“Dad… can we go out looking for fairies and trolls and pixies and unicorns?”
I get asked this most weekends. My five-year-old daughter Holly has hit peak fairy stage. She sees them everywhere. Holly is convinced that the local woods and gardens are replete with fairyfolk. She even thinks the actual Trolls (Poppy, Branch and all the rest) have chosen a scrappy hedgerow behind Borehamwood Tesco for their home. (To be fair, it’s also next to Elstree Studios, where reality and fiction sometimes blur.)
It’s really rather magical to see Holly looking closely at every shrub and fallen branch in the hope of spotting a tiny figure. Every piece of litter or snapped twig is evidence that a pixie has passed this way; every gap in a fence or hedgerow is a fairy snickleway. I’m sure I’m not the only parent whose young child has these fantasies. I thought I’d share some of the moments from one of our recent walks below, in the hope that you might find them familiar…
Our adventure begins as soon as we leave home. Right outside our block of flats, Holly discovers what can only be a tunnel to a secret pixie lair. “It must be, dad, because look how they’ve painted the walls that yellow-green colour.” The lucky creatures have our bin store for neighbours.
We don’t have to walk far before we discover clear signs of a fairy living room. “Look, dad, it’s a fairy sofa!”, cries Holly. She can’t resist placing a short stick in the ground beside the seat, to represent a lamp.
A mature oak tree provides plenty of scope for fantasy. This specimen, behind the Studios, holds particular allure for Holly. Its numerous holes are clear signs that fairies live within. She’s never yet managed to glimpse one, though, nor find a way to peer deeper inside. On this visit, she has a brainwave: what if I can find a key to open the enchanted door? She looks around and finds a small twig that might just turn the lock. Let’s see…
The stick does indeed turn in the hole, but she can’t be sure it’s really had an effect. Time to recruit little brother. Young Alfred has a go at turning the stick-key while Holly looks longingly into the ‘front door’. “Come out, fairies! Come out!”
Sadly, nothing more exotic than moss can be seen inside. Disappointed groans ensue. I tell her that she had a really good idea, but fairy doors can only be opened by fairyfolk. It doesn’t entirely mollify her, but she agrees to leave the tree behind and move on.
We next come to an undisputed fairy landmark - a dainty yellow door pinned to a tree stump outside one of the local schools. Only, this isn’t a fairy door. Oh no. I’m told in no uncertain terms that pixies live in this tree, and we should never mix them up with fairies. Holly’s known about this door for a while. We usually leave its inhabitants a small offering, such as an acorn shell or hawthorn blossom. Holly knocks on the door and asks the pixies to pass on a message to the fairies of the previous oak, to say we called round but nobody was home.
Our walk then carries on along suburban roads. Holly stops every 10 paces to inspect a discarded bead of plastic, or mote of glitter. A random scrap of paper caught on a thorn is ‘fairy bunting’; a loose pebble on the footpath is evidence of pixie football. Garden gnomes leave her strangely unmoved. “They’re not real, daddy. They’re just models.”
Her favourite treasure is the snail shell (unless it’s “all mushy inside”). She leads me to one of those green utility boxes, behind which she often finds empty shells. Most of us ignore these humdrum bits of street furniture, but this one has taken on great significance in this five-year-old’s life. It’s where most of her collection of shells were picked up…
Oddly, Holly doesn’t have a supernatural explanation for their abundance here. This is not a place where trolls keep their snail-shell helmets, nor is it a fairy pet shop. Rather, she’s accepted the rational, though equally beguiling, explanation that the utility box is used by thrushes as a hard surface on which to break into the shells. I’d totally forgotten that thrushes do this until reminded by my daughter’s magical explorations.
We finish the walk with a visit to another noted fairy landmark, reputedly the home of ‘Spiderman’. As usual, nobody comes out, but Holly carries on a pretend conversation for a couple of minutes, to check that the inhabitants are well.
We head home. Holly feels a little dejected that she didn’t get to see any actual fairies today, even though the signs were there. But as we pass the mature oak, Holly shouts out in surprise. The twig-key, which she’d left in the ‘lock’, has vanished! Something must have taken it. Perhaps the back of Borehamwood Tesco is enchanted after all!
Do your kids also enjoy looking for fairies? Perhaps you can contribute to our map of fairy doors.
The best fairy toys
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