Storyteller Tim Porteus takes us on another trip. . .

IN THE second ‘Journey of Discovery’ this summer Tim took his family through the woods from Garvald kirk to Stoneypath Tower.

WHAT do we remember of our childhood in our later days? Think for a moment of the key happy memories which have framed your childhood. They are often simple ones involving play outside. Sadly, research is showing that children are increasingly less able to explore and play in the outdoors.

There are various reasons for this and there is a horrible irony at the centre of it. We have become far more obsessed with material things, it’s all around us. We are literally buying into the idea that happiness is about purchase and we are passing this on to our children.

It’s in our brains that the economy needs us to spend our money on things we don’t need. We are fed an ideology that spending money on stuff is not just a pleasure but a civic duty. It keeps the economy going and makes us all prosperous. That’s what we are made to believe.

But the result is that more than ever, for our children and ourselves, we are enslaved to the interests of corporate profit at the expense of what really matters: simple time to be and enjoy free pleasures.

These were my thoughts as I set off for the second of this summer’s journeys of discovery. I didn’t share them at the time, and of course I stopped thinking about them as the magic of the wood engulfed us.

We began our journey amongst yew trees which surrounded the ancient kirk of Garvald. It was a scorching day and the shade of trees was such a relief. The plan was to spend the day exploring the wood and discover Stoneypath Castle.

Garvald Kirk has a simple beauty. While parts of its wall are 800 years old, it has been subject to renovation and alteration over the last 200 years. There is a welcoming atmosphere inside and I reflected that when not being used for services it would make a perfect storytelling venue.

By the door there is a reminder of how religion can change its spots. A set of jougs hangs on the wall: an iron collar and chain once used to humiliate and degrade ‘sinners’ by chaining them up. The victims of this would have been mainly young women who became pregnant out of wedlock.

It’s right that it remains there, I think, as a reminder that religion can be used as a justification for intolerance, hate and cruelty as well as a source for love and compassion. The choice of which version to adhere to is a human one.

We followed the rabbits which scattered from the kirkyard into the wood. I was surprised that the Papana Water, which flows through the wood, was so full given there had been no real rain for weeks

It’s impossible to be bored in a wood. Hours were soaked up under the cooling shade of the tree canopy. It was quite simply a day of utter magic. We had our picnic under the shade of two giant Scots pine trees with the sound of running water in the background. It was the only real quiet moment in what would be hours of constant play. The kids just sat for a while, listening to the running water, and looking up at the trees. It was a communion of simple joy.

The walk isn’t so long in distance but it took us around five hours to complete. It could be done in 20 minutes or less if you just walk. But we didn’t just walk, we explored. There are three bridges which cross the Papana. Each one had a different attraction. Shoes were soon off and clothes got wet but the heat meant none of this mattered. A new game was devised when our youngest, Lewis, tried to use a piece of half-eaten banana as a substitute for a stick while playing ‘Poohsticks’ . The girls rushed into the river to reclaim it, but then came up with a new game ‘hunt the banana’.

After spending time at various points by the river, getting wet and discovering lots of things, we finally reached the walk’s end: Stoneypath Tower. It suddenly appears above the trees as if out of a fairy tale, its newly restored red walls and parapets a contrast to the green we were surrounded by.

There is much history in the castle, but then again there is history in the woods and hills.

As we headed back to Garvald the kids were quieter, tired by adventure, but in a joyful way. The image of my kids standing in the water, playing and searching for fish seemed to symbolise something immemorial: a powerful and simple truth that what we really need is an immersion in nature, not stuff that hijacks our wellbeing in the name of profit.

We surely stepped on the footprints of Robert Neillans on our return. He was a well-known cooper who lived in Garvald over 200 years ago. Perhaps he came foraging here, I thought. As the water sparkled in the sunshine I reflected that the making of ‘illicit whisky’ was once common hereabouts; and that Robert was, according to local historian Irene Anderson, one of those involved.

We walked past the house he built on the banks of the Papana when we returned to Garvald. What tales this village could tell!

We’d been ‘away’ for a total of nearly six hours in a magic place. But we’d met only one person walking her dog. In one sense that was a joy, and the absence of litter was another.

But it was tinged with a sense of sadness that the magic is something being lost to so many of us, and indeed that so many of the magic places are themselves being lost.

But my melancholy did not last long. It was a day of joy and we thanked the wood as we left.