Walk & talk: Sarah Beeny

Interview: Rebecca Swirsky   Image © Channel 4

The TV property expert, author and entrepreneur reveal how spending time in nature helped her through treatment for breast cancer, plus why walking is brilliant for bonding with her four teenage boys – and an essential part of a family Christmas   


Do you enjoy walking with your four boys and your husband, Graham?  

Yes, because you feel good on a walk, don't you? It's particularly useful walking shoulder-to-shoulder rather than eyeball-to-eyeball when you want to share feelings. Note to all parents trying to talk to a boy about feelings: walk! You can make it fun - for example, my youngest sons and I timed how long it would take to walk around the outside of our farm. Living on a farm means we're always walking. We walk the dogs, and two or three times a week I walk to our beehives and visit our stream - which takes about 20 minutes. It's along a mown path weaving among nature's wildness; overgrown grass humming with insects. And when the blackberries are out, it's an excuse for a snack, too!  


Did your childhood give you an appreciation of nature?  

I was brought up on a 9-acre plot on the edge of the Duke of Wellington's estate, Stratfield Saye [in Hampshire], where we lived in two converted cottages and kept goats, chickens and ducks. So my childhood was about running through the woods, walking through fields, and along the river - that was what I lived and breathed. Later, I moved to London and, whether it was daytime or evening, summer or winter, I also loved walking.  


What are your walking idiosyncrasies?  

I intentionally never take my phone on walks. The danger is that it will ping, removing you from your zone. Instead, look around, admire a leaf unfurling from a tree. Nature is beautiful, and life is beautiful. The cycle of growth and recovery is fabulous. A walk helps you appreciate that we're all part of the web of nature - regrowth and repair is what we also do.  


In your documentary, Sarah Beeny vs Cancer, you described the different stages of your illness as being 'a bit like a marathon -you just keep going forwards'. Is walking resonant with this?  

Yes, it is. I don't have the discipline to do two miles every morning, but the momentum of walking forwards is similar. I often think about the book We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen - parents will know it well! Basically, the book's message is that no matter the terrain, or the fears, as long as you keep moving forwards, everything will be okay. If you keep moving, you'll come out in a sunnier place.  


Would you recommend walking for others undergoing cancer treatment?  

Oh, yes. Walking is the best form of exercise, without question. There's nothing better for helping you to organise your mental filing cabinet. It's a great way to unscramble your mind and help you sleep.  


You moved to your Somerset farm in 2019. Has living in the country changed you?  

It's made life simpler - hence the publication of my book, The Simple Life: How I Found Home. It's helped me make more time for the things I love, spending time with the people I love, collecting experiences, not objects.  


In the book, you write about the joy of experiencing the seasons in the countryside. 

Nature has a heartbeat. It will go on regardless, and I find that comforting. You should, of course, enjoy life and affect it as positively as you can. But in the end, whether you are there or not, everything will go on and it will be okay.  


You also write about nature's rhythm and strong will being good for you.  

I love that I can't control nature. It's more beautiful and incredible than anything we can do. You can work with it and dent away at the edges, but for a control freak like me, it's good to know that you are unable to control it fully. It has its own stubborn will. Similarly, I admire people who don't comply with all the rules. Obviously we have a hideous environmental crisis, but I believe if we leave nature alone and stop meddling, it will fix itself. We need to just stop and go away. Nature will simply find a way to fix our mess. 


You say we should be focused 'a bit more on responsibilities, rather than rights'. Does that extend to the environment?  

Yes - responsibilities are so important. Small children should be encouraged to think about what they can give, rather than what they can get. For example, we have a right to expect our countryside to be clean, but what about taking responsibility for not leaving litter in the first place? That said, I think this generation is amazing, and cares in a way that my generation didn't. They don't accumulate so much stuff, they appreciate nature and they really want to see insects and animals. They notice and they care, and that is exciting.  


What role does walking play in your family Christmases?  

Christmas Day isn't really Christmas Day without a big walk, post-lunch, is it? As the children get older, presents are less relevant. So the present is really the presence of being together. Of course, there's always the temptation to sneak off and go on a device, but on a walk, you can't do that. It's a delineated time to breathe and have space together. Handily, we have a lovely pub about half-an-hour's walk away, so our routine is to walk around the farm, then to the pub for a Bloody Mary and return. Even in December there's life to admire because we've let our hedgerows grow, attracting a huge variety of insects, birds and plants.  


Finally, after such a busy few years, what's next for you?  

I'm working on a fourth series of Sarah Beeny's New Life in the Country. And we're rebuilding a barn on the farm to use as a film studio to help local artists in Somerset, which is really exciting. 


What's your favourite… 

Country walk: 

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City walk:

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Piece of kit: 

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Post-walk tipple: 

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Sarah's latest book is The Simple Life: How I Found Home (£20, Seven Dials). Watch Sarah Beeny vs Cancer, Sarah Beeny's New Country Lives and Sarah Beeny's New Life in the Country on demand at channel4.com.  

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