In this bank holiday edition of the programme Helen Skelton looks at how the British countryside has shaped our childhoods down the ages. Playground. Classroom. Sports field. It's been all things.
She travels to Northamptonshire to rediscover the works of one-time children's favourite author, Dennis Watkins Pitchford. Better known as BB, he was as big as Enid Blyton in his day. Book in hand, Helen explores the countryside that features in BB's stories. While she's there she looks back at some of the best films on Countryfile that have featured kids and childhood.
Helen Skelton explores the Northamptonshire countryside that inspired local author Denys Watkins-Pitchford – affectionately known as ‘BB’ – to write more than sixty books during his lifetime. Around half of these were books for children, including classic novels Brendon Chase, celebrating its 70th year, and Carnegie medal-winning The Little Grey Men. As a child, BB was home-schooled and as a result spent much of his time out of doors, riding, fishing, shooting and butterfly hunting. Helen discovers how his books celebrated the countryside and encouraged generations of children to get outside and explore.
IMAGE: Helen with Bryan Holden of the BB Society
‘BB’ the artist
Helen finds out that as well as being a countryman and author, ‘BB’ was a talented artist who illustrated his own books with beautiful depictions of the countryside that inspired him. BB’s evocative scraperboard illustrations document his stories. Helen has a go at her own illustration in the grounds of Lamport Hall, the home of the Isham family, in the village where BB was born and grew up. She meets children from the local Northgate School Arts College, winners of the 2014 BB Creative Arts Award. This annual competition is held between local schools to celebrate and commemorate his artistic legacy.
IMAGE: Helen gets drawing with pupils from Northgate School Arts College
Of all BB’s books for children, Brendon Chase is arguably one of his best-known novels. 2014 marks seventy years since the publication of the book, described by contemporary children’s author Phillip Pullman as “brimming with delight”. It is notable for the vivid realism of its depictions of three runaway boys’ living in the fictional woodland of the title. Helen ventures into Fermyn Wood Country Park with a group of local children and Education Ranger Eric Sant to see if they have what it takes to build a shelter fit for “a new generation of outlaws”.
IMAGE: Helen, Eric and local children prepare their woodland shelter
BB was a man of many talents and a passionate fisherman. He has even being called “the father of modern carp fishing” and published his own guide to the sport "Confessions of a Carp Fisher" in 1950. While at Fermyn Woods Country Park in Northamptonshire, Helen and the group of local school children have a go at coarse fishing for themselves. With the help of James Roche and local coaches from the Angling Trust, they see for themselves who comes closest to catching a carp that BB would be proud of.
IMAGE: Local school children and Helen fishing
The Purple Emperor
One creature that made an impression on the young BB was the regal Apatura Iris – the Purple Emperor butterfly. As a boy these creatures fascinated BB and at a time when they were declining in Northamptonshire he embarked on a personal mission to boost the population. He would spend hours collecting eggs from the local woodlands, hatching them in his homemade vivarium and releasing the males back into the wild. Today Fermyn Woods is home to one of the most successful populations. Helen sets out with National Trust Naturalist Matthew Oates to learn more about the elusive egg laying of this beautiful native butterfly.
IMAGE: Helen takes a seat at the end of the filming day at Fermyn Woods
Talented Shetland ponies
In years gone by the sturdy frame and small size of the Shetland pony made them perfect for working the land and even helping in the mines. These days they’re being used for a much cuter and more entertaining purpose – racing and dancing! Adam Henson meets the young jockeys training for the Shetland Pony Grand National. He gets a sneak preview as three young Shetland riders put their ponies through their paces. Then Adam meets a celebrity of the equine world - Socks. This Shetland pony stallion is famous world-wide after racking up more than seven million YouTube hits with his moonwalking skills.
Connecting children with nature
The National Trust is running a campaign to re-connect children with nature, but how easy is that going to be? To find out, Tom Heap heads to Plymouth to meet the Carrington family. They’re too worried to let their children go and play in the woods on their own, but Tom finds some other safe and supervised ways that can enjoy the great outdoors, whether that’s on the land or in the sea. But will they like them?
The ‘Sport of Kings’
Ellie Harrison discovers Newmarket in Suffolk, a town with a passion for racing, where even the traffic lights are triggered by horses. Here thoroughbreds thunder along miles of gallops twisting and turning along the border with Cambridgeshire. Newmarket’s historic heathland, raced over since the 1600s, is maintained by Nick Patton and a team of twenty-five heathmen. But as Ellie finds out, the grass isn’t always greener on the gallops. Racing truly developed once the Jockey Club moved its headquarters to a newly built coffee house in Newmarket. Ellie visits the original 1752 room and hears how fortunes were won and lost, as gentlemen and players placed bets with early bookmakers.
Dove Stone Reservoir, in the north west of the Peak District National Park, was built in the 1960s to collect water from surrounding moorlands. Today it is also a RSPB nature reserve and every week a group a young people come to discover more about the area. Ellie helps the Dove Stone Youth Rangers, all between 11 and 19 years old, fell trees and then watches some fascinating wildlife footage they have caught on camera traps. She also hears that being part of the group has helped change their view of the countryside and proved impressive in a university interview.
Arthur’s Christmas lamb
Adam Henson travels to Dorset to meet an inspirational two year old who already has his own flock of sheep. Arthur Jones spends five days a week on a farm with his grandmother. He suffers from cerebral palsy and his attachment to one lamb in particular has really helped him overcome some of the challenges he faces every day. The family farms Dorset sheep, the only native breed that can give birth all year round. It’s an unusual sight to see lambs at Christmas but they do have their uses. Arthur is practising for his nursery's nativity play and his cute lambs will be the centre of attention.
John’s beach clean
The summer months see crowds flock to the seaside. Sadly some leave a lasting impact. According to the Marine Conservation Society, an average of 1,700 pieces of litter are found on every kilometre of beach in the UK. John rolls his sleeves up to pick litter from Cromer’s sandy beach, with the help of children from Kelling Primary School and Beachwatch Officer, Lauren Davis.
Warwickshire Young Farmers
Matt Baker meets members of the Shipston-On-Stour Young Farmers’ Club to learn some essential farm skills in preparation for the Warwickshire County Rally. He visits Tom Keningale, a budding gamekeeper, to get some tips on chicken-plucking and then meets Annabel James as she herds sheep with her dog, Fly. Matt also takes on a tractor manoeuvring challenge at the final rally, while the young farmers show off some impressive welly-wanging. Finally Ellie and the boys go head-to-head with Matt and the girls’ team, in a close fought tug-of-war.
|Series Producer||Joanna Brame|
|Executive Producer||William Lyons|