“The Rat brought the boat alongside the bank, tied it up, helped awkward Mole safely ashore, and swung out the picnic basket. The Mole begged to be allowed to unpack it all by himself. He took out all the mysterious packets one by one and arranged their contents, gasping ‘Oh my! Oh my!’ at each fresh surprise.” – Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Graham
I have long been a champion of the Great British Picnic. From a very young age, it became a tradition in my family that we would go for a picnic for my birthday. No other treat would do; but I was simply and incredibly happy with a hill to climb, a bag full of tasty goodies, and a few hours immersed in nature.
Whether it is a hurried jam sandwich eaten whilst hunched under a sheltering tree during a hailstorm, or an extravagant spread complete with tartan blanket and hamper, picnics hold endless potential for joy. For me, a picnic captures something of that elusive nostalgic childhood, and perhaps an element of a quintessential England of romantic novels and rural ideal, that never quite existed. ‘Breaking bread’, the act of sharing food with friends and loved ones or even strangers, is one of the strongest and simplest bonding experiences we have, and one that extends back for perhaps the entirety of human history from the nights we first gathered around the campfire.
That infamous source of internet wisdom, Wikipedia, describes picnics thus: “A picnic is an excursion at which a meal is eaten outdoors, ideally taking place in a scenic landscape such as a park, beside a lake, or with an interesting view and possibly at a public event such as before an open-air theatre performance, and usually in summer. Descriptions of picnics show that the idea of a meal that was jointly contributed and was enjoyed out-of-doors was essential to a picnic from the early 19th century.”
And it seems I am not alone in my love of the picnic. 16th-25th June is National Picnic Week when everyone across the UK is encouraged to get outside and find your own special place to eat, share, and experience. Whether it is an urban green-space or the wilderness of a National Park, there will be somewhere near you where you can connect with nature. And there’s no need for fancy gear or great culinary skills – the simplicity of a picnic is part of its charm; a cheese sandwich and an apple in a ‘Tupperware’ box takes a lot of beating!
I have eaten picnics in many places and situations, from squeezed in the car peering out at a steel grey Cornish sea through torrential rain, to sprawling in a flower-filled South Downs meadow gazing up at scudding clouds and skylark specks. I once shared Brie and chutney sandwiches, under a hawthorn bush, with a naturalist friend whilst a rain shower halted our hunt for grayling butterflies on a Sussex heathland.
However, since my early childhood birthday outings, picnics have gradually lost their place in a now busier adult life, being pushed to the periphery and happening more as an offshoot of another activity; eating on the go whilst out and about. So this National Picnic Week is the perfect excuse to rediscover the fun, excitement and pleasure of planning a day out around a picnic.
Over the next few days I am planning to share with you some of my favourite tips and places for picnics. Perhaps you might be inspired to adventure al-fresco yourself – if so, I hope your will share your photos and maybe some suggestions of your own!