My heart is still singing. Last week I was in the Lake District and returned to Rothay Park in Ambleside. I spent three happy years attending Ambleside CoE Junior School, where every lunchtime all the children were sent to this park to play. It was the Seventies. We had two hours playtime every day – a morning and afternoon break, with an hour and a half for lunch.
At that time the park had the usual offerings: swings, a witches hat and a zig-zag all sunk into concrete. The River Rothay flows past the park. Most of the drop down to its rapid, rocky waters is fenced off, but not all of it. Giant hogweed used to grow at its banks and my sister once developed a nasty rash from touching the plant.
It also has a huge rock outcrop right in the centre of the play area. From the top of the rock outcrop you get a fine view of the Fairfield Horseshoe. I remember walking this round just after my tenth birthday. It felt like an initiation ceremony into the hill walking world. A rite of passage after three years of gazing at these fells from the park.
Not much has changed. The play equipment now conforms to EU standards and has safety surfacing underneath it. The new head teacher, appointed after I left, immediately banned the lunchtime park life. But apart from this, the place has a timeless feel to it.
What really made me buzz with excitement was that when my son, MJ, and I arrived, there were children clambering all over the big rock. This activity was very much alive! Furthermore, it happened to be the after school club who were there. Clearly the play leaders saw the fun and value of this natural play area. Thankfully the EU have yet to work out a way of standardising rocks and boulders for play purposes.
We spent a happy hour playing tag and hide’n’seek in the spring sunshine and gentle breeze. We took lots of photos and sat for a while on the summit, absorbing our surroundings and scenery. Once again I had experienced the freedom, joy and adventure of my childhood and shared this with my son. Thanks MJ.