Outdoor guide Malcolm Handoll shows Gayle how to rewild herself on a sensory walk in Perthshire.
Ah, to feel the damp, springy, feathery tufts of sphagnum moss caressing the toes.
To squat down on the forest floor, gently stroke the caps of tiny wild mushrooms and imagine that fairies, elves and sprites congregate beneath them when darkness falls.
No, dear readers, I haven’t completely lost my mind – I’m learning to rewild myself deep in the heart of Perthshire.
I’m aware that for some, the concept of “human rewilding” might conjure up images of tree-hugging hippies dancing naked in the rain and who knows what else, but there’s so much more to it than this.
My guide for the session is Bamff Ecotourism Estate-based Malcolm Handoll, a rewilding lifestyle guide who’s a fan of walking barefoot.
When I arrive, slightly late, I’m stressed out, talking at 100mph and worrying whether I’ll be late for my next job.
Malcolm, on the other hand, is the essence of chilled-out as he strolls towards me fiddling with a nettle stem.
Within minutes of being in his calming company, and as he tells me about his aim to reconnect people with their “true, wild selves”, and to free them from addictive, toxic, lifestyles, I start to relax.
As someone obsessed with their phone (aren’t so many of us?), it feels liberating to switch the blasted thing off and fully commit to being immersed in nature without distraction.
Malcolm’s ambition is to encourage me to use all five senses to explore the natural world and while it might sound simple, how many of us actually do this? How many of us notice the small wonders around us? The light dappling through the trees? The distant hoot of an owl? The crackle of leaves as a beetle scuttles underfoot?
As we walk, Malcolm chats about the importance of expanding our range of vision.
“Driving cars, being stressed and focusing on machinery, computers and mobile phones is shrinking our field of view and capacity to enjoy life,” he says.
“We’re becoming blinkered. Being able to reverse that – by using our peripheral vision – is mind-blowingly good for us.”
Heading into the forest, Malcolm invites me to notice everything around me.
“Crouch down like a child and notice what’s growing on the forest floor,” he enthuses.
“Try touching some leaves, a tree stump or a mushroom. Feel the different textures. Listen closely – what do you hear? What do you smell?”
For a while, we stroll in silence – chatter can be distracting – and then Malcolm walks on ahead, leaving me alone for 10 minutes to contemplate nature.
I gaze up at treetops and into the middle distance, and then kneel down to stroke thickets of moss and peer at curious-looking fungi and strange, scurrying insects. To my surprise, I’m overcome with emotion!
I’m a combination of ashamed (how did I not notice the magic around me!) and overjoyed (just look at it!). But my senses are well and truly alive!
When Malcolm asks if I fancy walking barefoot, I can’t resist.
“It feels so good to release your feet from the captivity of shoes!” he beams, and as I plunge my naked tootsies into spongy moss, I have to agree.
Apparently we have as many nerve endings in our feet as in our hands; that’s why it’s so rewarding.
Taste is, of course, one of the senses, and Malcolm is keen for me to try some wood sorrel. It’s surprisingly tangy, exploding on the tongue – waking up my senses with a bang.
We also forage wild raspberry, plantain and nettles leaves to make “wild tea”, a welcome prospect after a rather damp, chilly few hours in the wilderness.
Malcolm brews these up on a fire he starts using a handmade bow drill and spindle. We stare into the flames, smell the wood smoke, and truly savour the moment.
“Crouch down like a child and notice what’s growing on the forest floor.”
Taking time to pause and reflect on what’s around you is one of Malcolm’s most important messages.
As well as rewilding walks, he teaches natural navigation, bushcraft and mindfulness and leads foraging expeditions, camps, mountain walks and detox weekends.
“It’s about giving people the skills to be independent and empowered in nature,” he muses.
“We evolved to have the senses we have but with rapid technological developments we’re losing our ability to use these – and that has multiple downsides.
“Our senses give us joy, excitement, meaning. We need to reinvigorate our lives but to do this we need to stimulate our senses with lovely experiences and protect ourselves from unpleasant or overwhelming ones.
“I can guide people on a profound journey, in their lives, through woods, mountains and towns. It isn’t easy to do it alone. We need guides to help us because we are trapped in toxic lifestyles and often don’t realise it, and we don’t have the capabilities to free ourselves without help.”
Malcolm first became interested in nature and rewilding as a toddler.
“I was lucky,” he reflects. “I was allowed to roam freely and spent most of my time outdoors.
“I watched nature documentaries and went into the mountains. As a young adult I discovered the healing I could experience by being in nature. Nature saves me and I need to save nature.
“I hope for many people to be so energised by their experiences with me that they are excited to be healthy people in balance with the nature that we are part of.”
- For more information on Malcolm’s courses, see fivesensesrewilding.com