For nearly 50 years, generations of schoolchildren from Somerset, Devon and further afield have been coming for residential stays at the Pinkery Centre for Outdoor Learning, high on Exmoor. To mark the occasion and celebrate World Outdoor Learning Day Exmoor National Park Authority – who welcome around 2,000 children a year to the Centre – recently asked people to share old photos and memories from their stay to form part of an exhibition later in the year.
John Fletcher is deputy head of Heathfield Community School, in Taunton, which has been sending Year 7 students for residentials at the Pinkery Centre for 40 years. He said: “Our students say time again that the most important and memorable experience they had of school was Pinkery. What they learn can’t be captured by league tables or exam results and we’re delighted to have so far been able to support 15,000 students to visit. I‘m sure many will take this opportunity to share memories in celebration of this special place and the lifelong lessons it helps to make.”
Pinkery was converted into an outdoor centre in 1969, having previously been an isolated hill farm for more than a century. Arthur Philips, the Centre’s first warden, recalls: “The building had been vacant for years and there were sheep living in it. I got together some volunteers, who all gave up their weekends and camped throughout the winter while the work was going on.
“It took about six months but we made it homely enough and when those first groups came, some of the farm buildings were still in use for storing hay and shearing sheep, so that become part of the lessons. There was time for studying the geology and wildlife, helping with conservation or maintenance work, and also outdoor pursuits like map reading, climbing and canoeing. My favourite was taking groups out over the moor on horseback. They’d spend 20 minutes grooming and helping tack up and then we’d be off. The impact it had on the youngsters was quite amazing.”
Situated in open moorland at 400 metres above sea-level and in the heart of Exmoor’s International Dark Sky Reserve, staying at the Centre remains a truly off-grid experience enjoyed by thousands of schoolchildren every year. Management was transferred to Exmoor National Park Authority 25 years ago in 1994, with major investment to modernise the building over the years, including the addition of a spring-fed water supply, wind turbine, cutting-edge photovoltaic roof and a new wing opened by Sir Ranulph Fiennes in 1995.
Dave Huxtable, who now runs the centre on behalf of Exmoor National Park, said: “Gaining confidence in the outdoors and connecting with nature encourages learning right across the curriculum and is crucial to inspire the next generation to love and care for our precious landscapes. There’s always one or two kids that aren’t sure at first, but by the end they’re usually the ones having the time of their lives. It’s a very special place and we’d love to have an exhibition celebrating all of the memories Pinkery has made.”
Send in your photos and memories of Pinkery to email@example.com or share them on social media using #Pinkery50th.
PHOTO: The first school group arriving in the spring of 1971.