To be honest I had been thinking how nice a glass of wine whilst sitting in our back garden sounded. But when Katy reminded me that it was the summer solstice I felt duty bound to go, and I’m so glad that I did.
It’s all too easy to miss these opportunities when working and bringing up a family. Life rushes past at a pace and one weekend merges into another.
But that basic connection with nature is fundamental to our wellbeing, our positive spirit, mental and physical health.
We chose to start our walk at the common on the west side of Hadley Woods. This gave us a big sky and open space with grasses just peaking with beautiful heads of seeds and stunning tones that sung in the evening light.
From there we headed into the woods walking quietly past families of grazing rabbits disturbed by my son searching for a suitable stick, all 11 year old boys need a stick when out exploring the woods, he was kicking himself that he didn’t bring one of his (many) sticks from home, but that just gave him the opportunity to find another stick to add to his collection.
As we entered into the woods, the darkness surrounded us as the trees, heavy with a rich canopy of fresh young leaves shielded us from the evening light and the sounds of cars.
Immediately we were transported to a different magical place, everywhere we looked there were squirrels jumping, running and climbing through the woods searching for their evening meal of seeds and fungi.
They let us get up close but always teased us as we try to get closer. The birds were cooing and singing all around but apart from a few Wood Pigeon and sparrows there were not so many to see.
My son was now ready for action and immediately found an very large stick (I would call it a branch really) and proceeded to use it to span the vast ditch that stood before him.
Obviously the bridge a few yards away was not suitable to cross the ditch, he must build his own. In this case with the single branch would suffice, which it did.
So impressed was I that I followed him over the vast chasm of “the ditch” with the support of my son’s hand.
So within two minuets of entering this magical wood we had left our other lives behind and were transported to the “ real ” world, greeted by giant ancient oaks all weathered and broken, and a myriad of young saplings all vying for there space and time.
The smells of fresh new vegetation and the damp earth become increasingly vivid as your senses wake up from the urban and suburban slumber. The experience was akin to bathing, but not in water, in woodlands.
Forest bathing has been promoted in Japan for 40 years as a way to reduce stress. It is believed (Dr Qing Li’s book Shinrin-Yoku) to reduce blood pressure, help with anxiety, anger and fatigue along with aiding restful sleep which is something I could really do with help.
Research also suggests an increase in “natural killer cells” which are important in our immune system, those with higher levels of NK activity have a lower cancer death rate, so it all sounds pretty good.
It dose sound a little bit hippyish but if it helps us cope with the day to day stress of urban life and improves even slightly our mental and physical wellbeing I cant see any negatives.
And just to reinforce the issue, research led by the university of Exeter recently published in Scientific Reports found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don't visit nature at all during an average week and that it didn't matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in a single visit or over several shorter visits.
We walked into the woods for an hour exploring and discovering, talking and sharing the place, refreshing and rejuvenating our spirits and imaginations.
And as we headed back up to the common exiting the embrace of the canopy of trees we emerged back at the common, greeted by the big evening sky and open grassland once more.
This is all possible because we are lucky to live in amazing part of England, on the northern most edge of London but with easy access to some of the best green belt countryside.
Hadley Woods which forms part of Monken Hadley Common (established by the Enfield Chase Act of 1777) is a largely wooded area of approximately 74 ha (believed to be the 7th largest common in Greater London).
About 52 ha is mixed semi-natural deciduous woodland with some open glades and the remainder is largely grassland with planted or selected trees providing a vital habitat for flora and fauna on the edge of north London.
It's now used for recreational purposes by the general public, is not owned and/or managed by a public authority (read the Consultation document by the Monken Hadley Common trustees).
With the privilege of living in this area comes the duty of stewardship, to take care of this landscape for future generations.
And now with London set to become the worlds first National Park City on the 22nd July 2019 is an opportunity for everyone to too share their knowledge, wisdom and skills to make London an even greener, healthier and wilder place.
So why not go out this evening, rain or shine, find yourself a favorite spot and maybe hug a tree or ground yourself to the earth with bear feet, and allow yourself to see, hear, smell, touch and even taste the life around you with some Hadley Woodland Bathing