Under canvas with the grandchildren and it’s minus 4 degrees out here

Gilli, our ABiS learning Officer, spent 3 days with her Granddaughters under canvas staying in a piece of ancient woodland near York during the Easter Holidays.

“Just being out in nature tends to make us feel calmer and being immersed in the greenery of a forest waking up after winter felt very magical especially at 6:30 in the morning sitting alone among the trees warming my hands round a hot cup of tea listening to bird song.” – Gilli

The word “glamping” was coined for the first time at some point in the  early noughties and by 2016 had made it into the Oxford dictionary, meaning a glamorous camping  experience,  which evokes for me images of designer wellies, open air hot tubs and fourposter beds in elaborately decked out canvass homes resembling gorgeous pavilions more than tents. After a year of lockdown restrictions, working and living alone in my flat with little opportunity to see my Granddaughters I was pretty chuffed when my daughter asked me if I would join them for a couple of days glamping in ancient woodland near York. The site was opening on April 12 for the first time since last year and it promised the comfort of your own private shower and toilet, close contact with nature and a safe way to be with my Grandchildren. The place wasn’t really “open” in the true sense, the owners were still getting everything ready for the season but had made a few of the tents available for the Easter holidays. And this was an ecosite, a low frills version of glamping with minimum electricity and certainly no hot tubs in the woods. A log burner was there to provide heating but no one could have predicted how cold this April would be or how cold and damp it feels waking up in North Yorkshire at 5.30 in the morning in a tent when the air temperature is minus 4C. I loved it!

One of the things the website for this eco glamping experience promotes is the benefit of the Japanese practice of “shinrin yoku”, or “forest bathing”, which is considered to be good for both physical and mental wellbeing. It’s been proven in studies to reduce stress, improve feelings of happiness and free up creativity, as well as giving a boost to the immune system. I have to say that in the past I’ve been dubious about these claims and tended to think of it as another of those wellbeing fads that has become fashionable while a good old walk in the woods sounds kind of dull to some people.

When I accepted my daughter’s invitation for this break, I wasn’t feeling at my best. My ninety year old Dad had Covid-19 earlier this year and his partner too. She died from it while he survived but as a result of the virus, he’s now bedridden and in need of 24/7 nursing care while his dementia has progressed to another level so that he doesn’t know who I am. I’d been working with Bedfordshire Social Services to get him moved from Dunstable to a care home in Sheffield and I was feeling anxious about the move and guilty at being able to do so little for him.

Depression and anxiety have challenged me all of my adult life, at times erupting into despair and the sense of utter hopelessness. I last experienced a mental health crisis in late 2018: I didn’t see the point in anything, least of all myself. I was about to have my 60th birthday and I’d undergone surgery and was waiting for the results to come through. By Christmas I was Googling “How easy is it cut your wrists?” when thankfully a friend came to stay who had her own mental health struggles and said “Gilli you have to get to your GP and tell her how you feel” I did in January 2019 and I’ve been taking daily medication since as well as working with a therapist for several months.  Am I cured of my depression? No I’m not, but I am a great deal nicer and kinder to myself and I have learned that along with medication and counselling, being outdoors walking and appreciating nature where ever I find it, (I live in the heart of the city) does me good. So, I knew that “forest bathing” was something I wanted to try because just being out in nature tends to make me feel calmer. I’d never camped in woodland before and being immersed in the greenery of a forest which is just waking up after winter felt very magical, especially at 6.30 in the morning sitting alone among the trees warming my hands round a hot cup of tea listening to bird song.

What was also magical was the three generations of my family bonding over how to light a log burner motivated by the mutual desire not to feel perishingly cold at night! It was the first time I had been on a holiday with my Granddaughters and part of my delight was to see how much they enjoyed the freedom of camping in this beautiful place. On the last evening Olive, who’s ten years old, took me on a “guided” walk for an hour to show me some of the things she had discovered, and I taught her how to use binoculars; a really special time for both of us.