Gone Wild In Portugal

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.

Hike & Sea Swim – GGW YouTube Channel

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.

Cabo Da Roca – Westernmost point of mainland Europe

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.

It will be life changing…

Valentide – a love affair with The Sea…

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.

Available in the Valentide Shop £8.50 + P&P

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!

Which one will you choose!?

Girl Gone Wild x

Running again

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.

Wild Swimming With Wolves

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.

Sunrise swim as the wolf moon wanes

Wild Wellness – better for us, better for the planet.

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;

Nature!

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.

Girl Gone Wild x

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Legends, Caves and Courage in West Wales

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

For more info surrounding the legend of nearby St Govan’s chapel visit; www.explorechurches.org/church/st-govan-chapel-bosherston

* 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.

End of Disclaimer.

Gone To Ground

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.

Girl Gone Wild x

Why I Swim in Winter

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.

Window Art by Local Artist; Kate Genevieve

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.

So this is the time of year I really embrace 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?

Winter Sun Setting

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.

Seas & Greetings to you all!

Girl Gone Wild x

Here Comes The Sun…

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.

No response.

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

My video has over 20,000 views on YouTube. But that’s not the best part!

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.

Maybe that’s YOU?

Girl Gone Wild xx

With a little bit of wild magic, I’ve written a book!

“Seas The Day – A Year of Sea Swimming Poetry” will be available at the end of November priced £8.50 + postage.

10% of profits will be donated to Surfers Against Sewage

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...

Entering the sea at sunrise – West Bay, Dorset

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”.

Driftwood Gift “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!

“Seas The Day” Book Cover – Lincut Illustration: Prints By The Bay

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.

Coping with overwhelm

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.

Monday morning with a girl gone wild

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.

The Egret silently sits on a branch on the opposite side of the river

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

Cold Water Therapy & Creativity

We hear so much about the benefits of cold water therapy. How outdoor swimming is great for the immune system and even our mental health. I for one have fallen under it’s spell and I unashamedly need to get my fix again and again. I know without doubt that the moment I enter the water, my mind will become clear, I will feel boosted and invigorated, my soul will feel nourished. But aside from the positive effect it has on my well-being, something unexpected has happened; my creativity has risen to the surface. Lying dormant and neglected for years now, it has been re-awakened and with a clarity I’ve not felt for such a long time, my mind is now wildly inspired.

I greatly enjoy writing poems about wild swimming, and one such poem “Summer Surrender” has recently been included in Swimzine, the magazine with “Swimspiration for the Soul”. The curators of the magazine are both wild swimmers and by producing Swimzine they have brought together so many creative souls in the outdoor swimming community. Artists, writers, poets and more. What I particularly love is seeing the impact that cold water therapy has on people’s creativity. How it inspires, and captures the imagination. Which leads me to ponder about how time in nature can unlock creativity, and in doing so, it invites others to connect, and appreciate the power of nature.

In a past life I was a singer/songwriter. My 20’s was an ambitious decade of my life; my dream was to write music and tour the world. Sadly, although I may have had (some) talent for writing lyrics and songs, I never really enjoyed performing them. (A bit of a deal breaker in the music industry!) Determined to follow my dream I made myself do it. I appeared confident to audiences (so I’m told!), but on the inside I was way out of my comfort zone. After years of “faking it” on stage, I eventually admitted defeat. I shut down. I locked away my music and told myself that a shy, introverted person such as myself could never have a successful music career. My creativity and the person required to deliver it to the world just weren’t one and the same.

On reflection I don’t think I fully realised how important being creative was to me. It is no wonder that my mental health really took a turn for the worse. Making music was the only thing that kept me sane! It was a form of escapism, an alternative reality that was infinitely better than my “real” life. Having experienced abuse and trauma as an adolescent, the post traumatic stress in adult life was only bearable if I was being creative. When I turned my back on my creative side, (forcing myself to get a “proper” job as an accountant) I became completely out of touch with what was important to me. Worse still, I was left with the reality of how much it all hurt.

My passion for cold water therapy, and nature as a healer, began as a need to find inner peace, the need to find a space where I can just “be me”. When I read poems or look at artwork produced by other wild swimmers, I recognise that this may also be the case for them. That behind these creations there is a life story. When I was diagnosed with PTSD, although regular therapy was proving successful, I found that no matter how crap, or low or angry or scared I was feeling; I could access nature whenever I needed it. It didn’t judge, didn’t expect, didn’t want anything of me. Nature allowed me to be my true authentic self. To fall apart, to heal, to recover, and rebuild my life story with a new, more gentle subtext.

What I didn’t expect is that not only does this “therapy” bring me a sense of peace, it has provided me with the space to truly reconnect with myself. Miraculously, here, in this space, where my negative self beliefs are silenced, it is here that I have rediscovered creativity.

The creatives of this world; the artists, musicians, writers, designers, chefs, they are so often inspired by the natural world around them. The ability to capture a moment is not only compelling for the creator but it invites the third party to connect with it too. We, the recipients are drawn to these creations, responding to it in our own way; to appreciate the experience and engage with it, making it our own. For if we are unable to be in nature, we can engage with an image or story to evoke a feeling or memory that transports us there. To connect with nature, through art, music, or even taste, no matter how far removed we are from it, is a truly wonderful gift.

So, that moment in time when my worries are washed away by the waves, or when the beauty of a sunrise on the beach ignites a fire in my belly, I want to capture it, to honor it and commit it to memory. Primarily this is a self indulgent act, born of the simple truth that it makes me feel happy, and I want to remember that feeling, forever. I feel driven to create. Not music now, but to write words, a love letter to the wild to communicate the way it makes me feel.

But on a deeper level, it feels important, significant somehow, as if there is something far greater happening than just the impact it had on “little old me”. That the power of nature is something we must not forget, we must not lose sight of. In this fast paced, modern, consumer driven world, we must not forget. It is important that we don’t take for granted our beautiful planet, or to lose knowledge of our humble beginnings in the wild.

Perhaps then, cold water therapy, nature therapy, is not just something we “benefit” from. Perhaps it isn’t just something that can heal us, boost us and make us feel good. Perhaps it inspires us to dive beneath the surface. To fully immerse. A therapy, that invites us to engage and connect with our natural world, and strengthen our relationship with it. To find ways to celebrate it, to support it, to save and sustain it in whatever way we can; through words, campaigns, music or art. Perhaps this is the power of nature. The power to remind us of why it is important.

“Summer Surrender”

I walked in the hot summer sun
to the cool shade of the woodland.
Baked earth beneath my feet,
Warm air on my bare skin.
Dappled sunlight falling around me like delicate gold leaf.
I stand a while, eyes closed heart open.
There you are.
I hear you.
River running like freedom flowing, your sound seeps into my soul….
I follow, senses keen
Arriving at the waters edge,
An elemental meeting of water, air and earth beneath the fire of the June sun, and the joy in my heart.
As I enter the water, I stumble, current tugging at my waist, I surrender to the flow.
Take me there.
And held by the power of nature, I gaze up at the emerald canopy of the ancient trees as I gently float down river.
Soul quenched.

To purchase a copy of Swimzine click below;

SwimVenture; Ringstead Bay, Dorset

The oh so sweet combination of a swim and an adventure!….

I dream of adventures. You know the kind. Big deal experiences out into the unknown, into deserts or mountains, or kayaking in British Columbia, wild swim trekking in Portugal, something epic and exciting. But the reality is that with a hefty mortgage, work, kids and a global pandemic in the mix, it is fairly unlikely I’ll ever get to make those dreams happen.

That said, this past year has taught me that you don’t have to go big, or far to have an adventure! The spirit of adventure can be found in simply doing something, or going somewhere you’ve never been before. You can still go kayaking down a river, climb the biggest hill you can see, or head to a beach at dawn for a sunrise swim! There is still “escapism” up for grabs, right from your doorstep!

And so began my love affair with the micro adventure….

Since being diagnosed with PTSD last summer, I’ve been regularly getting out into nature where I feel respite from my anxiety. I’ve made it my mission to explore every nook and cranny of Dorset, and there is still SO to see. My favourite micro adventure usually involves a wild swim. (aka SwimVenture!) My last outing was to Fiddleford in North Dorset (see blog post “Far From The Madding Crowd”), but the weather has been pretty uninspiring since then. But miracles of miracles, yesterday was the first dry and sunny day we’ve had for a while so I decided to make the most of it.

The beaches here in summer are crazy popular so if I want to swim in the sea I usually go early to avoid the crowds. But sometimes I just want to be able to go to a beach, in the middle of the day and not be surrounded by people! (Yes – I am pretty anti-social!).

I’d heard that Ringstead Bay, between Weymouth and the Durdle Door, is usually fairly quiet. If you’re prepared to walk a while you can drop down to the eastern end of the bay where there are less people. (but watch out for nudists!). On searching for tips on parking and possible walking routes I came across a website with a suggested circular walk route of 4.5 miles taken from the the Dorset Year Round Walks book. Knowing I’d only have a few hours this looked ideal, and would hopefully give me an opportunity for a dip in the sea too.

Parking at the National Trust Car Park was pretty busy when I arrived at 12noon, but with plenty of space and panoramic views it really didn’t feel stressful. Most walkers seemed to be heading down a farm lane, which is the most direct route towards the coast, but my circular route took me out the other end of the car park off the beaten path. (I was immediately delighted to be walking in the opposite direction to everybody else – obviously!)

The views of this part of the Jurassic coast are absolutely stunning. Within minutes I could see kestrels and buzzards hunting in the fields while the sea sparkled below. Several brimstone butterflies and the occasional scent of wild honeysuckle. As I dropped down to join the South West Coast Path I came across St Catherine Chapel by the Sea. Built in 1926 this little wooden chapel has been restored and is beautifully maintained. It wasn’t open to the public due to Covid, but the tiny graveyard, looking out to sea enclosed by yews and pines was a really peaceful place to sit for a while on a bench. I thought of all the generations of families attached to this place, and it’s history, and what it must have been like here in the early 1900s. Remote, to say the least! While sat on that sunny bench I could see a little cove below, the turquoise sea and sandy beach tempting me.

The sound of the waves carried up the cliff on the warm breeze

After around 45 minutes I eventually emerged from the wooded coastal path onto the wide open farmland immediately surrounding the medieval village of Ringstead. I could literally taste the sea salt on the air and all of my senses became heightened! With my heart racing at the sound of the waves breaking so close, I looked for an access point from the cliff down to the beach. I was surprised to find neat steps had been dug out of the cliff, so this made it a simple task to climb down. I took a quick glance down at the bay then with a hop, skip and a jump I was on the beach in seconds.

As hoped there were hardly any people on the beach, (and none that were naked thankfully!). Most people could be seen in the shimmering heat further west towards Weymouth. What I found was a lovely sheltered bay with a green backdrop of woods on the cliffs and a great view across to Portland. A mix of pebbles and shingle, with sand in places, the beach shelves fairly gently into the deeper water. After seeing glimpses of the beautiful turquoise water on my walk down, I couldn’t wait to get in the sea.

My goodness, the water was SO clear, I could see to the bottom. In fact, bobbing around in the waves happily there was so much to see; looking back inland from the water the terrain of the steep cliffs looked quite dramatic. On the horizon the isle of Portland and a huge cruise ship made it feel as though I was abroad. There were colorful para-gliders slowly circling in the blue sky above, and buzzards (clearly the experts) joined them as they were all carried on the thermals above the cliffs. It really was quite a mesmerising sea swim.

Feeling completely refreshed after my dip, and relishing the chance to strip off and get dry rather than do the awkward ‘getting changed dance’ under a poncho, I climbed back up onto the coast path and this time headed west through the busy car park and cafe area of Ringstead main beach, and out the other side before heading north through woodland. The shade was a welcome retreat from the sun and the dappled sunlight, canopy of green and sound of the breeze in the trees reminded me of why I love woodland so much. A pretty stream ran through the woods and I followed this uphill until I came out on a farm track. A little shrew ran in front of me, then stopped in surprise before scurrying away into the field. I’m pretty sure it was a pygmy shrew, it was absolutely tiny!

The walk back up to the National Trust car park took in some pretty spectacular views again and by now I could see the car park in the far distance, high up on the ridge. But here is where I came unstuck. In my somewhat buoyant mood, and knowing I was well on the “home straight”, I only briefly glanced at the map I was supposed to be following. Now, I am known to boast about my sense of direction, claiming it is one of my strengths, so when the style appeared with a footpath sign next to it, I didn’t think twice about hopping over and hiking across the field. I knew it was headed in the right direction, what’s not to love? Right?

WRONG! It pains me to say that, even once I realised it was a premature turn off, I stubbornly continued through a minefield of enormous cow pats while intermittently being bitten by horse flies and stabbed in the ankles unceremoniously by evil thistles. The fact that I was wearing walking sandals just further added insult to injury. But it was all self inflicted so no sympathy warranted!

Now, this sort of error only really becomes a problem when, despite there blatantly being no footpath to follow (possibly there was once upon a time, but not in recent years!) you still maintain the (slightly deluded) belief that there will be a gate, or a style, or an opening of some sort in the corner of the “field of hell”. Here is where the fun and games start.

I began to quicken my pace in acknowledgement of this highly precarious gamble. When I still couldn’t see anything obvious up ahead , I dropped my expectations a little. (By this I mean, a gap in the hedge would be perfectly acceptable). But when eventually I reached the corner of the field, slightly hot and now intensely annoyed with myself, it was a dead end. With no opportunity to exit my torment, the feeling of defeat was only slightly improved by the justified string of expletives that were spat viciously at the startled cows. (Sorry cows).

Still. Onwards and upwards!! Accepting defeat and succumbing to the slightly comical aspect of my scenario I trudged up hill from the corner of the field, through what must be the most highly intensive methane producing field for miles, until eventually I found a gate that joined the path I was supposed to be on. No-one need ever know!

The (correct) route is much easier terrain and takes you through South Down Farm yard which is a bit like stepping back in time. The farm house, a large handsome red brick property is nestled above the yard, in the lush green countryside. This is proper Thomas Hardy country is said to have inspired his short story “The Distracted Preacher”. On a summers day with the chickens running around the yard, and hay being baled, it seems so quintessentially English, but it’s remoteness, and proximity to the sheltered bay easily lends itself to tales of smuggling and dark night escapades.

Pushing on up the hill was a great workout on the legs and with the sun beating down on my back I desperately wanted to run back down and dive into the sea. (If only to rinse the cow poo off my sandals and bathe my scratched and bitten legs!) But stopping every now and then to look back at the stunning coast line made the steep climb in the heat a tolerable one!

Finally back at the top, the strong breeze was very welcome. (on a side note It’s worth mentioning that being so high up on a ridgeway with amazing views, the car park itself is worth a visit! I stopped to take a moment, to take in the view, and feel a sense of satisfaction. It had taken 2 hours, and although I felt physically tired, I felt thoroughly nourished inside!

It was such a simple thing to do. It’s not an amazing achievement to some, but the benefits mentally and physically are huge to me. Being outdoors, experiencing nature, moving through the landscape, immersing myself in it (literally); this is my happy place. It doesn’t have to be epic, or world record breaking, it is the simple act of doing something I’ve never done before that energizes and feeds my soul. The sense of freedom it gave me will stay with me for the rest of the week. No matter what life throws at me.

Which just leaves me pondering; where will I go next!?…..

My top 3 ways to rewild yourself #3 Haiku Up A Hill

Over the last few days I’ve been looking at ways we can rewild ourselves. The first was wild swimming, the second was taking a walk in the woods, and here is my third……

Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking I meant to write Hike Up A Hill. (which is of course, a perfectly acceptable thing to do in the quest for rewilding yourself!). But Haiku, for those who haven’t come across it, is a type of short poem originally from Japan. What is wonderful about this little gem is that you don’t have to be a poet to know it! Composed as three non rhymed lines of five, seven and five syllables, this simple format invites you to focus on a moment in time, and to capture it’s essence in words.

“Fir cones rest lightly,

On a bed of soft needles,

Fallen from their tree”

Rachael Boughton

A Haiku poem is traditionally associated with nature. Evoking images of the natural world, it invites you to focus on the moment and mindfully experience it. In writing a Haiku you have an objective and an outlet that requires you to engage with your senses; to notice what you hear, see, smell or feel in the present moment. To pay attention to the smallest of details; The sun glistening on a cobweb or the sound of a blackbird at dusk. Not only do you stop to take notice, you ask yourself “What is it that has specifically caught my attention, and how can I describe this?”.

One of my favourite places to compose a Haiku is on top of a hill. Knowing that the intention is there before you climb, you can make your way up to the top taking notice of all that surrounds you. When you reach the top you have already practiced paying attention, and combined with the sense that you’ve reached the top and can sit back and relax, it can bring great clarity and effortless inspiration.

But you don’t have to hike up a hill for a Haiku! You can take this simple exercise anywhere you go. You don’t even need paper and pen, just compose one in your head as you go; walking to work, sitting in the garden, even waiting in a queue for a coffee, simply take notice of nature around you; a butterfly, the sound of rain, the shape of a cloud… and see if you can really hone in on it, capture it. Have fun with it…..It’s easier than you think!

I’d love to read your Haiku if you’d like to share. Leave a comment below or post on Instagram and tag @girlgonewild_dorset

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My top 3 ways to rewild yourself #1 Wild Swimming

Over the next few days I’ll be sharing my top 3 ways to be a bit wilder… and up first is my favourite! – Wild Swimming…

It’s been in the news SO much this past year. Cold water swimming has provided an escape from the confines of lockdown. A miraculous remedy for the stress and anxiety experienced in every day life. (and a slightly annoying new trend for those that have no desire to get cold and wet!).

It is well documented that the benefits to our immune system are a positive reason to immerse yourself in cold water. It’s true when I speak to fellow swimmers we all have stories of how it makes us feel GOOD, how it reduces inflammation in achy muscles, how we don’t seem to get as many colds as we used to. But it’s not just physically beneficial. Mentally it improves our self esteem, boosts confidence, fosters a sense of resilience…. and brings a huge smile to our faces!

For me it is all of the above, but I’m also aware of something else…

By swimming in rivers, lakes or the sea you are utterly immersed in the natural world. Your senses are all on high alert and this overwhelming sensation, I believe, is a direct pathway to your wild self.

The sense of freedom that comes with being outdoors in water can often feel like you’ve done something radical! Your inner wild child has dared you to be brave and you’ve embraced the challenge. But I believe that during this process, we are doing something that comes very naturally to us all, and we are reconnecting with a long forgotten knowledge.

We all began life in water, a fluid nursery inside the womb. Lets not forget also, that our bodies are made up of a large percentage of water. For women, there is evidence to suggest that even our menstrual cycles are linked to the moon and the tides. So perhaps when we are in water, it feels familiar, it feels natural on a subconscious level. In these moments perhaps we are transported back to our “wild” and natural selves. By connecting with the wild OUTSIDE of us, we can reconnect with the wild INSIDE of us.

For me this is where I am most happiest, and my soul is set free.

For more information about the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor swimming click HERE

For safety advice, including the risks visit the Outdoor Swimming Society

What is Wild to you?

Hello, and welcome to the first Girl Gone Wild post! I’m so glad you’re here and I hope you’ll join me on a journey to find your wild and free your soul. xx

If you’d asked me 20 years ago what it is to be wild, I’d probably have recounted wild nights out; cocktails, parties and larger than life characters. (followed by a filthy hangover and a crippling amount of anxiety the morning after!).

Maybe you imagine that wild is that ‘once in a life time’ adventure in a far away wilderness, with glaciers and forests in a vast uninhabited landscape.

Wild has no boundaries, it is a world where you can be free. Where you co-exist only with the creatures and species that know of no laws, or rules or obligations.

The truth is that we are wild. We were born wild”.

A miracle of nature, we were born into this world untamed and unadulterated. Before we became aware of what other’s think of us, before we became self-conscious, we were wild, and free to just “be”. We, as human beings have been wild for centuries before now. Wild is how we began.

Let me tell you a story that has been retold in my family ever since I can remember. When I was around 3 years old I was discovered unaccompanied on the high street wearing a teapot cosy on my head, and holding a fistful of foreign coins. My Grandmother who’d been walking down the street was astonished to find me there and promptly escorted me home. It transpired, that while my mum had been having a bath, I’d found some money in the house left over from a recent tour my father (a jazz musician) had returned from. I’d taken the money, let myself out of the house and toddled off down the street into town to buy myself some sweets from the local sweet shop. The sweet shop owner, on being offered foreign coins by a cute tea pot cosy wearing toddler had obligingly given me a bag of lemon sherbet for free.

Now, although this story is always told in jest. It is true. But there are dual layers to this story that have both unsettled and inspired me for many years. Firstly, why on earth was I wearing nothing but a teapot cosy on my head!? And more worryingly how had my mum not noticed I’d gone!? But what I find curious is that I must have been absolutely fearless. I knew what I wanted and I went right out there to get it, and I felt I was free to do so. My idea, my drive, my dream…..it was all completely possible in my mind. Despite the millions of reasons a child should NOT do this, none of this was a problem to my wild, untamed 3 year old self. This unsettles me. It unsettles me because I wonder what happened to that wild, untamed, head strong, determined little girl?.

Something stirs inside me, something important….”

Something stirs inside me, something important, when I acknowledge that I am that little girl. But what also shows up for me is a clue… a clue about what is my ‘self’, what is at my core, what is in my soul. How it feels to be my true untamed self, and more curiously, how being untamed can bring freedom to be brave and dream big!

Now, I’m not suggesting I can find my wild again by wearing a teapot cosy on my head. (Although maybe I’ll give it a try!?) But more along the lines that… if I could somehow get back to that little girl. The one who was fearless, the one who followed her dream, who felt free to “be” whatever she felt like. Then maybe I can feel braver, and more bold and free again NOW?

So let me ask you something. Do you have a story like this? When you cast your mind back, even if you can’t remember the exact details, there will have been a time you did something that you only would have done because you were a child. The reason? Because you were untamed. Not because you were naughty, or uninformed, or uneducated or not old enough to know better, but because that is simply what YOU wanted to do.

At some point, (perhaps you know exactly when, or maybe it was a subtle shift), there was a point when this freedom came to an end. When you sensed, or were told, it was time to “grow up”. As the expectations of others began to mold and influence the direction you went in, an unspoken rule was made between you and the rest of the world. Your wild became a little less wild, and your freedom a little less free.

So, how can we find the Wild in us again? How can we unlearn these rules and experience inner freedom again…?

I believe that we can all find our wild again. Even if just fleetingly to begin with. We can do this by first finding the wild OUTSIDE of us, and then, respectfully inviting it to connect and invoke the natural wild INSIDE of us.

And REPEAT.

In doing this, we are not taking from nature, we are not using nature to gain, we are reconnecting, and by doing so we are reconnecting to ourselves. Rewilding ourselves. Reminding us of what we have, and what we ARE already.

You know how when you smell a certain smell it can transport you back to a memory? The time, the place, the way you felt, can all become tantalizingly real. Cinnamon to me is Christmas. With this smell it brings with it a warm, cosy, cared for feeling. Rosemary is Sunday roasts in the kitchen surrounded by family and a sense of hope. Lavender is my Grandma’s soap I used when I stayed over as a child and felt safe and loved.

What smells invoke a memory for you?  How strong does it feel for you?

When you purposefully engage your senses, you experience what is happening for you in a more meaningful way”.

So what happens if you invite the wild to transport you back to your wild, untamed self. Let it seep into your senses and invoke those lost memories, this forgotten knowledge. It is in your DNA. It resides in ALL of us. Sometimes we simply need to engage our senses in order to be reminded.

By spending time in nature, in green and blue spaces, being mindful of our surroundings, our senses can bring about change. It is widely documented that this alternative NHS (Natural Health Service) can reduce stress, boost our wellbeing, and even change our mood. By noticing the colours and patterns in leaves and flowers, the smell of coconut from the gorse in summer, the feel of the cool dew on the grass beneath your bare feet, the sound of the birds singing in the trees, the taste of salt on your skin when you’ve been swimming in the sea. It will all stir an unconscious long forgotten knowledge of what it is to be wild and free.

The power of nature runs through us, and as she does, she gently awakens all that was lost, but is now remembered, all that has been known for centuries before us. Nature reminds us that we are wild and that we can indeed feel free again.

This is the wild that I speak of.

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