Finding joy and wellbeing in the hills and on the beaches of Yorkshire: Walk in Winter

A woman in front of a river, sitting on a fence, smiling

I’m thrilled to have been invited once again to be part of the Ramblers campaign to encourage more people to enjoy the benefits of getting outside and walking. After the success of the summer #FeelMore campaign, it is an absolute honour to share #WalkinWinter. Walking close to home played a huge part in my physical and mental wellbeing during the spring lockdown and very much continues now as the nights draw in and the temperature drops. 

Walking and hiking for me have always been about belonging and connection, to a place, to my family and more recently to my purpose and midlife wellbeing. I love exploring and also find comfort in knowing somewhere intimately, creating joyful memories that I can draw upon later.

A sunset with a stone house and arched bridge over water

Growing up in North Yorkshire, I remember wintery Sunday afternoon walks with my Dad around Brimham Rocks and Almscliffe Crag. We spent our summer holidays on the coast at Filey and then Runswick Bay, playing on the beach and walking up the steep steps to the Cleveland Way. Happy memories etched deeply into my soul. 

In 2013 I found myself at a very low point. Both my parents were going through chemotherapy and as a busy, single Mum I was anxious, overwhelmed and desperate for a good night’s sleep. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was also going through the early stages of the perimenopause. After a friend suggested exercise might help, I began indoor rowing. Exercise lifted my spirits and renewed my energy, and I later returned to childhood joys of sea swimming and hiking, and took up paddleboarding. 

Being in nature gave me the sense of reassurance and comfort that I needed. Whilst my own life felt full of change and uncertainty, the big views, fresh air and beautiful colour of the trees and hills soothed my worries and calmed my mind. 

View of a winding river beside a grand house and grassland

A smiling woman walking up some stairs outdoorsHiking outdoors, up and down hills and climbing over rocks along the coast, is great exercise for women, like me, experiencing the menopause. It helps our heart, muscle and bone health. There is also a growing body of research on the effect being in nature, like Forest Bathing, has on reducing blood pressure, lowering our stress hormone (cortisol) and improving concentration and memory.
In 2019 I made a short iPhone film called Finding Joy, about how the hills and waves of Yorkshire had “brought me home to me”. Walking helped me find my way back to my joy and wellbeing, learning to embrace all the elements and seasons of life.

As a way to thank the outdoors for all these wonderful experiences I started picking up litter each day and have done so for three years now. Just two minutes a day for a #2minutebeachclean or #2minutelitterpick adds to the feeling of being connected to the natural world I am lucky enough to call home which lifts my mind, body and soul. 

Being an Ambassador for the Ramblers #FeelMore campaign this summer was such a joy. My daily walk with my youngest son during lockdown helped keep me positive. As a single Mum, life is very different now he is back at university. Walking remains a constant joy and I find watching the seasons change very comforting. It is something I can do for myself in small pockets of time midweek and longer at the weekend socially distanced with friends to lift my spirits and ease the tension out of my body. 

In the summer, I used the Ramblers app to explore further afield, finding new views to enjoy a picnic lunch with. Learning new things in our fifties is a great way to keep us mentally nimble. One of my treats is coming home from the hills to a nice cup of tea and reading Walk, the membership magazine. I can explore new trails, discover books and films to enjoy, read about kit, campaigns and the art of foraging. I have also learned about the community of Ramblers that one day I would like to share a walk with. 

I know how privileged we are to have the countryside on our doorstep and  am proud to be associated with an organisation that works to make green spaces more diverse, inclusive and accessible. 

The benefits of walking today as an empty nesting mother in her mid-fifties during Covid 19 are the same as they were when I was a teenage daughter. Connection, belonging, joy, family, place and wellbeing. I hope as a Walk in Winter Ambassador I can continue to share that joy and that others will go on to create special memories for themselves.