It’s no surprise to anyone that nature is good for us. There are oodles of research papers documenting the abundance of amazing benefits that the great outdoors has in store.
Some people are nature junkies (guilty!) and want to embrace its benefits at every opportunity. Others enjoy the great outdoors, but modern living prevents them from experiencing it as much as they’d like. While some others claim that nature simply isn’t for them – however, that doesn’t mean that they can’t, or shouldn’t, benefit from it without the need to go ‘wild’.
We can all reap amazing benefits from our natural world, no matter how small our encounters are. I believe the key to reaping useful benefits is the frequency of our interaction.
Camping and climbing mountains may not interest the majority, however introducing nature in to our everyday living can provide just as much value, if not more, to our overall health and well-being.
Nowadays it’s both somewhat easy, and difficult, to regularly immerse ourselves in the natural world. It is certainly more accessible than in recent years, however our patterns of living in this modern world can often pull us away from it.
One way to ensure a regular ‘nature fix’, is to be mindful of our day to day lives, create habits and introduce small changes, so we reconnect with nature in a very simple but frequent way.
We can start with what’s right on our doorstep (literally) and what we are in complete control of.
1. Our living spaces
With not too much effort we can bring nature into our everyday living by introducing natural materials in to our homes.
Sky, earth and water can surround us through wooden floors, fresh flowers and planting, flooding our rooms with natural light, including tokens of nature such as sea shells in the bathroom or paint a mural of an exotic beach or mysterious forest on a feature wall - even a simple fish tank, can help bring that feeling of nature in to a living space.
Creating the essence of nature through décor can be achieved with earthy greens and browns, vibrant blues and uplifting yellows, clean fresh whites and crisp stone greys. Nature excites all the senses, so playing soothing sounds of nature throughout your home can provide a calming environment. And remember, these beautiful sounds of nature CDs don’t have to be solely for bed time. Why not start your day off the right way by listening to it over breakfast?
Creating daily habits can be the most beneficial. Walking bare foot in your garden for a few minutes every day, can really help ground yourself and provide you with that vital few minutes of ‘you time’. A simple 5 minutes first thing in the morning and last things at night, can help you achieve calmness and clarity.
While you re-connect with nature, you dis-connect with unnecessary stresses. Fresh air is often undervalued and underestimated. We all have access to it, and no extra time in your day needs to be taken up to embrace it.
Every morning, why not throw the doors open wide and let the outside in! Flood your house with natural light and fresh air; it’s a great start to the day. Or each morning and night, establish the routine of taking just a few seconds to stop and really appreciate that sunrise and sunset. Everyone can spare a few minutes each day – so establish the habit of just taking a bit of time out from the rat race and really make those few minutes count.
Can you make a few small changes so you can frequently connect with nature and improve your lifestyle? Could you sit outside on your lunch breaks? Could you bring your laptop outdoors to work on? Can you have your breakfast in the garden? Can you create a ‘summer house’ in your garden to retreat in? Can you introduce a water feature in to your garden or home, to create a tranquil and therapeutic feature? Can you encourage wildlife in your garden so it enriches the time you spend in it? Can you walk a bit slower through the park, and remember to look around you a bit more? Can you put the mobile phone down and lay back to watch the clouds?
There are many ways in which we can experience everyday nature. Why not choose a few to introduce in to your life and see the benefits?
Justifiably, London is England's most visited city. But there's so much more to my country than the capital! There are lots of great day trips, especially to some of the smaller cities. Whether you're living in London, or a visitor from overseas, I can't urge you enough to get out and see what else England has to offer.
Here are four of my favourite cities within easy reach of London, to give you some great day trip ideas...
Time from London: 1 Hour by Train
Winchester is easily one of my favourite places in the UK. Just an hour from London you'll find the peace and quiet of a green and leafy city, that feels like a small town. Home to one of Britain's oldest high streets, Winchester is full of beautiful old buildings so this is one of the best British day trips for history lovers. Don't miss the round table in Winchester Castle, supposedly the one King Arthur and his knights once sat around.
Time from London: 1.5 Hours by Train
The UNESCO-protected Georgian skyline of Bath is one of the most beautiful sites in the South of England. With almost everything built from honey-coloured Bath stone, this is one picturesque little city. The famous Roman Baths are fascinating, while the nearby Thermae Bath Spa is a fantastic modern day equivalent. Follow in Jane Austen's footsteps as you explore the Georgian buildings around the city centre, and don't forget to stop for afternoon tea at one of the many teashops.
Time from London: 2 Hours by Train
Having recently visited York for the first time, I can say it's easily one of the best day trips from London. Home of the UK's first ghost tour and some seriously spooky stories, there's a lot of history in the town centre. Walk the centuries-old city walls, climb the tower at York Minster, and learn all about York's key role in the history of British chocolate at the York Chocolate Story.
Time from London: 1 Hour by Train
In just one hour you can be at the coast! Brighton is one of the most famous seaside towns in England, and in summer it's one of the most popular day trips from London. Explore the lanes for some quirky shops and galleries, hit the beach, and swing by a bar for some amazing live music before catching the last train back to London.
No matter what time of the year it is, your kids will always want to get outdoors and explore! And no matter what the weather, there is always something fun to do! Remember, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing! So get kitted out appropriately and embrace those outdoor activities for kids. Trust me, you’ll enjoy them just as much as they will.
And the best thing is, unlike many other attractions, outdoor activities for kids don’t need to cost a lot of money (if any at all) and they don’t need to be a mammoth trip that involves a lot of organising….all it needs is a bit of enthusiasm and some imagination!
Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing so you can plan your own family activities.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Simply draw on your own memories and recreate those fantastic traditional games such as rounders, hop scotch and stick in the mud. Or perhaps bring some craft skills in to the fun and make your own version of modern games, such as using an old bed sheet as a parachute (the kids can even decorate it!). Or better still, why not work as a family and come up with your own games, unique to only your family?
No matter where you live, you will no doubt have a natural area nearby that can host a number of outdoor activities. For example, if you live near a beach you can go rock pooling for a day, or have family races on the sand, or sand castle building competitions! If there is a forest nearby why not go on a bug hunt, or play hide and seek (safely of course!). Even if you live in a built up area you can create your own fun with an orienteering challenge through the local streets with a prize at the end!
As parents, we understand that it can’t be all play and no work. Sometimes chores just simply have to be done. But isn’t it better if the kids are on board and have fun while helping you out? Gardening can be great exercise as well as being able to spend valuable time together outdoors. Why not allocate gardening tasks in to family teams and have a race to see who can complete their chores first. Or perhaps who can pull out the most weeds in a certain amount of time? Even painting the shed together can be great fun! And of course growing your own veg together ensure that outdoor family time will continue on through the seasons.
If you are more of an adventurous family then there are specific outdoor activities that may tickle your fancy. You could try camping, hill walking, canoeing, climbing/abseiling etc. There are many outdoor activity providers that offer a range of exciting and challenging adventures – it just depends how brave your kids (you!) want to be!
Although outdoor activities are generally excellent for improving physical health, it’s important to remember about the benefits that the great outdoors has on mental health too. Emotional well-being is becoming increasingly more important for kids, as well as adults, and therefore incorporating activities that support this can be extremely valuable for individuals and families as a whole. One great outdoor activity is to enjoy an evening campfire together. It allows people to have ‘chill out’ time together away from the relentless speed of life and technology that engulfs us nowadays. It allows us to set aside a few hours to really engage with each other without distraction. It enables us to get to know each other better and encourages us to talk more which helps strengthen those important bonds and builds on trust and a sense of security within the family, which is crucial for children. Kids love a campfire (if only for the melting of marshmallows ritual that will inevitably happen) and adults love it too (if only for collapsing at the end of a long day and gazing up at the starry night sky).
So, what are you waiting for? Go and embark on your own family activities in the great outdoors and create some amazing memories!
Are you addicted to your smart phone? Earlier this month, Ofcom published a report which showed that one in three adults know they spend too long on their phones, admitting that they find it difficult to disconnect. Thanks to the epidemic of internet addiction, there's been a big rise in digital detox retreats lately. These tend to be holidays abroad, or even at home in the UK, that confiscate your gadgets to force you to spend a few days internet-free.
Like fifteen million or so British adults, I myself am a self-confessed smartphone addict. So in May, I took a digital detox with the intention of cutting down my internet usage. Here's what I learned from the experience...
A Digital Detox - Disconnecting to Reconnect
I headed to Italy with a company called Time to Log Off. At a beautifully restored masseria in the Puglian countryside, I handed in my mobile and began a week long digital detox retreat. I thought it was going to drive me crazy. I was so wrong!
Over the course of the week, I felt more connected with my surroundings – and with myself – than I ever normally do. Without the constant distraction of a phone, I felt fully immersed in everything I was doing. It was the perfect way to travel to Italy, because I really felt like I actually saw Italy. I didn't just experience it from behind a phone screen.
This one is hardly surprising. According to the Ofcom report, 47% of internet users say they've missed out on sleep because of aimless phone scrolling. The brain-catching mire that is the internet can swallow up whole hours if you're not careful. On top of that, the blue light given off by phone screens is proven to suppress the production of melatonin in the brain. Melatonin is the chemical that triggers sleep, making it much harder to drift off after phone-gazing.
Time to Log Off published the results of our retreat surveys, and people rated their sleep quality 8.5 out of ten on average after the digital detox, compared to an average of 4.5 before. In terms of rest and relaxation, this was without doubt one of the best summer holidays I've ever had.
I Didn't Miss My Phone
The most surprising aspect of the digital detox was that I didn't miss my phone. Not one bit. In fact, I didn't want to switch it back on at the end of the week. There was simply too much to do every day! For me, the internet is a distraction when I'm bored or nervous. Without my phone, I had to find other distractions. I read four books in a week, took cooking lessons, explored the nearby towns, and took lovely countryside walks. It was a week of complete restoration, and I came home feeling more like myself than I have in months!
Could you go without your phone for a week on a digital detox?
Last month, I spent a week exploring four regions in the North of Spain: Basque Country, Asturias, Cantabria, and Galicia. When planning summer holidays in Spain people tend to look at the south of the country or coastal stretches like the Costa Brava. But the northern coastline has some big draws, so if you want to discover something new next time you travel to Spain, here are some reasons to give the north a try...
Amazing Beaches, All to Yourself
Because northern Spain is less popular with folks from the rest of Europe taking holidays abroad, it's a fair bit less crowded. Along the north coast are a string of absolutely incredible beaches, many of them completely deserted. I loved the white sandy coves just outside of Llanes in Asturias, tucked beneath green cliffs with steep staircases down. Surfers love the north eastern regions like the Basque Country, where the rugged coastline is perfect for watersports.
Northern Spain is home to the lesser known northern-route of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage of Catholic origin to the resting place of St James in Santiago de Compostela. This epic walking route stretches 825km through four regions. Hiking just a small section of this well maintained trail is an absolute joy, but if you fancy getting off the beaten path there are plenty of other routes to try too. Search the local tourist board websites for the best routes and other travel tips.
Some of the Best Spanish Food
Spanish cuisine isn't just restricted to paella and tapas - although these alone are good enough reasons to travel to Spain. The north of the country is home to some of it's best food, including many dishes you've probably never heard of (but should definitely try). Thanks to the rich Bay of Biscay, there's some incredible seafood. Hake is the local speciality, as well as Galician oysters, huge lobsters, and amazing octopus. Don't miss cod “al pilpil” in the Basque Country, a dish in a thick white sauce made from olive oil and garlic. In Santiago, be sure to try the famous Tarta de Santiago, an iconic almond cake long associated with the Camino pilgrimage.
Many people long to escape the Rat Race and immerse themselves in wilderness but doing so can be quite overwhelming for the novice hiker.
Perhaps you’re one of them. Do you look at photos on the internet and get a twinge of jealousy that you haven’t witnessed that sunrise over the beautiful horizon in a remote location? Or maybe you have overheard an exciting conversation between two ‘outdoorsy’ types, kitted out in the finest of clothing and dripping with accessories, and just feel like this lifestyle is out of reach?
Well, I’m here to tell you that everyone can enjoy hiking in nature; you just need to know where to begin, so here are a few hiking tips and handy hints to help you get acquainted with nature.
1. Keep it Simple
Don’t aim for Everest. Even better - keep it simple and keep it local. Look around your immediate environment. Take a drive or research places of interest nearby, and make a short bucket list. It’s amazing how many mini adventures and fantastic walks are right on your doorstep.
2. Keep it Safe
Don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation, or take yourself too far out of your comfort zone. You want this to be enjoyable. Bring someone with you if you can. Of course an experienced hiker is a bonus, but even having a friend join you on your adventure is not only great company but it is safety in numbers.
If however you do choose to go alone, make sure you always tell someone where you’re going and an estimated time that you are due back.
The beginner hiker can often overlook the importance of the weather, so check the forecast and decide accordingly. Don’t be afraid to change times and locations, or cancel if needed because nature isn’t going anywhere so you’re always better to be safe than sorry.
3. Be Correctly Kitted
Although you don’t need to have the best of gear and be dripping with fancy accessories, you will need some basics.
Invest in some good walking boots, breathable layers of clothing, lightweight waterproofs, and a backpack with adjustable straps and back support. Hiking boots that have ankle support are best as these will provide extra support on uneven ground and also provide extra protection from wet feet (and let’s be fair, it’s quite possible that you’ll encounter some rain in Northern Ireland!).
That said, walking shoes are often good enough for beginner hikers, so choose what is best for you, but either way, you don’t need to break the bank to get kitted out!
4. Be Prepared
Ensure you are prepared for all weather and eventualities. Depending on how long you’ll be out exploring and where you are going, consider the following in your bag – waterproofs, hat, gloves, warm thin layers, suncream, spare socks, basic first aid kit, money, food and water, fully charged mobile phone. And remember to tell someone where you’re going and when you’re due back. Don’t be caught out!
5. Be Respectful
Remember to respect the nature around you, and ‘leave no trace’. Bring home all your rubbish to dispose of properly, be careful not to damage the surrounding natural area and wildlife, and always leave the environment as you found it. Leave nothing but footprints and take home nothing but memories.
Bonus Tip: Embrace it!
Probably the most important of all. Although it certainly is fantastic to take loads of photos and videos to document your adventure (and indeed your achievement), it’s important to remember what you’re doing it for! It’s for YOU.
So remember to stop for a while, put your camera and mobile phone away, and appreciate the time you have in nature and take in all the sights, sounds and smells around you.
Be mindful if you feel your tension and stress melt away and remember to store these feelings and images of amazing scenery in to your memory bank. Taking away these memories and life lessons, will surely enrich your experiences each and every time you embark on a new adventure.
So start local and start simple. The first step is to grab a map of your local area or make a list of nearby locations that appeal to you such as coastal paths, beaches or clearly marked pathways through rolling fields.
So go and grab your pen and paper and start planning! Adventures await you…..