The time we have all had to spend at home recently has made many of us appreciate being in green spaces and in nature when we can. In studies during the pandemic, nearly half of us have reported that being in nature has been vital for our mental health. I can attest to this, not only during the last year, but throughout my life and my struggles with my own mental health. During times when I have struggled to face the world, natural spaces have always been the ones I can face first as I recover.
Combining physical exercise with nature has always been a draw to me, from riding my bike in the Surrey hills as a teenager, to frequent walks on coast and country trails, to climbing 4000m+ peaks in the Alps. To start with this was just a means of escaping the traffic of the London suburbs and to give me more of a physical challenge than racing between the traffic lights. I soon learned that these sacred areas of green belt were more than just an extended playground but were, in essence, a vital antidote to living amongst the hard landscaping of the city.
This became even more relevant to me during my time at University. Salford was one of only two places in the country I could study Acoustics. The levels of social deprivation in the City, outside of the University bubble, made it a hard place to live in; there was a sad, but clearly understandable friction between the “showy” students and a vocal minority of local residents. I discovered rock climbing and mountaineering through the University club and there was surprisingly easy access to the Peak District crags by train, and to the mountains of North Wales. Thank goodness there was, for I’m not sure my mental health would have stayed intact during my three years there without the regular escape to natural places. The little spare time I had on an Engineering course was almost always spent in another “green space antidote” to the perceived harshness of the City.
Mountaineering and rock climbing in particular demand that your attention be on your natural surroundings, a sort of applied mindfulness; there is little room for the invasive and troubling thoughts we may have. Now in my 50’s I still climb whenever I can, even despite breaking my ankle in a climbing fall two years ago, it always draws me back. Applying myself to the task is always nutritional food for the soul and being in wild places is always so rewarding; a place to take stock, to take a breath, to begin the healing.
The forests, moors, hills and mountains may seem in a constant state of change with the weather and the seasons. The wind may be howling, the sun may glare or the rain may soak, but nature always has a quiet calm about it. It has all been seen before and will be seen again, a consistent rhythm that underpins life itself. Natural spaces accept you as you, without any judgment; they are always there for you, a constant friend and teacher. Every time I go out into nature, I see and learn something new about nature or about myself and the good feelings I get from the experience can sustain me for weeks and months, until I feel the draw again………..
By Richard Tate