It’s Friday morning. I wake up late. There’s a To Do list staring up at me from the desk that seems to be growing every time I look away from it. Wash the tea towels. Go to the bank. SORT OUT CHRISTMAS PRESENTS. You get the gist. Open the curtains. It takes a moment to register that I’m waking to the first rain-free sky for days, weeks, maybe. Cross off keep to list from list. Leave washing up. Go for walk.
Almost immediately I’m glad I did so. Although not a crisp December day all frostbitten and glittering, it’s briskly cheering to be out of the house in the mud-toned landscape, especially once the sun puts in an appearance. I find myself pushing back my jacket sleeves and relishing its glow on my bare arms. According to the Met Office I’m in the warmest place in the country. Whereas Kent’s clocking in at -2°C today, just down the coast from me The Lizard is basking in a balmy 9°C. It already feels like the combination of exercise improving my circulation and a tiny boost of vitamin D are doing wonders for my immune system.
I read recently that studies into the effects of access to green environments on mental health have shown a relationship between being outdoors and creativity and productivity, with a walk that includes both green and blue elements – a rural landscape including some form of water like a lake or river – being doubly beneficial. Admittedly not everyone lives within walking distance of a coast path ramble, but even small green spaces such as city parks have been shown to improve the quality of life of those who use them. Unquantifiable as this may seem, clinical studies have shown that access to natural landscapes and green environments reduces stress levels and lowers the blood pressure, and research has shown that, post surgery, patients make a faster recovery and need less pain medication when convalescing in a room with a ‘green’ view.
Apparently the average person spends only seventeen minutes a day outdoors. No wonder, this time of year: if you’re working you’d be lucky to see a sunrise before you get to work and it’s dark again by mid afternoon. In December you just can’t take the outdoors for granted, so a winter walk, even on a day mild enough for midges, will always be worthwhile. Seize the day. Put your wellies on. Get out there.
On the path through a wooded area I find myself surrounded by birds flittering around in the half-bare hedges, camouflaged but for their energetic movements in the leaf litter. One stops still on a branch so close I get to see just how many different shades and patterns its apparently dull brown plumage is made up from. The rest of the landscape seems to be following this cue, masquerading as mudded and flat to look at, but retaining a wholesome, textured quality that I feel much more receptive to as I walk my way through. Every now and then there’s a colour punctuation as a jay bursts russet pink from a tree grove, a gaudy fungus bubbles up from a clump of roots, and in a testament to how unwintry it’s been, a rose at the edge of a garden still has one blossom held high, brightly at odds with this muted landscape.
I stop for a break on a bench overlooking the sea. It’s noticeably colder out of the sun, so I add on my extra layers and enjoy that internally warm feeling you can never quite replicate indoors with the central heating. I’m clearly not the only one making the most of the apparent break in the weather, as a dog decides to make friends with me while its owners catch up. I hear them before I see them, debating how lucky it was they thought to bring their raincoats, and I realise that as the sky is getting greyer my hopes for a rain free day are about to be dashed. Never mind. I’m on my way back now, leg-aching and cheek-glowing and tired in a good way, all the better for the thought of the hot shower and the plate of plum crumble awaiting me when I get home. That and the washing up from breakfast. And the walking boots to clean. And the tea towels. Hat on. Button coat. Hands in pockets. Best foot forwards.
More on this? – check out Thomas A. Clark’s In Praise of Walking