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.

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

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.

Running With Wolves…

Ok, so maybe not wolves, but running with Lurchers. I’m discovering it brings a whole new experience to trail running!

My husband is the dog fanatic. He grew up with dogs, breeding his first Border Terrier at just 8 years old. Later he developed a passion for Lurchers. Not a breed in it’s own right, but a cross between a sighthound (greyhound, saluki, deerhound etc) with something else. (Collie, Retriever, Bull Terrier).

We’ve had several amazing Lurchers over the years, all from a long line of running dogs with a history of agility, intelligence and speed. At the moment we have two; Yanto and Spook. Yanto being the senior at 8 years old, and Spook the latest recruit who is now 11 months old. They are completely different in character. Yanto (below right) is sensitive and gentle in nature. Spook (below left) is fearless, bold and a bit feral right now!

I started running with Yanto a few years ago. It seemed crazy that I was out on trail runs in the fields and off road but not taking him with me. I’d come home covered in mud with brambles in my hair and he’d sniff my trainers with great interest. But I guess I was “in the zone” when I first started trail running. I was finding my feet and testing my endurance, getting slightly obsessed with my times and distances. I didn’t want anything to distract me from my progress. And I knew there was a lot to consider when out in the countryside with our dogs.

Lurchers are natural born hunters. Anyone that owns one will know that rabbits, squirrels, deer (cats!) will never go unnoticed. A sight hound, with incredible speed and agility they are designed to be predators. And they know it. My husband has trained them around livestock. They’re steady as anything with sheep, horses and cattle, and their recall is spot on. But if I’m walking our dogs, I am always alert to the possibility they might catch sight, or scent of quarry and be off. They have trained ME to be aware of our environment, wind direction, certain times of day, what season we’re in, what wildlife is likely to be in the vicinity. They are instinctively assessing all of this silently, and I need to be aware of all of these things if I want to try and be one step ahead, and prevent a catch.

So running with a Lurcher comes with the risk that you’ll end up running AFTER him, rather than WITH him!

I began running with Yanto a few years ago. Initially on a lead, I thought I’d need to get him used to me running, and that I’d need to “desensitize” him. My thinking being that the change in dynamic from walking to running might send a signal that there’s something to get excited about (and I didn’t want him to think we were “game on”!). I just wanted him to get used to my movement and pace.

We did the same route, a 5km loop our across fields and tracks for a few weeks. But he was used to being off a lead for long walks and his etiquette on a lead when running didn’t improve. He would often suddenly stop to smell something of interest (and yank my shoulder out of it’s socket), or randomly cross over in front of me and trip me up. I was constantly stopping and starting and found myself head first in hedges and muddy ditches on more than one ocassion!

The time had come to let him run free with me…… THIS is where it got interesting!……

I smile now when I say I’m taking the dogs for a run. I’m not sure when it changed, but at some point I realised that I’m not “taking them”…… WE are going together.

You see, when you run with a dog there are a two major shifts that take place. The first is that all of those things that you need to be aware of; the conditions that dictate whether there is a hunt afoot, (wind direction, the time of day etc) that is all still relevant, but somehow you are IN it, you become a part of that. You’re not observing it, you ARE it. Your impact on the environment and how it responds to YOU is much more noticeable.

The second shift is that of the relationship between you and the dog. There seems to be a sense that you are now a team. That ancestral instinct kicks in and you’re alpha male/female, part of the pack. You are running wild together. We instinctively stop as we enter a field and survey the land, we push on when we’re tackling a steep track, and most incredibly, this creates a deeper connection to the land, to the wildlife, to the wilderness on a level that I’ve never experienced when just walking the dogs, or running on my own.

I wonder if this is how it feels to be a wolf, running with wolves!?? This is what I think when we’re out there together.

My obsession with how far we’ve traveled, and how long it’s taken us, isn’t there anymore. I have a rough idea and that’s mainly just for practicality. The experience is more important, and we go at our own pace. If the dogs stop and take interest in something, I might stop too, or I might push on and they catch up. But on the whole we are training together as a team, practicing our skills and communication and deepening our understanding of the land.

The difference being of course that I am a human, running on two legs! Generally seen wearing flourescent lycra, sweating profusely and whistling loudly to make sure any wildlife around has a head start or can go to ground. Just. In. Case!

For brilliant advice and tips on running with dogs click on the link below.

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

Subscribe to the Journal…

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

Running for Mental Health

It was with significant doubt in my mind that I arrived at the start line of the South West Coast2Coast challenge on an overcast Sunday morning in July.

Earlier in the year I signed up to run an off road half marathon to raise money for Dorset Mind, the local branch of the MIND mental health charity.

Having been a “wannabe” trail runner for the past few years I felt that perhaps I could push myself a bit further. I’ve been curious about what happens mentally when I run. How the mind often begs to give up long before the body does. How my mood can either improve or sabotage my efforts.

I’m not one of these runners that is pushing for a best time, or to lose weight, or to compete. I run because I’m learning about how my mind behaves, how I cope with the challenge, but also because it’s another way to spend time in nature. Connecting with the seasons, the weather and the wildlife when I’m running off road gives me such nourishment. It can almost feel primitive, and I imagine how our earliest ancestors must have run as far as the eye could see, to hunt, survive and navigate the land. I love to run wild, get covered in mud, have brambles in my hair and feel the fresh air in my lungs.

But standing at the start line in Exeter, I am feeling like a fool. My naive curiosity has morphed into crippling doubt as I watch what appear to be well toned athletes, in all the latest sports gear, casually chatting about the last Ultra challenge they smashed, and how they’re looking for a sub 2hr time today.

All the reasons I shouldn’t be attempting this are loudly shouting at me.

“I haven’t trained enough. I haven’t followed a nutrition plan. I am not a ‘proper exercise’ person. I am stupid”.

It is fair to say that no-one in their right mind should attempt a half marathon without having trained. I know this. I’ve read all about it. So why on earth was I attempting it?

Perhaps I am not in my right mind! But the intensely annoying fact about most mental health conditions is that it attempts to thwart your efforts and sabotage success. I hate this SO much, it somehow gives me the determination to fight.

I’ll be honest. I did begin training. I printed out a schedule. I put it on the fridge. I ran all the distances and days I was supposed to. I reached my fundraising target. I was on track. But then it changed.

The last training run I did was a few months ago. A 16km run that made me physically sick. I pushed myself SO hard that it made me ill. I felt like a failure. I wondered what the hell I was doing to myself. Had none of the self compassion based mindfulness I’d been taught in recovery even sunk in? Was I being too hard on myself. Was I just deluding myself? Was I simply using exercise as another way to badly manage my problems, a healthy ‘disguise’ for badly treating myself.

I became so depressed that I wasn’t able to keep going. I doubted my own judgement. Doubted my motivation. I began feeling like a failure before I’d even got to the start line. I felt SO under pressure and anxious about what I’d signed up for. I’d simply backed myself into a corner. Even worse was knowing the irony that I’d raised this money for a mental health charity, but probably wouldn’t be able to complete the run because of my mental health!

I considered cancelling. I didn’t HAVE to do it did I?

But here I am at the start line. Just showing up.

I’ve had enough of the stories running riot in my head. They are not helping me in any way. I need to focus on the positives. So I start to tell myself a new story;

It is a Sunday morning, I’ve nothing better to do. I’m just following a route from Exeter to the South Coast along a beautiful canal, river and estuary to the sea. I can quit if I want to, no one knows I’m here other than my husband. (I deliberately didn’t remind anyone of the date). There’s a lovely cool breeze on my skin, and I am willing and able to run a while. Due to COVID we can start whenever we like so as not to be running on mass. I give myself permission to walk if I need to. To stop every 30 minutes, drink some water, have a jelly bean and look at the view. Most importantly, even if it takes me ALL day then at least all the money raised will be validated. All I have to do is try and finish it. I might even enjoy it.

I won’t bore you with the run itself, and how I managed my thoughts. Let’s just say that I was shocked at how hard it was NOT to let my mind spiral into negative thinking. It was like a wild animal and I was gaining it’s trust. But what did make it endurable was the scenery, the wildlife, the breeze. Being mindful of my breathing, my body and the way I was moving, I was in the moment, DOING it.

When I saw the finish line and heard people cheering it was slightly surreal. I didn’t feel a part of it. I was watching myself cross over the line hardly believing it was happening. My husband had got lost with Sat Nav and wasn’t there to see me finish. But I was quietly pleased. I didn’t want cheers, or pats on the back. I wanted a moment to witness how it felt to feel free of negativity, free of fear. To stand in the middle of a field, feeling alive and like anything is possible.

Needless to say I am relieved I completed it. I’m glad that I raised money for a charity that I truly believe in, I’m pleased that my body was able to withstand the challenge and that I didn’t injure myself. But what I’m really happy about is that I didn’t let my mental health prevent me from starting it, let alone finishing.

PTSD, anxiety and depression can be debilitating at times. All I want to do is hide away from the world and be left alone. Any kind of pressure or stress and I begin to panic. But the pressure I put on myself is the most evil, unkind and unhelpful type of pressure.

It’s so frustrating when you want to achieve, and you want to reach your goals. But sometimes it just feels impossible, and we can’t seem to get there. But what I am learning is that in order to do these things, I must practice a bit of self compassion. I must be kinder to myself. Tell myself a the more gentle version of the story, that enables me to feel the courage to try.

The story I told myself of the space, freedom and nature I could invite into my journey to the finish line is what helped me to get there. I will never forget that and every time I look at the medal, it will speak to me of mental freedom. A reminder that the journey is as much a part of the destination, and you can’t have one with out the other.