Those of us whose idea of a good time is to get out climbing walking, cycling, surfing and the rest take it for granted, but there is a growing appreciation of the benefits of the outdoors on our mental health.
How much being in green space helps me was brought home by my best job recently: a trip out with a group in Cumbernauld set up to help people with mental health concerns get the benefits of being outdoors with good company.
It was organised by Paul Barclay of the Conservation Volunteers, and we ended up making a really nice tape for the Kaye Adams programme on BBC Radio Scotland, followed by a discussion with me and Paul and a few others – I think it made good listening and we certainly spent enough time to get right into the topic.
The trip out itself could not have been simpler: Paul , Claire and their volunteer Rebecca, plus group members Sharon, Jaz and Judy, all met up in a shopping centre and then walked through the surprisingly extensive green spaces of Cumbernauld to get to a quiet bit of woodland by a burn. We picked a bit of litter, lit fire (eventually!) and used the Kelly Kettle to make tea, listened to the birdsong and chatted quietly. It was all the good things about being outdoors rolled into one.
A week later when we were on the radio a caller said she organised outdoor wellbeing sessions with a Japanese element, and a proper tea ceremony – and it struck me how common that is to a good day out in the country. Making a brew, sharing a flask or even just stopping to have a cold drink and eat: those are the times we probably communicate most with those around us, and take in the scenery we’re surrounded by, whether it’s a day on a wild beach or a cragging session.
We’re often goal-focused when hillwalking, climbing, skiiing or whatever, but what we should value more is the just-being-there element of it all.
At the start of the week we took and couple of days off and on Monday night took a barbecue onto the headland east of Coldingham beach, cooked some food, swigged from a bottle of beer and watched the sun set and the tide fall. There was the occasional person with a dog on the sand, a gannet diving for fish, some smoke curling up and the still blue sky of a May evening.
The surf we’d hoped for had failed to materialise but perhaps the evening was all the better for it, and we went to bed feeling soothed by the place, the view, the company, the colours … as Paul Barclay had said, we’ve all got mental health to look after, and that was what we’d done.
It’s easy for people like me who seemed to spend half his childhood damming streams and fishing for trout in Welsh rivers and Scottish burns, but for those of us who are not used to it, or can’t afford to travel, or who don’t feel safe, anything like a club or a group or even an NHS prescription that gets them into the simple green spaces on their doorstep, is just so much better than anything else for making us feel well.