agriculture, providing us oxygen to breathe and even the oil to run the cars and trains we could hear all around us! I asked the attendees to use their senses to explore the field and tree lined bridleway. They wrote some comments in their notebooks and then I asked them to perhaps offer some writing back to me so that I might feed it back to the conference.

The intention was that I would draw this together to create a poem or similar. However, the comments and expressive statements are worthy of independent contemplation. Here they are:

"The spiral buzzing hum of a housefly, fizzes like a breaker sucking sand."

"Childhood memories of a roaring sea" [This was echoed by the sound of the train which replicated the sound of "roaring sea"]

"Mushroom smells
Ebb and Flow
Translucent Gills
Slow Down"

"Bringing back childhood memories - wanting to be a child again."

"Sweet smells of rot
Wind rush around my ears
Air laps and feels
Bird song on the air waves
Spider thread lights the space
Clouds move gently"

"Heightened awareness
Earthy Scent
Smooth Waxy leaf
People Confusion, Indecision and apathy
Earth Hopes, Believes, Calm, Clarity and Compassion"

"This was a walk around the area that I live. It has made made me listen and track my environment in a way that I've not done before. I have listened for the first time.

It is easy to take your own area for granted and not think about its relationship with the sea. The sounds are all around.

I have a home in Yarnfield and a home by the sea. This will enable me to link the two in a new way. It has been a great pleasure to experience."

Two primary school teachers also said that they were now going to do "beach cleans" in their urban areas - reminding the children that this litter will ultimately end at sea! This was music to my ears!

It was a really fantastic conference and we all took something from this to bring new added inspiration for our own work in the great outdoors - I certainly have! Thanks to all who attended, organised the event and offered me new perspectives! Happy exploring!


  1. It is amazing what can be picked up on if we stop still and use our senses.
    I recall a night kayak on Lough Hyne with top kayaker, Jim Kennedy. We sat in our kayaks in the middle of the lough and he asked us to do just that.
    We were all astounded by the sheer number of sounds and smells. It was quite incredible.
    It is a must for any visitor to Lough Hyne but it is also something we can all do in almost any location anyway.
    A great way to bring us in tune with our surroundings.

  2. I totally agree and what a fantastic thing to do at sea too! If you haven't already Michael Gelb's book, "How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci" is a great book for sensory exercises. He suggest we should speng whole days just exploring one sense. I try and focus on a sense once in a while and I'm sure my senses are sharper as a result. Yesterday, when we went diving my buddy put his kit down beside me and I could hear a faint hissing from a leak on his guage that nobody else could hear until they put their ear literally on it & struggling even then!