Hinchingbrooke Country Park

Hinchingbrooke County Park is 170 acres of meadow, woodland and marsh, 2 km west of Huntingdon. This diarys documents elements of two projects with the reception class from Cromwell Park Primary School in Hinchingbrooke, Cambridgeshire.

In the spring term of 2013, artists Caroline Wendling and Deb Wilenski supported Ben Wilson and his colleagues Karen Lewin and Kelly Smith to establish an approach to outdoor exploration that involved spending one morning a week out in the park with the afternoon back in the classroom creatively exploring their fascinations. The project was commissioned by the Early Years Service at Cambridgeshire County Council.

Throughout 2013/14 Ben has continued to take his reception class out each week when possible and has been inviting his class to lead other classes in the school into the County Park to share their discoveries and help build new classes confidence in establishing their own outdoor learning projects. CCI's ongoing work with the school through the Early Years team at the County is documented in Cambridgeshire Footprints.

Caroline returned to work with Ben and his class in Spring 2014 for five weeks supporting them to complete their Arts Award Discover.

Our fantastical guide Ways into Hinchingbrooke Country Park offers another way to experience the place. Visitors information on the park can be found here. 


All the way to the A14


They will help people find some places where we go to…the signs will stay here forever  (William)

Taking their own signs they had made for the woods, the reception class led their year 3 colleagues and a group of parents on an detailed tour of the woods on this sunny morning. Their knowledge of this extensive park – both real and fantastical – was amazing. Our group began at Slippery Mountain, but then went all the way to the A14 and the secret pond via Angel Grass, coming back via Harry Hill.

Ariana (year 3), who had never been before, said  it’s so far – if you tried to ride a horse this far, we wouldn’t get there. I really want to measure it.

Between the Split Path and the Button Tree, we gathered around Jessica from year 3 to hear a story her Dad had told her of the wild man in the wood:

A man was sick of city life and ran away to the woods. He ate bugs. He had no contact with human beings. If it’s shaky around the woods, it could be him. He could be anywhere. If you get lost, he could help you.

The signs were made using rice paper and clay paint so that they could disintegrate naturally and the park management had agreed these could be left there for other visitors to discover. The children were very thoughtful about where to place their signs and seemed eager to share their stories and discoveries, sometimes inviting the year 3s to add their observations too. Louis wanted to hang his high up beside the Slippery Mountain whilst Jim wondered if his sign of a scarey monster might be frightening for people and decided that under the A14 was good because it tells you where the monster of the lake is.

Back in the circle with all the other groups, we heard that a new place had been discoved plus a special branch that seemed to map the park on its bark. This was carried back to school by a group of the year 3s to be part of their afternoon activities.

Oskar’s sign for all the way to the A14

Jessica and Kelsey add to Kelsey’s sign for Slippery Mountain

Jim’s monster of the lake sign

Louis hanging his sign for Slippery Mountain

A story in a pouch


The content of Jim’s pouch

Sneha and Louis holding their pouches

(By Caroline Wendling)

Today the children where given little pouches to collect small things from the wild. On our way back from the woods, Jim held my hand. He was very excited about his morning’s visit and told me about the vortex and the skull.

Back at school he told the whole class his story too, asking Oliver and Jaymon to join him in the centre of the circle. First of all the boys walked round the inside of the circle showing us their rabbit skull and explaining that the two front teeth were the clues.

Jim continued -  we went to Power Ranger Land. There was a robot, a big one and a medium onewe found all of that (as he emptied his pouch), all out of the robot’s tummy. We found a little door - a gate. We thought we were going away from it but it swallowed us. We killed it. That is how we got out of it. We had to destroy lots of good things to get out. He showed us the gold of the robot’s tummy - we climbed over his ribcage and we saw his blood.

Jim’s Cyclops

Aditya’s Vortex

This was an extraordinary story. Jim drew the vortex and wrote we got swallowed by a killer robot and he was a Cyclops. I thought how Homer would have liked the illustration of this very scary monster. Aditya drew it too.

The children are working towards their Discovery Art Award, gathering evidence in their woodland book by entering drawings and stories. One aspect of the award is ‘finding out’ so I showed the children some images of my own art. I explained that my work is linked to the act of walking and that I walk in the landscape near my studio. I projected a few images of the things I do on the classroom wall.

Caroline Wendling, Suspended Forest

Caroline Wendling, Red Berry, Green world, Blue Field

We talked about what artists do, and the difference between sculptures and paintings and films. As I ended my presentation Jim declared when I am big, I want to be an artist. There is more about my work here.

Observing details and drawing stories


By Caroline Wendling

Olivia’s flower drawing

Amy’s buttercups

The children’s skills at observing and drawing on this visit were extraordinary.

In the woods Kelsey showed me a pea for the army fairy lunches. Now I had a better idea of their eating habits. She said - we have to wash it first and then cook it. Kiri, acrobat by nature, and at ease in the wild led the children to a pea tree and they spent a long time picking peas. Back in the classroom Jayman noticed them on the table and said that ‘they looked like eggs and parrots could come out soon.

Kiri’s drawing of how the peas were found on the tree

Natasha’s drawing of the Halloween tree

Natasha and Teigan carried a Halloween tree with long bits at the top and springy branches to the living room in the woods and then on to the classroom. Many others carried their treasures back to school with great care and then drew them in their working books, used as part of the Arts Award Discover process. Everyone in the classroom was absorbed.

In Amy’s drawings of the buttercups you can see that she drew each one with its particular characteristics. The segments are represented just how they were. Olivia’s drawings are precise; they remind me of botanical drawings. I wonder where young Albrecht Dürer worked on his observational skills as a boy, years before he drew and painted Great Piece of Turf (1503).

Complex drawings telling the children’s stories came alive in the books too. That morning a timid fairy village was found and Scarlett saw a timid fairy having a bath.

Scarlet’s journey

Emma M’s leeches

Scarlet said that the arrows are our journey. The timid fairy is having a bath on the leaf. There are muddy footprints and a gate at the bottom. Emma M shared a different story - I went to the pond and I dropped buttercups in the water and jumped up and down and I saw two leeches. Elsa searched for a tree so she could climb to the clouds and included Charlie’s tadpoles in her afternoon drawing:

I went to Harry Hill with Rhys, Olivia and William. We went up and down, then to a pond and we saw little black things swimming, they were tadpoles.

Elsa drawing her story

Elsa’s drawing

The children’s investigation into the world of fairies appears scientific; in the wild they are looking for clues and collecting samples. The drawings, just like Durer’s are the tangible things that can be shared. It was amazing to witness such application and seriousness - a lesson in learning to look and learning to observe using drawing for story telling.

Mebin’s timid fairy hat and timid fairy

Great Piece of Turf (1503), Albrecht Dürer

A Surreal World


By Caroline Wendling

In the living room, Ben Wilson was holding his catapult up high. This was not an ordinary catapult it was a story catapult. It seemed to come with magic powers. Ben told us, as we looked fascinated, that all we needed to do was tell our story, pull the elastic back and send it to the wood. This dramatic start shaped in many ways our day.

I had promised Louis to find out about his skills on Harry Hill. Elsie came with us. He said, ‘When you can see the yellow arrow, you are close. On the way to Harry Hill there are timid fairies on the grass and that’s why dogs must stay on leads.’ We arrived at the place Louis called ‘the crossroad’. Could it be William’s split path? As soon as Louis could see the hill he announced running across the field, ‘I am going to make super one and ultra one’. The skills were so well demonstrated that soon Elsie mastered them. It was about running as fast as possible down the hill using a special method called a ‘trick’ to avoid falling.

On the foot of Harry Hill, we met Oskar holding a fairy stick, a fairy hat and a fairy log. Alice was wearing a Captain Blackbird necklace. As Oscar told us that, ‘sixteen wolves were chasing Captain Blackbird’, the sky fell on us. Already rather wet, Oscar’s Mum, Mrs Lewin, Aliss, Anna, Louis, Elsie and I ran towards the nearest tree trying to shelter from the bucketing rain. We paused and watched the landscape appearing and disappearing in between heavy showers of rain and hail. The floor was covered with white pearls. The leaves shone pure gold, the sound of the water in the ditch was compared to a waterfall. The natural world had shifted and was about to stir the children’s imagination.

Oskar, Louis and Elsie under the tree

White pearls on the floor

Aliss with golden leaves

The morning’s powerful experiences led to representations in the form of paintings, coloured drawings and clay works back in the classroom that afternoon.

Oscar painted ‘waiting under the tree’, Rhys used brush strokes to depict the rain and hail stones and Olivia placed a ‘fairy in the rain and the grass’ on her black paper.

Rhys’ rain and hail and stones

Olivia’s fairy in the rain and grass (detail)

Jim and Emma T.’s timid fairies

The world of fairies seemed closer; Amy and Sienna found the timid fairy forest, Jim had seen the real timid fairies. On A5 pieces of paper the timid fairies and the army fairies appeared. Emma T. cut out a two-sided fairy; on one side of the paper the timid fairy (pictured) on the other side the army fairy. Elsa made the tiniest timid fairy of all using clay and Kiri made the largest one. It was so large that her legs were falling off the table. This extraordinary embodiment reminded me of artist Juan Miro’s creatures; half constellations, half beings floating in space. Except that here it felt real - a real timid fairy had entered the classroom.

Kiri’s very large timid fairy (detail)

Juan Miro’s Woman in front of the sun (www.abcgallery.com)

Telling, writing and drawing the stories


(By Caroline Wendling)

With such amazing encounters in the morning, such as the magic forest, the timid fairies, the key and the toad, I wondered how much the children would remember of their stories. Ben knew how to unlock them. He told the class to ‘remember the morning stories by imagining the rain on your face’. By inviting a willing child to tell his story in the centre of a circle, the story was acted, voiced and locked in the communal memory of the group.

Here is Jim’s account of the keyhole story - There was a little stump still in the ground. I put my stick in it and twisted my arm, nothing happened. Then a toad arrived. I gave it a little plant, the toad ate it. I was holding the stick; it was gold, it was gold bright mud, goldy colour, a bit yellow brown.’During his account Jim was mimicking his magic gesture that got the toad to appear.

Jim’s key hole story

Emma T’s picture of Jim and the key hole

Louis’s drawing of the key hole (detail)

Olivia telling the story of the magic forest

In the afternoon the children also made large drawings of individual journeys on A1 sheets. Ben offered special awards and sparkles for writing. The children wrote of ‘toad and the tree hole’, ‘this is the story of the toad’, ‘we start our journey’ and ‘there is a magic tree and we attack the slippery mountain’.

Jim’s drawing of the throne and golden rod (detail)

Jim’s journey (detail)

Sneha’s journey. The ‘orng’ is where the timid fairy is living

The children’s drawings were expressive and detailed. William, for example, took me on his journey by moving his finger along his drawing explaining the sequence of events as we followed a line interrupted by a series of vignettes - a tree, Harry Hill, lots of stones, up and down, representing memorable events along his morning walk. He explained in great detail what the split path was and he wrote it down too -  beside it was orange island.

Olivia discovered the magic forest in the morning. On the carpet, Olivia had told us that the trees were all lined up to make the magic forest. She found timid fairies in two different places there. The drawing below on the right shows a single tree because Olivia told me that you can’t see the other one because they are behind. They were arranged in lines. Olivia drew two fairies floating in the sky in the rain and at the bottom left she drew herself and her friend Sienna. Could they be the real timid fairies? The photograph on the left is of Amy drawing the magic forest.

Amy’s drawing of the magic forest

Olivia’s toad made with play dough

Olivia’s magic forest

The experiences of the morning and the story-telling after lunch gave plenty of subjects for the children to explore. Through manipulation of materials in the form of drawings, play dough and light, the children brought their imagination to life, creating exquisite pieces of artwork. The children not only expressed their own stories but the stories of other children. The centre image above is by Olivia of the toad found in the keyhole although she didn’t see the toad herself. 

Elsa not only drew her story, she arranged her precious objects on the overhead projector, her fairy relics that she had collected in the morning and placed with great care in her coat pocket. She positioned them carefully giving us clues on how to identify the timid fairies.

Once the children had left for home. Ben told me that he still isn’t sure what the fairies look like. I know he really does want to know. I think, like me, his eyes don’t quite see the fast moving things in the woods…


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