Life on the edge. Why we feel drawn to outdoor liminal spaces

It was only a couple of years ago that a friend first introduced me to the word ‘liminal’. We were standing on a golden sandy beach, in the middle of London.

She slipped off her shoes (I suspect not something you see often on the Southbank), and headed for the liminal line where sand met murky Thames water. Literally a line in the sand.

What does liminal space mean?

The word liminal means the space between two things; that place or time in which you pass one threshold and approach another. Liminal space has been used in architecture to denote areas that people pass through rather than inhabit on a more permanent basis.

Why are we so fascinated by liminal spaces?

I’ve thought about the word often since that trip to London. Like many people I’m drawn to liminal zones. River banks, cliff tops, dawn, dusk, even that space in time that lingers briefly between rain and sunshine.

I’ve often wondered what the attraction is but my recent readings about nature and permaculture have helped explain.

We love the liminal because exciting things can happen at the edge.

Take a wood as an example. You’ll find more species and productivity at the woodland edge than either in its depths or in the fields outside its bounds. This liminal place where two ecosystems meet is lively and bountiful. Which is why, in permaculture, we’re taught to use the edges and value the marginal. My garden edges are a jumble of flowers, herbs and even fruit. It’s all found its own way there.

The top of the hill

One could easily argue that mountain tops are liminal spaces. Small wonder then that we love to climb. Who wouldn’t want to feel the wonder of being part of both the earth and the air at the same time?

Lots of us love to swim. My favourite place to be is floating with my head half in and half out of the water. I am mildly obsessed with the above and beneath. Of my realm but of another one too.

In fact the more I think about it, the more I can see the positive impact liminal spaces have on my life. Perhaps that’s why crowds bother me. They take away my understanding of where the edge is. If I ever have to live in a city, it’ll have to be one like Exeter where you can usually see the surrounding Devon hills.

Mind the gap

The liminal however can also be frightening. At night I turn lights on before I enter a room, I can only edge towards a cliff top, and would rather sit in water than balance on stepping stones above it. Perhaps our mind-the-gap life mantras are too strong; I have a feeling I’m sometimes missing out.

Exciting things happen at the edge. Let’s all head over there more often.

When your work makes you proud – Ordnance Survey’s new Walk London map

Should we be applying permaculture principles to our outdoor writing?

Peel the acorns and pass the mulberries

Mr D recently accused me (in humorous tones) of feeding him acorns. He’s not far wrong because I’ve developed a somewhat disconcerting (even to me) habit of including as many strange locally foraged edibles as possible into our diet.

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Five ways social media is lying to us about the outdoors

‘Social media is toxic’, ‘social media is fake’, ‘social media is bad for your mental health’.

How many times have you heard (and perhaps agreed with) those statements? The truth however is more complicated. Social media is a tool, and like any tool it’s how you use it that matters.

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How possible is it to adventure by public transport in the UK?

When did you last opt for public transport instead of the car?

Over the last couple of years the statistics for public transport use have made interesting reading. In 2019 84% we in Great Britain travelled 873 billion passenger kilometres (that’s 22 million times around the world). 84% of these kilometres were in cars, vans or taxis.

Journeys for work, leisure and adventure.

Some of these journeys will have been for work but many will also have been for leisure. For those of us who love outdoor adventures, access to our favourite outdoor spaces has become synonymous with jumping in the car (or more recently the camper van).

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Promoting a destination? Make sure you don’t miss out on its stories.

It’s half term down here in the Southwest. Both Dartmoor and Torbay are full of happy visitors, and I’ve been doing a bit of amateur tourism research.

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Wet tents at dawn – remembering the old ways

Did you learn how to pitch a ridge tent? I did and it is the teaching I remember more than those first camp nights.

Camping rituals

It seemed to me, at the tender age of eleven, there was a ritual to the whole affair. Even then I was aware of the passing down of skills. Like sailors on a land-ridden sea as we pitched we, master and apprentice, were not only partaking of tradition, we were becoming tradition.

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We all need outdoor education. Here’s how to support it.

This week, thanks to a great piece of research work from Plas-y-Brenin (The National Outdoor Centre) . I read the fantastic news that almost a third (32%) of the British population have tried a new outdoor activity since the start of lockdown.

Trying a new outdoor activity

Ordnance Survey, Street to Peak

That’s almost 17 million UK adults who have experienced the challenge and exhilaration that outdoor achievement delivers. The Plas-y-Brenin ‘Outdoor Aware 2021’ report (definitely worth a read) also reveals that 32% of people plan to continue their new-found enjoyment of being outside once lockdown ends.

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Woodland encounters. A lost learning experience?

The other day I had a wonderful outdoor experience. One that reminded me of my own childhood.

Freedom to explore

I’ve recently realised that my happiest childhood memories are outside ones. I grew up next to the Malvern Hills, and spent a fair amount of my time roaming the hills and commons near our home. I grew intimate with the outdoors, built dens in freshly mown grass, climbed rocks next to quarries, and made friends with the horses grazing on the common.

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Want to encourage children to go walking? How about child-friendly map reading?

Walking with children can be enormous fun but often also includes an element of determined reluctance, particularly as the day goes on or the paths turn uphill. Here at Fi Darby Freelance we’ve been busy creating some downloadable child-friendly maps for our local area. We’re very pleased with the results. If you want a few more tips on how to encourage children on a walk, read on!

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Why do women worry about being outdoors?

Sweeping gender-based statements seem to be in so I don’t feel too bad suggesting that in general we women worry more than our men. The science agrees with me but (like me) doesn’t really understand why. Suggestions include hormones, cultural burden, and our tendency to look after ourselves better than the chaps.

Being outdoors helped my anxiety

Whatever the reasons, I do know that my levels of worry (already excitable) increased as I approached menopause. Despite loving the outdoor lifestyle, it took me a while to register the soothing effects of being outside. Whether it was outdoor swimming, walking, wild camping, or (a new addition) running, experiencing intimacy with the outdoors had the ability to calm my concerns.

This is ironic because we women worry about being outdoors.

I know women worry about being outdoors because, in various guises, I’ve spent a big chunk of my life helping them gain outdoor skills. I’d like to add at this point that I’ve done the same for men and that they have worries too. But not always the same ones.

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