Where to go to connect with nature

I’m dripping wet, wearing just a crop top bra and thigh length shorts. It’s raining and my feet are covered in bits of leaves and twigs. A man stops to stare at me and says, “You look happy.”

“I am,” I tell him. And, it’s true, in that moment I am incredibly happy. I am beaming. “We did it!” I grin at my friends, “We swam in the river!”

Sharrah Pool: a section of the river surrounded by green trees, boulders at the edge

The guidebook said it was an easy, 40-minute, riverside walk to reach the part where it was safe to swim. “Look for the wide flat rock and sandy shore,” it said, “and you’ll have reached Sharrah Pool.”

We’d been walking and looking for an hour and were beginning to think we’d taken a wrong turn. “We’ve been walking slowly,” we reasoned, “so our hour must be close to their 40 minutes, we must be nearly there.” We clambered over a high stile, walked carefully down one more shingly path, and there it was: a beautiful pool of deep, brackish water, surrounded by trees and moss; the wide, flat stone as promised; and just one other couple preparing to leave.

3 rucksacks on moss covered rocks

They pointed to the easiest entry and exit spot on the bank and wished us a happy swim. Then we had the pool all to ourselves. A quick change into swimwear, a careful stow of our bags and dry clothes under a rock, and we walked to the water’s edge.

The water was cold, clear, and incredible. I stayed close to the shore and kept my head above water while my braver companions ducked down and swam nearer to the place where the rapids from the higher river tumbled over rocks to join the pool.

Anna in the river

Light rain continued to fall. My skin looked yellow beneath the peaty water. The pool was deep and topped with blobs of foam from the tumbling rapids. Every so often, my foot would brush against an invisible boulder.  I kept an eye on my adventurous friends and we grinned at each other with sheer delight.

It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? But here’s what else happened on that trip…

Right from the beginning the “easy” path turned out to be quite challenging for me. There were several steep ups and downs on a path made of slippery and shingly stones. There were two streams to ford with just a log and few wobbly stepping stones to balance on. For at least half of the walk I needed Bunny’s hand to hold to help me with my balance, to give me confidence as I walked carefully and very slowly over loose stones, and to help pull me up when there was a high step. I was too nervous to use the stepping stones in the ford: instead, I chose to walk through the water and trust that my boots were watertight. When it came to crossing the stile on the return journey, I had to kneel on the first ledge as it was too high for me to step up onto and I came away with a very muddy knee.

It’s fair to say this wasn’t an easy walk for me.

We talked about it as we made our way back to the start. “What these guide book writers should do,” my friend concluded, “is give the map and walking instructions to a whole range of different people, with different abilities, and then get them to rate the walk. That might give us a better idea of what to expect and what level of walk it truly is.”

Repeatedly, over the years, I’ve experienced again and again how something that is ‘easy’ for someone else can be much more difficult and challenging for me. And I have to make decisions about what challenges I’m up for and which ones I need to be sensible about and decline. I try my hardest, I often need a bit of help and – on pretty much every outing with friends – I end up being the slowest one, the one at the back, the one who hesitates and needs someone’s hand to haul me up or guide me down.

Which makes getting somewhere like the river pool all the more happy-inducing and amazing.

It also means that I need other genuinely ‘easy’ ways to connect with nature. Yes, the river pool experience is one that I will savour for a very long time. But I am very aware that that kind of experience is one that is not accessible to lots of people for many, many reasons:

We needed a car to get there. The path was unsuitable for any kind of wheelchair or buggy. The stones were uneven and slippery in the rain. There were no toilet facilities on the walk (except those that nature provided…) and no refreshment stops: we had to carry our own insulated flasks to be able to warm up with a hot drink after the swim.

These aren’t criticisms; they are simply the facts about what this kind of nature connection experience can demand of the person wishing to experience it.

How can we make sure that everyone has the opportunity to connect with nature?

Here at Joyful Nature we are big believers in the joy of noticing the everyday nature on our doorsteps. Whether you live in the countryside or a city, whether you can walk and swim or have limited mobility, and whether you have someone to hold your hand or not, we want everyone to have opportunities to benefit from, and to enjoy having a relationship with, the natural world.

This could mean watching birds from your kitchen window, finding a fallen acorn on the pavement, or feeling the wind ruffling your hair. It can also mean walking in a wood, swimming in a river or the sea, or hearing an owl hoot at night. And let’s not forget listening to nature-themed meditations and visualisations, or reading nature-themed books and poetry, as other ways of staying connected to nature.

So, where should you go to connect with nature?

The answer to this question is up to you and will change day-to-day and year-to-year. The starting point has to be the nature on your doorstep. Regardless of your physical ability, your mood, your access to transport or a hand to hold, the everyday moments of nature all around us are the ones we can rely on to keep our connection going. And all you have to do is notice it. Just notice, appreciate, and ultimately care for the nature you co-exist with.

The nature on your doorstep is your neighbour. I feel very grateful to have been able to visit the woods and to have played in the river pool, but now I’m back home I also feel grateful to hear a blackbird singing outside my window and to see the sunlight showing me all the different shades of green on a tree.

An invitation to you…

Would you like to join us for a 7-day everyday nature challenge?

We start on the Autumn Equinox (22 September 2020).

To join, all you have to do is ‘like’ our Facebook page (click here) and then keep an eye out for our daily post, starting on the 22nd.

(We’ll also share details here on the blog so you can still join in even if you don’t use Facebook.)

Post-swim grin!

Anna x

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