“Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” John Muir (1838 -1914)
Wise words from a wise man, and as true today as back then. If fact, probably truer today than ever before. A survey undertaken by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in 2014 reported that 90% of people found that visiting the outdoors helped them to relax and reduced stress, while 80% felt that being outdoors not only improved their physical health, but also left them feeling both energised and revitalised. No mean achievement! We are very fortunate that Scotland is rich in forests and forest walks: so just what awaits us if we go down to the woods today?
For a start fresh, clean, unpolluted air. Take a look around and marvel at the abundance of lichen draped over the branches of trees: in particular the aptly named Old-Man’s-Beard! Then there are all the wonderful smells and sounds of a forest. Birds and bird song all around, the glimpse of animals through the trees, while strange mushrooms and toadstools thrive on fallen trees. A forest creates its own world, its own rich eco-system from the top of the tallest trees to the smallest creepy-crawlies and strangest looking fungi! A gentle poke in the undergrowth will quickly reveal all sorts of life – much of it scurrying hastily away!
At the weekend we set out from Aberfoyle, ‘the gateway to the Trossachs’, along the Forestry Commission’s Lochan Spling Trail. Spling is a strange name and may come from the Gaelic word splàng, which means to sparkle. In Sunday’s sunshine, with its welcome warmth, that certainly seemed an appropriate name! As we walked through the forest and across the Duchray Water we met other walkers and cyclists, as well as groups of young people learning outdoor skills through the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.
Reaching the lochan, we suddenly found ourselves face-to-face with some very unexpected, and very out-sized, creatures! The Lochan Spling Pike, Dragonfly and Osprey were all created by artist Rob Mulholland in 2008 and form part of the Loch Ard Family Sculpture Trail, which runs not only around this delightful lochan but also along the shores of Loch Ard, Little Loch Ard and Lochan a’ Ghleannin. The three we saw are quite remarkable objects and reflect the creatures that live in the lochan and surrounding forest.
There is so much to see, do and enjoy in a forest, and at the same time it is so good for us. Like John Muir, Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher, was also keenly aware of the benefits of taking time to be outdoors, and in particular walking, until our problems take on a more manageable perspective. In 1847 he wrote: “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Coming from the man widely regarded as the world’s first existentialist philosopher, that’s good advice indeed!
All of which just goes to show that if you go down to the woods today you really will find plenty of surprises, plenty to enjoy and come back feeling refreshed and revitalised! And that’s got to be a good thing!