Tales From The Forest
The Found Outdoors Blog
How It All Started
Founded in 2020 by Fiona and myself, Rich, we've just wrapped up our second year at Found Outdoors. For this, our first post, we've decided to go back to how it all began and tell the story of what motivated us and how it all happened.
We both had childhoods rooted in the countryside, Fiona's extensive moving around England and a spell in New York State, and my own upbringing in the tiny Wiltshire village of Donhead St Andrew.
I had the archetypal free roaming upbringing, out in the woods behind our house for hours digging and building camps, cycling from a very young age, unaccompanied, to play with friends in neighbouring villages. A childhood that, in retrospect, created an organic, connection with nature where I always felt at home outdoors, in the trees, watching the birds and the changing seasons, feeling safe and at one with nature.
Fast forward a few years and, although I have a comfortable life, I'm behind a desk more than I'd like. Possibly because of our children, I'm increasingly aware of society's disconnection from the natural world and the associated problems - waste, mental health, pollution, increasing reliance on cars and planes, the proliferation of stuff and of course climate change. I'm also noticeably happier when I'm out on the hills running or mountain biking. We both talk a lot about these perceived problems and how to be part of a solution rather than passively existing with increasingly nagging doubts. We don't get long on this planet so doing something sooner rather than later feels important.
It took the first hand experience of our children's annual 'Let's Explore' week - organised by their primary school on local National Trust land - for me to really see through adult eyes the benefits of children playing outdoors. It made me think a bit deeper and slowly I formulated a plan.
Beginning The Search
After my mother died we inherited her house and decided that a good use for the proceeds from the sale would be to buy a piece of woodland and, inspired by what we saw other people doing, create an outdoor project focusing on kids education. I mean, how hard can it be?
So, while Fiona was working full time, I started to step back from my day job and in between juggling children and life, set about 'just' buying some woodland! The long and the short of it is that, after much searching (while working full time and bringing up two children), about 8 years later I still hadn't found anywhere suitable. For us, suitable meant within striking distance of where we live, good road access, a decent mix of trees and affordable. We might have had enough self belief to spend our inheritance on woodland - that we had no idea how to manage - but not enough to take the kids out of school, cut all ties, quit our jobs and move across the country to follow this dream! That sort of stuff looks great in inspiring documentaries but is a lot harder to commit to in real life.
Then in 2019, after a period of serious introspection we both decided to be a little more radical, quit our jobs and really go after the dream. Well Fiona did, I just stopped taking on work, which as anyone who's been a self-employed designer will know is more of a relief than sacrifice! The plan was to take a year out and put everything into finding a piece of land.
The criteria were:
- big enough to comfortably do the stuff we'd talked about, roughly 10-15 acres
- good access, so people can get there easily
- within our budget, so we can actually afford to run the business once we buy the land
Eight months in and we had nothing. Bits of land had come up but were either too small, had poor access, poor tree mix, unsuitable to run the business from, too big or attached to a house and consequently too expensive. It just goes round and round. You get very used to searches that you've setup returning land that you can discard immediately. There's no shortage of 4-7 acre plots mostly with some kind of pine/fir plantation but that's definitely not what we wanted. It was kind of disheartening but I remained pretty cup-half-full and convinced it was doable, I just had no idea how long it would take.
We talked to lots of people - woodlands.co.uk, land agents, a local landowner, friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends etc.
Then in August 2020 a search (on Rightmove of all places) threw up something that looked like it might just work. At 54 acres (roughly 30 football pitches) it was a tiny(!) bit bigger than the 10 acres we'd imagined, but the thing with land is - assuming you're lucky enough to have enough capital - the more you buy the better value it gets. In this case nearly half the price per acre compared to the smaller plots. Fiona got on the phone to the agent and the next day we were off to visit.
The next day happened to be our youngest daughter's birthday, a warm and wet August day, and really quite a surreal experience. The land comprises two areas of woodland with two meadows. It's big - by our small standards. The 'entrance' is a rusty chain across an overgrown break in the hedge and a grassy track that looks like it goes nowhere. We walk through the trees feeling like trespassers, expecting to get shouted at any moment. The woods are a beautiful mix of broadleaf, pine, fir and lots of lush green understory. They break open at a five bar gate on to a mown field that stretches down towards more woodland. The farmer is at the bottom of the field clearing a fallen tree and the grass is wet and long.
Everything is green.
We walk, and talk, and talk some more. Then we go home. And talk. And talk. It's a lot bigger than we planned, it's next to a prison, and there's evidence of walkers even though there are private signs, and it's a lot of money by our standards. But the access is great, the trees are great, the meadows are great and it's a huge adventure! The next day we go back and offer the asking price. The agent is really friendly. It's a nervous 24 hours waiting for the phone to ring and we increasingly feel like imposters.
But when the phone does ring, the owner has accepted our offer, they just need our solicitors details and the process can start. And when it does start, apart from the local council taking forever to return the searches (yes, you still need them just like buying a house) it's pretty straightforward. You take the solicitors advice, ask a few questions, pay the money and suddenly, as if by magic, you are a landowner! There's no manual, no instructions, you just own the land. You can go and roll around in it to your hearts content, let it grow over, do nothing, hug the trees, have a campfire. It's all yours!*
Until then it'd been a long, frustrating waiting game. But suddenly we'd done it, we had the land!
The (actual) Beginning
Completing the purchase, as it turned out, is where the hard work started. And so much is different from what we'd imagined.
* it turns out there are some serious restrictions with financial consequences but more on that in another post
Published on January 3, 2023
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