Macro-adventure: Scotland

Once a year, we would all like to go on a big adventure. It is good for the soul and reminds us of our humanity before we created a society based on valuing only written language and staying in man made dwellings.

The Isle of Arran

The things we all do on holiday, are in fact things that bring us deep pleasure. Buying and cooking good food. Exploring a new location. Turning off the TV and playing games with our children. Reading a great book while milling about on a sandy beach. Having a glass of wine at 5pm with the love of your life. Going outside to look at the starry sky. Taking a boat ride. Having a picnic after a long bike ride.

The silly thing is that we could be doing these things on any weekend, but we tend not too. We probably tell ourselves that we don’t have the energy. But it is probably not physical energy that is lacking (unless you are one of the few people who do heavy manual labour these days) it is in fact, entirely mental energy that we lack. In an attempt to create a world where we have more leisure time, where computers allow us to work from home, and electronic devices reduce time spent on household chores, we have created an environment where we are totally unable to switch off from stress. Our workplace can contact us at any time of the night or day (I have received emails at 5am!), our banks send a text message to tell us we have no money, and social media bombards us with adverts 24/7 to our phones to remind us how fat/ugly/hairy/poor we are.

Our holiday to the Scottish highlands and Islands was absolute bliss. The cottage we rented was cheap compared to Cornwall or Pembrokeshire and it had no TV, no gas connection, and no mains water. The water was from a local spring. If you opened the windows you could hear the twin waterfalls which cascaded nearby. We had a log burner for heat and the nearest shop was 35 minutes drive. The journey was long, but the rewards were priceless. We had to improvise and re-adjust our expectations. The children did not even mention to TV and it was as though they had remembered how to be children again. The adults looked though the small library and forgot about Brexit.

Kilmory beach

Our nearest beach was a short drive away and when it was sunny, it was like the Bahamas. Beautiful clear water and white pure sand. On one day we took our bikes on the small ferry over to the Isle of Gigha. From the port we rode round the bay where you will find a small campsite with it’s own beach, pub and jetty. The pub served us bacon butties and fresh orange juice before we headed off to the twin beaches. On arrival, we were hot and sweaty and strode straight out into the sea. Below, by my foot was what looked like a pipe fish (native sea horse). “It can’t be?” I thought but as I put my hand into the cool water, it swam away from me. As we walked along, baby plaice scooted away from us. My older son dug in the sand to make a sand castle and pulled up live clams, big enough to eat. The sea was teeming with life. I had never seen anything like it. It was like a little Heaven on Earth, how I imagined the world was 100 years ago. The Mediterranean was pretty on the surface, but dead beneath. If you wanted confirmation that human impact was not killing everything on the planet, if you wanted hope that nature could recover, here was the evidence.

Cool sea Lochs mirroring the sky

This type of magical holiday experience cannot be had all the time. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and lack of midges. No one got ill and we made some fantastic memories. I called in to see an old friend who greeted me with “I know you like cheese, so I brought you this.” Local cheese. She knew me so well. She spoke of the new life she had created two years ago when she bought a house on a remote island. It had a different pace, with a close community. She said ‘hello’ to friends, as we sat and ate on ice-cream on the shore with a view to the mountain beyond.

But my absolute favourite day, was the one where we built a beach fire. We headed down around 3:30 when most others would be going home. We had purchased fresh herring fillets, venison sausages and scallops and cooked it on sticks over the heat. I am 39 years old, and this is something I have never done. You can keep your fine dining, this was the best food on planet Earth, with the most incredible view and we were all alone, save for one curious seal which cruised around the bay and a sailboat with a couple who had docked for the night.

Prosecco, scallops and loved ones. What more does one need?

Sensory stimulation for the soul

Pembrokeshire coastal path with crashing waves

Last weeks of Easter break have been incredible. I managed to squeeze 4 adventures in, and I have been able to share them with my favourite people.

Adventure #22 : pack a picnic and your toothbrushes and see where you end up.

We stayed in an unusual b&b and ate at a local pub with a kids play area and open grass. I sat inside and enjoyed the peace while the other three played fotty. We feasted on steak and lasagne and things we would never eat at home.

The beach was deserted as we went after breakfast and we enjoyed chasing the squealing gulls. At the end of the beach we found Victorian gardens abloom with carefully selected fauna to create a reason to be present on the cusp of spring.

Bridge building

The point at which we stop playing is the point at which we have lost joy in our lives.”

Syreeta

The next day of weather was terrible. I had found a new forest park to explore, but everyone else was reticent to say the least. Heldon forest park is cultivated for people , to be sure, but it has the charm and usefulness of all forestry commission sites. It is 3,500 acres of woodland just 15 minutes from Exeter. There is a really good cafe with a covered outdoor eating area and a log burner inside if the weather turns funky. We sat and drank hot chocolate while the windows turned blurry with rain. Eventually it did ease off and we stomped up the hill through majestic trees. The boys were singing and I was breathing deeply the smells the fallen rain had thrown up from the forest floor.

One of the activities we did at a Forest School training the week before was called sitting tree. You choose a spot and sit for 10 minutes. As she said it, I could feel panic rising in me. I have always suspected that I have ADHD. This would feel like 3 hours. I would immediately ‘out’ myself as a weirdo with no concentration. But an interesting thing happened. I took my shoes off and felt the grass below me. I felt the breeze on my face. I listened to multiple bird songs. I touched the different ferns around me. When the tutor finally called us back I was surprised. “How long do you think you were there for?” I was convinced it had been less than 10 minutes. “It was actually 20.”

Smells of wild garlic in spring

“How was it that I don’t have ADHD in the forest, but struggle to be in a room for 2 minutes? And how is it that my son has autism in school, but is suddenly cured at the beach?”

The world we now occupy is ever more 2 dimensional and this is getting exasperated by screen culture. On a screen you are seeing, and maybe hearing something but that is it. What we probably call naughty behaviour in children and depressed behaviour in adults could be seen as types of sensory seeking. A craving, if you like, for those parts of the brain we are not exercising. People are under the impression that over stimulation stops kids concentrating, but what if it is the other way round? Nature is a beautiful multilayered, multi dimensional feast for the mind. Interesting smells, sounds and textures are bombarding us from all directions. And are also constantly changing. We did not evolve inside four walls. We have spent hundreds of thousands of years living in and with our natural surroundings.

Perhaps the reason we all have a connection to nature because we actually feel at home and the man made buildings are actually the alien environment. Important neural connections are made by tiny babies who are touched and spoken to. Baby sensory classes are very popular because of research telling us that this is important for brain development. What if, in fact, this does not change with age?

My quest for 52 micro adventures has created in me the headspace to reconsider all of the reasons I thought I felt stressed and tired and stuck in a rut. I have been emancipated by my adventures. And dear reader, this is the most impressive part! You don’t need a shit load of money, nor time, nor permission from anyone. You could go and find a micro adventure right now.