30 Days Wild: My wild Cambridge adventure

#5: Go wild, stay wild - posted 1/7/15

Ruthie takes a wild dip at Grantchester Meadows

It’s my final week on 30 Days Wild and I don’t want it to end. The fabulous news is… it doesn’t have to! The stockpile of inspired ideas I’d had before doing the challenge which I didn’t have time to complete are finding themselves pencilled into the diary throughout my Summer.

This has been one of the most gorgeous things about the past month: letting my imagination go wild, dreaming up simple (and inexpensive) ideas to get us out there, enjoying what’s already there, day in, day out. But if I need that motivational boost or a sense of being part of something much bigger, The Wildlife Trust are now encouraging people up and down the UK to #staywild, and do random acts of wildness every day throughout the year.

My last week was spent cloudspotting (again), taking photos and some lovely strolls along the riverside. We had our first visit of the season to Cambridge’s outdoor swimming pool – Jesus Green Lido. Lying there, gazing up at a blazing blue sky, feathers and leaves pirouetting from the trees above and listening to a plump pigeon rustling in a nearby hedge was just bliss. You don’t even have to go swimming; they have a café on site serving smoothies and snacks and plenty of places to sun yourself.

We also visited a girlfriend’s new allotment – to help her decide what to do with it. With waiting lists for allotments massive all over the city, this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to owning one (tip – befriend allotment owners and offer to help out!), though there are plenty of alternative gardening schemes you can get involved in (check Cambridge Conservation Volunteers http://www.ccv.org.uk/). We also had a gorgeous picnic breakfast served up by artist and community worker Georgina Cook, who pointed out a little corner of her garden they’d turned into a magical den for their toddler. Lovely.

The month was rounded off in style with a picnic out at Grantchester meadows at sunset – joined by a very fat, white full moon (I also accidently made my other half sit on an ants nest, but less about that!). We heard the most exquisite song thrush deliver its warbling, wistful song, and sat as ducks, moorhens and a solitary swan floated about in the still, green water. Watching a tern hovering, diving, poised in its search of fish, there was a real moment where it felt like I could have been sat there spotting fairies, so enchanting was the sense of wonder we all felt.

This stretch of the Cam at Grantchester is noted as one of the most beautiful spots for wild swimming, so we couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a dip ourselves. Splashing about in the river with my naked three year old, with birdsong all around us, the air shimmering with that beautiful light you find at sunset, we all felt fully wild. Glorious, even. You can see why Pink Floyd wrote an entire song, Grantchester Meadows, about this place.

‘A river of green is sliding unseen beneath the trees

Laughing as it passes through the endless summer making for the sea…’


#4: Going batty - posted 25/6/15

Scudamores Bat Safari

It’s week three on 30 Days Wild and we are going bats, quite literally. Scudamores Punting not only chauffeur tourists or lay on punts to watch the May Ball fireworks (I love Cambridge in May Week: seeing the college gardens flooded with light, flowers and the odd random chaise lounge thrown in) but have also teamed up the Wildlife Trust to offer punted Bat Safaris. Running every week, these are enchanting 90 minute tours enabling nature-lovers spot these furry little things swooping and diving over the river at night, with proceeds in aid of the Wildlife Trust. What a fantastic idea!

‘They’ve been really well received. On the tour you’ll see around four species of bat, such as the pipistrelle - both common and soprano. There are as many as 12 species of bat in Cambridge, so that’s pretty good,’ says Louise Thomas of Scudamores.

This week, we’ve also been cloud spotting, wild flower planting, learning about forest school (watch out for poet Tom Walker’s new In Courage Forest School sessions for children and spotted a very fat frog. I’ve found myself ranting slightly about bats, bees and birds with friends while out (‘did you know that bees don’t have sex?!’), extolling the virtues of going wild. I know 1000% more about these small winged creatures, than I did three weeks ago. My three year old wild thing has also become adept at spotting blackbirds, when three weeks ago he didn’t even know what a blackbird was!

At the weekend, we celebrated the Summer Solstice with a visit to childhood haunt Wandlebury, teeming with wildlife and ancient magic gorgeousness. I adore The Shack at nearby Gog Magog Farm Shop, nearby. Watch out for their Summer Sundowners, for the chance to watch a glorious sunset over Cambridge, with DJs. Perfect.

#3: The birds and the bees - posted 12/6/15

by Howard Rice

Week two on #30DaysWild and we have been continuing with our mission to get wild with nature – gathering pine cones, creating a ‘nature box’ at home, full of cones, leaves, snail shells (a popular theme with my three year old) and twigs. We’ve also been listening to birdsong out on the streets, which in a city like Cambridge is very easy to tune into, if you just pause for little while.

So far, this has been the most inspirational part of the challenge – every day, slowing down and, well, just noticing everything a lot more. Try just stopping for five minutes and watching a bird sing – it’s incredible how uplifting the sound of a tiny little creature, singing its heart out from the rooftops, can be.

I’ve also been dipping into The Hive, by Bee Wilson (her real name); a fantastic read for those who love bees (who are apparently very chaste and do not have sex). Perfect for reading while dozing in the sun. Plus, I picked up a copy of Eva Crane’s novel A History of Beekeeping, to read, too.

Today, we’ve been checking out the beehives at Cambridge Botanic Gardens. Take a wander round the gardens with their fabulous ‘Find Me’ (beautifully illustrated) booklet on your very own safari, with free binoculars and bug catching jars all provided in a neat little rucksack at the gate. There are bees aplenty at the Botanics, with a whole page in the booklet showing you the different species that live there.

“The honey bees I look after are very calm,” says Sally Hughes, who looks after a hive of honey bees in the gardens. “It all depends on the Queen Bee. If she is having a bit of a moment, they can all be affected and become quite aggressive.” At this point, my three year old ambitiously tries to blow hundreds of bees away from the hive as she removes the top. “Maybe don’t do that,” she advises. “Most bees are fine as long as you don’t aggravate them, or panic.”

The Botanic Gardens is a magical place, home to over 100 species of bird (crikey) – go for a quick picnic or give yourself a whole afternoon there, we spotted a magpie, dragonflies, a huge spider, a very happy looking moorhen and plenty of bees – lots of fun.

This weekend is The Big Wild Rumpus: a national celebration of that children’s classic, Where The Wild Things Are, first published in 1967 and made into a film in 2009. Head over to Haverhill Library at 11am for readings of the fabulous book – and wild rumpus afterwards! Fancy dress encouraged. The venture is co-hosted by Wild Rumpus and Penguin Random House Children’s, and I’m also really inspired by Wild Rumpus’s fantastic family festival in August – Just So.

Have a wild weekend, everyone!

#2: Chickens in the city - posted 5/6/15

This week we set off on our #30DaysWild challenge – encountering snails in the garden on Monday and collared doves nestling in the trees while drinking in the birdsong on a gentle run on stunning Jesus Green towards Victoria Avenue, as it pelted it down on Tuesday.

I’ve always loved the trees along that walkway, they're utterly gorgeous, and it's no surprise that it’s a popular spot for runners and those working out. Surely this beats being stuck in a sweaty gym? Dedicated to the task, I also got totally drenched cycling to collect my #30DaysChallenge pack from the Wildlife Trust’s Fiona Gilsenan – natural shower, anyone?

Things hotted up as we picnicked outside on Midsummer Common, watching Strawberry Fair pop up throughout the week on Wednesday and Thursday. We saw honey bees and also discovered a wonderful book for walkers, given as a birthday present to one of our friends who lives on the river.

Today (Friday), we visited chickens in graphic designer Rebecca Scambler’s garden in Romsey Town just off Mill Road (www.rebeccascambler.com). What a wonderful garden she has! Teeming with spinach, wild strawberries, potatoes, plus loads of birds. We loved her little girl’s bird spotting book.

“The whole area around Romsey Town used to be an orchard,” Rebecca tells me.

And chicken keeping seems to be a massive urban trend right now, with Fen Ditton’s www.jessieshens.co.uk the go-to chicken place for the city’s fans of these feathery friends. They make fantastic pets and the eggs are so welcome, too. Sadly, we had planned to visit artist Colin Dewar’s chickens, but they had recently been eaten by a fox… Nature isn’t all sunshine and daisies, after all.

Finally, we hopped aboard historical narrowboat Riverboat Rosie (www.camboats.co.uk) for a cruise along the Cam. Peter runs fantastic hour-long tours, pointing out the natural habitats of water voles, swans and moorhens, as you chug along the river, plus all manner of historical information.

“Most of the swans along riverside are the signets from last year, some are still brown feathered,” he tells us, explaining where all the current signets are nesting on the Cam.

Passing Midsummer Common, he points out high-growing nettles and grasses towards Elizabeth Way bridge, kept that way by Cambridge’s Open Spaces team to preserve it as habitat for wildlife. This weekend, we’re planning to head back to the Beechwoods, a Wildlife Trust site just outside of the city – full of slender, sky-reaching beech trees. Perfect for a romantic stroll, a family visit or just a solitary wander.

So far, #30DaysWild is proving great fun!

#1: 30 Days Wild - posted 1/6/15

Living in a city, and getting bogged down in your day to day routine, it’s easy to overlook the natural world that’s all around us. Even the heart of the busiest urban habitat is bursting with wildlife: from the bumble bee pollinating your window box to the hedgehog that creeps through your garden after dark; or the elderflower bushes bursting with berries – perfect for whipping up a wild cocktail.

The Wildlife Trust BCN (Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire) has launched a campaign for June encouraging us to connect with nature. Every day this month, I’ll be doing one wild thing – however big or small – and recording it here in my 30 Days Wild blog. I’m hoping it’ll help me discover some exciting new places and things to do in Cambridge, as well as enriching my life with an appreciation for the little things.

Being already a bit of a wild thing myself (who gave my husband a badger hat instead of a ring when we tied the knot), the Trust's challenge to get out there spreading ‘Random Acts of Wildness’ seemed like the perfect excuse to get back to nature. Cambridge is one of the greenest cities in the UK, and we can all make the most of the great outdoors flourishing right here on our doorsteps.

Summertime is a fantastic source of inspiration for those yearning for a greener lifestyle, be it for health or just for fun, so why not get out there and rediscover the enchanting natural world, too? Hopefully my discoveries will give you a little inspiration. Whether you join in with the challenge, or just use some of the ideas here to get that little bit greener, you’re welcome.

“The response to 30 Days Wild has been overwhelming”, says Fiona Gilsenan of the Wildlife Trust BCN. “We’ve had people and families all over the counties sending us ideas. It’s a great way for people to enjoy nature.”

This last week I've been pinning my Wildlife Trust wall chart – sent to me after signing up online – with an array of ideas for gorgeous wild treats for myself, friends and family to indulge in over the next 30 days. We’ll be visiting home reared chickens off Mill Road in Romsey Town and bugspotting in the garden. Dabbling in a bit of barefoot yoga, tree hugging and splashing puddles in the rain. Wild dancing outdoors, cruising on the river and paddling at Byron’s Pool. Talking to my girlfriends in the city who make their own natural soaps, remedies and delicious drinks. Wildflower planting. Building a fairy garden (just a small one). Going on a wild rumpus celebrating kids classic Where The Wild Things Are. Exploring all things tepee, yurt and treehouse in our search for wild hideaways. Plus loads more.

Well, that’s the idea, anyway. And it’s a great idea. Thank you to the Wildlife Trust for the inspiration.

Feeling inspired, too? Let me know where your favourite wild beauty spots are, in and around Cambridge: tweet me at @RuthieCollins. And visit Wildlife Trust BCN online for more information on spreading Random Acts of Wildness.