Across the water meadows from my home in Somerset stands Hog Wood. It’s a haunting and magical place to walk in at any time of year, home to all kinds of wild creatures and to oak, ash, hawthorn, celandine, ferns, brambles. It’s also punctuated by bunkers built in the Second World War to defend the community against an invasion from Germany. And it is a den-builder’s dream, with lots of fallen branches that can be used to construct woodland shelters.

Den-making in Hog Wood takes me straight down the tunnel of memory into the dens of my childhood. I was lucky enough to grow up in the countryside, so there were plenty of opportunities for this. One of my first dens was in the centre of an old yew tree – this did not require very much construction as the tree itself provided shelter, but it was definitely my favourite venue for tea parties with special friends, both animal and human. At haymaking time, I was covered in scratches for several weeks from making dens out of the hay stooks. And after the wheat harvest, I spent hours with my friends and siblings tunnelling through straw bales to make dens inside the house-high stacks in our neighbouring farmer’s barn. None of the other children seemed to be scared by this mad activity, but for me it was completely unnerving: what if one of our tunnels collapsed on us? What if we accidentally pushed out a bale at the edge of the stack and plummeted to the floor of the barn? What if I got lost in the maze of tunnels we created and could never be found? What if…?

There’s something intrinsically satisfying about den-making. I think it appeals to the survivor in us. Our most basic needs as humans are for food and drink, for shelter and for companionship. Den-making gives children the chance to take charge of this side of their lives. There is nothing quite as satisfying as making your own shelter from the materials to hand. A local wood is a wonderful thing, but children are very good at adapting whatever is available for their own ends. My daughter Zoë used the trampoline in the garden as the framework for her childhood dens, draping it with all kinds of blankets to create a secret space inside. And a young friend nearby has made a complete home-within-a-home for herself with cardboard boxes, linking them all together and decorating the interiors with her own stencils, curtains and carpets. With the gifts of time, imagination and good physical activity, what better way can children spend the summer than by building a decent den?

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