Swallows and Amazons? Really wild days for exploring families.

Swallows and Amazons doesn’t just have to be a wonderful book of our past. It is possible to live those water-y, exploring, wild-swimming, tree climbing summers? Here’s our guide for you to pull it off, here in the New Forest.

This ideas list if just that – ideas. Please take them on and adapt them as you want (she says with her nervous health and safety hat on for a moment…!)

Money shouldn’t be a big decider for this holiday. You can book a cheap or an amazing place. Swallows and Amazons holidays don’t have to be in big houses next to the sea (clearly that will help though). It’s about parents allowing their children the freedom to explore, make mistakes and find their own solutions in a ‘safe’ place where they can be independent without you ‘big brothering’ them at close hand. The forests and beaches in the New Forest are all free, lovely and ‘safe’ if you’re sensible.

Our job, at NFE, is to help you facilitate, so that your family get that rich, learning experience. Please ask us if you want to take up any of these ideas. We can point you to any number of good beaches, or forest glades.

For those who don’t know… Swallows and Amazons is a book which relates the summer holiday play time adventures of four children; John, Susan, Titty and Roger. They spend their days sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and pretend piracy. The kids are staying at a farm near the Lake District, during the school holidays. They sail a borrowed dinghy named Swallow, and meet the Blackett children (Nancy and Peggy), who sail a dinghy named Amazon. The Walkers camp on an island in the lake while the Blackett kids live in their house nearby. A gentle drama evolves.


I’m going to stop there because this isn’t a plot review. It’s meant to be a ‘how to’ guide.

So here’s how to do Swallows and Amazons – without driving to the Lake District, buy or borrow a boat and without other children to create low-key battles with! This guide focuses on helping kids develop creative play, build confidence at managing themselves in wild place and have fun – without their parents, phones or screens.

Our favourite beach for this wild day out is at Tanners Lane Beach. And the coast further toward Lymington accessed from the footpath that hugs the coast. Read more about our favourite wild beach here. 

First – Find the right place to stay on holiday. Pick somewhere that suits you family.

– If your kids are little, they can still be independent in an enclosed, decent-sized garden. If that garden is well designed for children, with dens and play-places in it – then even better. The good news is that we have plenty of them. Learn more about our houses for small children here.

– If your kids are older, then pick somewhere that they can walk/bike to which has a sense of wildness. Beaches or forests are perfect, so that counts in all our rural houses.

Second – get prepared and create a sense of anticipation.

Start the kids off with some preparation. Ideally months before their holiday. Watch Ray Mears type doco’s with them – discuss safety and ideas for adventures in the environment that you’ve booked for your summer holiday; beach/lake/forest – all different safety skills required. Book them on a first aid course too. Watch Help them visualise their games and plans. Please also be realistic about what they can achieve. Not managing to find unicorns in the forest or pirates on the beach might be one tragedy you could have avoided…. But finding golden hoof prints and/or buried treasure if something that you can create for them.

Third – get your role models right.

We suggest parents book a ‘teacher’ or role-model on the second day of their holiday to help the kids and parents learn the boundaries and helps build imagination and kids confidence to be creative. The New Forest Activities company do a great bushcraft day, wild cooking day, can do private kayaking trips.

Fourth. (for older-ish kids) – independence.

When you arrive on holiday, fully checkout the area you’re going to give them independence in. Agree boundaries with them. And agree punishments/prizes for sticking to these boundary areas. Agree a list of stuff they’re going to do; bonfire on the beach, den building, wild swimming etc. Agree safety procedures. Agree timings and communication – i.e. when we (parents ring this bell – you have to come, if we ring it twice then you have to come urgently). Give them their packed lunches, some basic kit (string, blunt ish scissors, a small tarpaulin, a bell, and a basic first aid kit, water).

Fifth – hide treasure!

Go to the beach or forest early and hide something for them to find in a chest of buried treasure for the kids to find.

Sixth  – Let them get on with it. (Whilst watching thru your binoculars)!

brockenhurst holiday cottage



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