I have a long and passionate relationship with the outdoors.
Having grown up on a farm in Dorset and spending most of my holidays and free time on Exmoor, my youth was peppered with early morning rises (I hated them) to feed chickens or help with lambing; of digging potatoes from the garden because if we didn’t we wouldn’t have them to eat for supper; of Sunday afternoon walks with ALL the family (there were 6 of us) rain or shine, wind or snow, poorly or not.
At home we weren’t allowed to watch much television (Home and Away and Neighbours in case you were interested) so we spent our weekends playing sports, helping in the garden or on the farm clearing woodland, fixing fences or building and destroying camps. It sounds idilic and in hindsight I know it was. But at the time I envied my friends who went shopping, hung out in town or who lived next door to their best friend. My best friends were my sisters, the animals and the trees....and looking back, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
My favourite place at my family home was the view that looked out onto the farm down past the cow barn. The track stretched out from the yard in front of you to the left, holding hands with a large messy hedge on the right with a lush (or in the winter, muddy) meadow beyond. At the corner was a stile and on the other side a gate. I can hear the metal clink of the latch and remember the dogs (we usually always had two) eager to get through, barging us out of the way...a loud expletive following on the wind from my mother. This view has stayed with me all my life, through good times and achingly sad ones. But now it is the main view from my parents barn conversion, beautifully framed by enormous picture windows that I can enjoy whilst sipping a warming cup of tea instead of under a layer of thermals and a waterproof.
The most favourite places we loved to go away from the farm was the beach. Living in Poole we were not more than 20 minutes from some of the most stunning beaches and coastal cliffs in the country. We would spend hours there in the summer, arriving before everyone else and walking what seemed like miles before settling on the right patch of sand away from the smell of chips and screaming families. We would sit and read, and run and play, and swim and eat and talk and sleep, and do it all over again countless times before returning home after dark tired but happy. In the winter we would walk the dogs and play cricket, load the car up with wooly hats and wellington boots, friends and sweets, run around the sand dunes and eat warm sausages and hot chocolate whilst cuddling together for warmth. The smell of sea salt and wet dog are still some of my (unusually) favourite smells!
This, I think, is why I love the outdoors, specifically the countryside or the seaside. Places and experiences there have shaped my life, helped to mould who I am as a person and how I live now. These experiences have shaped my current way of life and contribute heavily to what makes me happy.
Don’t get me wrong, however, I do love the city and all it has to offer. For a time, through uni and the subsequent years after, I live in Newcastle and Toronto and enjoyed every minute of it. But was it coincidence that these places were on the edge of the countryside, nestled next to water and and always reminded me of home?
In my adult life, my relationship with the outdoors has changed.
During my twenties the beach became a place where I met with friends, swam for fitness or went to contemplate the world when life got complicated. The farm was a place where we could hold parties, return for Christmas, or introduce new boyfriends over Sunday lunch and the obligatory afternoon walk.
Now I’m in my thirties, the outdoors means more to me than ever. I have a new attitude, a proactive drive that pushes me to do more in the outdoors. I work for the National Trust and am surrounding by people who have amazing passion, respect and knowledge for the places we love. I have friends who like a challenge and encourage me to hike, and sea swim and cycle for fun. I have creative peers in other countries who ask to see where I live and share in my experiences out there. The outdoors is wrapped around my life and intertwined with my creativity, giving me a sense of place and purpose regardless of what I’m going through.
There are places that now hold enormous significance for me. But, just being outdoors, in the open, in a bit of space, means just as much.
In these past 3 years I have lost my boyfriend to cancer; I've completed an MA, owned a business, travelled to America and explored England; I've lost a family member to a sudden heart attack and potentially found someone new that I can imaging spending my life with. When things get tough, or I need to think, I take a walk or swim or run, or draw outside. When I get together with friends, I meet them on the beach or at the park, to walk and talk and laugh. When I treat myself or celebrate I travel to beautiful places, challenge myself or explore the unknown. When I’m lonely or miserable or just need to stop, I go outside.... and that simple act, even for just a moment is always, enough.