It’s been some time since I’ve written a blog post. Life has taken a turn for me lately. It is flowing in a new and positive direction, towards open horizons.
So much of last year felt as though I was swimming upstream, against the current. It was survival instinct, in full drive and although I was fully aware that this was needed in order to tackle the challenges taking place in our family, I was so focused on managing my reaction to them, I had little time or space to see the bigger picture.
And so it was, on a spring morning in May, at a point when I felt OH SO ready for new inspiration, I got on a plane and flew to Lisbon in Portugal. Alone.
On arrival I feel a combination of relief, release and guilt. To be on my own is to put myself first. I know it is what I need, but to receive it feels a little uncomfortable. As a mother and wife I feel a huge sense of duty to be at home. I am needed. Our family is struggling; my eldest son with autism related mental health issues, my youngest with anxiety and my husband working hard to support us financially, but each month we are sinking further into debt. We didn’t see any of this coming. We were a “normal” family 2 years ago. I had a career in finance, my husband had retrained and was enjoying his new line of work, our 2 boys were both happy at school with friends and clubs. And all of our hard graft was paying off. We had a beautiful Grade II listed family home in the Dorset countryside, a holiday in France every year, on the face of it all life looked good. But there were cracks, there were signs that perhaps there were pressures we weren’t willing to look at. We just didn’t have time to stop and notice. But then COVID hit. And all that had been lurking beneath, came bubbling up to the surface. All that pressure over time had built to such an extent that it couldn’t be contained anymore.
My first day in Portugal I hiked 20km through the Sintra Natural Park, north of Lisbon. I instinctively knew I needed to move my body. To allow all that I was carrying mentally to find it’s natural place and rhythm within me.
Starting from the guesthouse where I was staying nr Praia Das Macas I made my way South down the coast towards Cabo Da Roca (the Westernmost point of mainland Europe). I didn’t know that’s where I was going, but that’s where I ended up!
This hike takes in breath-taking views of the coast and plenty of hidden coves, however many of these stunning beaches are inaccessible due to the sheer cliff faces. Following the footpath signs (three painted stripes on rocks) I didn’t come across a single person for the first 8km! Only iguanas, peregrines, butterflies and an array of colourful flowers and succulents. Before reaching the Cape I came across Praia Da Ursa, said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal it has a steep footpath down to the white sandy beach where you are met with tall jagged sea stacks. It is simply stunning. After taking a short cut involving a somewhat precarious scrabble down a cliff face (and a surprise jump down onto a family who were having a picnic) I wasted no time in getting in the water to cool down and enjoy a swim beside this incredible backdrop.
Feeling refreshed and revived I began the steep ascent back up to the coast path, continuing for another 4km to Cabo da Roca. The cape is a tourist hotspot being the westernmost point of Europe, but the facilities are a welcome break with a modern design tourist information centre and really friendly staff. After a cool drink in the shade I decided to take a bus to Ulgeuira. I didn’t fancy walking along the roads. Of course I could have simply retraced my steps and returned to Praia Das Macas the way I came, but I didn’t want to feel like I was going backwards. It feels more progressive to carry on. (despite going round in a massive circle!). Alighting at the town of Ulgeuria, following a short walk through the streets, I finally rejoined the trails in Sintra Natural Park to head back North. This time hiking through the lower mountain range and wooded landscape which is interspersed with arid sandy open spaces.
I made it back to the guesthouse where my bed betrayed my earlier mood. A fetal shaped empty space between the sheets where I had woken wondering what on earth I was doing here. How different I felt now. Capable and proud of my self. The hike had taken 5 hours, but I’m sure it could be done in much less! I’m not a hiker, I actually feel a bit of a fraud when I say I’ve hiked somewhere. The time I spent was simply as long as it needed to be. With no school run, or dinner to cook. No social worker or mortgage company calls to answer, there was no limit to the process I needed to go through. I walked, and swam until I’d cleared my head, and got back to ME again.
As the days pass I am not only physically covering ground, I am moving through my mental landscape. For the first time in months I feel a freedom that allows more space in my thoughts. After that first day, my tears flow less and although there is still a heaviness in my heart, I begin to feel stronger. I visit the remote Berlenga islands, I take a boat trip and visit caves and coves where pairs of peregrines nest, I walk the paths of monks and visit underground tunnels where the knights templar were initiated. And all the while I am breathing in the land, I am breathing in LIFE. I am witnessing more of the world, and in doing so it is lifting my spirit, my confidence. And I am remembering who I am and what I am capable of.
Providing time and distance, provides space to reflect, and time to be quiet. Coming to Portugal I have connected with a wild place, and here I have also connected what my inner voice wants to tell me. It has been the single most powerful action I’ve taken in years. My instinct has been dampened by the grind of daily life. A life that hasn’t been working for us as a family. I’ve been on auto pilot, but I’ve known for some time that we need to set a new course.
Being in a foreign country, exploring the unknown is reminding me what it is to experience life. How I DO have the capacity to make decisions, take risks and create opportunity. When to follow the crowd, and when to trust my gut and take a wilder path. While in this beautiful wild country I’ve also had the opportunity to reconnect with my older sister who moved out here around 5 years ago. Travelling further north up to the silver coast I spent the remainder of my time with Claire, exploring during the day while she worked and then sharing meals at local cafes, taking walks together in the evening. It was a rare and precious few days to talk, laugh and cry with my big sister. She is an inspiration and I felt so grateful for her kindness and non judgement.
These are the simple, pure moments. The things that help you to overcome adversity. To grow, and flourish and become the person that you are capable of being. And when you know who that is, then you know how to trust your self, and to live your life authentically.
I’ve been stuck for so long. I forgot I had the power to change all this.
I know now what it is I need to do. I know without a shadow of doubt, that my family needs to go on an adventure. My boys, and my husband and I need to experience more of life, together as a unit. To step foot into unknown territory, hand in hand, and know we will be ok. To be brave. To discover that by being brave you are not only rewarded with self confidence and self belief, but you get to experience so much more in life, with a wider outlook.
We need to reset our mindset.
We will make our own way. This is how we will overcome our struggle, this is how we will become unstuck. We will take positive action! We will climb out of the hole we’ve been in, and find a new horizon. And we will feel SO proud of ourselves. We will understand we have the power to do this.
Do you have a dream? Something you think about, that you long for? Maybe it’s a place you’d like to go, or a job you’d like to do, or a goal you’d like to reach. Perhaps you dream of having more money, better prospects, more security. Or perhaps you dream of having more freedom, less stress, less worry.
Whatever your dream, I’d like to invite you to try this simple technique. At the end of the post you will also receive a FREE motivational music track.
So, are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin!
Close your eyes, just for a moment, and imagine what your dream looks like to you. Imagine there are no obstacles, no restrictions. Nothing is stopping you. Whatever the dream – imagine it. Indulge in it.
Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with? How are you feeling?
Just take a few moments to truly experience it. All that it brings you, everything you imagine it to be. Enjoy how this feels.
Now, imagine a passer-by. It could be a person, or an animal, a bird or a butterfly. They are drawn to you. They stop and ask you this question…
“Why are you here?”
What is your answer? Don’t worry if you don’t immediately know, just sit with that for a moment. It may not come easily to you, or it may be clear as crystal. However you respond is exactly right. All you need do is observe what happens as you consider this question, and take note of it.
Why do you want this?
Why is this dream better than your “here and now”?
What does it give you more of? What does it have less of?
I believe that we all have a dream and that this dream is the single most important way of connecting with our self/soul/spirit/essence. Your dream may not even be specific, but it is like the best picture you can draw with your eyes closed. You know roughly what you’d like it to look like, and that’s all you need. Because in visualising it, and understanding WHY you have this dream, this is where it gets interesting. This is how you access your very own “internal compass”, the one that can help you find more joy in life.
I don’t know about you, but for me the dream can change. It will morph into other forms. I have an “end game” dream that resides far off in the future (it involves living in a cabin by open water, somewhere remote, near a forest!). And I have dreams that feel a little nearer to me now. Sometimes it can feel as though they are almost within reach. But sometimes it’s much harder to see. Not because it’s obscure, but because it is painfully clear that “the dream” is a trillion light years away from the here and now. It is tempting to just “shelve it” – bury it deep, and try to forget about it. To self-protect from the pain of yearning and disappointment. But this is where the truth is – this is how we learn..
Bridging the gap between your dream and the reality of now, can feel impossible and unachievable. But what if that gap was made up of paths and challenges that could be navigated? They may be difficult, uncomfortable, painful even. But what if it was just a case of putting one foot in front of the other, and following your internal compass? Trusting that it will lead you through it all?
I’m coming to understand that although dreams can represent SO much, and tell us SO much about our goals and aspirations, they also serve as an important clue. When a dream represents your “ideal situation”, it is essentially providing you with a safe haven, away from the things that you DON’T want. Things that might make you feel sad or angry. Or just don’t suit you. You effectively dream away your frustrations, fears, doubts and limiting beliefs. Your dream, and what it DOESN’T include, can therefore tell you a lot about the obstacles and difficult paths you need to navigate in order to get onto the right path.
This is where the going gets tough. But if you can be honest with yourself, if you can connect with and accept the real truth of WHY you have this dream in the first place, then I believe you are well on your way to finding it.
The simple fact is, no matter how much you try to ignore it; your dream will follow YOU. Wherever you go, whenever you have a moment to pause, it is there. It will whisper to you, it will pester you, keep tapping you on the shoulder until you take notice. Because IT IS YOU, and it is telling you what you need, in order to live your life wholeheartedly.
So how do you begin this epic journey? Well, (spoiler alert) you are already on it! Ever heard that saying “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”? You see “living the dream” and “following the dream” are two different things. I’m not entirely sure we can ever “live the dream”. This is to arrive at the destination after all. But we do hear stories of “dreams coming true”. (My bet is that it’s not the exact same dream that someone imagined though. More that it resembles something close to it).
Perhaps then “Living the dream” is akin to finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But “following the dream” – this is when we commit to the IDEA. The possibility that the pot of gold MIGHT exist. And guess what. We might not find a pot of gold, BUT by looking in that direction, we get something close. We experience the beauty of ALL the colours of the rainbow. Not just gold.(Ok, ok – I got carried away there, but can you see the sweet analogy!?).
Let’s look at it like this – For one reason or another we are all following our own individual path. A route that has taken us this far. This is part of life’s journey, made up of billions of tiny decisions and a handful of HUGE life-changing ones that determine our direction. I mean, nothing can stay still. Each day that passes inevitably moves life forward. For some, this path may have been mapped out from a young age. Maybe you’ve always known what you want, and you’ve done everything in your power to make it happen. Good for you! For others it just kind of unfolds along the way without any real intention. This is perfectly acceptable, either way.
But if you have a feeling that there might be another route, or perhaps you’ve lost your way, perhaps you’ve been a bit distracted by all the things happening around, and you have this niggling feeling you missed a turn somewhere, then I’m guessing this post is resonating.
By having a dream, you have a direction. By practising the technique I invited you to try at the start of this post, this is how you can find your bearings again. By stopping and tuning in to your dream, this is how we consider if we are on the right path. And by reconnecting with your WHY, this is what will motivate you to start bridging the gap between the dream, and the Here and Now.
Remember; Your dream is the best picture you can draw with your eyes closed.
What you want, and what you feel is what encourages you to imagine it. THIS is the bigger picture. THIS is the key to how you follow your dream, and what you need to do (or perhaps NOT do) in order to bridge the gap.
I’m not “living the dream” but I am certainly closer to what my heart truly needs. When I was younger my dream was to become a successful recording artist and tour the world. I was ambitious. I wanted fame and fortune, recognition and praise. I followed that dream, and I became a published singer/songwriter writer; performing and recording with some big names. But I wasn’t truly happy. Looking back at my young, naive self I realise now that I hadn’t asked myself WHY I wanted those things. I wanted rid of my shame, fear and self-loathing, but I had no internal compass to help me navigate those obstacles. Just a dream that I thought would make them go away.
Now I am daring to imagine what it would be like to have a dream that also looks after my mental health. To work for myself, doing something I feel passionate about, while also being kinder to myself and others. My dream is to Write, Coach and Guide others to spend more time in nature, and feel better for it.
But 2 years ago even, this wasn’t my dream. My only motivation then was coming from a place of basic survival instinct. I had no choice but to quit my career and begin a journey of mental health recovery. I’m still recovering, but I’m also reconnecting with what my heart wants. I’m discovering my internal compass.
My self-published book “Seas The Day – A Year of Sea Swimming Poetry” would never have materialised had I not listened to my heart. It may never make it into “all good bookstores”, but it has propelled me along in a new, more wholehearted direction. And by following my dream, I am entering a new chapter in my life story. Compass in hand. After a lot of gentle self enquiry, using the technique I’ve shared with you in this post, I am hearing the answers from the heart. Answers that have been buried so deep, for so long but are now beginning to emerge like little green shoots in Spring!
And guess what? By allowing yourself to dream – by nurturing it, you will begin noticing signs and way markers that you’ve not noticed before. Pathways that might help you go a little further in this new direction. There is no guarantee it will lead you to your “dream”. You may end up somewhere that only slightly resembles the “picture you drew with your eyes closed”. But maybe that’s what it’s all about!???? Maybe if, at the very least, by simply acknowledging you have a dream, and WHY you have one – Then maybe this is all it takes to take you one step closer.
So close your eyes. Picture the place, the feeling, the purpose in life that you wish for.
THEN ASK YOURSELF WHY YOU WANT IT… REALLY
Now take one step closer.
Whether it’s confiding in a friend, reading a book on a subject that inspires you, enrolling on a part-time course or applying for a new job. No matter how small the step – it will activate your internal compass, and take you one step closer.
Who knows where it will take you…
Girl Gone Wild x
PS I wish you well on your journey. To help you along your way I’d like to gift you some motivational music that I wrote many years ago but still shines for me! Enjoy x
This week is Children’s Mental Health Week. With the theme this year on “Growing Together”; the focus is on encouraging children (and adults) to consider how they have grown and how they can help others to grow.
This subject is close to my heart on SO many levels. As a survivor of childhood abuse and a parent to 2 x beautifully neurodivergent boys, it isn’t just one week a year that we celebrate growing together, we are living it, together 24/7.
My eldest son is 12 years old and suffers from social anxiety and agoraphobia. These mental health conditions are as a result of a neurological condition that is complex and difficult to navigate. For many years he was able to tolerate the world around him, but when he reached secondary school, it all became too much. The impact this has had on his life is SO limiting. If you compare it to an average 12 year old’s life it is a world apart. (So we don’t compare). But even though he struggles to leave the house and interact with the wider world, he continues to grow in character, knowledge and humour every day. His special interests fuel his days. He shows love, compassion and empathy for his animals, family and friends, and although some could argue that he’s missing out on so much in life, he is making the very best of it right now. There is so much more I would love to say about his (and our) journey but it is not my story to tell. All I can say is that despite adverse conditions, he continues to grow and it is a joy to witness simple moments and breakthroughs.
Our youngest son J is 8 years old and shows traits of neurodiversity, similar to his older brother. However, he is battling on with school, and is significantly growing in independence and resilience. He suffers from sensory issues, anxiety, compulsive behaviours and intrusive thoughts but is remarkably astute and is able to recognise and verbalise these experiences. He is also willing to apply helpful techniques. As part of this self awareness, he knows what helps him when he is feeling anxious. His “thing” is story telling.
During lockdown we bought him a blank comic book. Pages and pages of comic style layouts with blank spaces to fill with his stories.
And so “The Igs” were born. Pig, Dig, Jig, Fig, Big and Wig fell out of his imagination and onto the pages. He spends hours developing these characters. Stories of combat, comedy and chaos. Each night, before bed, he’ll invite us to sit and listen as he narrates and divulges how “The Igs” have been navigating their way through lands of pizza, friendship and fall-outs.
He shows us his comics and we appreciate them. But what I also see is a world within his world. I love how these characters reveal so much about his life. “The Igs” are an expression of all that he sees, feels and hears. But what I love the most is seeing the sparkle in his eyes as he proudly shows me his creations. The joy that he’s found that has come from inside him. He made these! He is proud of himself. It makes him feel good.
We’ve bought 4 more blank comic books since that first one. They fill up rapidly. We have a whole collection and it’s amazing to look back on them and see how his stories have developed and grown from a small seed of an idea into a full blown world.
And yet, his school tell me he isn’t meeting age related targets. That he needs significant support in class to stay focussed. He isn’t engaging. He’s hard to reach. He can’t retain information and doesn’t listen. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be doing most of the time.
When J comes home from school he tells me he is day wasn’t that good. That he isn’t clever. That the other children are more intelligent, quicker, faster, better. He says he’s no good at anything. He says the teachers are mean. They shout and make him feel sad inside. He loses playtime because he can’t complete his work in class.
It breaks my heart. This is his second primary school and if I am honest, I am beginning to question the merits of mainstream education (But that’s a WHOLE other blog post right there!).
J has sensory issues. Noise, light and the tone of somebody’s voice has a huge impact on his mood and his ability to concentrate. We have been waiting for an autism assessment for months, and have only recently discovered his is dyslexic. But I don’t want to see these as problems. These are the things that make him amazing for goodness sake!
I don’t want him to feel that he’s not good enough. I don’t want him to feel sad.
I believe that creativity is the key to understanding your originality. To create is to be unique. It is a celebration of the magic that YOU and ONLY YOU have.
When J reads me his comics and shows me what he’s created, I know he feels this magic. It makes him feel unique in a POSITIVE way. So this is what we’ll keep doing. We’ll keep buying him blank comic books. We’ll keep listening. We’ll keep celebrating. Because this makes him feel good about himself.
There are many reasons I feel so passionately about this. It is because in my own childhood, despite feeling unhappy a lot of the time, my friend was my writing and creativity. It was my lifeboat in a sea of sadness. It is because, after so many years of believing I wasn’t good enough as an adult, I’ve realised that creativity is a powerful way to just feel GOOD . It is because as a parent, my one true hope is that my children can learn to grown and feel good in themselves, no matter what life throws at them.
Who knows, maybe “The Igs” will teach the schools a thing or two… and not only help J to celebrate how far he’s come, but encourage other children to find their inner Ig !
For more info about how to support your child with their wellbeing click on these FREE RESOURCES below;
Whether you embrace Valentines Day or it makes you feel slightly queasy, perhaps a day on the calendar to celebrate what (not necessarily WHO) you love isn’t such a bad idea!?
My love of the sea has (quite literally) swept me off my feet! I’m bewitched and bewildered by it. It’s true, we’ve known each other for many years, but it is only recently I fell truly, madly, deeply. Now I can’t get enough. I’m besotted, it is all I think about! From the moment I wake, to the moment the moon sets, I am planning the next time we can meet.
The sea has ignited such passion inside me. I feel alive and full of joy. I write poetry; love letters to the sea -giving thanks for all that it’s given me. And in return I feel an overwhelming desire to protect it. To care for it.
My book “Seas The Day – A Year Of Sea Swimming Poetry” celebrates this love affair. And with 10% of profits donated to Surfers Against Sewage this is my way of caring for the ocean and coastlines.
Another way that I show how much I care about the sea is by regularly doing beach cleans. Along with clearing the plastic and rubbish washed up on the shore, I also collect driftwood. These pieces of wood come home with me and are recycled into “Drift Gifts”. I cut, saw and sand the wood by hand to make little tokens of my affection. I burn messages by hand using a pyrography kit and these tokens become gifts for other sea lovers. The gift from the sea that keeps on giving!
I’ll admit it. This love affair is all consuming! It is my “Tide & Joy”! I will tell anyone who listens. But I know I’m not alone in this whirlwind romance… so for 1 week only I am opening the VALENTIDE SHOP! NOW OPEN for sea lovers everywhere to celebrate Valentides Day on the 14th February!
It’s been a while since I’ve hit the trails for a run. It was September last year I ran a Half Marathon on the remote and rugged island of Lundy. But since then? Nothing. Zilch. Nada.
I’ve been wondering why…
It’s not because it was hard. (I mean, obviously it was challenging and I always knew it would be!!). But I think I shocked myself at how hard I was on MYSELF more than anything. What was required of me physically nearly broke me! The terrain was difficult and precarious in places, and despite the wild beauty of the island it was an unforgiving landscape to run across. But I would not let myself give up. There were points where I didn’t think I could make it, but like the landscape I found that I was also unforgiving! So I made myself crawl, climb and run the course until I’d finished.. even if it made me sick.
I was immensely happy that I completed it, and amazed that my body and mind had been capable of getting me across that finish line. It DID make me feel like anything was possible, and this IS a massive positive to experience. But over the next few months I lost all desire to run. I began to question my motivation. Did I really need to do these extreme challenges. Ok, I’d been interested to see how far I could go. To test “mind over matter” but WAS it good for my mental health?. Or was I just beating myself up?
In the months after Lundy Island, I decided to be kinder to myself. As the days grew shorter, I found myself moving slower, walking and sleeping. I gave myself permission to rest. I entered these dark, cold months of Winter with a warmth in my heart as a result. I’ve been rising at dawn to greet the sunrise at the beach, slipping silently beneath the waves has been the only movement and wild remedy I’ve needed. I’ve been recharging.
But now I feel something is shifting. As first light comes earlier and lasts longer every day, I feel the need to move more, to breathe the air deep in to my lungs. To stretch. To reach a little further. To feel what my body is capable of again.
I don’t mean setting myself goals, or challenges in terms of distances or frequency, I’ve just felt that “spark” to want to feel more physically active.
So this morning I asked the dogs if they’d take me for a run. Their joy and enthusiasm for their two (sometimes three) daily outings is utterly boundless. They are born to run after all! It is fun for them! I said to my son I was going for a run for the first time in a long time and he said “you can stop if you want mum. Maybe 3 or 4 times if you want to”. I couldn’t help laughing as this is the same advice I give him when he has to run the daily mile at primary school! So with permission to stop if I want to, me and the dogs set off early, running together up the muddy tracks, between hedgerows and out into the misty fields.
And all of a sudden, I remember what it is I love about trail running! Moving through nature, the air firing up my lungs as my cheeks glow and my heart pounds. The blur of greens and browns and blue as I move through the landscape beneath the vast sky. Noticing the lay of the land with each step, my energy connecting and colliding with the ground; earth, stone, grass, rain, mud, frost. Looking for signs of the seasons as they change and transform, seeing these as metaphors for life.
I remember how I enjoyed the feeling of growing in strength. The progress. The improvement and development. The shifting from one form to another. That last year, over time, I moved faster, and further, my body and mind always in transit. I remember that it is transformational.
I am on that journey. Again
This by no means looks like a 21km distance right now. But then it never did. Not when I first started running. I certainly never imagined running around Lundy Island!
Perhaps I will always want to challenge myself. Perhaps I need extremes. By reaching as far as my outer edges will possibly allow, then retreating safely back to centre. Maybe these are the limits I need to go to in order to truly know the expanse of my self and to understand my mental health. By swinging between these counterpoints, over and over, perhaps my inner pendulum will one day reach an equilibrium.
I would rather stop and start, then stop and start again, than never begin at all.
I feel the need for space right now. It’s not that I don’t like people, it’s just that I prefer the peace and quiet when I’m on my own. I can relax, completely. No need to state, or answer, or navigate the “to and fro” of a conversation. These things may come naturally to some, but to me it is something I have to practice. It takes time. It takes effort. To be alone is to take time out, time off. I revel in it.
I have been going to the beach with the dogs. The company of animals never draws on my energy. It is effortless. We happily fall into a rhythm of walking, stopping, looking, running. We are a pack. But when I peel away my clothes and walk to the water’s edge to swim, this is where we part company a while. They watch from the shore, alert and interested. But then – I am alone out there in the water. Separated by the elements, we are still in each other’s company. I am alone, but in the company of wolves. Our dogs, and their wolf ancestors.
On Monday night it was the January full moon. Known as the Wolf Moon it is named after the wolves that are active during the early part of the year. As the breeding season approaches wolves are likely to be heard howling to their pack mates. If there was ever a full moon to swim in the company of wolves, this is it.
So I took the dogs with me to swim beneath the rising moon, their wolf blood and I. Although our oldest lurcher “Yanto” is suspicious of water, our younger dog “Spook” is known to launch himself into rivers and lakes. But this night “Spook” was suspicious of the sea, warily backing away. Whining as I slipped beneath the waves and swam away from him. There beneath the Wolf Moon I drifted with the tide while they tracked and followed me along the shore.
Since the full moon I’ve been watching it’s waning phase. Standing in the garden at night, crisp and clear and quiet, it’s beam shines bright defining silhouettes and shadows. At dawn it shines on, hanging bright in the west, casting an eerie light as the eastern sky changes.
This morning I woke early to swim beneath the waning Wolf Moon. With stars still plotting the sky. The moon sinking, making way for the emerging dawn. The dogs, sensing my movement within the house began to whine, alert to the possibility that something interesting might be afoot! I gathered my swim kit; hot water bottle, gloves, warm clothes. The only signal the dogs need for confirmation of adventure. Their eyes bright, with dancing paws, they weaved between my legs whipping me with their tails. As we fell out the house into the cold air, the wind chill was -1. Breathe hung in cloud around us.
Arriving at the beach, a layer of peach and purple emerged on the horizon. The tide pulling deep while the moon begins to bid farewell. The sun rising as the world turned. We stood a while, wolf blood and I. The world to ourselves. A vast solitary silence, but for the sound of the waves and the lone cry of a gull.
These transitory moments, between two worlds, the dark and light of a new day and the past night, is so significant. I often miss the depth of this when I’m with others. Like skimming a stone across the surface, the fleeting moment is there to see, but there is so much more happening as the weight of it collides. When I am alone I see beneath the surface. A knowing that sinks deep into my soul. A greedy soaking of wild. I am saturated in my solitude.
As I enter the water the violence of the sharp biting cold is electrifying. I sense every single cell in my body jolt awake, alert and alive, ready for the fight. As I swim east with stern intention, the sun begins to rise. A burst of blood orange bleeds across the water, kissing my bare skin, soothing my soul. As I soften to soak it all up, I feel a blissful happiness hard to describe. I cast my gaze to the shore where the dogs stand still. Motionless. Then as they lift their heads towards the sun, they scent the air as the warm light floods the landscape, reflecting in their eyes.
Together then, we greet the day. Our spirits soar; wolf blood and I.
With the start of a new year comes new resolutions. A fresh start and a good time to consider how we can feel better, and make changes that might improve our lives. For some of us it’s for personal gain, for others it might be for the “greater good”! Either way, although I’m very much of the opinion we shouldn’t feel under any pressure to make resolutions or commitments simply because it’s January, I am all for taking the opportunity to hit a “reset button” if the opportunity arises!
So with a focus on wellness and self-care, in this post I’ll be exploring how wild spaces can be better for our wellbeing than a luxury 5* spa. Better still, evidence shows that the more time we spend in nature, the more we benefit, and the more we feel prompted to care for our planet.
When I worked full time in finance (a fact that still somewhat baffles me, and anyone that meets me!), my tiny office had no natural daylight. I would arrive in the dark and leave in the dark with absolutely no clue as to what the weather had done that day. I was completely disconnected. My eyes and skin were dull, my body ached from sitting at desk and I worked sometimes 10 hours a day to get on top of my workload which was never ending. I’d reach a point, often in January around the time of the delightful tax return, where I’d worked so hard, for so long, with so little self care that I’d be desperate for a chance to re-charge.
Occasionally I’d book a spa day as a way to look after myself. And there is no doubt that this is a great way to commit to some down-time and “reset”. But it does comes at a price. These places are expensive. Not just because the facilities are costly to design and build (and don’t get me started on the energy bills!), but also because it’s an industry that knows only too well how tired and burnt out we are as a society. It is supplying our need to feel better in ourselves. I would justify the cost by telling myself it’s an “investment in my wellbeing”. But reflecting on previous Spa experiences, compared to how nature makes me feel now, I can’t help but think that although it seemed like a treat, I question whether it gave me any long term benefit.
The wellness industry is booming (we all want to feel well after all). In 2020 it was estimated to be worth £12.4 million in the UK*. So it is evident that we are spending money on wellness and investing in feeling good. Which is great! Self care should absolutely be a priority. More and more we are hearing about the importance of it, and how we must look after our mental health as well as our physical health. We know how important it is to relax, de-stress and take time out. But now that we know this, could this pave the way for a more long term, sustainable way to invest not only in our own wellness, but in that of the planet’s? After all, since lockdown in particular, it seems that the health benefits, similar to those sold to us by the Health and Wellness industry are attainable from simply spending time in green and blue spaces. So could it be that by spending time in nature we can find a far more accessible alternative to spas and health retreats. Not just in terms of cost, but as a socially inclusive space? And by doing this, are more of us gaining a deeper understanding of our natural world. An understanding that fosters a desire to care for it?
Despite the “wellness” benefits of this kind of experience, I’ll confess that going to a Spa actually creates a low-level anxiety in me! It’s the intimacy of relaxing with people I don’t know that I find uncomfortable. But also it’s an enclosed space. No freedom to roam. On top of this I always have the suspicion that the staff are judging me somehow. Thoughts like “do my legs need shaving? Is my “bikini line” unsightly? Does my swimwear look like it’s seen better days?” Admittedly this is just my anxiety talking, but I wonder how many of us feel the same, and so simply avoid these situations all together?
So this is where I question the benefit. How can I truly feel good and well in myself, if I am in an environment where I’m not able to BE myself? Does it really give me what I need?
An article in The Guardian in Dec 2021 highlighted a fascinating report by Forest Research who are the first to estimate the financial amount that woodlands saved the NHS this past year. Through fewer GP visits and prescriptions, it is estimated that woodland walks saved the UK £185 million last year in mental health costs. Sir William Worsley, the chair of the Forestry Commission, which funded the report, said: “It demonstrates just how vital it is to invest in healthy trees and woodlands. It makes medical, economic and environmental sense”, he said.
With the government now committing to ramp up tree planting to 30,000 hectares (74,100 acres) a year by 2024, as opposed to just 13,300 hectares planted in 2021, this is a hugely positive move not just towards our health, but long lasting impact for the planet. It’s a win-win scenario!
But it’s not just our woodlands that are helping us to feel well. “Blue Health” is also being recognised as having a positive effect on our wellbeing. The Blue Health Programme is a multi-disciplinary research project that has been researching the effects of blue spaces on our wellbeing in order to further inform decision makers when it comes to future development and investment. This short film is well worth watching as it explores the history and the science behind how water can help us feel good. There’s even a bit towards the end that talks about a trial they are doing in Devon to try and “bottle the benefits of the coast” and bring the outside to those that can’t access it – including in hospitals and dental surgeries. (Fancy “wearing a beach” when you have dental work?!!!)
There’s no doubt that being in, on or nearby water can make us feel better. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone. I mean, it is no co-incidence that we spend millions of pounds each year to go on holiday and sit by a pool, or sit on a beach. It’s relaxing right!? But there’s SO much more to it.
A fascinating book that explores this is “Blue Mind” by Dr Wallace J Nichols It shows us the science behind how water is having a remarkable effect, in all it’s shapes and forms, on our health and happiness. The blue mind of the book’s title refers to the neurological, psychological and emotional changes our brains experience when we are close to water. Nichols examines seas and oceans, lakes and rivers in a study that is both highly readable and rooted in real research. As a highly informed marine biologist he urges us to get closer to water, not only for our own sake, but for the environment and a healthier future for us all.
The Health and Wellness industry is, after all, only filling a gap in the market and providing something we all need. Often it can be difficult to access wild spaces, and the convenience of a Spa is therefore getting as close to it as possible. But this is reserved for those that can not only afford it, but are physically and mentally comfortable with it.
But perhaps by accessing the “real thing”, we can discover the same, possibly longer lasting, health benefits, while also connecting and fostering a desire to care for our green and blue spaces. If more funding is invested in developing these spaces and looking at ways to make them more accessible to all, then surely a more meaningful relationship and understanding of the natural world will begin to blossom?
So what other forms of wild wellness can we experience outdoors!? What can a Spa provide that nature can’t? Well, there are treatments. The facial, or massage isn’t something you can find easily in a forest let’s be honest! But let’s not forget that the products used to enhance this experience found naturally. Massage oils and aromatic creams are specially formulated using herbs and botanicals to boost our mood, or relax us depending on our needs. Lavender, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Camomile flower to name but a few. Although not all of these can be found easily, and you often just need to know where to look. A park, or garden. The pine scent in the forest. The wild honeysuckle in the hedgerows. Where I go trail running locally there is a whole patch of camomile that grows on the ground. As I run through it, and apply the weight of my body, it releases an incredible aroma and I can’t help but smile.
But back to the massage, or body therapies; You know what? I would still prefer to feel the sun on my face than an electric light, or let the salt and sand exfoliate my skin. To feel the refreshing sensation of dew on the grass as I walk barefoot. The energy of a waterfall as it pounds against my back.
One thing I DO love about a spa though, especially in the winter, is a sauna! The oldest known saunas in Finland were made from pits dug in a slope in the ground and primarily used as dwellings in winter. The sauna featured a fireplace where stones were heated to a high temperature. Water was thrown on the hot stones to produce steam and to give a sensation of increased heat. The first Finnish saunas are what nowadays are called savusaunat, or smoke saunas. These differed from present-day saunas in that they were heated by heating a pile of rocks called kiuas by burning large amounts of wood about 6 to 8 hours and then letting the smoke out before enjoying the löyly, or sauna heat.
There are now an increasing number of wood-fired units making it possible to take saunas and hot-tubs out of the spa and off grid. As a result we can now head outside and experience this warmth under the stars or up in the mountains. More and more are popping up all over the country. You can find them on beaches, in forests and next to lakes; so we can now experience the benefits of a Spa without being disconnected from nature.
We are incredibly lucky here in Dorset (UK) to have The Seaside Sauna Haus. This mobile sauna came to our coastline as a result of a Crowdfunder initiative launched by Sarah Higgins. Situated on the beach, just yards from the sea you can now reap the benefits of the sauna while connecting with the coastline. Hosted by Sarah, she is incredibly passionate about the health benefits of the sauna and genuinely enjoys being able to offer this to her guests.
In terms of it’s carbon credentials; The wood used to heat the Seaside Sauna Haus is from the Log Store, and is 100% sustainable. The sauna itself was built by the Cedar Sauna Company who pride themselves on using locally sourced and sustainable materials.
I recently joined a “Sauna Club”. A small group of wild wellness seekers. We meet once a week to sit in the wooden hut and sweat it out in the heat, then we run to the sea and plunge into the cold water. Screaming, shouting, revelling. Sometimes, if it’s wild weather, we just sit at the water’s edge and watch the waves while we refresh and reset. Sometimes we throw buckets of sea water over each other. But the feeling of returning to the heat of the sauna is divine! It’s fun, and it’s wild! I can always feel any anxieties slipping away. The wood smoke as it drifts out towards the sea somehow makes me feel at home while at the same time being in nature. It’s not free, but as a group we pay just £10 each for an hour. A lot more affordable than a luxury spa, and so much more laid back!
What I have observed by spending time in nature is not just how much I benefit from it mentally and physically. But the people I meet along the way, the ones who are outdoors often have a similar outlook on life. These wild wellness seekers; the wild swimmers, yoga yogis, trail runners, ramblers, hikers or sauna soul searchers. There is a willingness to stray from the crowd, and do something a bit different. But also a keen awareness of their natural surroundings and how important it is. There seems to be a collective consciousness, and I can’t help but feel hopeful for the future.
It seems that there is a mass movement, a shift taking place. Slow, but noticeable. What perhaps starts from a place of disconnect and neglect, and a need to feel better, can grow into an appreciation and understanding of how important it is to care not just for ourselves, but for what is at the true root of all health and wellness. The very thing that we ARE, and therefore need to care for;
So, whether you’ve made a New Year’s resolution or not. Whether you have great expectations, or you’re simply trying to get the through each day as best you can! (and I SO get that!). I hope you will look after yourself this year. Be kind to YOU. I hope you can find more time in the wild. To breathe it in and let it work it’s magic.
Above all, I hope that this will still be the case in years to come. That there will still be these green and blue spaces in the future, and that together we can all look after what’s important.
A while back, in October last year, I wrote a post about “Coping With Overwhelm“. It was off the back of an episode of depression that lead to me bundling my things into our campervan and driving off in a blur of sadness. Feeling overwhelmed and desperate to escape, I drove for hours on end, with no idea where I was going. I just knew that I had to “get away”. I eventually ended up in West Wales, on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. I still struggle to remember how I got there.
Afterwards, when I wrote a blog post about the experience, I was riddled with a new kind of anxiety. All kinds of ugly truths were revealed, warts and all, and I suppose I was testing the water with how honest I could be with myself, and with others about my mental health.
But there was something I didn’t share. Not because I wasn’t being honest, but because I knew it was worthy of being told as a story in it’s own right. It strays from the path, into coves and caves. It is an adventure all of it’s own. Something incredible happened there on that Welsh coastline. A single experience that changed me. Not just my mental landscape at the time, but a more permanent, deeper and spiritual change. It took me from a place of despair, to a place where I regained my spirit and strength. It’s also left me wondering whether there is truth to some legends after all!
I didn’t take many photos or film much footage during that time. The imagery I did capture was always intended to keep for personal use. I was such a mess, and it seemed a little grotesque to film a breakdown! But I did that morning. I think I knew something unusual was taking place. Until now I’ve not dared to look back at the footage I filmed that morning. In case it didn’t reconcile with the memory I have.
But finding the courage to revisit this footage, I am confident that not only did it happen, but that it was indeed magical. It prompts so many questions. What took me to Pembrokeshire? Why did I end up in that particular place, on that part of a remote wild coastline? I’d never been to that part of the world before. I knew nothing about it. I knew nothing of the legends and myths in that area. Research and preparation was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t even know exactly I’d got there, or where I was in the world in relation to home! What made me decide to walk that morning? in that direction? Was it co-incidence? Or was there something else at play?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I know what happened. And it’s there, in the footage, I can see it. I can still remember how it felt. The brilliant bursts of blue in the warm water, the delicate surprising light, the rhythmic sound of the waves echoing in the cave, the joy in my fragile broken heart, and the sense that there was something legendary, magical about that place.
It’s strange really, because despite my firm belief that the power of nature can help heal, when I arrived on that wild remote coastline, nature was all around me, it was so blatantly beautiful, but it couldn’t help me. At first I wasn’t able to engage or connect with my surroundings. All I could do was just land, and be there with it. I felt so weak and pathetic. But after a few days of wild camping in a field next to the cliff, I awoke early one morning and, still feeling broken and raw, I began to follow the coast path. Just one foot in front of the other.
As I approached what I now know to be St Govan’s Head, I was struck by the sight of a cove below me. Beautiful clear turquoise water and golden sand, tucked deep into the crevice of the cliff. The gulls screamed and the waves crashed. Despite being down in a geo, and there being no easy path to get to it, something tugged inside me. At first it looked inaccessible, but the spirit of adventure ignited a tiny spark inside me just enough to propel me onward and downward. I began to pick my way down the cliff, stumbling, scraping through spiky gorse and sharp rocky terrain. Down, down, down until I landed on the soft silent sand. And as I looked up (I kid you not!) the sun, hidden until now, burst out from behind the clouds and illuminated everything around me. It was utterly, ridiculously beautiful. I was beseiged. How on earth could I not smile in the moment, not feel my soul lifted.
But this was just the beginning. What happened next was as if something was happening far bigger than I could comprehend. I still find it hard to articulate, but it was as if the sea was calling me. I climbed barefoot onto the jagged rocks, intuition drawing me closer and closer to a pool of bright blue water several feet below me. The water was clear and I could see to the bottom of the ocean floor. Nearby, a cave yawned darkly into the depths of the cliff. The sound of the waves echoed rhythmically inside it, an acoustic symphony of sea and stone ringing out around me. Oh the drama! And there, as I stood trembling, I made the decision to leap. *
As I hit the water feet first it was as though all my fears were simultaneously drowned. Just the weight of my body descended deep into the water. While thousands of tiny bubbles of air burst around me, so too did all the things that had held me back. The reasons NOT to do jump, the risk, the fear. “I am not brave enough. I am not strong enough. I am not well enough”. All these self limiting thoughts and notions were instantly washed away leaving only what was wild and free, and alive. As I swam in those bright blue waters, in the autumn sunshine, I knew that I was being healed. I noticed how my heart felt a little less heavy, and the pain and sadness was gently fading away, leaving only what mattered. My spirit. Revived.
It was only afterwards, with a renewed strength and conviction that I would be able to return home, I met the owners of the farmland where I’d been staying. Gentle, kind people I told them of what had brought me here. Of my “broken-ness”, and the need to mend. They listened and smiled knowingly. And then softly spoke of the legend of St Govan’s. How they had lived on the farm for decades and knew of it’s history. How others like me have come here, and why.
I was dumb struck.
This short film is my best attempt to show you the magic that happened that October morning. I hope you can feel it.
Girl Gone Wild x
Filmed at St Govan’s Head, Pembrokeshire, West Wales
* I feel a duty to say that climbing barefoot on jagged rocks, on your own, and jumping into the sea in unknown territory isn’t something I’d encourage anyone to do. I have been told off by some of the wild swimming community for doing this. It isn’t safe, I could have had an accident, the coastguard would yet again be called out to rescue someone who has put themselves at risk. I know that I probably shouldn’t do these wild things.
BUT, I feel I must explain that this is in my nature. I will never try to restrain it. Since a young age I have needed to push boundaries. I need to do these things so that I can feel the life pulsing inside me and the adrenaline pump around my body. If I don’t, then I don’t feel alive. I believe that taking this kind of risk, which for me is only moderate, is still infinitely safer than the drugs, alcohol, people and dangerous situations I subjected myself to when I was younger. I would never encourage anyone else to do this. We must all know our own limits, and be responsible for our own choices.
This period of time between Christmas and New Year always feels a bit like “no man’s land”. In past years I’ve come to recognise the rhythm of this. The cyclical nature of the seasons and what this fallow period can provide. It is during this time that I embrace rest. It is also a time when my mind wanders off to places I’ve not visited for a while. Like the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, I am greeted by thoughts of what has been, what is now, and what might be.
Once Christmas has passed, initially I feel like I’ve stepped off a train onto a strange, yet somehow familiar platform. At first I’m lost and bewildered without the constant rock of momentum. Then comes an adjustment period – A physical and mental slowing down, in order to become more aware of both the internal and external landscape.
Yesterday I spent the day in bed. Not intentionally. I simply slept and slept until I awoke in a fog of confusion. Surprised by my own body, and it’s obvious need to rest and slow down. But on waking I instantly felt a wave of panic. “What will everyone think of this shameful laziness!”. The voice of my guilty conscience telling me this was a self indulgent, lazy, pointless thing to do.
But I obviously needed to. There was an unconscious need for me to withdraw from the world. It wasn’t pointless, or being lazy. It was an unconscious need to take cover, and rest. Perhaps this echoes the need to hibernate, or the self preserverance act of an animal going to ground when it feels weak?
The phrase “gone to ground” originated as a fox hunting term meaning the fox in question had escaped to an underground burrow or den. It began being used figuratively in the 1960s to describe a person who had gone into hiding. “To become inaccessible, to disappear from the scene, often for a lengthy period of time”. The implication being that someone or something was following or harassing them.
I suppose in a way I do find Christmas a form of harassment! I joked to the mechanic at my local garage recently when getting my campervan MOT’d. It was in the lead up to Christmas and he asked how I was doing. I immediately blurted out that I felt bullied. By Christmas. I was half joking, but when he looked at me askance I found myself confessing that I wasn’t quite ready for it all. That I felt I didn’t really have a choice as the whole world seemed to be telling me it was happening, whether I liked it or not. That I didn’t really want to play the game, I just wanted to sit it out, away from it all. (In hindsight perhaps this was a little overdramatic for a Tuesday morning MOT service!). Needless to say that my explanation did nothing to encourage the mechanic to consider whether he might feel like that too. I left feeling, as I often feel, a bit different and like I’m trying to swim upstream.
Perhaps if I’d said I wanted to hibernate this would have lightened the mood. It seems this is more widely recognised, and therefore more acceptable to us. We can joke about this. Interesting given that hibernation is described as “A state of minimal activity and metabolic depression”. Yet there is common understanding here, for nature, for the season, and for animals and plants “doing what they need to do”.
The need to rest is part of the cycle of life. But we are all so busy trying to keep up with everyone else, we often forget what it is we actually need for ourselves. There is a kind of low level of anxiety lurking beneath this modern way of life, yet so many of us don’t even recognise how it effects us. Rest and recovery is what enables us to process, and then progress. We re-emerge stronger because of it.
I’m not saying we should all go to bed until Spring! Obviously this isn’t practical, or necessary, but perhaps we can give ourselves (and everyone else) permission to simply stop and become inactive for a while. To archive all that has happened, compress all that we feel. To sift through our thoughts, and allow them to settle and become still. Time to sit by the fire, read a book. Listen to the wind, watch the rain. Wrap up warm and feel cosy. Perhaps during this time we can also begin to make way for something new. Allowing space for inspiration. Reconnecting with those ideas that lie dormant for now, but can begin to emerge in the light of a new year.
Katherine May says in her beautifully written book “Wintering”; Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through.
Perhaps then, by us all doing this together, with the natural world as our guide, we can allow each other this time. No judgement. No shame. No guilt. No regrets.
Something I felt was a huge positive during the COVID pandemic, was that we ALL experienced a period of enforced lockdown. We, as a world, had an opportunity to STOP, collectively. Momentum ceased. And so many of us had a chance to review, rethink and reset. If we were to try and apply the physics concept of momentum to this, then we can see the parallels. Not just to lockdown, but with Winter too.
“Any object with momentum is going to be hard to stop. To stop such an object it is necessary to apply a force against it’s motion for a given period of time”. The more momentum that an object has, the harder it is to stop. Requiring a great amount of force, or a longer amount of time”.
Perhaps this is true for people, and the force against motion required in order to hault the momentum of the lives that we lead. (The busier we are, the harder it is to stop). A weekend for example will never be enough time to really have an opportunity to come to a complete hault. Perhaps this is reflected by the average length of time we take for annual leave (1 or 2 weeks to properly benefit). Yet still, for me, Winter and particularly the Christmas/New Year period provides an “force” against the motion of life that provides a chance for a complete stop, and therefore a deeper reset.
The end of a year naturally prompts us to think of what has taken place. We take stock and review. And with the start of the New Year comes the promise of new beginnings, hope, a fresh start with new resolutions. So what can we take from this time? What can it provide for us? Perhaps it is the chance to step into this no man’s land, to embrace it. This is a naturally, untethered time for us to slow down, to have the space to process all that we do, all that has happened, all that we hope might happen in the future.
But we must acknowledge also, that this may be uncomfortable. Painful even for some. Presenting truths we have been busy ignoring. By stopping here a while, we may feel vulnerable. Without the momentum to carry us, we are stuck here a while, forced to see and feel how things truly are.
One of my favourite books is “A Short Philosophy Of Birds” by Philippe Dubois and Elise Rousseay. It shows us how there are so many lessons that birds can teach us. Their behaviours can guide us – helping us to reflect on our own lives, they are masters in the art of life. A particular reference I love is how they embrace vulnerability. Moulting is an example given; the shedding of old feathers in order to acquire new ones. A yearly process of loss and renewal, and it can be difficult. “It is a period of vulnerability. The bird knows it is vulnerable and keeps a low profile, not engaging in any important activities during this time. It is patient. It waits for the renewal to occur so that it can regain all it’s former strength and beauty.”
This time of year can leave us feeling vulnerable. Our life temporarily exposed for what it is; warts and all. Flaws are highlighted. Cracks begin to show. Annoyances, frustrations, expectations jostle for attention. Maybe this is what needs to show up for you right now? Maybe it is showing you something you need to see. Allow it to come. Welcome it. See how you respond to it, then, just as it showed up, let it go. You don’t need to DO anything, except be kind to yourself.
We are capable of enduring these fallow periods, just as animals and plants can. Don’t fight it, but instead prepare for it. It may be difficult, but it will not always be this way. “For this too shall pass”.
If you need to, climb into bed! That’s fine! Sink deep beneath the duvet, cocoon your body, and take three deep breaths. Give yourself permission to STOP. And relax. Listen to your heart beat slowing, feel your muscles relax. Feel whatever it is you feel for a minute. An hour. A whole day if needed. This is your own retreat. This is where you can sit, walk, run with your feelings, and connect with your self. Conserve your energy; slow and simple – until you are ready to begin again. Perhaps with a new momementum, a new direction, with new vigour.
Go to ground. The world will be waiting for you when you re-emerge. You’ll be stronger for it. And maybe, just maybe you will see things from a new perspective – who knows what a new year will bring.
The festive season is upon us. The Christmas lights festoon the high street. Villages and towns are lit up like clusters of constellations across the countryside. The adverts are telling us, the shops are telling us, the school, the radio, our family are telling us. Christmas is happening.
I love the sense of wonder at this time of year, but it can so often become stressful. The expectation that we must spend, spend spend… buy presents (and get it right this year!), and have everything ready for the “Big Day”. Sometimes it can take over, and in amongst it all we forget to just stop and breathe and remind ourselves that we don’t NEED to put this pressure on ourselves.
But what I DO enjoy is the way everything becomes that little bit more sparkly and enchanting. Walking home past the houses on our street I love seeing how people have decorated their homes, each scene a little story about what Christmas means to them. The twinkling lights on the tree, the frosted art on the windows. There is a theatrical element to it all, as if we are setting the stage, ready to play our part in a worldwide seasonal celebration. I love this sense of unitedness. The stories that weave their way through the last days of the year. Stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. And whether we “believe” or not- it is tradition, for young and old, and there is something comforting about this.
But perhaps what matters most to me, isn’t the “Big Day”. It is in part ,the tasks and traditions. Collecting fire wood, stacking the log pile, making soups and stews, wearing wool and fleece. And it is the sense of being connected to the season. Noticing the changes; the robin that comes to the garden in search of food, the squirrels who look quite comical; twice their normal size with their thick fur and bushy tails! I find I need time in nature more than ever at this time of the year. In these short days, with less daylight and cold weather. When we retreat inside our homes, shutting the door on the outside world to be warm and cosy, perhaps this is when we all need some nature connection. To bring us into the “real” moments of Winter.
Sothis is the time of year I reallyembrace sea swimming!
This morning was my first swim of the month. Aside from being busy with the launch of my book, I’ve had the inevitable head cold that always arrives home with my youngest son from primary school in December. Storm Barra has also been busy making it’s way up the coast and there’s been no chance of swimming in these winds anyway! So all in all I’ve been disconnected from the wild remedy that keeps me grounded and I’ve been somewhat out of sorts. (Meanwhile Christmas has crept up on me just when I’m at a disadvantage!)
I’ll admit though; arriving at the beach this morning I didn’t feel 100%. I surveyed the conditions and despite the sun shining and waves only being around 2ft, there was a significant swell and a biting wind. My nose was running and my body gave an involuntary shiver. But as I made my way to the shelter of “our corner” by the pier, I was greeted by other swimmers and the atmosphere was more upbeat.
As we chatted and prepared to swim, there were others who hadn’t been in the water for a few weeks and we all agreed it was needed. Listening to my fellow swimmers I noted a common theme to the cold water therapy today; the topic of Christmas hard to ignore. Some had been ill and not able to get out to do any Christmas shopping and felt “left behind”, some had been busy at work trying to get projects finished in time for the Christmas deadline, one of the mums had a stressful school run having forgotten it was “Christmas Jumper” day and hadn’t bought a new jumper (and didn’t see the point in buying a new jumper just for one day anyway!).
As we entered the water we let out a huge roar in unison. What a release!! The chill hitting our bodies like pins and needles, intense pain soaring through our legs, arms, necks… and any thoughts or worries about Christmas and life on land forgotten. In this moment when your body is dealing with the stress of the cold temperature, you are in “fight” mode. As if under attack your body releases cortisol hormones, the heart rate increases and at the same time endorphins are released giving a rush of adrenaline and a high that (almost!) overrides the pain of the chill.
And while this is all happening, I feel every single sense is heightened. The sound of the waves and the seagulls, the winter sun, low in the sky, shining bright in your eyes, the smell of the salt water, the feel of the water as it carries me in the ebb and flow of the swell.
You are here. Now. In this moment, immersed in nature. And nothing else matters.
Afterwards as we rush to get dressed, numb fingers and bright pink skin, we are high from the experience. United by the joy of having a sea swim in winter. Each needed it. Each survived it. Each would do it again and again. Because whatever stress or grumbles we felt before, we no longer feel they are as important. This is the power of Nature.
As I sit here now, still in my Dryrobe, with two pairs of socks, fleece joggers and mittens, I am sparkling inside. I am smiling as I remember the scream as I entered the water. I am smiling as I think of us all dancing on the beach to warm up afterwards.
I am smiling because I know without a doubt Winter is here. That it is cold. That the temperatures have dropped. I know this because Nature tells me. The weather, the frosts, the short days, the long nights. The birds who have stayed, the wildlife that hunts hungrily, the plants that are hardy, the tree branches bare except for the evergreens… This tells me Winter is happening.
And with this natural declaration, a voice inside me whispers “I am ready”. Because SO much of what I love about this time of year, is the rhythm of the season. The cyclical nature of happenings and becomings. To witness these changes and acknowledge our place in the grand scheme of things. To give thanks for what we have. To come together and share in whatever way we can. To mark the ocassion and perform traditions that have been passed down through the ages, among the flora, fauna and folk.
With Nature as our host, we can always navigate where we are, and what matters. The endings, the beginnings. The present and the past. What we can look forward to. Traditions can still be embraced because of our heritage, our ancestors, our humble beginnings, but they don’t have to be materialistic.
Let’s just take a moment to recognise what is important, what is behind the scenes. Behind the theatre, the performance, what really matters?
We have reached another Winter. We are here, now. The world turns, no matter what. Seasons come and go. The nights, though long at this time of year, always give way to dawn. We are under the same Sun, the same Moon. We are part of something. A small part of something much much bigger than us.
Yesterday I collected 300 copies of my book from the printers. After months of work “Seas The Day – A Year of Sea Swimming Poetry” is now making its way out into the world to it’s new owners. (Maybe you’re one of them!) So. There’s no turning back. And, despite it being small fry in the publishing world, can I tell you a secret? – I’m scared!
All my self doubts are having a party right now! They’re laughing their heads off. I can hear them …who do I think I am to publish a book of poetry? What if my poems aren’t good enough? What if all the people who have ordered the book are outraged and demand a refund!?
It’s an odd position to be in. I mean, no-one has forced me to publish my poems. I have voluntarily put myself out there knowing the risk. There is every chance that it’ll be a big fat disappointment. So why do it?
Well, honestly?; (and I know I’m not supposed to admit this) I’m not doing it for others. (ok, I am donating profits to Surfers Against Sewage so I am definitely doing some of it for others!) But what I mean to say is; I’m doing this for me. I’m doing this to make me step outside of my comfort zone. But I’m also doing it because I genuinely love every single moment of swimming in the wild, and the inspiration that comes to me, to write these poems as a result, is part of something transformational. And I think I’m feeling braver because of it.
So I’m testing the water! (Excuse the pun). I’m pushing my boundaries, I’m expanding my inner world to see what happens. I’m challenging my negative beliefs, I’m asking them to step up and face me, head on. Not in confrontation necessarily, but more with a sense of curiosity. I want to invite these fears that hide in the shadows, out into the light. I want to look at them, sit with them. Thank them for trying to protect me;
And then carry on regardless.
Because, I want to see what happens if we carry on. What happens if we let ourselves follow that shining light …the sparkly one that catches your eye and suggests magic, possibility, hope. What happens if we stop hiding, and we step out into the light, despite our fears, and show ourselves.
I want to believe it will be ok. I want to stop feeling anxious about the unknown, the “what if’s”. I want to focus on how beautiful the world can be, and to learn to trust in it. I want to adopt “beginners mind”, a mind that views life as if for the first time. That sees no harm in thinking magical things can happen if you believe they can. Above all, I want to prove my negative beliefs to be wrong.
Because, SO WHAT if my poems aren’t good enough? WHAT IF people aren’t pleased with the book? The fact remains I’ve still enjoyed the process of creating. I’ve enjoyed following that sparkly light!. And maybe, (and this is where I become a bit less sure but I’m going with it) Is it possible that it might still be worth it – that something less obvious might shift because of it? Some insight yet to be understood? Something you’d never come to realise unless you tried and failed.
Could it mean that by taking a risk, that our fears (and come on, we all have them!) could actually turn out to be just that. Just fear. That they’ve been calling our bluff this whole time? That maybe if we meet them, and hang out with them a while (not hook up, just hang out; there’s a difference!) then MAYBE we can live a life beyond them. Maybe we can trust ourselves, and the universe enough that EVEN IF the worst happens, we can still overcome it. Better yet; learn something from it. Even if it hurts, even if it feels uncomfortable, even if there’s loss, maybe there’s still a part of you that benefits from taking that risk? Maybe that sparkly light you followed lit up your soul, and made it possible to feel free for a while.
So, What is it for you? What risk have you taken lately, no matter how small? What were your fears? Did you think you might not, were you surprised you did? Or maybe you didn’t and you’ve been regretting it ever since?. What lessons can we learn about the limitations we put upon our own lives. What kind of personal lockdowns do we put ourselves in?
And if we can push past these; imagine what else there is to experience!. Imagine what freedom there is to be found. If we choose to just feel the fear, and do it anyway? Regardless of the outcome. In fact, IN SPITE of the outcome!
So there we have it, confession over. I still feel scared, but that’s ok. I’m hanging out with that feeling for a while. I guess I just wanted to figure out why I’m putting myself in this position. And now I know! (Thanks for sticking with me this far – This is what I love about writing – it’s so cathartic!)
I’m basically doing this because I’m not confident about my book, and because I’m worried it’ll be crap. But I’m carrying on regardless because my fears are telling me NOT TO! And quite frankly I’d rather trip over and fall flat on my face as I chase that shiny sparkly light, than be stuck in the dark with my (slightly annoying and over protective) fears for the rest of my life.
And to celebrate this fact, let’s just stop for a moment and contemplate another “WHAT IF”…
As my friend Emma said to me the other day;
“WHAT IF the Hokey Cokey IS what it’s all about!??”
“Seas The Day – A Year Of Sea Swimming Poetry” is OUT NOW £8.50 + PP
Witnessing the sun rise at any time of year is a magical thing to see. The drama of it will always make my heart sing, but in winter, with the dark mornings and sparkling frosts, it somehow feels even more magical when dawn breaks.
Yesterday morning as I was setting off for a sea swim my youngest son was up earlier than usual and I asked if he’d like to come and watch the sun rise with me. Now, my children aren’t known for being very enthusiastic about outdoor activities in the mornings so I was somewhat surprised when he said “yes”!
Delighted to have unexpected company I failed to check the weather conditions and simply bundled together a bag of swim stuff for myself, and a rucksack with some warm layers for my son. It wasn’t until we were driving down to the beach that I realised the sky (and any hint of dawn) was obscured by dense cloud.
Now, if you have kids you’ll know that in order for a new experience to be something they’ll enjoy, then it simply has to be a good one. If it’s a negative experience then it’s unlikely they’ll want to stay, let alone repeat it! (I guess we’re all like this really). So I was cursing myself for inviting him to watch what I promised to be a “magical event”, when I hadn’t checked if the magic was likely to show up.
We arrived at the beach to a grey sky, cold north wind and no visible sunrise. My heart sank. Still, I gave my Dryrobe and hot water bottle to my son while I had a quick dip. He scowled at me from the shore, making it clear he was less than impressed!
We drove home, me trying to convince him it was a great way to start the day, him disagreeing. I told him that this was actually part of the magic. That I’d been wrong to promise it because it’s not guaranteed. And because you can never really know what kind of beauty you’ll see, this is why Nature is so amazing. This is why when you DO see the magic, it feels really special. Like it’s revealed something to you that not everyone can see. And it’s done this because you made the effort to look, and take notice.
Later that day I asked my son if he’d like to come again the following morning? To which he shook his head.
And so it was this morning, I made my way to the beach at dawn on my own. And of course, there before me, in jaw dropping splendour , was THE most beautiful scene. The moon still up in the sky while the sun rose and golden light spilled across the ocean. With not a breath of wind the water was completely still. Stepping into the sea was like stepping into a clear, cold bath. I felt like crying! It was stunning and yet all I could think of was my son, and what he had missed!
But I suppose, deep down I know he will see it when the time is right. Maybe what makes a sunrise magical is that you seek and find it for yourself. It is your reward for trying. Perhaps trying to create this magic for someone else simply won’t work?
And yet, I think this what I want for everyone! What I experience in Nature is so profound, it makes me want to share it. I want to know if others see it and feel it, and are boosted in the same way. Is this so wrong?
Surely this is why we create? We feel moved by something. Inspired by something. Isn’t this why we write, or paint, or cook, or teach… we want to share something. To invite the participant to experience something and enjoy it. Maybe even inspire them to go create their own magic, their own way.
I guess there’s nothing wrong in trying to create a bit of magic. Maybe you’ll just never be able to guarantee the result!
And so, as I swam in the sea this morning, I captured every detail of the moment in my mind. Full of inspiration I returned home and wild words poured out of me, describing what I’d seen. I wrote a poem. (Below) To capture the magic so I can remember it, but also so I can share it with those that missed it. To try and create a bit of the magic that was there in that moment. To encourage my son, to encourage you, to encourage everyone of us that there is always magic to be found. You just have to keep looking.
Quiet morning light. The moon lingers a while Holding the space between night and day The sky holds its breath. While the sea lies undisturbed, A silent lake slipping beneath the horizon. The break of dawn spilling liquid gold upon glistening glass. I float beneath the surface Bathed in a golden sea My mind, body and soul awash with the new day
When I first started the Girl Gone Wild blog I set up a YouTube channel to show my wild swimming videos. (If you didn’t know – hit the YouTube button on the home page!). To be honest I’ve been a bit slack and not paid much attention to it. But recently I received a lovely email from someone who had seen one of the videos. She traced it back to my blog and felt prompted to contact me as a result.
I’ll tell you more about why this email was so important to me later. But for now let’s take a look at what happened with this video. Curious that this email had come to me as a result of a video, I checked my YouTube account. This is when I saw that one of my videos (Wild Swimming at Durdle Door) now has over 20k views! This comes as a total surprise considering some of the other videos only have a few hundred views. So what is it about this particular video that has caught the viewers attention I wonder?
My guess is that there are two main reasons; Firstly, wild swimming has become HUGELY popular this past year, (see previous blog post about this here) and secondly; location, location, location.
Durdle Door is like the jewel in the crown of the Jurassic Coast, and with it being a UNESCO World Heritage site it certainly stands out from the crowd! Maybe people search for it and this comes up in the search results? It’s true I was incredibly lucky to have beautiful weather that day, (check out the blog post about it here). I was also blessed with an empty beach, but that only makes the location look more amazing! It just goes to show that location plays a big factor in what people want to see. Admittedly there are a few “Thumbs Down” clicks but I’m telling myself it’s because there’s no music and not because I look like an idiot. (YouTube banned the track – It was actually one of my own tracks but because I don’t have a licence to use my own music YouTube banned it!!).
But I’m really surprised it’s getting so many views. I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to “building an audience” I just enjoy what I do, and hope that others will enjoy reading, watching, listening too. What I am also coming to realise is that sometimes you can do something with no expectation, and that’s the thing that will reward you the most!
You see, the loveliest thing about putting this video out there, is that by being brave and uploading it to the world, it’s making it’s way back to me. That morning of wild happiness that made me feel uplifted has been shared. And it’s been seen by someone who “gets it”.
The email I received from the lady who’d seen the film was such a wonderful surprise. She found my blog as a result of seeing the video and after reading a post she wanted to offer words of support. As someone who also has PTSD and uses cold water therapy to aid trauma recovery, she bravely told me her story and shared the things she does that help her manage life. And what an inspiring story it was! I felt priveliged to hear her words. It made me realise that if receiving ONE email from someone with a connection like hers is what comes of a video I made one September morning of me swimming in the wild, then this is my it is important to carry on. This is my “WHY”!
And what a wonderful thing to know! To know there are people out there who “get it”, and that by putting a little bit of wild out there for someone to see, it finds another wildling. Not everyone will “get it” and that’s OK. My hope is that over time these words, poems, films and creations will make their way out into the world for someone to find. Someone who it resonates with. Someone else who believes in the power of nature to lift us up and help us feel good in ourselves.
Set on the stunning Jurassic Coast in Dorset, inspired by a year of sea swimming in lockdown, this collection of poems, journal extracts and photographs is the diary of a Dorset Sea Swimmer.
Each poem was written shortly after the swim. Accompanied by a journal extract from the day, it gives the reader an insight into what it felt like to be there at the time.
With swims taking place throughout the year, you are invited to dive in and share the experience of sea swimming all year round.
These poems are like love letters to the wild. Showing gratitude for the sea and the seasons. A little book that celebrates the power of nature, and the positive effect that cold water swimming can have on our wellbeing.
Here is the story behind how this little book came to be…
When I was a little girl I wanted to be an author. I imagined sitting at a writing desk, at a window that looked out to sea. I wanted to write about adventure and magic; beautiful stories of escape, hope and happiness…
I remember this now, but in all honesty I’d forgotten about that little girl and her dream, until recently.
I’ve written a journal for the past few years. Beginning with short, awkward, self-conscious entries, they soon became a daily ritual for me; a time to reflect and a space to reveal. This journal was just for me, and I never thought it would be more than that.
But when we suffered a global pandemic that enforced a lockdown on our lives, my daily ritual of writing a journal felt as though it had perhaps been a sort of preparation. A “drip drip drip” way of writing, that would eventually begin to flow, once I had more time to do so. And then the time came.
It was during this time that I was also inexplicably drawn to the sea. Having been diagnosed with PTSD earlier in the year (a result of past trauma), I had been spending more and more time in nature. The wild was where I felt my anxieties slip away, and with the coast being so near, it was as if I could hear the sea calling to me.
And so began my sea swimming journey...
We all hear about the benefits of cold water swimming; how it can improve our mood, boost our immune system, but at the time I had no idea about this. I simply found myself beside the water’s edge in October, knowing that I needed to be in the water. I have written about this many times since, and how it has had an incredibly positive effect on my mental health, but what I hadn’t expected was that it would inspire me to write. How could I ever have predicted that swimming in the sea would help me to reconnect with my love of words!?
I began to write poems after my swims. I wanted to speak of the magic I’d experienced in the sea. To try to capture the feeling, and share it with others. I’d sit on the beach and write love letters to the wild. Showing my gratitude for what it had given me.
On Christmas morning 2020, I left driftwood gifts beneath the pier. I’d made them for those that would find them. My fellow sea swimmers who had gotten up early in the morning, to head for the sea. I burnt a message onto these gifts; “Seas The Day”.
I had no idea at the time that this would be the title for my book a year later. But I knew that it was significant.
After months of writing poetry with a passion, I realised I had written a whole year’s worth! One for every month of the year. Celebrating the sea throughout the seasons. Each one telling the tale of a swim. And somewhere during this process my inner wild child began to speak to me. She whispered that she still wanted to write a book…
And so it is, that these poems inspired by the sea, together with my private journal entries on those days have become a book! By accident almost. I’d never intended to create a book, but somehow it has come to be. With no plan or intention other than to write about the magic and adventure, the escape, hope and happiness that the sea has given me.
“Seas The Day – A Year of Sea Swimming Poetry” also features a beautiful linocut illustration by the talented Nicole Purdie (Prints By The Bay)
I think we can safely say that you CAN judge this book by it’s cover! Inspired by a photograph of me entering the sea at sunrise at West Bay, this really does sum up the magic of this little book and I can’t thank Nicole enough for working with me on this!
So now YOU are invited into the very moment each swim took place, to hear the story, and to share the experience. Perhaps it will resonate with you, perhaps it will inspire you, above all my hope is that it might speak to you of the magic that can happen in cold water, and the powerful effect that the natural world can bestow upon us.
Which leaves me with nothing more to say other than;
“It is the writer who begins the story. But it is the reader who finishes it”.
Girl Gone Wild x
If you would like to pre-order your copy please click below! 10% of profits will be donated to Surfers Against Sewage so you will also be supporting their work to protect our oceans, coastlines and marine life.
When things get too much and it feels like there’s no way out….
My mind and soul took a tumble last week and I found myself in a deep pit of despair. Having held it together for so long throughout what has been (and continues to be) a challenging year with my mental health, I reached a point of total overwhelm.
There are so many things that contributed to this; Past trauma, a history of depression, a burn out at work last year which led to quitting my job and being diagnosed with PTSD. Then earlier this year our eldest son was diagnosed with autism and related mental health conditions. He hasn’t left the house for seven months now, and refuses to accept help from us or medical professionals.
It is for all these reasons, and many more emotional spin offs; guilt, shame, anger, frustration, that I felt I had no choice but to run away from it all. I couldn’t spend another second longer in this situation. If I did I would either go insane, or say/do something I would regret, neither of which I wanted to happen. So, leaving the kids with my husband to hold the fort, with no plan other than to drive through the tears until I was either all cried out, or too tired, or both. I went. I believed I had no choice.
The first 24 hours are a black blur. I had no inner compass, I drove aimlessly, with no clear direction in mind. All that was in my mind was despair, hopelessness and a heavy sadness that felt like a huge elephant was sat on top of me. The riot of thoughts running round my head were ganging up on me and bullying me, I felt useless, a failure as a human being, a wife, a mum…
My heart heaved with grief. The loss of hope for the future of our family. The loss of how things used to be, when we were all functioning better as a family. That we were doomed, that this mess was just too big and could never be cleared up. And that in amongst all of this, my poor mental health made me a crap parent, crap at relationships and that my despair was all my own doing. Life feels pretty pointless when despite there being times when I can cope, it’s only temporary, like it will always come back…. That dark, heavy depression that eventually catches up with me, dragging me and everyone around me down with it.
There is also this huge, overwhelming concept I feel; that life on earth is hard for every single living thing and this will always be the way of life. That no resilience can ever come without adversity. Nothing can evolve without competition. Nothing will ever be easy.
And with this, my heart finally broke.
I ended up on the Pembrokeshire coast path. I still don’t know how I made it there. I don’t remember making any kind of decision, but this is where I landed. Arriving broken and bewildered, this wild and remote place was to hold me for a while.
I cried salt tears and swam in the salt waves. Stripped of any kind of luxury I slept wild and woke wild. I fell apart under the stars, beneath the moon, before the sun rising and setting. It would have been beautiful had I not felt so bloody hurt by it all. But this raw experience will stay with me for a long time. NOT because I had a wonderful time, but because I learned the hard way that wherever you go, your thoughts will follow.
The only comfort to me at the time was that I was able to fall apart in private, with only Mother Nature as my witness.
Yet somehow, although I am still feeling broken, the invisible cracks feel like they are held together by that wild place. That my “broken-ness” is a little more acceptable to me now.
And with this acceptance I feel able to reach out to others, and ask for help, to allow myself to be vulnerable, as if Mother Nature has silently encouraged me to do so, and whispered that it is “ok to not to be ok”.
Why do I find it SO hard to be honest about depression? I still feel like it somehow makes me a weaker person, or that other people will see me as a failure. I have so many wonderful people in my life, including my children, but I struggle to show them my “dark” side, worried they will think it repulsive and ugly, scary even. That they will only think the worst of me from now onwards. I put so much pressure on myself to only be the version of me that I “think” people want to see and know. To hide my vulnerability from the world and those close to me. It’s something I’m trying hard to change. If only so my children can grow up being aware of mental health, and knowing it’s ok to talk about it. Yet, even writing this post now I am wondering if I should…. Perhaps I will regret it? Perhaps it will put you off me when you hear my truth?
And after all this, I am home. My situation hasn’t changed. There is no quick fix. There is no clear path or light at the end of the tunnel… there is no escape. On a practical note, because I know I can’t do this through mere willpower alone, my GP has increased my medication, and I am starting therapy sessions, again. All I can do is take each hour, each day as it comes and not think too much about the bigger picture. To be mindful of how overwhelm can begin to grow if I feed it. How depression will thrive on it.
But in the meantime, I know I can go into the wild and just “be” and that here is where I can unfold, unravel and fall apart if needed. Here is where there is no guilt, no shame, no judgement. And when I return I can speak of it, I can try again. And those who have waited for, and missed me, who welcome me with open arms, who listen to me, these are my true kin. Those to love and to cherish and be incredibly thankful for. For they are the reason I need to do this, they are the ones I must find strength for.
This morning began with an early walk with the dog. With the sun shining and a heavy dew it was a magical walk along the river. Spiderwebs and seedheads were kissed with sparkling drops of dew and, in the bright sunshine they were illuminated like miniature sculptures draped in silver. Inspired by what I saw I composed a Haiku in my head as we walked;
“Autumn morning dew
Sparkles in the bright sunshine
Like silver treasure”
A little further along the river, the dog stopped and stared at something in the tree. Assuming it was a squirrel I chuckled knowing how they tease him with their chatter while safely out of reach. But as I drew closer I realised it was in fact an Egret. It perched on a branch, looking quite elegant with it’s long legs and pure white feathers. We stood a while; dog, bird and I, until it gracefully launched itself into the air and flew across the meadow. The dog bounded along beneath it, excitedly trying to keep up.
With the walk coming to an end, and the sun feeling quite warm now my thoughts turn to the sea. “Perhaps I should make the most of this glorious weather?” October sea swims are like a bridge between the warmer temperatures of September and the transition into winter swimming. When the sun is shining and winds are low at this time of year, it is the ideal time to swim, and begin acclimatising the body to the colder water.
So within half an hour I am in the sea. The sun on my face, body immersed in cold water, I swim out towards the mast off shore where the cormorants like to gather. A boat is slowly making it’s way along the shore, closer than usual. As it nears I call to the crew who reveal they are doing a seabed survey. I swim back to shore to avoid getting in their way.
With a flask of coffee, I join the local sea swimmers at our regular spot by the pier. The sea is beautifully calm, and the cliffs look golden in the sunlight. I notice a huge piece of driftwood has been washed up beneath the pier, a few yards from where I sit. I briefly consider it’s size and whether I would be able to get it home with me. Driftwood is a gift from the sea and is my preferred material for my pyrography creations.
I mention to my fellow swimmers my idea and before I know it, I have volunteers to help me carry it up the beach! I would never have been able to carry it on my own, and yet again I feel lucky to be part of such a supportive sea swimming community. Using a Silky saw that I happen to have with me I take off some of the branches in order for it to fit into the back of the truck. But it still hangs out the back, meaning it will be a slow, careful journey home!
The driftwood now lies in the yard outside the workshop. I love knowing that by using this wood, it won’t go to waste. All that time it took to grow will not be without purpose. Despite it’s unfortunate uprooting due to coastal corrosion, and the aimless drifting at sea, it has landed as a gift on the shore. I will use this wood to create; to bring a new purpose to it’s form and in this process it not only reminds me that not all endings are final, but that gifts can be found in the simplest of things
My passion for spending time in nature originated as a child. Like most of us discover from an early age, the outdoors offers up an exciting playground. Trees to climb, rivers to paddle, clouds to watch. These are all things that ignite sparks of imagination for a child.
Growing up in rural Dorset sounds like the perfect idyll doesn’t it? We lived in the lush green countryside next to a dairy farm. I had dens all over the place; in an old pig sty, in the barn where the bats lived, in the hayloft where the swallows nested. I used to sit and read our pigs stories, convinced that their grunts were in appreciation of my characterful voice.
But in truth my childhood wasn’t a happy one. I was a troubled child, never quite fitting in, preferring my own company. Perhaps it was because of the abuse I was subjected to by my Stepdad. I will never know what kind of child I might have been had he not come into my life. But what I do know is that despite the trauma I experienced, my solace was found outdoors. I used the one ticket I had to escape; my imagination.
Wandering the land around the farm certainly gave me a sense of physical freedom and it was here that I could imagine another world. I could escape into a world of stories, poems and pictures. I would write and draw about the adventure and magic of the land; Wild horses, woodland witches and magic happenings. I still have the books that I wrote and illustrated, and sometimes read them to my own children. It gives me great comfort to know that I had this form of escapism when I was a child.
This creativity followed me through life; art, music, poetry became an important way for me to express myself. I was drawn to other creatives, and when I left school I ran away with a group of circus performers and travelled Europe for several months. It was to be a life changing experience, to live like circus gypsies on the road, using our imagination and creativity to earn a living. I learnt to stilt walk, ran children’s workshops and busked on the streets using dance improvisation and costume. But although I enjoyed the freedom, I felt as though I was living someone else’s idea of a creative life.
It was during this trip that I met an artist whose outlook on the world taught me a great deal about what motivates us creatively. His commitment to his own path inspired me to continue with what came naturally to me; My writing. We had a brief love affair when we returned to Bristol in the UK. We spent time together talking about what inspired us and would often sit together, in our own seperate worlds while I wrote and he sketched. He went on to become one of the most well known graffiti artists in the world; Banksy.
However, I went on to become a much lesser known alchemist; converting poetry into lyrics and stories into songs, I wrote music to set the scene. This became my life and I eventually became a singer/songwriter. But by this time I was battling with my mental health; depression and anxiety often sabotaging any potential opportunities that came my way. My lack of self confidence eventually resulted in me withdrawing from performance, and after 20 years working hard at a career in the music industry I turned my back on music all together.
Having children was also a big part of this decision. My life in music just didn’t seem to fit around being a mum. I retrained, got a ‘proper’ job working as a bookkeeper which was flexible enought to fit around family life. But, in short, being disconnected from my wild, creative side while continuing to battle with my mental health was like a form of self neglect. I’d silenced my own inner voice, and hidden the only true way for me to express myself. Eventually, after years of trying to be someone else, I suffered a complete burn out. Panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares and an overwhelming anxiety that threatened to engulf me, all raged at me. It was at this point, at the age of 42, that I was diagnosed with CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder). A condition that I now realise I have probably been living with all my adult life.
And so, I began a journey of trauma recovery which not only required immediate NHS therapy, but now includes my own form of nature therapy. Getting out into nature is, like when I was a child, the only place I can feel free. I find a sense of calm that I’m so in need of. Wild swimming, trail running and walking is all making me physically healthier and noticeably less stressed. But more than this, the most wonderful, unexpected thing has happened; I feel wildly inspired by my surroundings. I feel creative again!
It began as a flicker of a flame deep inside me. The way that nature makes me feel is so transformative that I feel I must respond. This flame of desire has grown inside me and I feel driven to reply to the wild in the only way I know how – to write, to draw, to try and capture these incredible experiences and try to express how grateful I am, and what it means to me.
And so, this deeply buried form of expression has begun to resurface. Wild words are again on the tip of my tongue; poetry has begun to spill out of me, artistic ideas and creations are all coming to me, and I am inspired to create! And this river of creativity that started as a small mountain spring at first, now flows like a torrent, into an ocean of possibility. A celebration of where the wild things are, describing the beauty and magic that it bestows upon the world!
And in doing so, there is a synchronicity that takes place between me, the world, and my inner child. We are one again. I have something to believe in, and trust again, something that is GOOD and PURE. It seems that the power of nature is not only that it can show us how to grow and adapt, but it reminds us that we too are a part of something great, something natural and good. That by connecting with nature, we are connecting to a life source; a gift, a belonging, and our true authentic selves.
I feel this is the way things were meant to be, and this is the key to a happy future. We just have to keep looking for where the wild things are. And when we are lucky enough to find it, we mustn’t turn our backs on it, we must embrace it and tend to it, because THIS is what makes the world a magical place to live in.
Earlier this year I ran my first half marathon. (see previous post “Running For Mental Health”). It was a 21km trail run following a stunning route in Devon along canals and estuaries towards the sea. I was curious to see whether I could complete the 21km route – knowing that my trail running experiences to date had been varying distances and terrain and all totally dependent on how I was feeling mentally. I’ve often heard that with any physical challenge, it is your mind that gives up before your body does and with my mind often working against me, I wanted to push the boundaries and find what was there.
I completed that run. I showed up, and completed it. I wasn’t going to win any prizes for my time, but my personal win was that I did it, despite the usual negative thinking that threatened to sabotage my attempt. This surprised me and left me wondering what else I could try.
And so. When I saw that PureTrail Running would be organising a half marathon event on Lundy Island (a wild and remote place I’ve always wanted to visit but isn’t easily accessible), I knew I would be going.
“Now, it is here that I admit to perhapsbeing somewhat over confident”.
Having completed one half marathon distance, I assumed that I would be capable of completing another. I gave little thought to the fact that Lundy Island would be entirely different (and much more challenging) terrain. But the knowledge that my relationship with trail running has always been about the landscape, and how it influences my mental atmosphere while moving through it, encouraged me to sign up. Surely the experience of running around a wild island would be enough movitivation to get me through?
It is my love of wild spaces that inspires me to run through it. I’m not a treadmill fan, or keen on running on pavements. It is the scenery, the space, the sounds, the smells that feed the soul. I am rewarded with an energy that comes from the land. This energy converts into a desire to move, and the result is undeniably a positive output; the “holy grail” of happiness endorphins. But even more than this, the experience leaves me feeling connected to the wild around me, the seasons, the weather, the wildlife; and it ignites something wild and liberating inside me.
We were due to board the ferry to Lundy island at 08:25 on a Sunday morning in September. This meant getting up at 05:30 to drive from Dorset to Ilfracombe, Devon in time to board. The 2 hour crossing was fully booked with over 200 runners travelling to Lundy. It was a damp misty morning and with a reasonable swell in the channel it meant that sea sickness was a risk. A few unlucky entrants were struck with it, retreating below deck to try and find a place to quietly die, or sleep.
The scenery is simply stunning as you get closer to the island. On arrival, the dramatic rocky cliffs and sheer drops that plunge into the sea seem quite imposing. No glimpse of the overall landscape is revealed here, just a harsh wall of cliff. Seals appear in the harbour, inquisitive and playful with their dark eyes surveying the crowd as we disembark and begin the steep 1mile climb up to the starting line. Once at the top of the island we are blessed with blue sky and unusually hot autumnal sunshine. A welcome breeze reassuringly whips around us we prepare to start.
The route is essentially made up of 3 loops, incorporating a fairly level central granite trail which runs south to north, 2 x lengths of the west and east precipitous coastal paths and a final smaller loop to bring us back to the village to finish. As we set off up a narrow track, we are a slow moving colourful crowd. I run for a while with a lady I chatted to on the ferry until she picks up pace and moves off gracefully picking her way further to the front. I’m greeted by highland cows, horses, butterflies and heather and I’m enjoying the scenery and steady pace until we come across the first challenging route which takes in the West coast path. This narrow path is nothing more than a wild goat track with deep bracken either side. A sheer drop to your left leads to certain death on the rocks below and with this sheletered side of the island yet to have warmed up in the sunshine, it is a fairly wet and slippy path. We are reduced to walking pace. With rocks and boulders to scramble over there are times when I am on all fours to steady myself, this is slow going and tacticle, nothing like my previous half marathon experience along the level estuary trail!
And here is where the unhelpful naysayer of my mind decides to contribute to the situation;
“This is dangerous, “I’m going to slip”
I think “I might have under-estimated the terrain”, “I’m getting too used to walking, I’ll never be able to get going again”. “I’m holding up the other runners behind me”, and most frequently “What the actual fuck am I doing here – you’ve never done ANYTHING this hard before!!”….
After a good half an hour of this relentless obstacle course and mental arrest, I am utterly relieved to finally find our way onto a wider path. Although this bit of the course is a steep gradient I am using less mental energy and more leg power. (this sounds more professional than “head first staggering”). At this point we reach the first “cut-off” point. It’s been 7 miles so far and I’m in good time so with a quick drink and slice of orange I’m back on the trail feeling relatively hopeful.
This next loop takes in the east coast path. It is a wide open space with little shelter and the elements take you hostage as the wind and sea comes in from the atlantic ocean and batters the island with it’s full force. The winds are fairly tame today given the mild weather, and I’m grateful for a breeze to accompany the overall drama of the landscape; it inspires me to run and I like to think that I make up time for the cautious slow approach earlier.
Here is the point where I miraculously manage to find the one and only bog on the entire island. Despite there being a helpful stone path through it, I misnavigate and my left foot plunges into the dark wet stench, reappearing with a black wet trail shoe, and leg glistening like tar. Cursing at my foolishness I tackle the ascent up the cliff from the bog of stench only to be greeted by a full view of the island which literally takes my breathe away! This is an incredible moment, I feel a real sense of my geographical location and it hits me that I’m “actually here, doing it”. So much so that I have to do a double-take when I see the end of the island, and realise how far I need to run in order to reach the 2nd cut-off which takes place at the infamous Lighthouse (and it’s many many steep steps).
Feeling a little deflated about the distance still to cover, I am also aware that there are runners now coming up behind me. This unsettles me. Not necessarily because I am competitive, but I just find it really pressurising! I find myself trying to imagine eyes in the back of my head, like the game “What’s the time Mr Wolf”. I’m wondering how close they are now, should I slow down so they can over take, or push on and use it as a motivator? I can hear their casual conversation and I’m reminded that I am here alone. No friend, no running group, not even a familiar face as I’m a newcomer to these kinds of events.
I push on, their conversation becoming less audible in the wind and I just plough on until eventually I see the point where I need to make the descent down to the lighthouse (and back). The steps down are narrow and steep, the path carves it’s way through large boulders of rock. It is with mixed feelings that I am obligated to hang back while other runners who’ve arrived before me tackle their return climb up the steps. I’m relieved to stop a while, but also terrified by the look of sheer strain and determination on their faces as they pass, unable to speak.
“How the hell am I going to do this? This is going to be brutal… oh god, I feel sick”.
Let’s just say, it took every ounce of anything that was left in my body to make it back up to the top of those steps. My lungs on fire, my head pounding, my legs screaming, I stumbled onto level ground and felt a sickness that you only ever experienced from over exertion. A deep, lower body nausea that has you feeling heavy and unable to move. I clumsily wobble to the aid station, unable to speak or even gesture towards the refreshments. My peripheral vision blurred, like on the spinning Waltzers at a fairground, everything was rushing past in long streaks of colour while all I could do was focus on what was immediately in front of me.
Other runners arrive at the aid station jovial, managing to find funny things to say to their co-runners, upbeat, quite chipper even. I however, am sensing a dark realisation that this is WAY beyond my ability. That I have been totally stupid to think that this would be doable. It was sheer madness to think I could complete this based on a “love of wild places” and a whimsicle belief in “mind over matter”. Quite simply; You are either physically fit enough. Or you are not.
I tentatively begin to consider my options. I am at the north of the island and I need to return to the South in order to finish. Even if I don’t run it, I still need to get to the South of the island to catch the ferry home. Could I walk? Should I tell the aid station that I want to exit the race? Could I somehow carry on, maybe just crawl the last 5km back? Perhaps I could take a shortcut?
I am convinced that everyone else is far fitter, far more experienced than I am. I am SURE that I’m at the back of the race, and not far from last and that I’m falling further behind the longer I stand (wobble) here on the spot. There are so many indicators that I have bitten off more than I can chew of this island. I am simply not physically capable of running any further.
And then, a number of things happened…
I see her. The girl that parked in the same car park as me back on mainland. She’s beautiful, well toned and wearing exactly the right combo of expensive gear for a proper trail run. I’d assumed she was a pro, and that she must do this kind of race as a regular Sunday outing. But perhaps I was wrong? She is, after all, a good 1/4 mile behind me, coming along the east coast path that I’ve already covered, slowing to a walk just as often as I need to. I know this sounds utterly shallow, but it made me feel better!! Is that bad?? It’s just; this girl (I’m sorry whoever you are) made me feel a bit intimidated, jealous even. She represented all of the imaginery reasons why someone like me would never be as good, or able, or fit enough to finish a run like this. Ridiculous as it sounds, the truth is that how someone LOOKED threatened to mess with my confidence enough to feel I couldn’t do something I wanted to do. And here she was…. no further ahead, no quicker, no less tired in her appropriate attire, on those well toned legs looking wildly beautiful. She was battling as much as me to keep going. The only difference between her and me being able to complete a run like this, is that she was showing up, and getting on with it, just like I was, but she wasn’t giving up.
“At this precise moment in time something caught my eye. I span round just as a bird of prey shot past me at what seemed to be a million miles an hour“
As I fixed my gaze on the outline against the sky I realised it was a peregrine falcon. It turned expertly and returned, shooting past me and out along the wide open ground. It was a magical sight to watch, full of freedom, yet naturally in control. In that moment I was in awe of it’s ability, at how lucky I had been to witness it’s performance. It was also the boost I needed.
As I gathered my spirit, I began to run, one foot in front of the other. I was joined by a small group of runners. I couldn’t help but notice that they were wearing ‘Plymouth Trail Runners’ vests. “A running club” I thought… “that MUST bode well for me; we’re all running at the same pace”. I also realised that one of the runners was wearing a Happy Birthday Banner! I absolutely loved that she was choosing to run a half marathon on Lundy Island for her birthday, and their comoraderie and banter brought a fun vibe to the next few kilometres. I realised that they’d been behind me for a while, and recognised their voices as the runners I’d allowed myself to feel pressurised by. They commented on the (many) ocassions that things kept dropping out of my (non) trail running rucksack!! Embarassed, I admitted that I hadn’t invested in any proper kit and that the rucksack was literally held together by bungies and clips. They gently teased me saying “you do realise that “trail running” isn’t leaving a trail of your belongings as you run!??”. I laughed. I don’t know how I managed to find the energy, but I laughed.
Somehow, something shifted mentally as a result of these things. I stopped being hard on myself. I began to take it all a little less seriously and I even managed to tell myself there was every chance that I could make it to the end. That it didn’t matter if I walked, or came last, or didn’t finish even. It was ok to feel utterly exhausted and sick from exerting myself, it was an epic half marathon and I was giving it my best shot! I’d come to an island, I’d seen every inch of it, witnessed it’s brutal beauty, it’s harsh side and it’s wild side. I hadn’t come here for the people, or a place in a long list of times but it WAS a part of the experience, and I needed to accept that somewhere in all of that, I was included, and I was part of it too. This is something I struggle to get my head aroud… PTSD and Social anxiety doesn’t usually encourage me to feel “part” of things. It is usually a case of feeling “apart” from things.
Despite the odds, I had got this far. And just as I thought it would never end, I crossed the finish line. It had taken 3hours and 22minutes to complete the 21km route of the island. I had run, walked, climbed and crawled my way to that finish line, and came 157th out of a total of 197 runners that finished. (Some did not). I’m telling you this because I want you to realise that I am not fast, not uber fit, and perhaps this further illustrates this.
I received a shiny medal of a puffin (the island’s famous for this seabird) but, too tired to wait in line for the BBQ, I grabbed a packet of salt & vinegar crisps and a sausage roll and collapsed in a quiet spot in the sun against a stone wall.
I’m not going to lie; Aside from giving birth, I have never felt so utterly exhausted in all my life. Every part of my body was screaming. I felt so sick I was unsure if I’d be able to make it back to mainland on the ferry. I lay on my back in the grass, looking up at the drifting clouds as I stretched my muscles. Every time I closed my eyes it felt as if the world around me was all at sea. But in amongst the sickness and the soreness, there was a deep sense of satisfaction. I’d done it. It nearly killed me. But I’d finished.
“I still wonder if it was beyond my ability”.
My doubts creep in even though I finished it! I can hear the voice of the naysayer telling me “I was lucky I didn’t do any serious damage to my body”. “You’re like a cat with nine lives”. As I watch the last of the runners coming in to finish I am amazed at the determination and spirit of these people. How, if we can push ourselves to do these things that maybe it can unlock the secret to how we can make it through life unscathed. I cheer and clap as two runners finish together, both must be somewhere in their 60’s and as they cross the finish line. I see them as their younger selves, the look on their faces reveal something close to mischief. Defiance even.
On the ferry home, I bump into the lady who I’d chatted to at the beginning of the run. Also there alone, she had completed it in good time but had also felt really ill afterwards. We ended up drinking tea together and discovered we shared a whole load of common interests including our obsession with sea swimming. A happy bonus to the day and again, showing me how pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can bring unexpected rewards.
Tired and weary after a long day, we are rewarded with an incredible sunset. There is something quite ethereal about witnessing a setting sun while out at sea, it’s as if you are between worlds somehow. It felt something like freedom. To have escaped the “norm” of feeling anxious about the future, to have experienced something wild and crazy, and to have survived certainly felt otherworldly to me.
There are days when I simply can’t face the world at all, let alone run a half marathon on a remote island.
As I stand on the deck steadying myself as we ride the waves, the colours in the sky reflecting on the surface of the water seem to intensify this sentiment. I breathe it in. Grateful for being alive, here in this moment.
It was only later that I discovered that the Plymouth Trail Runners that I’d been running at the same pace with, and had encouraged me that I was “keeping up” with the professionals, were in fact doing a recovery run after having completed a 100km run the previous weekend!!
September. The kids go back to school, the tourists go home and, after a rather mediocre August weather wise, the sun finally comes out to give a last hurrah to Summer. Scorching hot days with smothering heat and skies the colour of cobalt.
I wave goodbye to my youngest boy as he walks through the school gates, face brown as a berry against his new white shirt. I wonder at how it must feel to be wearing black socks and leather shoes after weeks of barefeet and lazy mornings. But he is happy to see his friends and doesn’t give me a backward glance. Yet again I realise how often I imprint my feelings upon my children, when I need not worry!
And so, I’m off. My rucksack packed, I jump in the stifling hot van and wind the windows down. I’m heading for Dorset’s “jewel in the crown”, the Durdle Door. I’ve been waiting all summer to swim here, and now, with a day not being “Mum”, and the space to breathe now the crowds are a little quieter, I’m feeling brave. It is my turn.
I’m the first vehicle to arrive at the Durdle Door carpark. It’s situated in the holiday park, so there are other people staying here, milling around, but none that are walking down the steep coast path to the beach yet. The heat is already 22 degrees, and the warm morning breeze evokes memories of past travels in the mediterranean. While I walk down the chalky white path to the beach I am serenaded by cicadas interspersed with the cries of seagulls and the silent wings of butterflies. The view is simply stunning. I breathe it in deeply.
Man O’War bay glistens below to my left, a perfect horseshoe with water so clear you can see the pebbles on the bottom from high up on the cliff. As the sun rises higher in the East, it’s rays sparkle on the turquoise blue water. It looks so inviting I almost want to jump in from here! As I approach the steps carved into the rock I stop and simply stare. Here, to my right, in the cool shade of the cliff, the imposing and magical Durdle Door stands, waiting.
I make the steep descent down to the water’s edge, stumbling several times on the dusty path. I can’t take my eyes off this incedible natural structure rising majestically up from the sea. By now I’m so hot from the walk that I literally throw my rucksack on the shore and run to the cold water with delight! With not a soul to be seen this is exactly how I’d pictured my long awaited swim here; A solitary swim out to greet the Door, sun shining, water clear as gin, and a stillness that I can literally submerge myself in.
As I swim out beneath the ancient archway I am blinded by the sun. I turn to float on my back and look up at the jagged rock, like a carved crescent of the moon. The sound around me changes as the water gently crashes against the stone. Above, the sky is cloudless and as I gaze at my surroundings I drift further out to sea, in awe.
There are rocks and caves along from the Door, rock pools full of darting fish and seaweed floating gracefully in the warm shallows. I decide to swim over and climb up to explore a while. I’m wearing rock pooling shoes but graze my shin as I climb up the rocks. Once up, I nimbly jump from one rock to another. I can’t be seen from the beach here and it feels incredibly secluded. Looking out to sea, I feel a familiar happiness wash over me, the sense of freedom that I get from being out in nature, alone.
I pick my way along the slippery rocks so that I eventually return to the entrance behind the Durdle Door. Like being back stage, I peer through and can see there are people arriving on the beach now. I know it is time for me to head back before it gets too busy. With one last glance over my shoulder towards the horizon, my inner wild child wants to jump deep into the sea.
I leap from the rock and plunge feet first, hitting the cold water, waking up my whole body while billions of tiny air bubbles cascade upwards around me. I rise to the surface like a champagne cork popping. Heart racing, a huge child like grin on my face.
Back on shore I grab my rucksack and make my way up towards the cliff. There are lots of people coming down now. It’s a steep climb, but there’s a pleasant breeze against my damp hair and skin. I feel utterly invigorated, but also I feel intense gratitude for what I’ve just experienced. I am aware how lucky I am to be able to do this. Not just because I have it so close to where I live, and have the time to do it, but also because there are days when I simply don’t feel brave enough. My mind can play tricks on me, and my negative thinking over rules any courage I might have. This is why I am extra grateful on the days when I manage to make these SwimVentures happen. They are what keep me going…..