The pandemic forced us back to nature: millions of us rediscovered the beauty of a walk close to home or a hike in the mountains or through a beautiful forest.
When we’re not on our longer road trips and have only a couple of days free, we love to jump in the van and enjoy natural surroundings somewhere more local to us.
On this page we’ll look at how getting back to nature does wonders for physical and mental wellbeing. And we’ll tell you about some of the places we love and recommend if you’re ever in our neck of the woods.
The forest where our van life journey began
The woodlands have always held a fascination for us so it seemed inevitable that the first time out in our van would be spent amongst pine trees deep in the heart of the Suffolk countryside.
At Forest Camping – right in the middle of Rendlesham Forest – we’d taken suitable reading material and became overnight investigators, trying to get to the bottom of the famous UFO case.
We followed the UFO trail all the way through the woods, right to the area where the craft supposedly landed.
RELATED CONTENT: read more about Rendlesham Forest and the UFO incident
It was a weekend immersed in both nature and mystery…
You see, that’s the thing about woods and forests; they conjure up all manner of imaginative possibilities, from elves, fairies, wolves, and witches, right through to alien spaceships – what better place for stories to be born?
So these are the first two benefits of getting back to nature…
A) It takes you out of your egoic mind (with all its repetitive worries and concerns) and stimulates your imagination.
B) It helps you re-connect to another, co-existing reality, that most of the time you fail to see.
Being out in nature expands your consciousness so that you are not limited to the incessant chatter of your usual state of mind.
We believe this is why nature therapy is proving to be beneficial in treating depression (1).
Losing yourself to find yourself
Since our first visit to Rendlesham Forest we’ve stayed several more times and there are still many more walks to explore. It’s one of those forests where it’s quite easy to get lost, as we did on one occasion.
And there’s something deeply significant about getting lost, which is why we’re going to share this little story with you…
We were on a path through the forest we knew quite well when we met a group of Duke of Edinburgh teens who had gotten lost. There they were, grappling with a huge Ordnance Survey map whilst trying to make sense of their compasses.
We confidently told them we knew the way back to camp. “Just follow us,” we said, and strode on in earnest.
But after just a few minutes we’d become disorientated ourselves! We’d all entered The Twilight Zone and unlike Hansel and Gretel we hadn’t placed any stones or breadcrumbs along the path to lead us back!
But here’s the thing…
Wise men throughout the ages have been telling us that in order to find ourselves we must first lose ourselves.
And this is another benefit you get from being in nature, especially in those really wild places; getting lost is another way of taking you out of your usual mental landscapes.
Stepping into unknown territory – external or internal – awakens something more essential in you.
It’s interesting to note how you react to such incidences. With fear perhaps? Or confusion? What about curiosity?
After some thirty minutes of mystery, mixed with mild embarrassment – and with light fading fast – we were relieved to see the campsite through the trees. A most welcome sight indeed! It was almost as if our van was a homing device, drawing us back to the mothership.
How nature boosts your wellbeing
See, that’s the thing. When we leave the known world we step into a new reality; a different outer and inner landscape emerges.
We would suggest that this is one way the ‘Trickster’ archetype comes out to play. Getting lost in the forest is nature’s way of testing us or showing us something that we would have otherwise been unaware of.
Nature does something to you. In its own way, it gets you out of the turmoil of your mind and back into your soul.
A walk through the woods or along the beach – and there are many to enjoy along the Suffolk coast – reconnects you to something much bigger than yourself.
Woodlands and beaches and other places in nature act as liminal spaces between the known and unknown worlds, wild resting places for ancient wisdom, waiting for your senses to wake up and behold.
The woods – where science and nature converge
Science is finally catching up with what our ancestors already knew: being in nature is good for you (2). There are even ‘Nature Therapies’ that help with all manner of psychological issues, from anxiety to depression.
This is nothing new, of course, but we seem to need science these days to ‘prove’ it to us. “Solvitur Ambulando” believed the ancient Greeks: “It is solved by walking.”
But it takes more than just walking amongst beautiful scenery: we need to fully immerse ourselves in nature for a couple of hours a week to get the most benefit…
Author, Richard Louv, talks about this and how we can overcome ‘nature deficit disorder’ in one of our favourite books on the subject, The Nature Principle.
It really does seem as if we’re not designed for the 21st century of screens and never-ending pings notifying us of yet more pointless information. This is why we Hobos struggle to understand why so many campers sit in their vans watching TV.
It is being in nature that reboots the system – not the latest episode of Eastenders!
The fresh air, sunshine, exercise and birdsong, or the sound of waves or a trickling stream, all help to calm the mind and return you to your true self.
But that’s not all. There’s something else that nature offers…
The sound of silence
The woodland is dark, damp and dense and there are natural ponds either side of the single lane track. All is still and silent here and we like to imagine it looks a bit like the Everglades in Florida, though there are no alligators, thankfully!
We’d joined the RSPB whilst visiting South Stack on Anglesey and have since tried to visit all of our local Nature Reserve sites.
Gav spent many Sunday afternoons as a kid at Knettishall Heath. Nowadays there are about thirty wild ponies here roaming freely.
No matter the beauty of evening birdsong or the murmuration of starlings (3), there’s something else that nature holds for you…the sound of silence…
We’ve heard the sound of silence at Lakenheath Fen. No road noise, no jet engines roaring at the nearby airbase – especially on a Sunday – and sometimes even the birds stop singing.
A silence so rare that, although the modern ear and mind might be confused, the soul is deliciously satiated!
That’s another benefit of getting back to nature. We need moments of external silence to be able to hear the ‘still small voice’ of our hearts, connecting us to what is truly important.
We’d heard the silence at Parys Mountain on the island of Anglesey, an old copper-mining ruin of a mountain. Standing at the gaping hole of a cave entrance, the silence transported us into another world. Time stood still.
It’s no surprise that this place has been used for filming Dr. Who episodes.
Back to nature – summary
So, whenever we’re out in our motorhome – be it on road trips, pilgrimages or visiting places closer to home – we’ll nearly always spend time in nature.
Whether it’s trekking over hills and mountains, wandering through woodlands, strolling leisurely amongst the wild flowers of spring-time meadows, or strolling along a beach, nature brings us home to ourselves.
In summary, we believe nature is our teacher. She serves us by…
- Offering us a moment to pause, reflect, and simply be present in the here and now
- Providing an escape from our usual mind-chatter and our limiting ways of seeing the world
- Giving us the chance to experience the healing power of silence
- Fuelling our imaginations with new, creative ideas
- Helping us come home to ourselves and touch base with our true values
- Providing the opportunity to connect to something beyond ourselves, thus expanding our consciousness.
That’s how nature serves us. But the question is, ‘can we serve her?’ A question we all must ponder as we go through the 21st century…
Tell us about your favourite places in nature
We’d love to hear about your favourite ‘back to nature’ places? Where do you go in your van to get away from it all? Let us know.
Remember to check out our other vanlife health and wellbeing tips…
How to meet your emotional needs (especially important if you live fulltime in your RV)
Mindfulness and meditation for motorhomers: take calmness with you wherever you go
Notes: what the science says about nature and wellbeing
(3) Check out this wonderful RSPB video of bird murmuration