I haven’t written anything for a while. I’m not sure I remember how to.
There was never a conscious decision to stop writing at The Peaklander, it just stopped being fun. Writing posts takes a lot of time and you get very little in return. In a culture where we want to consume our media as efficiently and mind-numbingly as possible (swipe, swipe, double-tap), people don’t visit blogs unless they’re looking for something specific.
Think of the last time you went on Instagram and without going back to check, how many photos did you scroll past? How many photos did you double-tap to like? How many of those photos did you actually like? I’m noticing more frequently that if you were to ask me those questions within 5 minutes of me closing Instagram, I couldn’t answer some of them. The way you interact with it is so habitual that it makes any meaningful engagement unlikely a lot of the time. It’s like QVC for millennials. Background noise where you occasionally buy something you didn’t need.
I didn’t start The Peaklander with the idea that it might become popular (and it didn’t), but there was still something disheartening about spending an hour writing a post only for someone to tap the heart icon on Twitter without actually clicking through to the link to read the post.
So, for the last few months I’ve been away. I’m not sure I’m fully back yet, but I have a few ideas about how I might revive this thing I was once enthusiastic about. I didn’t start enjoying the outdoors for an audience and I certainly didn’t start walking the Peaks because it was cool – it wasn’t then and still isn’t, although companies like Ordnance Survey are trying their best to commercialise and market it to turn outdoors experiences into digital revenue.
What I loved about walking at the beginning and still love now is the experience. It’s the peace and quiet, the space to think, the connection with nature, the feeling that I have a place in the landscape and, consequently, in its history and future. These are the things I’m going to start writing about more. It might get a little existential once in a while, but that’s what I love about the outdoors – it gives you the space to pick away at the questions that matter.
It’s been a while since I posted here and I’m a month away from having to decide what to do with the site. For those of you who don’t know, keeping a WordPress site active doesn’t come cheap and, unless you’re either incredibly tenacious or exceptionally lucky (I’m neither), a website doesn’t make you any money.
I’ve also found that while the outdoors is an underlying thread of most of the things I do, there’s a lot more I want to talk about. I’ve been battling with social media and mental health for the last year, while my meditation practice has developed immeasurably. I always imagined The Peaklander would be purely about the outdoors, but I’m wondering if there’s a place for that stuff here as well.
Does The Peaklander feel like an outdoors blog to you? Should it be kept that way so I can give the other topics focus elsewhere? Or would some additional rumination sit well amongst the outdoors stuff?
I’d love to know what you think. As far as I’m aware, barely anyone reads this and I’m entirely overthinking it. Of course, there’s always the alternative option: do nothing and sunset The Peaklander in February when the credit card is due to take its annual hit.
This idea that technology is bad, that GPS is cheating, that outdoors aides make you less of an outdoorsy type – these ideas need to die. They’re steeped in the past, they’re unhelpful and they don’t encourage anybody to discover our beautiful outdoor spaces.
Ordnance Survey have a wonderful initiative called #GetOutside. There aren’t many hashtags I rally around on social media and I’m pretty picky about the causes I support, but #GetOutside is one that I love. I can’t sum it up any better than Ordnance Survey’s own Nick Giles:
“The GetOutside initiative is core to OS’s aims to help more people to GetOutside more often, it is about inspiring adventures, enabling experiences and helping make memories. It’s already encouraging people to re-engage with the outdoors and showing that it is enjoyable, accessible and safe for all ages and abilities.
We all know the statistics. The shocking levels of obesity and inactivity within Great Britain, even amongst children. A sedentary lifestyle is easy, and it’s winning, and we’re seeing the effects of that on people’s mental and physical health. We appreciate people have busy lives and responsibilities, and that finding the time is not always easy, but we can all incorporate getting outside into our daily routines.”
I read a post last night shared (and presumably endorsed, but I’m making an assumption that may be incorrect) by one of the #GetOutside Champions. That article kept me up last night. It royally pissed me off.
I’m not going to name who wrote the article other than to say it wasn’t the person who shared it, nor am I going to link to it. All too often on social media a difference of opinion becomes personal despite each person having good intentions and seeing merit in each other’s ideas, so I’m going to talk about why I disagree with the theme. Mine will become another blog post floating in the ether that likely garners less than 1% of the views of the article I disagree with. If I had any social savvy or cared about clicks and likes, I’d probably link to it, create a discussion and, in the midst of my burgeoning popularity, people would forget that it’s ideas that should be challenged and not the people who hold them.
That shared blog post loftily stated that if you don’t use paper maps and instead use technology, you’re not a real outdoorsy-type. It went on to say that GPS devices are for ‘children and amateurs’.
We need to lose this rhetoric otherwise a new generation of ‘children and amateurs’ won’t be encouraged to find out what our National Parks are like because they’ll be too worried about running into some holier-than-thou rambler with a ‘pocketable’ laminated map the size of a tablecloth in their hands, and a rehearsed lecture ready to go whenever the audience arises. Please don’t turn outdoor communities into an echo chamber where only real outdoors types post photos of themselves in places inferior city-dwelling types mustn’t tread; where the enlightened few can raise a pint of filtered bog water to each other before they bed down in an outcrop of heather having woven a mosquito net out of nothing but wild grass and wishes.
Don’t wear your outdoors skills like a badge of honour that puts you on a pedestal. Unless, of course, you’re doing DofE or in the Scouts or something; they’re pretty big on badges. Use your skills to inspire the intrepid and curious people who want to learn more. Don’t tell them they’re doing it wrong when they’ve only just started.
I wrote a post challenging the idea that paper maps are essential in all circumstances – it was surprisingly popular and got a lot of support, but I’m reluctant to repeat myself. I want, instead, to look at the other side of things. This idea that technology is bad, that GPS is cheating, that outdoors aides make you less of an outdoorsy type – these ideas need to die. They’re steeped in the past, they’re unhelpful and they don’t encourage anybody to discover our beautiful outdoor spaces. You know who’s going to be wandering our National Parks in 50-100 years? It won’t be you and me, it’ll be the younger generations we encourage to love the parks and their children. Stop demeaning them and making them feel like they’re not doing it right. In my view, we need to show them why there’s so much to love in the outdoors and the skills and knowledge will come later once the enthusiasm and thirst for more takes its hold. Let’s not put unnecessary barriers in their way.
My friend, Rob, is a driving instructor. He’s one of the best driving instructors in the county and is exceptionally talented at providing courses for people with learning difficulties or special needs. I know a similar argument has been happening for decades with (especially older) drivers bemoaning the use of in-car tech such as sat navs. I wanted to get Rob’s opinion on this because there’s an undeniable parallel between navigational tech in the car and orienteering tech in the outdoors – we’re just a long way behind. His response was so perfect, I’m going to post it in full:
Tech can help to reduce cognitive overload allowing a better focus on the true task in hand. In the context of driving, true driving is about what happens outside the window (judgement, assessment, interaction…) not the physical aspect of body movements – reducing the physical load allows greater brain processing on the true skills of driving. We shouldn’t be clinging onto 19th century tech for the sake of nostalgia when we have a better way. Even pen and paper is a tech which allows us to reduce cognitive overload, storing information outside the brain – at the time of its invention this was frowned upon. Even weather forecasting was frowned upon initially, anything new is seen as cheating or heresy.
I asked him to weigh in on how this might translate into the paper maps/GPS debate:
[The idea that analogue is better than digital] is very narrow-minded and works on the basis that we all perceive information the same way. We are a diverse species and our brains all work very differently, some can process paper maps well and that’s fantastic for them. Others will struggle, so a different form of processing should be sought and this is where technology can be wonderful as it provides alternative means to make sense of the same information. A map/satnav or any tech is simply an interface between ‘reality’ and the brain – we should each find what works for us best. I imagine that a lot of individuals with dyslexia/dyspraxia/Irlens Syndrome would struggle with map reading due to the perception issues – it would be insulting and crude to imply that they are lesser because of this. Technology can provide different means to access the same information allowing for the sheer diversity of brain types existent in the human race. Use whatever is necessary to make sense and enjoyment from the world around you. Technology is fantastic for this and it’s insulting that those who benefit are mocked by those who use a different style despite the fact they are using their own crutch (a map).
I may as well stop writing here. Rob said everything I wanted to say and managed to say it in a more eloquent way than I could.
When I wrote Is there still a place in your backpack for paper maps?, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’! I pretty much always have a paper map and compass in my bag for backup. I don’t think the arguments for using paper maps exclusively over technology such as phones and GPS stand up to scrutiny anymore, but I think map-reading and orienteering skills are incredibly helpful skills to have. Useful, yes. Pre-requisites, no.
If you’re the kind of person that blindly follows your sat nav along roads that you’re not supposed to be on and have routinely had to swerve to miss things like lakes after following a line on a screen, you should probably stay inside. A paper map isn’t going to solve your problems and Mountain Rescue have it hard enough as it is.
If, like me, you’re in love with that intersection between technology and the outdoors, I have good news. The Ordnance Survey app is very good and they’ve recently released a series of OS GPS devices which I hear are also very good reasonable. I haven’t tried one of those, but if I ever do I’ll report back. It really does encourage me to see that Ordnance Survey’s #GetOutside initiative and their Champions are having such a positive effect and that the company is striving to instil passion for the outdoors in the next generation. I just wish all ramblers were as forward-thinking.
You can follow Ordnance Survey on Twitter here, on Instagram here, and find out more about their #GetOutside initiative here. If you want to follow a few of my favourite #GetOutside Champions, who all make the outdoors both accessible and enjoyable, you can’t do much better than these three:
Or: How to do a really long walk, which is quite a scary thing to do when you (over)think about it
Anxiety is a fairly loaded word these days and I’m reluctant to use it here. If you’ve ever suffered with it, you’ll know that it’s pervasive; it’s the fear our ancestors would have had when they knew a predator could sneak up on them at any moment, but somehow your mind has convinced you that you need to feel the same way at 10am on a Tuesday morning when you’re just trying to get a spreadsheet done. This isn’t a post about anxiety, but it is a post about worry. Maybe you’ll know what I’m talking about.
I write this post with some degree of reticence. You see, there’s an unspoken code amongst walkers that you always take a map and compass even if you know where you’re going and you’ve done it a million times. In fact, it’s something even I recommend in my Beginner’s Guide to Hill Walking. I think it’s a good idea. It’s a sensible idea. It’s something I do… some of the time.
If I’m hiking in the Peak District, I have weatherproof OS Explorer Maps for the Dark and White Peak and I take my OS compass with me on every walk. It’s nothing fancy and it doesn’t add a ton of weight for day walks, but if the whole escapade went to hell, I could use them to find my way to somewhere useful.
Having said that, I was in the Brecon Beacons last week to walk Pen y Fan and the Waterfalls Walk and I didn’t take paper maps. Why? Because I didn’t own them and the Brecon Beacons is split across three maps, which starts to add a considerable cost and bulk to packing. Also, I have subscriptions to OS Maps through both the Ordnance Survey website and through ViewRanger. I’m not a massive fan of spending money when I’ve already paid for a thing in a different format.
I’m planning to walk the Pennine Way at some point this year or next and, honestly, I probably won’t be buying all of the maps for that either. Six weatherproof maps take up a lot of space and come in at over £100. Now, I could plan to have maps delivered to me at drop points along the route or I’m sure I could buy them as I go, but it’s impossible to avoid the fact that the bulk still adds up as quickly as the cost does.
The argument goes that paper maps and a compass will never fail you. This is entirely true, with one major caveat: that you know how to use them and visibility is good enough that you can actually see a couple of landmarks. However, while there’s always a Peak District map set in my backpack for weekend walks, I haven’t needed them in five or more years. Electronic mapping is my preferred choice to find my location and bearing, but ask anyone wearing tweed or decked out in Berghaus for the weekend and they’ll tell you that relying on electronic maps is a recipe for disaster. I have to say, I disagree.
If you don’t know how to use a paper map and compass, you’ll get lost if that’s all you have at your disposal. Similarly, if you don’t make sure you’re prepared to use electronic maps, you’re also going to come unstuck.
The main argument against using electronic mapping is that of battery life. If your battery dies, you’re screwed. Again, this is true, but battery packs that can recharge a device multiple times while it’s still in use are a dime a dozen. I have a couple of RavPower portable chargers – one that will charge an iPhone 8 Plus two or three times (it’s tiny) and a large one that will keep multiple iPhones and an Apple Watch charged for about a week. It’s a little heavy, but it’ll easily fit in your backpack while taking up less space than a single paper map.
Based on recent experience, however, I’ve found my perfect setup: it’s a combination of OS Maps on the web and ViewRanger on the Apple Watch. The latter does a very clever thing where it hands off a lot of the battery-sucking duties to the iPhone, which means that neither your Apple Watch or iPhone take a massive hit. What’s more, the Apple Watch is always accessible and exactly where you need it, and it’s waterproof. This means your iPhone can be safely stowed in a drysack and you never need to touch it. I’ve been trying to work out how far I think I could hike in a single journey using this setup and, based on massively unscientific observation, I reckon I could easily cover 20 miles on foot. On my last 10 mile route, my Apple Watch battery went from 100% down to 65% and my iPhone went from 100% down to 82%. I think 20 miles would be reasonable. Beyond that, you’re chancing it without the means to recharge.
“But what if your phone and Apple Watch break?” I hear you cry. Well, if that happens, we’re already having a Type III fun kind of day, aren’t we? My response to this is that if one of those devices fails, I have the other as backup. If both of them fail, the other three hikers I tend to go walking with will have their own phones with the route pre-loaded. If the five devices we have between us all fail… well, yeah, then we’re well and truly screwed. To people who think electronic mapping is the devil, my counter-challenge is this: what if your paper map blows away?
Of course, the other benefit of electronic mapping over good ol’ orienteering is that if visibility is appalling, you’ll still know exactly where you are and which way to point yourself. Finding your location on a paper map depends largely on a line of sight and reference to at least a couple of landmarks… if you’re on Kinder with its famous fog and visibility down to a few feet (as it can often be and, let’s face it, it’s pretty barren on a sunny day), electronic mapping is your surest and easiest bet. Even the satellites can see you through fog.
With all that said, I wanted to use this post to give a quick appraisal of the two apps I use: OS Maps and ViewRanger. They both excel and fall short in different ways, but happily, these failures and strengths complement each perfectly.
Let’s get this out of the way first of all, because there’s no debate to be had: Ordnance Survey maps are the standard and there’s nothing out there that comes close to beating them for clarity and information. All of my route planning starts on the OS Maps website without fail.
Using either the OS Leisure Maps or National Parkways maps, plotting a route on the OS Maps website is so simple and pleasingly accurate that it almost raises a smile on my wind-beaten face. The website plots the route between two waypoints, following every twist and turn in intricate detail. For anyone with OCD about the route matching the actual path (ahem, that’ll be me), it’s an absolute godsend. Honestly, it’s really satisfying. Even if you’re not going anywhere, just give it a go and feel good about your day.
Once you get to the end of the route and hit Save, that route becomes immediately available in the Ordnance Survey OS Maps apps for iOS and Android, where you can also download an offline map to ensure you have access when you’re in the remote hills without a signal. OS Maps also has an incredible number of pre-plotted routes from AA Walks, Trail Magazine and myriad other publishers, along with community-created routes – all included in your subscription for no extra cost.
Unfortunately, the place where we hand over to the mobile app is the place where OS Maps and I take leave of each other. As beautifully-designed and easy to use as the OS Maps app is, it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to actually following your route.
This isn’t just a one-off, this is how it always goes for me: load up the OS Maps app in the hills, find the route you previously plotted and hit Follow Route. Simple. Now you start walking. Maybe my expectations are too high, but what I expect to happen next is that the little arrow (which tells me my location) keeps up with me. As I move, it moves. Except, this doesn’t happen. You can walk for one minute, two minutes or five minutes, and that little arrow belligerently stays where it is. Give the screen a poke, move the map a little and the arrow will snap to where you actually are. It’s almost as if it nods off when you’re not looking and then jolts itself awake, pretending that it was with you all along.
This isn’t device-specific either, I’ve experienced exactly the same behaviour on multiple iPhones. Perhaps Android fares better?
The other issue with using the OS Maps app for navigation is the lack of an Apple Watch app. This means I constantly have to have my phone to hand. In an urban environment that would be entirely reasonable, but not in the hills. You see, you can’t keep it in your pocket because it might meet its demise when it falls out as you’re scrambling. You can’t keep it in your larger thigh pocket because you might bash it on a rock. You can’t keep it in your backpack because it’s an almighty pain in the arse to have to take it off every time you want to check you’re on the route. If it’s raining, that means taking off the backpack cover, opening the backpack, soaking half your stuff which you’d previously secured in a drysack, and then exposing your very expensive iDevice to the elements. I know that you can get those bags to put your phone in that allow it to hang from your neck and survive the rain, but… no. Not when there are better solutions out there.
And so, I use the OS Maps website to plot my route, but then I export it as a GPX file and head over to ViewRanger.
ViewRanger suffers from the exact opposite problems to OS Maps – the website is the clunky part, but the route tracking on mobile is unparalleled. Now, you can plot a route in ViewRanger on the website. You can even purchase a separate OS Maps subscription through their app and plot your routes using OS Maps inside ViewRanger. While this sounds like the ultimate solution, ViewRanger’s snap-to-route function is nowehere near as detailed or intricate as it is on OS Maps, and the route line that’s generated isn’t as satisfyingly smooth. It’s more like an approximation of the route; you don’t get every twist and turn, but you get a line that more-or-less overlays the National Parkways paths. This might be fine for some, but I’m not a fan. I like my routes to show me exactly where I’m going, even if it’s blatantly obvious. To solve that, I just use ViewRanger’s helpful Create Route from GPX feature and import the route I previously made in OS Maps. It creates about a billion waypoints, but I’m fine with that as you only see the ones you add detail to when you’re using it in the field.
In the same way that OS Maps provides routes from publishers like AA Walks, so too does ViewRanger. The difference is that, while the publisher routes are included in your OS Maps subscription, they often cost some money in ViewRanger. So get them from OS Maps if you have that as well.
Now, over to the ViewRanger app. I’ll start by saying this: it’s not intuitive. There are buttons everywhere, they all do things you don’t expect, some of them are in places they shouldn’t be, and syncing isn’t automatic. Once you’ve found the sync button (which only uploads and downloads data, it doesn’t sync destructive edits like deletes performed in the app), your route is available. You can now download an offline version of the map (I always grab Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps), sync the route across to your Apple Watch and head to the hills.
Once you’re at the start of your walk, you just hit Start on the Apple Watch and ViewRanger takes care of all the clever stuff in the background. You don’t need to think about it anymore. It’s frugal with the battery, it shows you a map you can zoom in and out of, tells you how much further you have to go, and – as if that weren’t enough – the little arrow updates to your precise location every time you look at it. It even shows you where you’ve been as well as where you’re going, which is incredibly helpful.
ViewRanger is second-to-none for following routes. It really is excellent. As you approach a waypoint you get notified of your next instruction and if you veer off the route by more than a reasonable amount, it’ll notify you to tell you to sort yourself out. I genuinely can’t fault the experience here.
Although it doesn’t directly relate to the experience of using ViewRanger in the wild, whenever I’ve had to contact them for technical support or subscription queries, the staff have always been exceptional. The speed, quality and clarity of interactions with them says a lot about the company they’re building.
Neither OS Maps or ViewRanger is perfect, but their strengths complement each other well. OS Maps is great on the web, but I wouldn’t depend on the mobile experience to get me where I’m going, which is kind of the point. ViewRanger, on the other hand, is incredible once you’re in the hills and ready to start following your route, but everything up to that point is a bit of a chore.
Between them, however, I have the perfect setup. Sure, I have to pay for OS subscriptions on both, but that gets me full UK mapping for £40 a year and the best experience wherever I am. The people who are wedded to their paper maps strike me as being the kind of people who still think using in-car sat navs is cheating. You know the kind – they pull out their AA route planner every few miles so that they can have an argument. For me, anything that makes walking easier, safer and removes distractions so you can enjoy the great outdoors around you is good in my book.
A couple of things to note about this article:
All of the images in this post come from either the Ordnance Survey or ViewRanger websites. I didn’t ask their permission to use them, so if someone gets a bit shouty and this post looks incredibly boring all of a sudden, it was my fault.
I wasn’t paid to write this review, nor was I asked to. This should go without saying; I’m nowhere near popular enough.
It’s a glorious day, you didn’t need your waterproofs, Yaktrax, walking poles, rucksack or water reservoir for this little day trip into your local National Park. You even know the route well. Everybody you’re with is cracking their best jokes and laughing. You never want this to end! Congratulations, you’re having some Type I fun!
Pretty much everything about our National Parks is great. There’s almost nothing to dislike about them. You’re taking in the fresh air, getting some exercise, you’re not in London, there’s very little concrete underfoot, people enquire about your day and anticipate jovial conversation, and there are wonderful views. So why the need for 3.5 types on fun? And what does that even mean?
Type I Fun
This is the kind of fun where everything is just magnificent from the moment you put on your boots, don your walking jacket and set off on your adventure. It’s a glorious day, you didn’t need your waterproofs, Yaktrax, walking poles, a rucksack or water reservoir for this little day trip into your local National Park. You even know the route well. Everybody you’re with is cracking their best jokes and laughing. You never want this to end! Congratulations, you’re having some Type I fun!
Type Iss Fun
Apparently, ss in Roman numerals means ‘one half’, so this is Type 1.5 fun. Having to find the Roman numeral equivalent of ‘one half’ while writing a blog post is an example of Type 1.5 fun – this is a fun post to write, but I’ve just had to Google what ‘one half’ is in Roman numerals and I’ve probably used it incorrectly. Honestly, that sucked a little bit.
Let’s imagine you’re having your perfect Type I fun adventure and then there’s that sodding great hill you have to climb up or a footpath that’s mostly ice that causes you to fall on your arse. It’s not going to ruin your day and everything else is just awesome, but let’s be honest here – sometimes parts of your otherwise excellent adventure can suck. You don’t want the uphill battle to last the whole time, but once you get to the view it was worth every aching muscle. You’ve just experienced Type 1.5 fun.
Type II Fun
Type II fun is rubbish most of the time you’re doing it, but it’s pretty great to brag about or learn from in retrospect. The walk we did to Kinder Downfall where we walked through a cloud for four hours, broke my phone, and my waterproofs proved woefully inadequate in the face of the task is a great example. My face hurt from the driving rain, my legs ached, and there was no view. Even if there had been a view, I couldn’t take any photos for fear of damaging my camera as well as my phone. Oh, and I couldn’t see the map properly.
And yet, I remember it as a really good day. That walk, in particular, taught me a lot about hill walking. I’m better prepared because of it and my cohorts and I look back on it fondly, often laughing about it because it was so ridiculous.
If you’re about to embark on an adventure that’s almost certainly going to suck most of the time, but you’ll look back on it with joy or will learn something useful from it, you can look forward to a Type II fun kind of day.
Type III Fun
Let’s imagine that Kinder walk again, but this time we’ll pretend that our navigational skills failed us, we got lost on a peaty moor with zero visibility, felt like we were in jeopardy the whole time, had to call out Mountain Rescue, and one of us fell off a cliff while simultaneously drenching a phone and a camera. That’s Type III fun. It was supposed to be fun, but it’s not. Ever.
A few months ago, I spent two days with Mental Health First Aid England to become a qualified Mental Health First Aider. Those are two of the most valuable days I’ve spent anywhere.
Mental Health First Aiders are a point of contact if you, or someone you are concerned about, is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. We’re not therapists or psychiatrists, but we can give you initial support and signpost you to appropriate help if it’s required.
It’s easy to forget that everyone has mental health – it’s more of a continuum than an absolute – and you can quickly find yourself on either end of the scale.
But what is good mental health? Well, the World Health Organisation defines it as:
“A state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
In all honestly, I’m more inclined to the deep end of the pool. Depression and anxiety have been around for me for such a long time that they’ve become dependable companions. I have a proclivity for rumination. I tend to see the risks in situations more than the positive outcomes. I’m endlessly self-critical.
In short, the voice in my head is an asshole.
There are two things that have helped me immeasurably when it comes to living with myself – “wherever you go, there you are”. The first is meditation. The second is hill walking.
While this website isn’t about meditation, I’d have just as many good things to say and could talk to you about it at length. It’s been transformational for me, a paradigm shift unlike any other, and if you’d like to find out more it would be my pleasure to have a chat about it with you.
This blog, however, is about walking. Happily, hill walking has been shown to have wonderful benefits for mental health. Remember, we’re not saying it’s going to solve all the problems, but it might be one factor in improving your position on the mental health continuum.
Long Live the Proleteriat!
2018 can feel a little like 1984 sometimes, can’t it? I don’t mean new episodes of Miami Vice and movies like Footloose, Karate Kid, Gremlins and Ghostbusters storming the Box Office. I mean more like George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare.
We all have the unenviable stress and pressure of wage slavery, which many of us attempt to self-medicate through post-work drinks, endlessly scrolling through social media without really knowing why, and wishing there was a more effective way of getting every milligram of caffeine into our sleep-deprived bodies.
The good news is that there’s a much cheaper and more natural remedy. Research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), conducted by Dr Valerie Gladwell at the University of Essex, demonstrated the power of the great outdoors to improve both physiological and psychological wellbeing:
“The value of nature has long been considered to be advantageous to human health. Early examples of this come in the form of urban parks established by wealthy philanthropists during the 19th century, and in the gardens incorporated into hospital designs. Our research supports this, demonstrating an association between improved health outcomes and engagement with surrounding ‘green space’.”
The research showed that just looking at slides of natural scenes could improve response and recovery from stressful tasks and that a simple walk in a green place led to better sleep the following night. Conversely, looking at city scenes had no such effect (therefore vindicating my aversion to London and proving once and for all that I’m not just miserable – London is scientifically awful).
I must admit, I was incredibly surprised to find just how much Ordnance Survey have done to promote healthy behaviours like these. Their challenge to us: what could you do with an hour a day? That’s all you need to get started and see benefits. One hour outside a day. What’s more, their apps for iOS and Android have a Greenspace map layer to help you easily identify parks and other local greenspaces.
You don’t have to walk for miles to feel the benefits. You don’t even have to go near hills. But imagine, if one our a day outside can do so much to benefit your mental health, how much better would regularly getting out into your closest National Park be? There are loads of them.
Another study showed that as little as 80 minutes of hill walking may reduce the risk of early death by around 10%. If you don’t have hills on your doorstep, make that 120 minutes of brisk walking around your local greenspace.
Of course, we’re here to talk about mental health and while reducing your risk of death by 10% is a noble cause, the quality of your life matters just as much as the longevity of it. The study mentioned above by the University of Essex showed that over 71% of participants felt less depressed after the country walk compared to 22% who reported an increase in feelings of depression after an urban walk.
It’s wonderful to see MIND, the mental health charity, still championing their green agenda. People have been advocating that we should all ‘get outside a bit more’ for as long as I can remember, but championing the great outdoors as a therapy in its own right is nothing but good news. Ecotherapy involves getting outdoors and getting active in a green environment as a way of boosting mental wellbeing – it’s not just good advice, it’s a clinically valid treatment option for GPs when assisting patients with mental ill health.
For the Men
Finally, for the men. I know, because I’m one of you, that it’s difficult to talk about mental health. You’re supposed to embody strength, dominate positions of power, and be the hunter-gatherer (this is what we call grocery shopping in my house). You’re supposed to balance that with being the strong and silent type, whilst showing no weakness. You can’t openly talk about mental health or stress online without a keyboard warrior branding you a ‘triggered snowflake’ and looking your best buddy in the eyes over a nice hot chocolate is just going to be dreadful.
And that’s why you should get outside with your mates. There are no keyboard warriors out there. If you’ve got a Jetboil, you can even keep the hot chocolate. You and your mates can just have a stroll and a chat… sometimes that chat can be about PlayStation games and Netflix, but other times it might give you the opportunity to actually help someone. Men are far more comfortable talking to each other when there’s something else to address. If you sit us facing each other and make us talk, we’ll forget how to use words. Put us in a car, both facing forward, or walking through some terrific scenery and navigating puddles of cow excrement, and it’s an entirely different story.
You could even turn walking into Walking+. The Peak District is renowned as a great place to go wreck hunting. Many aircraft wreck sites dating back to World War II can still be found on remote hillsides and moorlands. With a decent GPS and a bit of outdoors savvy, you can find yourself seeking out Lancaster, Dakota, Sabre, Gladiator, Meteor and Superfortress. All the while, you can start that conversation with your mate with three very simple words: “How’s it going?”
Facts About Mental Health
The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey show the total number of cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 was 488,000 cases.
British firms are losing on average 27.5 days of productive time per employee each year because of sickness, according to a report from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace.
Women are more likely than men to report that their stress levels are on the rise.
The Centre for Mental Health calculated that presenteeism from mental ill health alone, costs the UK economy £15.1 billion per annum.
Mental ill health is responsible for 91 million working days lost and costs £30 billion each year, more than for any other illness.