With the warmer weather this month, I’ve appreciated outdoor spaces more.
For example, just last week, I spent a good few hours in a park, lounging like a tired cat chasing after the sun, with a smoothie in one hand and a book in the other. It was a pleasant way to pass the afternoon (make sure you remember to apply suncream liberally and often).
The Japanese have a word for just a scenic time – forest bathing. Otherwise known as shinrin yoku in Japanese, Forest Bathing is the method of being calm and quiet amongst nature, observing the trees and flowers around you whilst breathing deeply. This process can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and well-being in a natural way.
Tips for getting the maximum use out of Forest Bathing:
The first step is finding a natural space, this could be anything from your local nature walk, to a National Trust Site (more on local National Trust sites later).
Then whilst relaxing, take in your surroundings using all your senses. It’s a common way to reduce anxiety to name three things that you see, three things that you can smell, three that you can touch and possibly three that you could taste (you can get inventive with that last one). Be observant, spy nature’s small details; the light shining on that one leaf, the small sparrow in the branches above. Did you know that studies have shown that people relax best when seeing greens and blues?
Sit quietly and try to empty your mind of the issues in your daily life, for example, swipe your to-do list out of your mind.
Turn off your devices to give yourself the best chances of relaxing, and slow down, take your time whilst breathing deeply into your abdomen.
Extend the exhalation of air to twice the length of inhalation, which sends a message to the body to tell it to relax. This means that if you inhale for the count of four, you exhale for the count of eight, for example.
Stay as long as you can – start with a comfortable time for you, you’d be surprised at how quickly 15 minutes go by when you’re just lying down and breathing. Build up the amount over time, it’s recommended that for the full forest bathing experience, you spend two hours doing it.
Exploring local spaces
I didn’t realise just how many natural spaces are around our local area until I went somewhere else in the country.
Manchester for example, is very city-like and industrial, and yes whilst it does have a few green spaces tucked away, there is always something concrete nearby.
Immediately near me, there is the local park, as well as two different lakes with ducks in them. My childhood was spent taking birdseed or bread down for them and being mindful of swans and their tenacious moods.
Over near Newcastle, there is Jesmond Dene, with its sprawling trails, waterfall, and small petting zoo.
Over Gateshead, there is the Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre in Winlaton Mill. The Land of Oak and Iron covers 177 square miles of the beautiful and historical Derwent Valley and surrounding areas; once an iron and steel industrial area, nature has reclaimed the space, creating a lovely patchwork of woodlands, riverbanks, and grasslands. It’s a gorgeous area – there is a wide range of signposted long and short walks, and cycle routes and it’s great for dog walking. It even attracts deer, red kites and many more animals. You can even take a break from the walking and sit down for a coffee at the Heritage Centre. There you can expect creative workshops, guided walks and talks and the shop also sells produce from local artisans.
It’s also on my bucket list to explore more National Trust sites – and I didn’t know how many there are around us until I signed up for a membership. To name a few there are:
Gibside in Rowlands Gill. Gibside is a Georgian landscape garden with loads of walking trails, some of which take you past the ruin of Gibside Hall. Towering above nature there is the Column of Liberty, which gives a glimpse into the history of Mary Eleanor Bowes.
Cragside in Rothbury, Morpeth. Illuminated by hydroelectricity and powered by hydraulics, the stunning home is set in a landscape which looks plucked straight from a fairy tale. Man-made lakes, waterfalls and towering trees create a beautiful background for your walks.
Cherryburn in Mickley, Stocksfield. Tranquil gardens with views across the Tyne Valley, this farmstead was the birthplace of artist Thomas Bewick. Explore both the grounds and the museum which shows Bewick’s pioneering wood engravings.
Seaton Deleval Hall in Seaton Sluice. The Hall bears the scars of a fire 200 years ago. Known for their extremes of behaviour, the ‘gay Deleval’ family were said to be the most notorious of all Georgian partygoers and their dramatic moods are matched by the architecture. Outside there is an extensive garden, which includes a beautiful and sprawling wisteria plant, and a forest walk, both have plenty of benches and places to picnic.
Wallington in Cambo, near Morpeth. This rural corner of Northumberland is a large estate, which was once home to the unconventional Trevelyan family. The estate is full of collections, whilst the outdoor area is amongst rolling hills filled with native wildlife such as red squirrels, white-clawed crayfish, and otters.
So, take advantage of the sunny skies and embrace nature, you’ll never know what you may find out there tucked away from civilisation. If you can spare it, contributing to memberships or conservation work also helps to protect areas like these. Nature needs us more than ever, and with the benefits that nature has for us, demonstrated through acts like forest bathing, humanity needs nature spaces too.