Reepham is extremely fortunate to have paths so close to the primary school that they are accessible for children to walk without having to first travel by car or coach. This means that the countryside is available to the school in a way which would not be possible if transport had to be arranged and paid for. Although, the majority of the children at the primary school in Reepham live close to the fields and tracks surrounding the town it is surprising how little they know about the plants and wildlife that surround them and the history that has created the environment they now inhabit.
Sarah Spooner and school pupils on ancient footpath at Whitwell
On Monday 8 July the Year 3 class, consisting of 30 eight year old children from Reepham Primary School, ventured out of the school gates for a walk organized under the umbrella of the Exploring Footpath’s scheme. Most of the walks organized within this project are for adults, whether they be students, landscape and history enthusiasts, or interested local people, and the routes have been designed with adults in mind.
Therefore, the school walk had a specially formulated shorter route taken to allow time for stopping to look around and discuss interesting features during the walk, to be able to complete it without exhausting the children and get them back to school before lunch-time.
So, on this bright sunny morning the children donned their fluorescent orange waistcoats, and clutching water bottles and snacks, pencils and paper, set forth down one of Reepham’s minor single track roads. They were accompanied by parent helpers, the class teacher and 2 staff and 1 student from UEA’s landscape history department.
The first part of the walk took us past the houses at the edge of the south east part of Reepham including the old vicarage which is bordered by an old and quite wild hedge consisting of beech, hawthorn, ivy and holly. As the buildings petered out the hedges on either side of the road came more into focus and were interspersed by large oak and ash trees. Several of the older hedges had been cut down by intensive agricultural practices and but there were some newer growth and vestiges of older plants in places.
The children had been learning about grasses and were interested to find and identify the types they saw along the side of the road. We also looked at the leaves of the hedge trees and answered such beautifully basic questions such as, ‘What is a hedge?’ and ‘Why do they grow here?’
One track we passed had been used as an unmetalled road in living memory but had then been downgraded to a bridleway so had remained small and overgrown, unlike others which changed status to roads and, after surfacing, began to be used by cars.
The mid-way point of the walk was a mill and we talked about how many of the roads and tracks converged at there. Why would that have happened? Well, we discussed how the tracks would have had carts pulled by horses carrying wheat, or other cargo to be processed by the mill, making their way down in one direction and away on another track. Like an informal one-way system, used because the carts could not pass each other in the narrow space available in the slightly sunken tracks with high hedge walls.
Studying and measuring an ancient oak tree. How old is it?
Re-energised with chocolate we made our way down through the station to avoid the short but rather dangerous section of road; and made our way across onto the Marriotts Way and onto the path that marks the old parish boundary between Reepham and Hackford. Along this path there were more copsed hazel and some large alder, beech and ancient oaks.
One oak tree in particular was examined for its size which turned out to be 7.2 meters in diameter and probably between 6 or 7 hundred years old. These trees were used for fuel and the lower branches cut away for building wood as well as burning. It was explained that it is likely that this tree is the same age as the churches in Reepham and, together with other trees at the time, may well have been used in its original construction.
These ancient trees are home to an enormous range of wildlife and support a whole infrastructure of habitats. They have been likened in importance to the coral reefs in the sea because of their capacity to support and encourage plant and animal life within their structure.
Childrens’ notes from the footpath walk
At this point the children knew they were on the home stretch back to school and lunch and playtime and they quickened their pace to cover the last part of the walk in extra quick time. In total the children behaved fantastically, showing great interest and enthusiasm in all they saw; they produced some lovely drawings and notes and we hope they will continue to walk and look around with the same openness and interest they showed that morning.
Childrens’ notes and sketches
Many thanks go to the class teacher, Miss Hands who organized the whole outing with great good humor and efficiency, to the parent and class helpers and to the UEA specialists who brought their knowledge and expertise to the walk, and to the head-mistress Mrs Jones who encouraged and supported the project.