The Mancunion

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On the trail to wellbeing

James Johnson walks through the benefits of a walk in the wild

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Bill Bryson wrote about the countless opportunities for discovery on the trail. Cheryl Strayed beautifully recounted the healing potential of walking in the wild. Lorelai Gilmore even tried to rediscover herself in the great outdoors in the recent Gilmore Girls revival. In the rapid pace of 21st Century life, taking a minute to disconnect has never born so much potential for calm

At this time of year, it’s commonplace to groan at the darkening afternoons and dropping temperatures. It’s commonplace to feel like the outdoors are best avoided at all costs. This can sometimes be the case, but getting outdoors at this time of year is an opportunity to seize the few hours of daylight we can and grab ourselves a moments respite from the daily chores we really should be groaning about.

Often in relation to well-being, we talk of hauling our lives at a one-eighty, reversing our habits and changing our regularities. But can it be just as simple as to take a walk outside? Perhaps it can be.

Hiking isn’t just about climbing to the tallest peak in the country and posting a picture to show people of your might and determination, but it is an opportunity to take a moments peace in the great outdoors, refocus, re-energise and relax.

Guilty of succumbing to any great pop-culture phenomenon, I left the cinema after watching Wild in 2014, assured that I could take a timely jaunt in the Peak District and all my troubles would be cured.

Naive? Perhaps. Optimistic? Definitely.

Stepping off of the train in the Peak District national park, I stood awkwardly at the station platform, not knowing whether to hastily walk left or right. Train stations are places for determined and speedy direction after all. Ambling, not so much.

Uncomfortable and mildly distressed at not knowing where I was or why exactly I had chosen to do this, I began walking through a beautifully picturesque Peak District countryside. Looking for some kind of footpath or some sort of direction, I began to walk for hours upon end, no real goal in mind, just an attempt to take a moments notice.

It seems burdensome to relay that hiking is the answer to all of your well-being needs. Because it likely is not. It is however, a basic and free activity that allows you to gain a little perspective whilst you may be unnecessarily worrying yourself over exams, assignments or daily anxieties.

It’s not the physical strain that makes a walk in the country such a rewarding feat, but the opportunity to be truly alone, without connection or distraction. After a few momentary waves of panic involving the inability to refresh one’s social media feeds, it can only be healthy to be isolated for a moment.

So rarely do we get the opportunity to disconnect ourselves from social media, from work, and from studying, that it becomes naive to think we can truly ‘switch-off’ in the scramble of our daily city lives.

Following a trail in the country or wandering aimlessly in the woods forces you to become present. Taking care of where you’re treading is an elementary task in avoiding the repetitive anxieties of our lives whilst appreciating your natural surroundings. It also doesn’t hurt to be starting and finishing a task — a surefire way to feel a little more accomplished.

Living in the midst of Wilmslow Road congestion, it’s easy to become a little tired of the pace and repetitive nature of spending hours stuck in commuter traffic.

Taking a moment to take in some greenery doesn’t have to involve travelling by train into the great unknown. Manchester has an array of beautiful parks for you to take a crisp, winter walk, be it alone or as a social activity.

Plattfields, Birchfields, Alexandra and Ladybarn are just a few of the parks within close proximity to the Oxford Road corridor. Perfect for a quick walk in those precious daylight hours.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, the Peak District national park is the perfect place to take a weekends hike in the great outdoors. Maybe consider hopping onto the Sheffield-bound train and head to the beautiful village of Edale. There’s even an opportunity for a rewarding drink once you’ve taken a well-earned break — the lack of mobile signal is but an added benefit.

Image: James Johnson

Image: James Johnson

Rushing from point to point in our daily lives leaves little time to appreciate our surroundings. Taking a well-deserved rest need not involve sitting inside, hidden away from the outdoors. A brisk walk in the country may be the all-too-obvious remedy to a busy week’s chores and anxieties.

Why not disconnect for an afternoon? Take a moment to appreciate your surroundings, take in a little exercise and switch off, even for a little while.