Ah, the call of the wild. It’s hard to put into words that feeling you get when you’re staring out at the sea or listening to birdsong… or watching a TV show narrated by David Attenborough.
In London, we’re lucky enough to have plenty of lush spaces, parks and woodlands to give you that green fix during the week, but to truly leave the city behind you have to head further afield. Getting back to nature isn’t just good for the ’gram either, it improves your mood and can help relieve stress, too. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to embrace nature that don’t involve wellies or pitching up somewhere bleak with a flimsy tent in tow. From foraging courses to wildlife-spotting weekends, here’s how to go au naturale and escape the city for the weekend.
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The best wild getaways to escape the city
In London, foraging is mainly reserved for squirrels rooting through bins hunting for Pret leftovers. But head out to the countryside, and foraging takes on a whole new meaning. Depending on the season, there are all kinds of plants out there you can eat, cook or brew in a tea. Take a foraging course and you’ll learn all about them, while getting out into nature to sniff out edible seeds, funghi and flowers for yourself. Most courses involve a cooking element too, where you’ll learn how to whip up your freshly foraged wild ingredients in a straight-from-the-woods lunch or dinner. Forage Fine Foods offer midweek courses, while Taste the Wild offer foraging days.
If you go down to the woods today, you may well stumble on a group of frazzled urbanites bathing in the forest and trying to reconnect with nature. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to pack your trunks for this kind of bathing. Originating in Japan, forest bathing is used as a form of therapy to reduce stress. The bathing part just means completely immersing yourself in the forest. If it sounds like this is just a fancy way to describe a walk in the woods, well, you’re part-right. Forest bathing also includes a guide to help you with the more mindful elements, like meditation. Interested? Forest Holidays run forest bathing day trips in both Blackwood Forest in Hampshire and Thorpe Forest in Norfolk.
Swap London’s lidos for something a little more wild (and a lot less busy). You can wild swim in loads of spots: lakes, rivers, coves, beaches – and there’s nothing more refreshing than a cool dip in the summer (or the rest of the year round, if you’re feeling brave). Scotland and the Lake District have plenty of lochs and lakes to choose from, or simply head for your nearest stretch of coastline. For something a little more organised, Tudor Farmhouse run wild swimming breaks on the River Wye – which includes a half-day guided lesson and a picnic hamper – or check out Wild Swimming to find your local watering hole… (plus tips on how to swim and stay safe).
Mountain, tree, cow… even the names of yoga poses are inspired by the great outdoors. You don’t need anything more than a mat to take your usual yoga session from studio to alfresco, but if you’re looking for an organised retreat, Elmley Nature Reserve run ‘The Nature Sessions’, which includes outdoor yoga, so you can do downward dog and soak in the spectacular scenery and wildlife at the same time. If you’re more about the yin than the yang, this retreat also includes meditation, picnics and guided nature walks.
Getting out in nature is all well and good, but what if you could learn to capture it in a picture at the same time? A photography weekend is a great way to get outdoors with purpose. Try landscape photography in the Lake District, a photo tour of the Isle of Skye or photography workshops on the Dorset and Cornish coasts. After all these courses your Instagram will be popping with wholesome sunsets, macro shots of leaves and perfect landscapes framed with the rule of thirds.
Release your inner Bear Grylls and buff up on the basic skills of bushcraft. Don’t worry, you won’t be dumped on an island and left to fend for yourself – this is less a survival challenge and more a chance to up-skill while spending a weekend living in and off of the surrounding nature. Look at it as an adult version of Guides or Scouts camp, except without the uniforms. Depending on which course you go for, you’ll learn to cook game and fish, build a shelter from scratch, light a fire, source and purify water and navigate by the stars.
Giant rats, pigeons with gnarly feet, brazen foxes eyeing you up on bin night… life in a city means you get to see wildlife in it’s unnatural habitat, but escape to the countryside and it’s a different story. There’s nothing quite like spotting critters in the wild, so why not plan your own UK safari? You’ll find sharks off the Cornish coast, puffins and porpoises in Anglesey and Scotland’s very own ‘big five’: golden eagles, red deer, red squirrels, otters and harbour seals.
Best saved for the summer months, there’s no better escape from modern-day life than swapping your centrally-heated flat for a sleeping bag and clear open skies. Stargazers should head for wild camping spots where the skies are darkest for the best chance of admiring the stellar displays. We’ve done the hard work for you and found the best places to stargaze in the UK including Northumberland Dark Sky Park. It does what it says on the tin: the skies are dark, the constellations are bright – so lay down your head and prepare to get starry-eyed.
If your nature preference falls less in the hiking-and-camping category and more in the flowers-and-butterflies one, then this floral escape is for you. While your £1 daffs from Sainsbury’s will only last a week or so, the two acres of flower fields at Green & Gorgeous bloom with seasonal stems for a large chunk of the year. Buff up on all things floriculture with the Oxfordshire-based team who run courses on growing, arranging and photographing flowers – it’s a guaranteed blooming great day out.
Getting out in nature can kick start your creativity, so why not channel it into art? Eco art therapy encourages painting and drawing – anything creative in a natural setting – as a way to reconnect and calm the mind. You need zero skills to reap the benefits: all you need is a sketch pad and a pencil. If you prefer a group setting, check out Artful Retreats, who run escapes across the UK and Europe.