Walk your way to wellbeing: why you should get outside this autumn
Autumn is the perfect time to enjoy a walk in nature. We’ve got ideas, kit and insider tips to inspire you
Shorter days and falling temperatures don’t have to mean the end of outdoor fun. One in three of us experiences symptoms of seasonal affective disorder when the seasons change, but getting outside can have a huge impact on your mood, as well as your health. ‘Even 15 minutes a day can make a big difference to your wellbeing, outlook and fitness levels,’ explains David Mellor, founder of award-winning outdoor family blog Potty Adventures.
And there couldn’t be a better time to explore the great outdoors on our own doorstep. ‘Our experts are predicting a sensational year for autumn colour thanks to a soggy June and sunny July,’ says Ellen Devine, Forestry England’s Centenary Wellbeing Project Manager. ‘The trees in the nation’s forests are coming alive with dazzling displays of reds, oranges and yellows, creating a kaleidoscope of colour across their landscapes – one of nature’s most spectacular shows.’
On the trail
Fancy an autumnal amble? It’s a great time to pull on your hiking boots and hit your local woodland trails. ‘Our experts are predicting a great year for forest wildlife because of a bumper year for fruit and nuts,’ Ellen reveals. ‘So keep your eyes peeled for hedgehogs, frogs and red squirrels in certain areas.’
Why not try the National Trust’s Formby Red Squirrel Walk? Perfect for wildlife lovers, it’s an easy, self-guided trail through the beautiful Merseyside woodlands. Or if you’d rather leave the navigation to the experts, join a free guided walk along the brand-new autumn trail at Westonbirt Arboretum, which boasts one of the most stunning displays of autumnal colour to be seen in the UK.
Need another incentive to kick off your slippers and lace up your walking shoes? Sunday 29 September is National Get Outside Day. ‘We want to get more people outside than ever before,’ explains outdoor writer Fi Darby, co-author of popular outdoor blog Two Blondes Walking. ‘People all over the UK will be celebrating our wonderful outdoors with all kinds of fun activities.’
Want to get involved? Visit the GetOutside website to see a map of events taking place across the UK, from guided walks and bike rides suitable for solo adventurers, couples and groups of friends, to family discovery days led by the Ordnance Survey Champions themselves.
Or why not plan your own adventure? ‘The beauty of it is that pretty much anything counts,’ David explains. ‘You could paddleboard or kayak along a river or canal, cycle on a towpath, head out on a walk with a group of friends, or gather your nearest and dearest for a swift post-roast jaunt to your local park, woodland or green space. We want to inspire everyone to find time to explore and be just that little bit kinder to themselves.’
There’s something special about watching the landscape turn from green to gold, russet and orange. In the US, it actually has its own term – leaf peeping. ‘I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t enjoy the beautiful oranges, reds and browns of autumn trees,’ says Fi.
Visit the Forestry England website to find a wood near you. ‘Your local woods are the perfect place for a family day out that everyone will enjoy, with safe off-road cycling and plenty of space to play and create dens,’ says Ellen. ‘Grab your waterproofs, wellies and a flask of hot chocolate and make the most of this colourful season with welly walking and conker collecting, or channel your inner child by jumping in a huge leaf pile.’
Feeling frazzled? ‘Why not try a spot of forest bathing as you bask in the autumnal colour?’ Ellen suggests. ‘Known as shinrin-yoku in Japan, the simple practice of being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing the nature around you whilst breathing deeply, can help adults and children to de-stress whilst boosting health and wellbeing in a natural way.’
Need some insider intel to set you off on the right track? ‘North Wales has a wealth of stunningly beautiful tracks and trails,’ David reveals. ‘The awe-inspiring Aberglaslyn Pass to Bethgelert via Bryn Du is a family-friendly circular walk on the lower slopes of Snowdonia National Park that passes through ancient forests, mountain vistas and spectacular rivers.’
Fi loves to walk, camp and wild swim on Dartmoor, where she also teaches navigation skills. ‘It’s known for its wild side, but it’s a really friendly and accessible place,’ she says. ‘Try heading up to Princetown and walking out along the old railway line. It’s an easy amble that still gives you that wonderful feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.’
Don’t forget your smartwatch or fitness tracker – while they’re no substitute for a good map and compass, GPS devices can be a big help when it comes to finding your way, and tracking your progress will give you a great sense of achievement when you kick off your boots at the end of the day.
Foraging for first-timers
Early autumn is the perfect time to give foraging a try. ‘It can be a great way to get active and connect with nature,’ says Ellen. ‘There’s a wide variety of food you can forage in the nation’s woodlands, including nuts, seeds and fruits.’
‘Only pick plants you can positively identify, and only collect a small amount for personal use,’ she cautions. ‘Never pick protected species – check the law before you forage and take notice of any signs. If in doubt, go to a foraging class and learn the basics from an expert.’ Wild Food UK offers foraging courses at various locations across the country.
The simplest kind of foraging, apple or blackberry picking makes a fantastic family day out. Why not hunt out a crumble recipe and head to your nearest pick-your-own farm this weekend?
In the (urban) jungle
Living in a city doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of getting out into nature. In London, Chelsea Physic Garden and Kew’s famous Royal Botanic Gardens offer a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Kew Gardens boasts the largest and most diverse collection of plants in the world. Even better, tours of the gardens are included in the entry price and take place at 11am and 1.30pm every day. Taking the kids? Chelsea Physic Gardens holds a Sunday Funday on the first and last Sunday of each month. This weekend, youngsters aged 6+ can try their hands at making their own herbal remedies, while kids of all ages can enjoy a spot of pond dipping.
Before you pull on your wellies, take a few minutes to make a checklist of outdoor essentials. ‘Be prepared for every eventuality,’ David warns. ‘Never leave home without your waterproofs, and dig out a decent torch – just in case you get caught out after one too many tea breaks. And talking of tea breaks, a flask for tea, coffee or hot chocolate is a must!’
Smartphone and smartwatch apps are invaluable, but if you’re heading off the beaten track, always take a map and compass as well as a wireless charger. And while there might be less of it on show, don’t forget about your skin. Prone to red cheeks, chapped lips and dry hands? Invest in a hardworking, pocket-friendly moisturiser, hand serum and lip salve – autumn winds can really dry skin out, so protection and hydration are key.
Images: Getty Images, David Mellor