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The Five Ways to Wellbeing: how to feel good and function well

Wellbeing is multifaceted

Looking after ourselves and our families isn’t always easy. Some days doing things that normally make us feel better just don’t work. Our wellbeing is a multi-faceted aspect of our overall health, which is shaped during our development in the womb, our social and physical environments, and can fluctuate on a daily basis. So, it makes sense that keeping our wellbeing tip-top can sometimes be a complex task, especially for all the different members of our families.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were some sure-fire ways to boost our wellbeing, even on those days when we seem to be completely off-kilter? Or when we want to bring the whole family together and do something to nourish us all? Well, enter the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and their work developing the Five Ways to Wellbeing for the UK Government’s Foresight programme in 2008.

Archie and I spending time together, learning about fish at Bristol Aquarium.
Archie and I spending time together, learning about fish and other marine life at Bristol Aquarium.

Feeling good and functioning well

Our wellbeing encompasses our day-to-day good feelings, happiness, and overall satisfaction with our lives: whether we feel good and whether we function well. However, wellbeing is also tied to our mental capital, which includes aspects of ourselves such as our cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, and importantly our self-esteem. According to NEF, the evidence suggests there are particular actions we can take to improve our wellbeing and bolster our mental capital, and these work by enhancing how well we function within our lives. NEF distilled these down to five action themes – the Five Ways to Wellbeing (wording for each taken from NEF’s report):

  1. CONNECT with the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
  2. BE ACTIVE Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy; one that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
  3. TAKE NOTICE Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are on a train, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
  4. KEEP LEARNING Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident, as well as being fun to do.
  5. GIVE Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly  rewarding and will create connections with the people around you.

NEF developed a model (below) showing how wellbeing and mental capital interact with the five ways to wellbeing by enhancing how well we function. While the five ways may not necessarily be sufficient to ensure great wellbeing all the time, practicing them reinforces the positive emotions, satisfaction, resilience, self-esteem, etc., that lead to better wellbeing in the longer term. Each way promotes good functioning, which boosts wellbeing and mental capital. These then boost each other and better functioning, and so the system goes on! Are you dizzy yet?! The great thing about these ways is that they interact. Go for a walk (be active) and be mindful (take notice) or go with a friend (connect). Do a course (learn) and then apply your new skills as a volunteer (give).

A model for how the Five Ways to Wellbeing contribute to good functioning, which influences wellbeing and mental capital. The two latter components interact with each other and feedback into function to create a complex feedback loop. Taken from NEF's report: Five Ways to Wellbeing, NEF 2008.
A model for how the Five Ways to Wellbeing contribute to good functioning, which influences wellbeing and mental capital. The two latter components interact with each other and feedback into function to create a complex loop. Taken from NEF’s report: Five Ways to Wellbeing, NEF 2008.

Gimme nature

These five were the short list – there was a slightly longer list that included (drum roll please) NATURE!!! While the short-listed actions do pay lip service to key aspects of nature connection that boost our wellbeing (such as being active and taking notice), The Wildlife Trusts explore this in greater detail in their report. My next post in this series will look at the evidence The Wildlife Trusts present, and highlight some of the best ways we can all connect with nature via the Five Ways to Wellbeing. Until then!

If you’d like to read my introductions to nature for better health and wellbeing, check out my previous posts here: Part 1 and Part 2.

30 Days Wild, Days 3 to 8: our family focus on wellbeing

Delightful British summer

Well! What weather we’ve had this week… Not exactly the delightful British summer we always hope for, but then we’ve had some amazing days in the last couple of months. When the weather turns bad, it can be hard to think of ways to connect with nature when you have a young baby, without having to don the waterproofs and wellies, and wrapping baby up in all manner of layers (then CONSTANTLY worrying that baby is too hot/too cold/wet/etc.). For me, taking part in 30 Days Wild is not just about connecting myself more with the natural world, but also finding ways for Archie to also benefit from the goodness the wild has to offer, as we both focus on wellbeing (well, he kinda just focuses on milk and toys, but hey!).

 

Five ways to wellbeing

A report published in 2008 identified five actions to improve wellbeing:

  1. Connect
  2. Keep active
  3. Take notice
  4. Keep learning
  5. Give

Getting stuck into 30 Days Wild, I’ve had these in the back of my mind when deciding what Random Acts of Wildness to do each day. I’ll be going into more detail on these soon, looking at studies The Wildlife Trusts highlight that demonstrate how nature can contribute to each of these categories to improve wellbeing.

 

Our Random Acts of Wildness, Days 3-8

Day 3: Another visit to our favourite local National Trust property, Tyntesfield. My mum was staying with us and she loves the place too so it was a fun, easy excursion for all of us. It really has something for all the family: beauty in nature, architecture, and gardens, easy spots for feeding baby and play breaks from the buggy. This time, we got active and took notice: we explored further on foot and found parts we’d never visited before. I turned green with envy at the gorgeous kitchen garden. I’d absolutely love to have such an organised and productive area of our garden, however small!

Day 3: Another visit to our favourite local National Trust property, Tyntesfield. My mum was staying with us and she loves the place too so it was a fun, easy excursion for all of us. It really has something for all the family: beauty in nature, architecture, and gardens, easy spots for feeding baby and play breaks from the buggy. This time, we got active and took notice: we explored further on foot and found parts we’d never visited before. I turned green with envy at the gorgeous kitchen garden. I’d absolutely love to have such an organised and productive area of our garden, however small!
30 Days Wild day 3

Here’s a little gallery of our DSLR photos from the day – mostly taken by hubby on the Nikon D7100, post-processed in Photoshop.

 

Day 4: Getting to know my fruit trees, learning about when and how to prune them (bad weather again). When we bought out house, it already had a fig tree, olive tree, and what I thought was a peach tree in the back garden. It turns out the peach is an apricot tree – big oops! from the supposed biologist…!!! The apricot was never trained and is now out of control and not fruiting well, and the olive has become rather unruly where I would prefer it provided some form of screen, so both of these need attention. I’ve never pruned a tree and the last thing I want to do is do them any harm…so learning was in order. Now I feel much more confident and informed as to what is required and when 🙂

(I was bought the book below as a present – you can buy it here)

Day 4: Getting to know my fruit trees, learning about when and how to prune them (bad weather again). When we bought out house, it already had a fig tree, olive tree, and what I thought was a peach tree in the back garden. It turns out the peach is an apricot tree – big oops! from the supposed biologist…!!! The apricot was never trained and is now out of control and not fruiting well, and the olive has become rather unruly where I would prefer it provided some form of screen, so both of these need attention. I’ve never pruned a tree and the last thing I want to do is do them any harm…so learning was in order. Now I feel much more confident and informed as to what is required and when
30 Days Wild day 4

Day 5: Learning about native and tropical marine life at Bristol Aquarium, as it was STILL raining. It turns out my mum had never been to an aquarium before (Archie has already been several times – annual membership oh yes!). She loved it and as Archie gets older he notices and enjoys more of it which is lovely to share. We were lucky to be near the seahorses when they were fed. They rose towards the surface all together in a beautiful display, and you could hear them eating with loud POPs as they took mouthfuls.

Day 5: Learning about native and tropical marine life at Bristol Aquarium, as it was STILL raining. It turns out my mum had never been to an aquarium before (Archie has already been several times – annual membership oh yes!). She loved it and as Archie gets older he notices and enjoys more of it which is lovely to share. We were lucky to be near the seahorses when they were fed. They rose towards the surface all together in a beautiful display, and you could hear them eating with loud POPs as they took mouthfuls.
30 Days Wild day 5

Day 6: A brief nature fix today in between breaks in yet more rain… I seized the opportunity to dead-head my roses and create a small home-grown bouquet for our living room, bringing the outdoors in. Both these activities felt almost meditative so although brief, they were good for heart and mind.

Day 6: A brief nature fix today in between breaks in yet more rain… I seized the opportunity to dead-head my roses and create a small home-grown bouquet for our living room, bringing the outdoors in. Both these activities felt almost meditative so although brief, they were good for heart and mind.
30 Days Wild day 6

Day 7: As we’ve had a bit of a learning theme this week, Archie and I continued this today with a learning walk around Clifton and Durdham Downs. It was a sunny but blustery afternoon, so we were certainly connected to the elements (hello windburn…)! There was a lot of wildlife out: we saw four grey squirrels and many different bird species. Swifts wheeled in the sky above us; their elegant scythe-shaped wings giving them incredible manoeuvrability. A pied wagtail flitted and hovered over patches of grass presumably nibbling tasty insects. Only in the last few weeks have I noticed their flight pattern – it’s actually very pretty. They flutter and change direction in a delicate way that reminds me a little of a hummingbird (humour me slightly!), with their long tail waving behind. Around the city you tend to see them in car parks or the edges of pavements; if you see one in a garden or park do take the time to notice how they move. We also saw butterflies in the meadows that now fill a number of areas around the Downs.

Day 7: As we’ve had a bit of a learning theme this week, Archie and I continued this today with a learning walk around Clifton and Durdham Downs. It was a sunny but blustery afternoon, so we were certainly connected to the elements (hello windburn…)! There was a lot of wildlife out: we saw four grey squirrels and many different bird species. Swifts wheeled in the sky above us; their elegant scythe-shaped wings giving them incredible manoeuvrability. A pied wagtail flitted and hovered over patches of grass presumably nibbling tasty insects. Only in the last few weeks have I noticed their flight pattern – it’s actually very pretty. They flutter and change direction in a delicate way that reminds me a little of a hummingbird (humour me slightly!), with their long tail waving behind. Around the city you tend to see them in car parks or the edges of pavements; if you see one in a garden or park do take the time to notice how they move. We also saw butterflies in the meadows that now fill a number of areas around the Downs.
30 Days Wild day 7

Day 8: An odd day with random naps, a Dr’s appointment, and many household chores so my act of wildness today was to write some poetry when I had some space and time while Archie napped. I’m happy with the beginning, but we’ll see how it progresses. Whatever it turns out like I will share – you’ve got to just get these things out there sometimes, don’t you?! I’m not sure which of the Five Ways this might incorporate, I think mostly taking notice as I was imagining what sensing nature for the very first time might feel like.

Day 8: An odd day with random naps, a Dr’s appointment, and many household chores so my act of wildness today was to write some poetry when I had some space and time while Archie napped. I’m happy with the beginning, but we’ll see how it progresses. Whatever it turns out like I will share – you’ve got to just get these things out there sometimes, don’t you?! I'm not sure which of the Five Ways this might incorporate, I think mostly taking notice as I was imagining what sensing nature for the very first time might feel like.
30 Days Wild day 8

That’s it for now, keep sharing your Random Acts and think about the Five Ways to Wellbeing – how do you focus on wellbeing?

Nature improves our health and wellbeing: Part 2

Simple ways to enhance health and wellbeing

In Part 1, I introduced the wide range of scientific evidence proving that nature connection improves our health and wellbeing. Here in Part 2, I highlight some interesting facts we now know about how this happens. All studies referred to below are cited in The Wildlife Trusts’ report, mentioned in Part 1.

Looking at nature

Simply looking out of your window at a natural view – trees, fields, the coast – and noticing wildlife gives you and your family so much. Children who can view nature have better brain power and are more able to control their own behaviour – yes please! When you’re at work, nature views reduce stress and improve job satisfaction. Such a simple thing, but it could benefit employers so much through increased productivity and reduced sick pay! This I find incredibly powerful: hospital patients who can see nature outside get better more quickly, have fewer complications and need less pain relief. Next time you’re ill (I hope it’s a looong time away, if at all), see if you can regularly look at nature and see if you feel better quicker! Even looking at pictures of natural scenes has an effect – it relaxes your body and your mind.

Noticing the nature outside can help us feel good, improving wellbeing
Noticing the nature outside can help us feel good.

Nearby nature

I love this: using your local natural spaces helps you live longer! Woohoo, get me out there now then! It seems that using any green space has a strong positive effect on the general health and wellbeing of you and your family. It’s particularly important for children, strengthening their ability to cope with stress and improving brain power and attention. Stress reduction, enhanced immunity, more active lifestyles, lower crime rates and less aggression…spending time with your local nature can really do all this. I’ll explore the evidence for these claims in future posts as there’s just too much interesting stuff to include here and not write a tome!

Choosing to walk through local green space instead of driving, or simply having lunch in the park are great ways to experience the health and wellbeing benefits of nature for free!
Choosing to walk through local green space instead of driving, or simply having lunch in the park are great ways to experience the health and wellbeing benefits of nature for free!

Get your (active) greens

Green exercise is becoming a huge field in its own right. Just being in nature gives you benefits, just doing exercise gives you benefits – put the two together and BOOM, you get more bang for your natural buck (so to speak). The research shows that green exercise improves your health in three main areas:

  1. Psychological wellbeing
  2. Physical health
  3. Social networking

Exercising in many different environments give you these benefits, as do a variety of activities. Basically, get your active greens in whatever form you fancy and you’ll be benefiting from the synergy between nature and exercise. Interestingly, it’s the first 5 minutes of the exercise that gives you the most benefit so make those first minutes count by really being present in what you do.

Jogging in your local park can help you engage with nearby nature to improve health and wellbeing. Joining a running group is a great to get your active greens in company!
Jogging in your local park can help you engage with nearby nature to improve health and wellbeing. Joining a running group is a great to get your active greens in company!

 

Today’s task: In the comments tell me (a) your favourite natural scenes and why, (b) what green exercise do you enjoy and how do you think it benefits you?

In future posts I’ll be exploring what our wellbeing is and how you can use nature to improve yours. I’ll also be looking in greater detail at some of the recent science to find out HOW nature makes us feel good.

Taking part in 30 Days Wild 2017

Wild Happy Well is taking part in 30 Days Wild!

The Wild Happy Well family is taking part in 30 Days Wild! Here on the blog I’ll be writing about our wild adventures – our Random Acts of Wildness – and how I think it’s improving our nature connection. See Part 1 of my post on how Nature improves our health and wellbeing if you’d like an introduction to the evidence. I’ll share our photographs so you can get an idea of what we’ve been up to and the nature we’ve seen in our local area, plus tips on simple easy ways to connect with your nearby nature.

The Wildlife Trusts’ scheme

30 Days Wild is a scheme run by The Wildlife Trusts that aims to get people more connected to nature in order to benefit from the health and wellbeing boosts that science shows us nature provides. It also helps people and families learn about the nature around them which will hopefully help the next generation care for the world around us, protecting and preserving our biodiversity. By signing up to and taking part in 30 Days Wild, you can be inspired by the many ‘random acts of wildness’ they suggest and get your paws on some fun materials to make taking part even more fun for all the family!

Peony at Tyntesfield, taking part in 30 Days Wild
Day 1: A stunning display of flowers at Tyntesfield, like this gorgeous peony.

Getting into your wild swing!

I think the key with really engaging with this scheme is consistency – achieving regular exposure and connection with nature, even if only for a short duration. After all, we know that the first 5 minutes or so in nature can give the greatest benefits. This is why I’m not going to be putting pressure on us to go on enormous expeditions, but instead carve out quality moments in which we can really be present. With a young baby some days you are just too tired to even get out of the house, let alone go on a long walk or pack us all up to go somewhere further afield. So, whether it’s meditating in the garden, arranging some flowers, or even just a quick walk around the block noticing the trees, flowers, birds and bugs, taking part in 30 Days Wild we’ll do SOMETHING to connect with our nearby nature.

WHW’s first few days

On Day 1 of taking part in 30 Days Wild, my mum, Archie and I visited the National Trusts’ property Tyntesfield near Bristol. It was a beeeeautiful sunny day and we saw many stunning displays of flowers, walked around the grounds, and rested beneath lush leafy canopies provided by the mature trees. Day 2 was a tired day for me and it was quite rainy so we stayed in until both the weather and I had perked up when went for a walk around our village for Archie’s late afternoon nap. We admired flowers in people’s gardens and walked through a local community park where my mum searched for four-leaf clovers. She has a gift of being able to spot these genetic rarities and enjoys peering over the green leafy spread. Having not found any for over a year, she found five in about 10 minutes!!! She believes that they bring good luck, and she found one for each member of our immediate family, so hopefully it’ll be a healthy, happy and well summer for all of us!

Four-leaf clovers, taking part in 30 Days Wild
Four-leaf clovers my mum found during a walk in the park.
Under the leafy canopy at Tyntesfield.
Resting under the leafy canopy at Tyntesfield.

 

If you’re new to Wild Happy Well, find out what I’m about here.

Today’s task: We’re a few days in but it’s still not too late to sign up to 30 Days Wild! Will you go for it? Have you done it before, and if so did it benefit you in some way?

Nature improves our health and wellbeing: Part 1

Nature for better health and wellbeing

Being in nature helps us feel good. Recently there’s been a surge in interest in how the natural world positively impacts on human health and wellbeing. This includes the physical components of the world around us (forests, hills, rivers, etc.) and biodiversity – the plants and animals that live in it. Consequently, there’s now a wealth of scientific evidence that proves being connected to nature provides tangible benefits to our physical and mental health. So, being in nature helps us feel good and become physically healthier!

Various organisations like The Wildlife Trusts are promoting engaging with nature for the health benefits it provides.  In line with this, the Wildlife Trusts published a report in 2015 that describes the evidence for why nature is good for us. This gives me a nice way to introduce this topic that I feel so passionate about! Therefore, today’s post gives you a glimpse into some of this scientific evidence, to whet your appetite for topics I’ll be exploring in greater depth and detail down the line!

Wild swimming is a great way to get green (or blue?!) exercise
Wild swimming is a great way to get green (or blue?!) exercise

What is nature and how do we connect with it?

To me nature includes any plant or animal – I exclude pets although they provide all manner of benefits too. Your back garden, a forest wilderness, a local park, a window box – these are all ‘nature’ to me. Additionally, I consider indoor plants as valuable sources of a nature fix and I’m very keen on bringing the outside, in!

There are three basic ways to connect with nature:

  1. View nature: from a window, in a picture
  2. Contact nearby nature: get out in your garden, visit a local park, feed your local wildlife
  3. Participate in nature-based activities: walk in the woods, do some volunteering for your local nature reserve, go wild swimming
Cycling forest trails is a great way to get your green exercise
Cycling forest trails is a great way to get your green exercise

Evidence that being connected to nature is good for us

Evidence comes from many different subject areas, which means the findings give a very broad view of our health and wellbeing: immunity, self-esteem, anxiety and stress, and crime rates to name but a few!

Nature is good for health and wellbeing: evidence comes from many sources
The evidence that nature is good for our health and wellbeing comes from a wide range of subject areas.

 

Today’s task: In the comments let me know (a) what is ‘nature’ to you and (b) how do you get your nature fix?

 

In Part 2 I highlight some of the interesting ways that connecting with nature improves our health and wellbeing.

Garden shame: the reality of home improvements on a budget

As I mention in my About page, my garden will feature on the Wild Happy Well blog. I’ve put off writing about it for a little while as, to be honest, I’m a bit ashamed of it… Our garden is not the blissful natural space I hope for it to be someday. Here, I open up about why it’s the state it is and our plans to turn improve it. Hopefully one day it’ll be a gorgeous sensory space for the whole family!

Not a natural utopia…

So. I love nature. I love gardens. I love plants and wildlife. But the reality of my own situation is sadly not that I live in a utopia of wild nature haven, plants spilling out of lucious beds onto rich grass, robins merrily dancing around the compost heap slurping up fat juicy worms… Nope. My garden is a building site. More specifically, it is the unhappy, injured bystander from our house extension works last summer. The house, our home, has been dramatically improved and this has dramatically improved the quality of our day-to-day life. It all happened just in time too for Archie’s arrival, something I am extraordinarily grateful for.

Lawn, sheds and mess…

 

Slow but steady

The garden had always been a blank canvas. When we moved in there was lawn, a couple of fruit trees (fig and peach, huge YESSSS!), that was it, except a sizeable slope away from the house. We added a big shed (Jon’s beloved workshop) and my greenhouse, some raised beds with some nice plants and some decking. We were making progress, slowly but steadily and we were fine with this. However, the building works saw the deck dismantled ‘temporarily’. With me heavily pregnant, the greenhouse was avoided more frequently, which played on my mind. Jon’s workshed became a general dumping ground for stuff, which is a source of continual mental torment to the poor chap (his shed is his sanctuary. I don’t take it personally). The lawn was constantly ignored and became long, lumpy, and littered with building materials. One of the beautiful raised beds Jon had carefully designed and built became filled to the brim with rubble and wood off-cuts.

Old decking drying out…

Garden that is no place for a baby

Archie’s arrival prior to winter had no great impact on our relationship with the garden. I cocooned myself indoors over the winter months, adapting to our new life as a family of three. But as the weather has brightened and warmed we’ve looked out of our lovely new bifold doors onto this poor wreckage of a garden with increasing longing and not a little bit of frustration. The sheer scale of improvements necessary to make it baby-friendly have been just too huge to consider. This is mainly because of the cost…the house works pretty much cleaned us out just at the point when I went on maternity leave and Jon had not long been made redundant (although this has given birth to the brilliant Blackfish Engineering – check them out!). Time is also of a premium with a new baby, especially your first: weekends where the both of you can get out there and crack on just don’t exist now, for a wonderful reason of course.

Building works leftovers, and beds filled with rubble

Hope and gratitude: moving forward

However, we are now making plans to turn it around and we are excited! One recommendation from a neighbour and one exceedingly good quote later, we have a plan of how it can be improved in a fairly cost-effective manner: new decking and old to be installed, plus leveling of the lawn. Add to those someone extraordinary generosity from both of our parents and we have a decent proportion of what it will cost to make the biggest improvements. Today is Day 1 of the works, hence the ‘before’ photos: I’ll keep you posted how it goes! It will, of course, still require time, effort and frugality on our behalf to make it really come together. But it is a huge step forward towards enabling the three of us to get outdoors this summer,  the first of Archie’s life. I am so keen for nature to be a significant factor in the experiences that shape his development. This may be the only summer I have with just him and I together on a daily basis, so having our garden accessible for him this year will be so valuable.

 

A sensory garden space

Thinking further forward, I would love our garden to become a haven for wildlife and a stimulating space for all of us. Last night, I had the delight of seeing my friend Joanna Grace of The Sensory Projects (http://jo.element42.org/) and we got to discussing sensory gardens. This is something I will be researching and writing about as I’ve always had a fondness for garden design. The idea of combining the creation of a (manageable!) wild natural space that is a delicious sensory treat for the whole family is too tempting to ignore. First up, I will checking out the Sensory Trust, and their sensory garden advice!

 

Today’s task: Have you created a delightful wild and natural garden space? Or do you suffer garden shame as I currently do? What does your garden give you – peace, tranquility, home-grown produce, eternal frustration, an exercise space?! Tell me about them in the comments and please do provide any good tips or advice!!!

Tree ferns under Cornish sun: Trebah Garden

A lovely day out

I wrote this post in early April while on a trip to Cornwall. It tells our story of a lovely day out in the sun and reviews Trebah Gardens from the perspective of someone bringing baby out in a buggy. All photographs and video taken on my humble Samsung Galaxy S6, rather than the Nikon D7000 (as that stayed at home in Bristol).

Archie and I had been in Cornwall for a few days staying with my folks; me enjoying a change of scenery and little A getting to know his grandparents more (I find it hard living so far from my parents with a young baby). The weather treated us tremendously well so one day we went out en masse to make the best of it. Our initial plan was to head to the National Trust’s Glendurgan Gardens (we’re all members) but the car park was full and queuing so that provided an excellent opportunity to treat ourselves to a visit to (non-NT) Trebah Garden ‘next door’.

Trebah Garden valley view to the sea
View from the top of the valley through the lush vegetation to the sparkling sea.

Paradise found

Trebah has always been one of my very favourite places to visit when the weather is fair because, quite simply, it is a little patch of paradise. Steep-sided and bursting with tropical and exotic trees, plants, and flowers, the flora tumbles down the valley to its own beach and the sparkling sea. Springtime is, in my humblest opinion, the very best time to visit when the rhododendrons are in full technicolour bloom, the gunnera is sprouting madly, and all the many birds that live there are filling the air with joyful songs telling that winter is over.

Trebah Garden in Springtime
Trebah Garden in Springtime is simply delightful – it is full of colour, scent and song.

Baby-on-wheels access

I’ve circuited and traversed the valley many times during my childhood and adolescence but this visit was different – Archie was with us in his (Mountain) buggy. I loved sharing it with him: he was quite awake (5 months old then) and loved looking at the trees and flowers that bent over him as he lay in his bassinet.

About 80% of the gardens are accessible for motorised wheelchairs (and hence buggies), depending on how they can cope with steep hills. I didn’t fancy a couple of the steepest ones (they are VERY steep) which meant we stayed mostly on one side of the valley. We were not disappointed though, there were many wheelchair-accessible paths that we explored together which were similar to all other paths in the valley. They retained the lovely wildness of the gardens being a bit rough and gravelly. The paths weaved in and out through the trees, hugged by giant plants, and were consistently wide enough and not too steep for our set of three wheels. The Mountain Buggy (Terrain) was perfectly at home in this environment – its manoeuvrability making easy work of tight corners (through the Bamboozle!) and its tyres making the ride nice and comfy for Archie, who had a good snooze towards the end of our visit.

Dinosaur rhubarb by the sea

We snuck through shady avenues of tree ferns, admired great views across the valley and listened to birdsong from Alice’s Seat (check out the video!). We wound our way down the valley past the gunnera plantation (aka dinosaur rhubarb – that’s what I always called it as a child!) and the ponds to the beach. I had spied the glittering sea from further up the valley and knew my Mountain Buggy Terrain could cope with a bit of sand but sadly the gate was locked for some reason and only the stepped access was available, so I had to content myself with peeking over the fence to see the sea. Being new to exploring places like this with wheels, I didn’t think to ask about access so this is something I’d now do – to check which areas of an attraction you can get to/are open on a given day.

Avenue of tree ferns
Cool avenues of tree ferns await and transport you to a tropical wonderland.
Trebah Garden gunnera plantation
The Gunnera Plantation is a jewel of Trebah. In Spring it sprouts rapidly to produce a canopy of spiky, prehistoric-looking giant leaves. Dinosaur rhubarb!

Feeding naturally, in nature

Breastfeeding can be fraught with difficulties in the early days, as it was for Archie and I. But thankfully having surmounted these we now enjoy easy feeding that is fulfilling for the both of us. I enjoy feeding Archie outdoors in quiet beautiful spots and Trebah provides these in abundance. Archie needed a feed when we were at the bottom of the valley so we stopped at one of the many conveniently-placed benches, overlooking the gunnera plantation and lake. I could thoroughly relax and we both listened to the birdsong as he fed. It was quite magical really. These little moments, that I’m sure will be over so quickly, will stay with me forever.

In the Bamboozle
Our MountainBuggy Terrain made fairly easy work of the Bamboozle which was fun for both Archie and I!
Family day out at Trebah Garden
My Mum and I with StepDad and Archie in the background. A lovely day out for the whole family.

 General facilities

While we didn’t use the restaurant on this visit, I noted that it was spacious with a variety of bench-style seating and my parents have reported that the food is very nice. We did use the baby changing facilities and it was spacious and clean with a lockable door. It was conveniently located just off the main atrium where you enter, by the ladies and gents loos. The atrium provides a good space to meet up with companions during the visit, stop and grab a drink and bite to eat, and browse the well-stocked gift shop. However, as a result it can be quite noisy, which woke Archie up when we first arrived (he had been snoozing in the car and Mummy managed an expert car-seat-to-buggy transfer!). The garden shop which you have to go through as you leave is lovely and I’m always tempted to buy a tree fern or something else exotic. This time I restrained myself and purchased a pack of gunnera seeds. Our garden is rather fertile and fairly moist so I am hopeful it might be able to support the requirements of this characterful plant. I’ll report back on how it goes when I try to get some going! One aspect I haven’t commented on here is the entertainment for children (rather than babies) as we had no need to use it just yet. There are a couple of play areas hidden in the trees, Fort Stuart and Tarzan’s Camp. By the sounds emanating from these as we passed them, I think they rank sufficiently highly on the fun factor!

I hope you’ve found this post a good read and helpful – I thoroughly recommend visiting Trebah Garden if you’re in the vicinity. At any time of year it has some beauty and wildness to offer, a great place to reconnect with nature and take in some interesting horticultural specimens.

 

Today’s task: Have you visited Trebah Garden, and do you have any other recommendations for great places for the whole family to visit and get a nature fix?

Enjoying the calm before the storm: getting out for a walk with baby

Getting out for a walk with baby

As you can see on our homepage, Wild Happy Well is all about enhancing our connection to nature for all the family. To me, particularly as a new mum, the most basic way to do this is to get out for a walk. In the early days of having a baby getting out is no mean feat. Getting out for a walk with baby requires planning: the right kit, good timing, and a suitable route. In today’s post I tell you about one of my recent nature walks with Archie and talk you through the practicalities of my choices, the benefits they provide, and how you can circumnavigate some of the potential pitfalls of getting out and about on foot with baby.

Reset and recharge

The day started off beautifully weather-wise (we’ll ignore the 4:45 AM wake-up call from Archie…). Hubby remarked that if I was going to go out I should do it sooner rather than later as the weather would turn due to Storm Stella coming in. As Archie had had a good nap in his bed in the morning I planned to head out on foot with him at lunchtime. That day was also momentous for Archie as it was his first day of weaning, so during his late morning feed I’d introduced him to some baby rice made up in (breast)milk. I’d normally take him out for a walk in the buggy and bassinet but as he’s been quite a sickie baby I thought keeping him upright after his first solids was a good idea so I plumped for the sling instead.

We toddled off for a good hour or so down the paths in our village to my favourite field; a little patch of countryside nestled amongst some fabulous properties, with far reaching views to the city and hills beyond. It gives me the space, light, air, and greenery that I need to strip away the cabin fever. It kinda presses my reset and recharge buttons. We headed a little beyond there until the winds began to whip up, the temperature dropped and the clouds rolled in. With a nipper in tow you always need to turn back sooner than you think – where I’d happily march back home in some refreshing rain, a soggy baby won’t thank you for it! We were lucky and got home just in time. We’d made the most of the beautiful calm before the storm enjoying some clean fresh air and I got to properly stretch my legs in peace and quiet as he slept the whole way. Most importantly, we had both been able to happily absorb some goodness from a little pocket of nature not far from home with minimal effort or assistance. To me that feels quite a lot like freedom and good fortune, for which I am very grateful.

So, what made getting out for a walk with baby relatively easy and hassle-free?

Kit

Choosing to take baby out in a sling means I need to be wearing the right tops – no zips that would dig into Archie’s face, and a high enough neckline so that he can’t suck my skin (as he likes to do sometimes…drool everywhere!) or get stuck to my skin as I inevitably get a bit sweaty during the walk. I like to wear a suitable tee and layer up with a fleece/body warmer or coat as the weather requires. I find this gives me a nice amount of flexibility as I will warm up or cool down with minimal disruption to a (probably) snoozing baby.

As for Archie’s get-up, I find a short-sleeved vest and long sleeved, thickish top are typically fine in the sling, which is quite thick (Ergobaby 360) with a water-resistant, fleece lined sling cover (Bebamour). The latter has a hood that keeps the wind and rain off his head and face. He’s normally in comfy leggings and socks so I add Mocc-Ons to keep his tootsies nice and warm in the sling cover. Stick a hat on top and he’s good to go! The Bebamour cover is nice in that it covers his arms and hands in soft fleece and if I have got a zippy fleece on undone as well then his hands are always tucked into something warm. The sling cover is great as it also has a handy pouch on the front that I use to store a clean muslin and some snacks for me, plus I can put my hands in there to keep them warm. I don’t normally bother carrying the change bag as well if we’re just walking from the house as I will never be that far away and he’s normally asleep. However, this is a bit risky – I’ll probably get caught out by a mega-poo-explosion at some point!

Archie walk kit cropped
Archie demonstrating the quick walk kit! Left to right: Ergobaby 360, Mocc-Ons and hat, Bebamour sling cover, muslin and snack.

Timing

You say timing and immediately think timing for baby, and yes this is most crucial. I tend to try and time going out with when I expect Archie to be tired for a nap. It normally takes him about 10 to 15 minutes to drop off; sometimes less if he’s really zonked. But it is also important to time it for you – I find it can be easy to forget about my own energy levels and often the walking nap falls over lunchtime, so it’s important to make sure you’ve either had some food or got something to take with you that you can eat on the move. Also a simple thing, go to the loo before putting baby in the sling! The number of times I’ve got all ready to go and then nature has called in the most basic way… Such a faff to deal with, especially with an increasingly tired (ie. screaming) baby!

Route

Oh, how I have been thwarted by kissing gates that are just too small for the buggy, or styles that you just don’t recall being there! As you get started going out with all the paraphernalia of a baby, it suddenly makes that nice little ramble to one’s favourite field more akin to climbing Ben Nevis in a sleeping bag. It can be incredibly disheartening when you’re merrily on your way to find that just because you have a baby in tow you can’t go where you want to. Or you can’t get yourself, plus baby, plus stuff over/around/through an obstacle because of the after effects of pregnancy and birth. This is something that has got me down on more than one occasion. When your core stability is shot, your joints hurt, you’re still healing, and you’re carrying/pushing the weight of baby plus stuff and maybe still a few pregnancy pounds, it can demand a huge amount of physical and sometimes emotional effort to keep going. Be kind to yourself and chalk it down to learning the new parent ropes. We have all been there. There are compromises to be made in pretty much all aspects of a new parent’s life, some that last longer than others, but with a bit of forethought and research, plus a few choice pieces of kit, you can get yourself and baby out to many varied natural spaces to get your wild nature fix.

Today’s task: tell me your stories of how you get your easy nature fixes in the comments below.

New blossom; new beginnings – becoming a mother

HELLO!!!

My first post, yeeeehahhh! This is momentous to me as it means I have set aside particular me time for writing. Add to that the fact that I am having a baby-free few hours, am currently sat in a quaint teashop sipping posh peppermint and you have one happy, slightly hyper Nina! We’ll gloss over the fact that to arrive at this happy position I had to return home after previously arriving at said quaint teashop only to realise I’d left my wallet in the baby change bag… I haven’t had a ‘me bag’ since becoming a mother so in the heady excitement of setting off, my mushy baby brain overlooked that obvious necessity! Anyway, I am here now huzzah! (And the posh peppermint is served in gorgeous gilt-edged fine bone china. Oh yes.) In today’s inaugural post it feels appropriate to tell you a bit about the new beginnings that have been manifesting in my life as we step eagerly into Spring. (All photos in this post taken by yours truly on my Nikon D7000, post-processed by hubby in Adobe Bridge and Photoshop.)

Becoming a mother: new blossom and a new me

The peach tree in our garden has exploded into beautiful pale pink blossom over the last few days. That, and a little warm sunshine makes me feel like I’m emerging from a long, cold winter at last. This winter has been the strangest of my life so far. My first child, Archie, was born just before the weather turned cold for the season so I have been metamorphosing within the chrysalis, the cocoon of my home. Nina: biologist, wife, dancer, has become Nina: mother, wife, biologist (dancer?). Everybody says that nothing can prepare you for the way having your first child turns your world upside down, but somehow that statement doesn’t quite do justice to the earth-shattering/mind-bending/sleep-depriving/relationship-redefining process of getting through those first few months of being parents. The fact that it occurred over winter added an extra layer of surrealism for me. I regularly need air. Fresh air. Greenery. Nature. Having a small baby in the harshest season challenged satisfying that basic need for me. That’s because doing anything – ANYTHING – with your first small child requires almost military planning and a whole host of additional paraphernalia that you invariably don’t yet know how to work/manage, plus the physical and emotional strength to be constantly challenging what your perhaps battered body and rollercoaster hormones can deal with. But, it also gives you absolute freedom to stay the heck indoors if you want. After all, getting to know your new baby – and your new YOU – is of paramount importance. I haven’t been driving myself to get out by any means, simple walks around the block, or peeking about the garden to see what the plants are doing has generally been sufficient for me. But as the weather has been improving, I’ve been feeling the energy awakening within me again…the call of the great outdoors (or at least my greenhouse), to see little green things grow again, and to have the freedom to go out pretty much when the mood takes me.

My garden sanctuary

It’s no hidden nature spa or anything, but my greenhouse is my garden space. I can potter about tending little plantlings, organising my supplies and tools, or simply sit in the evening sun and listen to the birds. Whatever I do, or don’t do, I can just enjoy myself being outside and in the sights and sounds of nature. I’m not an experienced gardener by any means. Gardening and being in the garden give me pleasure and that’s enough for now. I don’t know what I might achieve in the garden this year with my own little sprig of a baby so it’s important I don’t put pressure on myself. My aim is to try to keep the greenhouse tidy and free of pests, and to grow a few things that I did well with last year: mange tout and baby corn were particular successes. We shall see… I hope you’ll join me for the journey!