In the second instalment of our series exploring our relationship with the world around us, we step into spring, considering the ways that walking through this budding environment can refresh our minds
In the bright crisp morning light, the four of us are studying the signposts at the start of our route, deciding which way to walk. It’s one of those early spring days when you aren’t quite sure whether to bring a coat. There’s still a chill in the breeze but, as the hours pass, the day becomes warmer, and you remember that winter is over.
I’m at Dovedale, a picturesque valley in the Peak District, where the River Dove runs through a wooded limestone ravine. I often go walking with my husband, who is here too, but today we’re also joined by two close friends. I’ve known them for more than a decade, and while we regularly meet up for dinner, this is the first time we’ve headed for a hike.
Most of us are familiar with the benefits of going out for a walk, from how it helps our wellbeing to the physical health boost. I was curious about how walking with friends can bring more benefits too, so I asked counsellor Carley Symes for her thoughts.
“Connection to the world around us allows us to de-stress, and connecting with people we value reinforces our sense of belonging in the world,” Carley tells me. “Combining the two with a walk outside with friends gives us both of those benefits!”
Spring feels like a particularly good time to head outdoors, celebrating the longer days and warmer weather. “Walks in nature can increase mindfulness, and as the days get brighter, we have the added bonus of soaking up vitamin D to support our health,” says Carley.
The four of us walk alongside the flowing River Dove. This is a place I’ve meant to visit for years, but it’s my first time here today. Getting to explore somewhere new with people I care about makes it even more special.
As I try to live more seasonally, I’m aiming to get out more for walks with people I care about. It’s a great way to not only appreciate the spring, but to spend time with those I’m close to, and deepen our connection.
Walking and talking
Walking with friends isn’t just a lovely way of enjoying each other’s company and making memories together – it can also help you have meaningful or difficult conversations.
“It’s helpful to regulate our nervous systems – connecting with nature soothes us, and walking helps our bodies get rid of those anxiety hormones as our heart rate rises but doesn’t become overwhelming,” explains Carley. “This means we might feel less nervous having difficult conversations, and stay less nervous as the conversation develops. Looking ahead and focusing on the areas around you helps to lessen the intensity of your conversation, so you can talk honestly, rather than overthinking what your friend is thinking or saying.”
My husband and I work from home, and often go for a lunchtime walk together. I sometimes find that this amble around the neighbourhood gives us a chance to talk about what’s bothering us, or have deeper conversations. And wandering through Dovedale with my friends, I find we talk about important things in a way that’s perhaps harder when you’re sitting opposite each other in a restaurant.
How to plan a walk with friends
Think about the kind of place you’d like to walk, and what suits you all – hiking up a mountain isn’t for everyone, so ask your friends what kind of terrain they are comfortable with. For those with access requirements, Miles Without Stiles are walking routes that are suitable for wheelchair users and others who find uneven ground inaccessible. There are Miles Without Stiles routes across the country – simply Google, say, ‘New Forest Miles Without Stiles’ and you’ll find some.
And of course, make sure you’re prepared for the walk, especially if venturing into the countryside or unfamiliar territory. Do you need a map and compass for the route? Do you have appropriate boots and clothing? It’s worth researching potential routes and thinking about how manageable they will be for you and your friends.
Soaking up the springtime
The day warms up, and after a couple of hours, we find a clearing in the woodland to picnic. We settle down on the grass, laying out our jackets as rugs. We share sandwiches and biscuits, and sit eating together.
There is the rushing sound of the nearby river, and the chatter and laughter of groups of walkers passing, children calling to their parents as they run along the path. I breathe in the smell of damp earth and the sweet floral scent of nearby wildflowers.
As I nibble on a cake, I think of how beautiful a moment this is, soaking up the springtime here in Dovedale, and the joy of sharing it with people I care about.