In the current climate it’s easy to forget that the internet can be a force for positivity and good, in the right hands. And when Kim Master’s fingers hit her keyboard, she’s working to share stories and experiences that bring families together, enrich childhoods and celebrate the hidden treasures on Shaftesbury’s doorstep.
ThisIsAlfred’s Keri Jones met the Fontmell Magna-based mum and learned why hundreds of thousands of people have engaged with her ‘Beyond the Garden Fence’ blog.
Kim Masters is now a writer. When we chatted she considered each word carefully, restating some sentences with greater clarity or choosing more descriptive adjectives. For a year, Kim’s been devoting her time to discovering and covering fun, nature-based family experiences in and around North Dorset. And her new career has evolved naturally.
“I wanted a bit of a lifestyle change and I think we’ve always been quite an outdoorsy family. But I just felt that we could be doing more with our children outdoors,” Kim said.
It seems unfair that Kim needs to spend so much time in front of a computer when she’d much rather be out in the sunshine and away from the screen. “Getting children outdoors is the most important thing that I try and convey with my blog. And getting children immersed in nature and the environment is just something that is really important to me,” she said.
Kim has a clear audience in mind when she writes her online articles for Beyond The Garden Fence. “Parents with young children, probably all the way through to teenagers that need a bit of inspiration to get outdoors. And for children to be learning about it through us, but independently,” said Kim.
Most successful bloggers will recall their first game changing post. I’m told it’s an incredible feeling, discovering that you words have struck a chord with hundreds of thousands of like-minded followers. Kim first experienced this at Halloween.
“I shared a post about pumpkin waste. It was brought to my attention that 18,000 tonnes gets thrown away every autumn and I thought I’d like to do something about that. I shared the facts and figures online. It went on to reach over 200,000 people!” said Kim. “I’d like to think that if only 1% of people change their opinions from seeing my post, that would mean 2,000 pumpkins didn’t go to landfill. They were used, they were composted and they weren’t just put in a black sack.”
Kim says she was both shocked and pleased by the impact of the post. “I was also quite relieved that so many people were so inspired by what I had written and were going to change how they approach Halloween.”
Kim puts a lot of time and effort into her articles. She explained the process behind her pumpkin post. “The post itself – to edit, write and research – probably took two hours. The commenting and interacting with people about that post took up a lot of time over the course of a couple of weeks.”
Kim’s blog title, Beyond the Garden Fence, neatly sums up her mission to encourage children to explore Dorset’s great outdoors. People might be surprised that Kim needs to do this, because she lives in Fontmell Magna, surrounded by beautiful countryside. I assumed that kids in the village would roam, like I did growing up in the countryside, forty years ago.
“Fontmell has only a handful of families really. Thirty or forty years ago, we grew up in streets full of other children, which meant there would always be a group of us that would go out to play. There are not those same groups of children now,” explained Kim. “If someone gets hurt, there just are not two people to go and get help and two people to stay. There just isn’t the same presence of children outdoors. I came across a really good quote by Chris Packham. He said, ‘The children outdoors and in the woods are extinct’ and it is really beginning to feel like that. Now there are no children just outdoors, playing independently and learning about the world around us.”
To inspire her writing, Kim has decided to take her family to some of the county’s abandoned historic landmarks. “I have my ‘Wild Ruin’ project, where my family and I are trying to visit all of the ruins in Dorset and look at the nature that’s growing around there and living around there.”
She gets a buzz out of finding and featuring off-the-beaten track attractions. “Tracking down those hidden little places is a speciality of mine,” said Kim. “If you’ve lived in Dorset a long time, you’ll know about the Silton Oak and the ruined church at Ope Cove on Portland. But until I started blogging and digging around, I had never heard of them. I would find one small article online or a tiny little thing on a map and very little mention of places like that.”
Kim is conscious of the potential impact her blog could have on some of her featured destinations. “It’s nice for them to be shared but at the same time, you do have to be wary that those kinds of places are preserved,” she said. “If suddenly hundreds or thousands of people start tramping through because you’ve shared something, then that’s something that you really need to be aware of. But at the same time, you want to raise awareness to keep these places preserved for future generations as well.”
The Silton Oak stands two miles south of the A303, near Wincanton. Kim and her kids found it fascinating. “It has a really interesting history. It managed to survive because it was a boundary marker. Imagine the things that it will have seen. It’s hollow inside. The textures and the colours of the wood are amazing. We have tried to see it through all of the seasons. My children have seen it in the winter when it’s completely bare and really stark but we’ve seen it in full leaf in the summer. In the winter it looks like this big old piece of dead rotting wood but in the summer it’s incredible to look at,” enthused Kim.
“We called the other tree in the field ‘Silton Oak Junior’ because it was grown from an acorn from the tree. Back in the autumn we gathered acorns there and we’ll try and grow a descendant of that one. So hopefully we will have the grandchild of Silton Oak growing one day!”
Trees have been closely associated with storytelling for centuries and many people feel that they possess an enchanting quality. Kim said that she was energised by the passion of the leader on a recent Shaftesbury Tree Group walk she went on. On that tour she learned about Enmore Green’s community orchard. She visited and it inspired an article.
“We discovered it in the spring and earmarked it for later on in the year. So we headed back in September, when it was full of apples, medlers, sloes and blackberries. We took a couple of baskets along, picked some fruits and went home. We made jellies and crumbles with that,” said Kim. “I wrote a blog post about foraging and the recipes we created. I had never heard of that community orchard before my blog. I was taking my children on a kind of adventure of hidden parts of Shaftesbury.”
The name of the orchard, Donkey Field, does pique interest, I said. “It definitely does,” replied Kim. “That’s what took us down there. It was the name. We did hope that there might be some donkeys.”
Kim has noticed a positive change in her children since she has been blogging. “I think our relationship as a family is better. We’re a lot more open and chatty with each other and we share ideas. We’ve always been the kind of family that would sit around a table at dinnertime and talk about the day,” smiled Kim. “Children are always so much better when they’ve had a run around outside. It is always when we’re cooped up inside or we put the computer on that everyone gets really grumpy. You don’t get that if you’ve been outside all day.”
The children of Kim’s friends have asked their parents to do more outdoor things with them. “Last summer, we took part in the Wildlife Trust’s ’30 Days Wild’ and my children have been playing in a neighbouring field to us with friends, because a tractor had mown all the grass and we ended up heading down to the stream in the village. One of the children saw a plastic sack so we waded in to get it out. We ended up picking litter out of the stream for an hour. We pulled out toothpaste tubes from the 1950s in a stream that is only coming out of the hill less than a mile up the road!” Kim said.
“It is surprising how much litter there was in there. My children then went into school to talk about what they’d done and we had children wanting to come and litter pick out of the stream as well. It was crazy. You wouldn’t think they would be so enthused about litter picking.”
So how do Kim’s children feel about being featured in mum’s stories? “Most of the time they like having a photo taken. At other times, I know I’m just not going to get a photo out of them. It’s important to me that they’re comfortable with what I’m doing and what I’m sharing. They always love it when I make a vlog (a videoblog) and add that to YouTube because they just find it really funny to see themselves. That always makes them laugh.”
Kim has learned to quickly snap the action. “I’ve really got to be quick and clever in capturing the right moment. And that’s generally when the best photos and stories come along,” said Kim.
Few people in Fontmell Magna are aware what Kim does. Currently. “My neighbours, they hadn’t realised that I blogged. They had travelled up-country to see some family and when they came back, they knocked on our window to say ‘we didn’t realise you were doing this’,” said Kim. “So it was quite interesting they had to travel halfway across Britain and speak to someone who’d seen what I was showing and say ‘we saw a photo of your son. We didn’t realise you were doing this’.”
Kim’s engaging articles have been noticed by other websites too. She is now contributing to The Wild Network, a national online resource which has been supported by the National Trust, Woodland Trust and RSPB.
“The Wild Network is an organisation that was set up to get children outdoors. They brought out a film several years ago called ‘Project Wild Thing’, which I watched when my children were quite tiny. It’s quite inspiring and well worth your time,” Kim said.
“I am currently producing a series of blogs for them based around children’s ‘wild time’ and time with technology. I’m sharing those on my blog and on my YouTube channel,” Kim continued. “They’ve had us taking part in digital detoxes. We’ve recently had to push the boundaries of what ‘wild time’ is to us. We have tried lots of lots of new things and we have tried to do things that make us uncomfortable. Over the weekend, we found ourselves on Melbury Beacon, playing hide and seek in the dark with lanterns and torches. Heading out at night isn’t something we generally do. The whole brief was to really broaden our scope of what outside is. We had a really, really good time.”
Whilst Kim is now getting exposure as her articles are featured on a nationally known site, she’s keen to use her platform to promote the Shaftesbury area’s special qualities. “I like to champion Dorset. It’s such a nice part of the world. It’s got so much going for it. There are so many outdoor-based things to do, so many beautiful locations, so much history. There are so many little hidden gems as well. Even though I’ve lived here for eight years in total I still keep finding hidden pockets of Dorset and have found so many more since starting my blog and that’s just really lovely,” said Kim.
After a highly successful first year, Kim has a clear vision for how she wants Beyond The Garden Fence to grown in 2019. “I’d like to do a bit more on the activism side because protecting the environment is really important to me,” she said. “My children realise how important it is too. We’ve covered food waste, plastic waste and things in the past. I’d like to delve into that some more and also uncover lots more hidden parts of Dorset.”
You can read Kim’s blog at BeyondTheGardenFence.com.