At the height of the Covid 19 pandemic, when we were all in lockdown, I, like so many people, found myself at a loss. My work as a writer had dried up and the only alternative to mooching around the house all day was to get out and walk.
Walking became my coping mechanism – it helped me relax and forget for a while about the situation we all found ourselves caught up in.
To begin with I explored the local parks in my home city of Cardiff. Soon though, I started to venture further afield into the woodlands on the fringes of the city. The more I walked the more I came to appreciate the amazing beauty and complexity of the natural world around me – particularly the trees which, to my shame, I’d never really paid that much attention to before.
Each day I grew more fascinated with the trees around me. I wondered how long they’d been standing, watching over us, and how had they got there in the first place. As I wandered through the woods I couldn’t help wondering: if the trees could think, what would they make of the mess we humans had made of the land we share?
The media was full of stories about how we needed to make a fresh start and reboot that relationship if we wanted to prevent further pandemics as well as devastating climate change. The question that no-one seemed to be able to answer was: How do we rebalance our relationship and make peace with nature?
It seemed like we were trapped at present in a liminal state – on the threshold of embracing a better, more sustainable way of living but not able to leave behind our old destructive ways. I felt like I was in a similar liminal state – what I needed was an adventure to shake me out of the fog I found myself.
That’s when I read about a plan to create the National Forest for Wales – an ambitious project that would fight climate change, protect biodiversity and help people get out and experience nature. That gave me an idea. What if I mapped out and walked a potential route for this new National Forest?
Then and there, I decided to embark on a nearly 300-mile walking trip through the forests, woodlands, hillsides and mountains of Wales.
Walking became my coping mechanism. It helped me relax and forget about the situation we all found ourselves in.
So, one Sunday morning, I sat down at my desk with a cup of coffee and started studying a map of Wales so that I could plot a series of walks connecting the forests and woodlands.
I soon found myself diving into the history of the woodlands in Wales and I quickly discovered how deep our relationship with nature once was and how, over the centuries, we had lost that connection.
I learned about the history and causes of deforestation and how centuries of industrialisation had destroyed our relationship to the forests.
I discovered how crucial a role the woodlands and nature played in our folklore and legends – the woodlands of Wales lie at the heart of the stories of King Arthur, the Lady of the Lake, the magical kingdoms of the Mabinogi and the mysterious powers of the Physicians of Myddfai.
And I also saw how the celebration of nature in art and culture by the likes of William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge and JMW Turner helped create not just Victorian tourism but also the modern environmental movement.
Importantly, I also realised how walking through Wales could shine a light on the global issues we need to solve if we truly are to make peace with nature. Systemic issues like affording nature the same legal rights as humans; restructuring our global food system; planting trees in ways that help not hurt the planet; and building the economic value of nature into our financial and economic systems.
Finally, and importantly, I began to realise how important walking in nature is for all our physical and mental well-being and how this journey could help me repair my spirit and shape a new more positive future.
This is the story of my journey through Wales.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be telling you more about individual walks and experience through these posts and this newsletter.
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