Sarah Farley on a newsletter that takes primary classes on an English journey.
How many miles is it from one side of the Dartford Tunnel to the other? A long way when, like Richard Rowland, you go by way of the coast of England, starting at the north bank of the Thames at Dartford and travelling north through seaside towns and villages, up through East Anglia and Yorkshire to the border with Scotland, hopping across to Cumbria, slicing off Wales, rounding the West Country peninsular and coming back along the south coast to Dartford once more.
Counting the miles with Richard Rowland are primary school children from around the country who are sharing the journey by means of a weekly newsletter and photographs. "I first did this journey nine years ago, in the boom time of 1984-85, when my wife and I wanted to travel and show our children that you can do different things with your life," he says.
"We were well rewarded by the interest people showed in the reports we wrote.This time we are being more structured and sending regular newsletters for schools and for other interested groups, such as elderly people. Doing the trip second time round means we are in a unique position of being able to compare the way of life and the countryside today with that shown in our records of ten years ago."
Primary schools are invited to join the project for Pounds 25 a term or Pounds 65 for three terms. They receive 36 copies of a newsletter written as the journey progresses, photographs of interesting features along the way, and if they are within striking distance, a visit from Richard Rowland's team.
The newsletter contains details about towns and country they visit, statistical information about weather, and planning of the journey. Some pages concentrate on the geography of the area, looking at coastal erosion, dramatically demonstrated in Scarborough by the hotel that disappeared, and industries such as the decline of shipbuilding on Tyneside.
The history pages give information about events that have happened in that area, such as the Romans and Boudica in Essex, or the advent of the seaside holiday when George IV took to the sea at Brighthelmstone (now Brighton) in 1783. The newsletter is written in a chatty style and includes puzzles, quizzes, "things to do" and a general news section in which schools which would like to swap information with other schools can leave their addresses.
The 1994-95 trip has just got under way but schools can still join in, receiving backdated copies of the newsletter until they have caught up. Deputy headteacher Doug Brown, of Engaines County Primary School, Little Clacton, Essex, has been in since the beginning and is very enthusiastic about the project, which he is using with Year 6 pupils: "It gives us real resources for the children to work with. We are doing mapping activities, looking at estuaries, and dividing into groups to keep records on weather and temperatures. We are designing postcards on the computer, writing letters with details about the towns visited, and studying the transport. There is also a good deal of maths involved.
"We will keep the newsletters and photographs as they will make a very useful resource pack. But, best of all, even though we are only four miles from the sea, 50 per cent of the children didn't know the name of the sea they swam in each summer. Now they know and they have already gained a greater awareness of the coast which, judging by the way they eagerly wait for the next instalment, will increase as the journey progresses."
o Further details from Project Coastline, 31 Litchfield Close, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, CO15 3SZ. Tel: 0378 157119.