“I KISSED a worm once,” said Benjamin, eight. “Don't ask me why.”
Benjamin Elliott from St Martin’s had joined me at Erddig near Wrexham with his sisters Amy, 6, and Lucy, 4, to help me complete my mostly wonderful but slightly unfulfilled childhood.
“I’m not scared of small things. I’m not even afraid of wasps," he said. “I picked one up once and put it with a bee – but they didn’t make friends.”
“I touched one and I’m not scared,” said little sister Lucy.
Several days earlier, their mother Lorraine Elliot, communications officer for the National Trust property, had emailed me a list of 50 Things to do Before You Reach 11 and 3/4.
I thought that, after growing up within sprinting distance of trees, hills, a fallow field and a stream, and in a place and time where parental paranoia hadn’t reached its current levels, I’d be able to tick everything off.
I was wrong – there were a couple of tasks I hadn't managed.
I'd never caught a fish with a net, set up a snail race or played poohsticks, all integral parts of childhood, says the National Trust.
It all sounds a bit twee but there is an important element to this.
Childhood obesity is a real problem across the country, with Wales coming in with the worst numbers in Britain with 35 per cent of children under 16 registered as overweight or obese in 2011, according to the Welsh Government.
At the same time, young people are becoming more disconnected from the real world than ever before. In 2013, a survey revealed that up to a third of primary pupils in Britain thought cheese was a plant and that fish fingers came from land animals.
Also as unpleasant is the idea that youngsters are missing out on all the things that make childhood worthwhile, instead retreating indoors or living their lives online.
In 2005, writer Richard Louv coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ but the Elliott siblings, at least, have avoided this.
Benjamin said: “I do play computer games but I like to play outside as much as I can. But when I go to my friends houses, we mostly play computer games.
“I definitely make sure they get out and about,” said Lorraine, as we approached a river, sticks in hand. “I grew up somewhere semi-rural outside Wrexham so I got plenty of chances to play outside.
“But you see it less and less now. I think parents are afraid to let their kids play outside. It’s not just stranger danger, they’re worried about things like accidents and what-ifs.
“I think that’s a shame, because children work things out their own way. If they fall and hurt themselves, they won’t try that particular thing again. It’s part of growing up.”
One of the benefits of being outdoors became apparent even before we got to the river where we would race our sticks.
A pair of peacock butterflies danced past.
“Wooooow,” said Amy, awestruck. “They are so pretty.”
Amy loves nature programmes on TV and. when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said: “I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want to be a princess. I want to be a scientist.”
There’s nothing like the wonders of nature to confirm an ambition.
Pooh-sticks turned out to be a bit of a wash-out, as there was a pipe beneath the bridge. It created a little dam that caught the twigs as they floated through, so we agreed that Benjamin won, as his stick reached the blockage first.
Next on the list was catching a fish in a net.
This proved to be easier said than done, as the canny pond-dwellers heard us coming a mile off and hid.
“There are lots of things I like doing outside,” said Amy. “I like it when there’s a tank full of water outside and they put apples in it.”
“You mean apple-bobbing?” I asked. “Yes.”
“I like tag,” said Benjamin. “Have you ever played toilet tag?”
“No,” I admitted.
“It’s when you have to stop like this with your arm out, and someone freeing you has to sit on you and use your arm to flush,” he cackled.
The disappointment of the fishing was forgotten as we all hunkered down to make daisy chains.
This was finally an area where I could share my expertise.
“You make a little hole in the stem with your fingernail then put another stem through the hole.”
This proved a tricky but we ended up working together to make a daisy chain worthy of an Enid Blyton story.
After a pitstop, where, charmingly, the children were given National Trust lunch packs containing a packet of cress, so they could ‘plant it, grow it, eat it’ (number 41 on the list), we got on to the final task of the day – a snail race.
“I think all the snails are asleep,” said Lucy, after 10 minutes fruitless searching.
Snails like damp, dark places and tend to come out at night so they weren’t willing to join us for a race.
“I got these,” said Lucy, holding a few empty shells.
“And I got these,” said Amy, with her own collection.
The trio felt a bit sorry that I hadn’t finished my quest.
“We can try again if you like,” said Amy, but the idea we put the empty shells on our fingers and race each other instead did not go down well.
“That's not the same,” said Benjamin.
I agreed with him. Nothing quite beats an authentic, outdoor childhood.