“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere” - Van Gogh
As I tap away on my keyboard writing this article, the sun is bouncing over the sea at Criccieth and streaming through my windows. My workload means I have to stay inside and bash things off my to-do list and I’m kicking myself that I can’t go out to play. Do you have this same itch to be outside?
After a very outdoorsy, sporty childhood, my love of the outdoors changed for me when at 20 years old I swapped the fresh breeze of the Kent coast for the sweaty buses of South East London. Although almost 6% of London is made up of the most beautiful green spaces, my busy schedule meant I rarely spent time in these oases. The real fun was happening indoors: the parties! The galleries! My friends and I worked all day and would at most have a brief lunch break outside in the sunshine. In the summer of 2001, Jamie - an old charmer at work - asked me why I was so “pasty pale”. He ordered me to go abroad for some sun so I hop-footed to Corfu and reminded myself of how much I love being outside, rather than stuffed into an office. Without realising it, my love of the outdoors had waned.
Since then, I have oscillated between living very outdoorsy lifestyles in tropical climates and living very indoorsy lives in big cities. Now we are nestled on the North Wales coast and it is so easy to enjoy the landscape in all weathers. We live in stones throw of the beach and not too far from the mountains. We have flexible schedules so we sometimes take brekkie down to the beach or have our nightcap overlooking the water.
Before you think this all sounds rather twee, there have been for me some quite serious reasons why I prioritise getting outside these days…
I’ve had a few big losses over the last two years and I have become uncharacteristically introverted and suffered from bouts of agoraphobia. In the early days of living in North Wales, my dear friend Nicki encouraged me to make time for restorative beach walks each day, but I felt paralysed and opted to stay safely inside. These feeling visit me from time to time and I can sense them coming; I say no to invitations. I close the blinds, I pray for rain.
So, partly as a reference guide for myself and partly for you dear readers, I thought I would pull together 7 ways to enjoy the great outdoors this spring.
Of course, not all of us can freely venture outside. Disabilities, medical conditions or lack of spare time might prevent us from being outside as much as we would like to. We might live in an area where there is simply very limited outdoor areas to enjoy. My aim is to try to encourage all of us to make the most of what we can do, what we do have, and to try to benefit from the great outdoors.
Take time to observe the changes in nature
Spring is a beautiful time of year in the UK but no matter where we’ve lived in the world, I have always enjoyed seeing the shifting and unfolding seasons. At the moment, the ground here in Wales is littered with fallen blossom; the magnolia has gone and the wisteria and lilacs are showing off. Wild garlic is waiting to be gobbled and the spring rain douses everything with a beautiful sheen.
Business mentor Josephine Brooks makes sure she visits the bluebell woods at this time of year because she knows they won’t be around for long. We went looking for bluebells a few weeks ago but we were a little early; next time I will take the Bluebell nature guide from illustrator Agnes Becker of We are Stardust (be quick, it’s only available until May 30!).
Pack a sketch book and not your phone
My camera roll is overflowing with pretty pictures of beautiful flowers and the crashing waves of the sea, but I am determined this year to leave the phone at home and take art materials outside instead.
Artist Abby Monroe has created a free Mindful Walk guide to inspire you when out in nature. She loves being outside: “My pockets are always full after a walk in nature. I try to get out for a walk a few times a week, but every day I’m in the garden and will always find something. Sometimes my camera comes, sometimes a sketchbook, sometimes it’s just my eyes and ears.”
I feel so inspired when I look at Abby’s work and will try to create a sketchbook this year for myself, noting the beauty of this part of the world.
Grab a basket and have a picnic
Living so close to the beach means we treat it as our back yard. Within a few minutes we can be sipping coffee, munching on croissants and reading from the Wild Swimming book in no time. Is there somewhere you can picnic? Your own garden? A friend’s garden? We like to keep hardy, vintage cups and plates to lug around with us because they are nicer than melamine options. If you do need some hard-wearing picnic stuff, have a look at The Kind Store - Tash road tests everything! I also love using my string bags for carrying stuff around and taking the rubbish home with me.
Gather things from nature
Despite aiming for a simple, uncluttered home, I have a serious weakness for foraging and bringing back beach finds. Hannah from Handmade in Cornwall searches for treasures when she is on the beach: “I love being outside, especially as the weather improves. It feels special eating outside, having breakfast on the patio or a picnic with a view. Beach walks, coastal paths, searching for treasures or a sea swim - we all enjoy it!”.
Go for a walk/ cycle/ jog with a friend (or borrow a dog)
My dearest friend Rebecca owns her own florist studio, Ivy, Pip and Rose, and has opened my eyes to the joys of simply walking. Taking her cockapoo Ted for a walk each day means she knows the hedgerows, the winding paths of Criccieth, who lives where and the ever-changing coastline at various times of the day. A brisk walk, several times a day, really is restorative and I have been so grateful for Becky’s texts inviting me to walk with her when I have spent several days indoors…!
Grab a friend and just walk or cycle or run together. Talk or don’t talk. Get outside during the work day and feel more motivated; walk in the evening and sip a cocoa as you go. Go at your own pace and enjoy feeling your body moving.
Grow something outdoors
The benefits of growing our own plants, flowers and food far outweigh the efforts involved. Even in the tiniest courtyards or window-boxes, miracles can happen. I have never had my own ‘proper’ garden but I have had windowsills and balconies and I have managed to grow edible flowers. garlic, herbs and salad leaves. Grabbing fistfuls of soils, plunging it into a plant pot, optimistically pushing seeds deep into it and then kissing the mass of earth, hoping something good will come from it - is there anything better?
Watch the sunrise or sunset
We recently had friends visiting from London and they ventured outside in the early hours to watch the sky fill with radiant colours. They knew the value of being outside in nature before the streets fill with people (yes, even Criccieth gets busy!). They had the whole beach and the whole sky to themselves and came back bursting with joy and gratitude. Watching the sun go down can have the same effect. Find a spot you like and make the effort to start or end your day there whenever you need to reset.
Artist Kathryn Ho likes to get outside in the early hours: “I'm extremely fortunate live to right next to fields and trees. It's not 'picturesque', but I love love love being able to walk outside, stand in the middle of a field, and listen to the dawn chorus. It's the most gorgeous reminder that we are creatures of this planet and we are alive.”
I asked the @firain_shop followers on instagram where they love to spend their time when they can get outside. Here are some suggestions:
Kiki @heitermagazine: For me, it’s my parents garden. It’s so very calming to sit there, listen to birdsong and see all the trees in bloom. I feel like myself when I am there”. (You will love Kiki’s hashtag project #heitermoments which celebrates all that is ‘heiter’, which means cheerful in German!)
Rebecca @Poshyarns: Definitely those early morning coffees in the garden and summer evening meals outside. Locally I love to visit the reed beds at Snape, the beach at Aldeburgh and my local Suffolk Wildlife Trust land - Arger Fen and the adjacent meadows. Further afield St Ives will always hold my heart. It’s the place I go to in my mind. In an instant I can picture the windswept surf and the cobbled streets and feel that sense of calm and happiness.” Rebecca has shared her gorgeous photos below.
Victoria Carmody: “We love the wildlife gardening centre in East Dulwich, it’s magical, part of what the wonderful @wild.london put on in London. For an outdoor retreat near Hay on Wye, can’t recommend this gem of a place enough @droversrest run by the kindest family who pay attention to every detail.”
Business mentor Fiona Barrows @fbarrows: “I’m a bit of a fresh air fanatic! I love just opening the windows wide in spring and summer and letting the sounds and smells come in. I love the bite the air has in the morning especially. I’m obviously all for walking, especially ones that involve picnics! Wild swimming is also high on my list!”
North Wales local Elle Winsor Grime from events company @theartfuleventco is one of my favourites to follow on instagram for her love of the great outdoors. She says: “I’ve just been for a run and a wild swim myself! I use outdoors and running to reduce the effects of my SAD especially during the dark winter months.... I could happily be outside all day long every day. I sleep with my window wide open all year long and I can’t wait until the days in Spring when boots go away and I can be barefooted again!”
(Elle also owns In The Country, a modern country retreat situated on the the beautiful Llyn Peninsular. The newly updated farmhouse has a fresh light New England meets Scandi style and can be found on Airbnb here.)
Please do add your reasons to get outside this spring in the comments section - its always fun and useful to share experiences!