Reconnecting with nature

water meadows River Wey near Farnham

water meadows River Wey near Farnham

hazelnuts last autumn from my garden

hazelnuts last autumn from my garden

I owe Richard Mabey a lot.

As a child I was very connected with nature. Our garden backed on to fields. I would go walking in the fields, walk down to a river and along the river, paddle through streams, climb up hills, explore quarries, go off on my cycle and explore further afield.

In the winter, the river would burst its banks. The field would be flooded, turned into one huge lake, almost but not quite reaching our garden fence.

I have never revisited where I grew up. I am told the field behind our house is one vast housing estate. I would find it too upsetting.

At university I with a group of friends would go away for a weekend, sometimes a day. It was not long after the Beeching Cuts in the rail network. Often we would explore old railway lines.

Then I got out of the habit.

Until a work colleague went to an art exhibition of paintings of wild flowers by Marjorie Blamey. These were used to illustrate The Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe. An excellent field guide.

Around the time I also picked up Food For Free by Richard Mabey.

I started walking again. I would go down to Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall and walk the coastal path, though in my case it was walking the cliff path. I would also wonder inland too.

I would walk along the cliffs, find a rocky outcrop with sheer drops all around and just sit there.

At night I would stay at Youth Hostels where I would meet interesting fellow travellers and some very eccentric wardens. An organisation I watched destroyed by greed, incompetence and total disconnect with its founding philosophy of connecting young people of limited means with the countryside. Many of the hostels I stayed at no longer exist.

Later I read Common Ground which is about the English countryside. An eye opener.

I learnt a lot about ancient woods. Wanted to know more. Met Oliver Rackam, one of the leading experts on ancient woodlands.

In Common Ground I learned of a wood that had been bulldozed. The trees had been destroyed but not the wood.

Therefore I found it very sad to learn that for a a period of some years Richard Mabey suffered severe clinical depression, resulting in two spells in a mental hospital. An experience he describes in Nature Cure and talked about on All in the Mind on BBC Radio 4 yesterday evening, a special edition on ecotherapy. [rebroadcast today at 1530 on BBC Radio 4]

Richard Mabey said a symptom of his clinical depression was that he lost his connection with the natural world. He would look at the books he had written, see his name, and yet be unable to connect with himself.

I have never understood going to a gym. I would much rather go for a walk, climb a mountain. Breathe in the fresh air, catch the sun.

I was recently in Bassano del Grappa. The first thing I did on my first day was go for a long walk along a river. On my last day, my lovely Japanese friend Mio and I went for a walk up a mountain, even though we had not got in from a party the night before until 3-30am in the early hours of the morning.

In the 1980s I was in London for a couple of years. I arranged my schedule such that I was not there everyday. On the days I was not there I went walking. It was the only way to retain my sanity. And it cleared my lungs of the filth picked up in London.

Woods are something special. To sit in a woodland glade, the quiet, woodland butterflies flitting by. To see an ancient tree and wonder what tales it has to tell.

On heathland to see the sun catch a Scots Pine.

Using Food for Free, I used to gather plants, nuts, wild fungi, then eat that night.

Of late I have got out of the habit of walking.

Around this time last year I went for a walk with a friend. We caught the train to Farnham, with the intention of walking around the town. Instead we walked to Waverley Abbey.

It reminded me of how much I loved walking in the countryside.

I am lucky, I have a large garden. Currently somewhat overgrown. The last couple of weeks, every morning, I have been on my hands and knees cutting the long grass with a pair of garden shears, then mowing the grass with a lawn mower, clearing beds and borders.

The last few evenings I have been able to enjoy the spoils of my labour, sit in the garden reading The Fire, sequel to The Eight. Peaceful and quiet as though sitting in a woodland clearing.

In Brida, Paulo Coelho talks of the difference between those who build and those who garden. Those who build are in danger of walling themselves in, those who garden have to constantly adapt.

Ecotherapy is using nature to cure.

Other books I think I have by Richard Mabey include: Gilbert White.

A couple of years ago Richard Mabey was at the Guildford Book Festival. Sadly I never got to meet him as the day he was there clashed with something else.

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