National Parks: Mental Wellbeing and Exploring Sustainably
Our national parks are the jewels in the crown when it comes to landscapes, wildlife and adventures in the UK. Inspirational places, they provide many people with a gateway to the outdoors, the beginning of a lifelong journey toward building a connection to nature, leading healthier, happier lives and a developing understanding around the importance of preserving these natural spaces for future generations. In partnership with Columbia and National Parks UK we caught up with some outdoor enthusiasts based in 4 different National Parks to hear how exploring these areas has benefited their mental health, their top tips on how to explore more sustainably, and their favourite locations that are off the beaten track.
Where’s the best place to visit in your local National Park that’s off the beaten track, and what makes it so special?
Daniel (Brecon Beacons): If you want to escape the crowds of Pen Y Fan, avoid the route from Pont ar Daf car park; it’s not dubbed the “motorway” for no reason! I’d recommend heading to the far west of the park to Tair Cairn, Isaf and Uchaf or generally the area around Carreg Cennen Castle. While these hills perhaps don’t have the drama of the central Beacons, they’ve got their own unique character, with views over to the ruins of an ancient castle. You might also be lucky to spot semi-wild ponies as well as rabbits and hares.
Megan (Cairngorms): Whether it’s off the beaten track of not, Loch Muick really is something special and arguably the most beautiful day trip from Aberdeen. Throughout the year, the way it transforms from winter wonderland to wildlife haven never ceases to amaze me.
Stuart (Northumberland): A place called Ravensheugh. It’s very close to Simonside but gets hardly any traffic. It’s a great place to catch the sunset with great views up the Coquet Valley.
What advice would you give to someone visiting a National Park for the first time?
Stuart: Wear appropriate clothing. Definitely suitable footwear too as the Northumberland National Park can be pretty boggy in places! Also make sure to pack a waterproof as the weather can change quickly.
Megan: I agree. Think waterproofs and layers. The UK weather can be so unpredictable, so make sure you’re prepared for all things rain or shine and embrace whatever comes your way. Some of my most magical hikes have been in the rain, so don’t let a little bit of moisture dampen your spirits!
Daniel: Be prepared and consider exploring the lesser visited areas. While everybody wants the selfie at the top of Pen Y Fan, there are some great walks and views in the quieter areas of the park. Be prepared to walk a few hours in the other direction and you’ll be rewarded with some epic views all to yourself.
Why is it important to enjoy the National Parks in a sustainable way and what advice would you give someone on how to do so?
Daniel: The environment and wildlife in our national parks are built on a delicate ecosystem, and the more people that are visiting these areas, the more of an impact on this ecosystem we have. We should do everything we can to make sure that we keep these areas as natural as possible for ourselves, future generations and the animals that live there.
Consider avoiding overcrowded car parks, or even getting a bus to the starting point of walks from one of the towns in the area. Be aware of your surroundings and try to minimise your impact on the area by taking your rubbish home, whilst trying to stay on the paths to avoid trampling animal habitats.
Megan: The most important thing to remember is to leave the park the way you found it. Think about yourself as being a guest in nature’s backyard. Be respectful to the area, and to the wildlife that calls it home.
How does being in the National Park help you with your mental wellbeing?
Emma Chadwick: As someone that does suffer with their mental health, I think that being outdoors and staying active is really important. Spending time in nature really helps improve my mood and reduce stress. I’m extremely fortunate to live within close proximity to the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District National Park; even the Lake District is only a couple of hours away! If my mood is low, I can head out to one of these National Parks for the day and it really helps me clear my mind.
Stuart: Getting out in the National Park has always been a great way for me to relax and clear my head. I lived in the National Park for 15 years and would often go and explore different spots after school or at the weekends. Whether it's a big walk up in the Cheviots or a smaller route closer to home, I always come home feeling positive. There's nothing better than a bit of fresh air.
Megan: Nothing gives me a clearer head than getting away from the city and losing myself in nature. That feeling of accomplishment after finishing a long walk or a challenging hike is second to none.
Daniel: I feel it’s important to be out in nature to reset. Being another animal in the outdoors makes me feel small and reminds me of my place in the world, it puts the problems and stresses of everyday life into perspective and allows me to approach them with a fresh mindset.
How important is it to get outside and explore with others?
Megan: After the events of 2020, I think everyone will agree on the importance of being around loved ones. Having the privilege once again to explore new areas and make memories with friends and family is something we will likely never take for granted again!
Daniel: I feel it’s very important to get outside with friends and family. Being outdoors with others helps build bonds in a way that’s difficult to do with the usual distractions of modern life.
Stuart: Getting outdoors with others is so important. Some of my fondest memories have been from showing friends and family places they hadn’t been before or exploring new spots with others. I think getting outdoors with others is even more important now after spending the last year or so at home.
Produced in partnership with Columbia and National Parks UK.
We Go Outside Too is a Birmingham based organisation helping young kids from black inner-city communities to experience the outdoors. Our friends at Merrell joined its founder Marlon Patrice to hear more whilst testing out the new Merrell Moab Speed shoes.
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