I joined the National Parks Partnerships team earlier this year at an exciting time in the lead up to COP26 with our Net Zero With Nature programme helping form a vital part of the effort to achieve the UK’s 2035 carbon reduction goals. Having worked for Renew Wales and The Outward Bound Trust in the past, I have learned the importance of nature for our communities, our climate and our mental health. It is a privilege to work on behalf of the UK’s National Parks on projects that will shape everyone’s future.
Inspired by the health benefits of wild swimming (formerly known as ‘swimming’), I set off on a day trip to explore the fuss. Spitchwick in Dartmoor was my chosen destination. It had been a long week, month, year. I arrived at the what3words address a friend had shared with me and parked at the top of a spindly wooden staircase that led me down to my launching pad.
Holding on to last-leg branches as I pivoted my way to the water’s edge, my enthusiasm was waning. The naturally welcoming flat stone surface softened the dread as I unrobed, prematurely exercising my well-practiced cold-shower Wim Hof breathing technique. Another deep inhale and I was in, toes, foot and calf sending frozen shiver signals that was enough to dilute my foggy brain with a freshness that coffee still fails to afford me. Exhale and I’m in, all in. The clarity of thought widens, I’m almost smiling (calm down) looking back at the magical green landscape that surrounds me. I felt awake, to my senses, my surroundings and nothing else mattered.
I was sure I had visited Spitchwick when I was much younger. Being there, amongst the mythical, enchanting grassy flats, surrounded by old trees, waterfalls and vibrant, luminous green colours. It is a fairy-tale land with innate familiarity, hidden away from the vast moorland that Dartmoor is more synonymous with. I have heard it is a popular hangout spot in the summer but on this wet autumn day, it was quiet, the silence only broken by nature. The peaty water, clean from the mountain, has a freshness that stays with me. Floating above the rocky shore felt cleaner than any pool, sea or shower. My clarity of mind was matched by the clearness of the River Dart and with the decrepit, weeping scenery that surrounded my secluded fountain of youth, I felt all the more alive.
Time to get out. I clambered out with an equal amount of grace, but perhaps more assurance than my clamber in. Whilst a cold shower works as a quick morning fix to wash off mucky cortisol hormones; cold water swimming is a cathartic, life-affirming experience that lasts beyond the moment. It is a feeling that transcends the rest of the day, a sensation that memory establishes as precious with a vitality that retains for months, even years afterwards. With newfound confidence, I set off again, further into the wooded abyss to see what else it had to offer. I soon arrived at a steep hill and puffed my way to the top, looking back down on the lake, now still again, with the trail I had just climbed reflecting back up at me.
Further up the trail and some wild horses elegantly trotted out to greet me. An encounter like this would normally fill me with fear but I felt at ease with myself and these animals, who were entirely harmless and unconcerned as I strolled past. At one with nature is a throwaway phrase but the freedom that nature can provide, mentally, is so powerful, empowering and criminally undervalued. If the feeling I had that day could be bottled up and sold it would make more than any pharmaceutical company ever could. Lost in my thoughts and content in my surroundings: a little pocket of Dartmoor’s vast expanse where life is good.