Why I Started Wild Song Walks

OR, HOW DID A GIRL FROM HOUNSLOW END UP AS A NATURE GUIDE?

I grew up in West London, under the Heathrow flight path – about as far away from nature as you could get. On a school trip to the Wiltshire countryside I was so miserable that I cried into my lunchbox. A teenage interest in stone circles first tempted me to venture into the great outdoors again. I started a bit of rambling and I even braved a camping trip. Emboldened, I joined the university hiking society. Still clueless, however, I showed up to climb Snowdon in jeans and old trainers. So, you can see that a love of nature did not come naturally to me.

But, for some reason, I kept going back. The turning point for me was when I realised that there was much to be learned from listening to the land. I took up landscape photography and did a course in animal communication. These taught me much about being quiet and still. I grew to love birds, trees and wild places. I began to be at my happiest out on the land.

I love the sense of peace and aliveness, wonder and beauty that I experience in nature and I began to dream of being able to share that with others. So I trained as a Shinrin Yoku practitioner and started Wildsong Walks. I still don’t know the names of many birds or trees. My plant, rock and insect identification skills are even worse. But, if you would like to spend an hour with me in the woods, we may just discover something else we would struggle to name. Something all the better for being unnamable. 

Shinrin Yoku and the Benefits of Being in Nature

“The sounds of the forest soothe our frazzled heads, lift us out of mental fatigue and give us the silence in which to think.”1

Forest Bathing

Forest Bathing – or Shinrin Yoku, as it is known in Japan – originated as an antidote to our unfulfilling modern lifestyles that have led to such damaging disconnection from the land. Many of us find that when we are immersed in the peace and tranquillity of the woods, we slow down our bodies, quieten our minds and step aside from everyday cares. Thus opened to a new way of being, we return refreshed and rejuvenated, with a deeper connection to nature, to our selves and to what truly matters.

“To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed.”

Roger Deakin in Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

SCIENTIFIC STUDIES

“Studies have repeatedly shown that the sounds of nature relieve stress and that we feel relaxed when we can hear birdsong or running water.”2

Clinical researchers have amassed a body of evidence that demonstrates the mental and physical benefits of being in nature. There is now a wealth of data that proves that forest bathing lowers stress, anxiety and depression, reduces blood pressure, increases metabolism, fights fat, promotes a healthy heart and helps us sleep.

People also report how re-connecting to nature can awaken a sense of childlike wonder, curiosity and playfulness, as well as the freedom to be ourselves and a newfound enjoyment of simply being in the moment. It can even kindle an experience of awe, interconnectedness and the deep beauty and mystery of the universe.

Selected research papers from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (USA)

A Guide to Nature Immersion: Psychological and Physiological Benefits
Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan
Medical Empirical Research on Forest Bathing (Shinrin-Yoku): A Systematic Review

1, 2 Li, Dr Qing Into the Forest: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, 2019