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Forest bathing in the grounds of Glamis Castle

Deep in the heart of the forest.
Deep in the heart of the forest.

Gayle experiences nature through fresh eyes thanks to a forest bathing session in the grounds of Glamis Castle.

When I tell a friend I’m off to Glamis for a forest bathing session, I get the inevitable strange look.

“Where’s your swimsuit?” he mocks. “Will you be hugging trees?”

I’m clued up enough to know I won’t be swimming or hugging trees but I’m not 100% sure what to expect.

In essence, forest bathing, developed in Japan in the 1980s, is a sort of mindful walking; an immersion in the forest atmosphere and connection with nature while relaxing your mind and body. Nature therapy, if you will.

Gayle goes forest bathing at Glamis Castle in a series of new “connect with nature” activities on offer the estate. The picture shows, from left to right, general manager Helen Buchanan, Gayle and head forester Mike Napier.

It’s the kind of thing I could be doing on a daily basis. There are woods on my doorstep but I’m usually dashing through them on a mission, whether a dog walk or as part of an exercise regime.

I don’t allow myself the time or the perceived luxury of “bathing” in them – of simply wandering, looking at the small things, of listening to the birds and taking it all in.

That’s why a dedicated session at Glamis is so brilliant. It gives you the space and freedom to “bathe” without feeling you should be cracking on with the next thing on your never-ending list.

Sessions last an hour and take you around the castle grounds, deep into Glamis estate and into a private section of woodland.

Helen, Mike and Gayle enjoy the woods.

Led by Glamis Castle’s general manager Helen Buchanan and head forester Mike Napier, participants enjoy a short talk about the trees and landscape in the sprawling estate’s majestic grounds and gardens before heading into the forest for some meditation and breathing exercises.

As we stroll along the River Dean and through the Victorian pinetum, Mike points out some of the oldest trees while Helen talks about the importance of escaping the daily grind and taking time out to “be calm”.

It goes without saying that mobiles should be turned off; a phone ringing in middle of the experience would be insulting.

Gayle tunes into nature at Glamis.

Helen was eager to bring forest bathing to Glamis after reading a book about it by Dr Qing Li, president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine.

With the abundance of tree-lined avenues and woodland within the grounds, it seemed the perfect opportunity.

“The session is about embracing nature, the elements, sounds, senses and ensuring guests can immerse themselves into the practice of mindfulness and focus on their head space for one hour,” explains Helen.

We pause to listen to the various sounds of nature – birds singing, water running and the rustling of leaves.

Deep in the heart of the forest.

Stepping off a manicured track and venturing into a private section of the grounds, we find ourselves deep in the heart of a forest.

Everything is so green and verdant and we stop for a while to stare up at enormous pines.

Then, in the silence, we hear a noise. It sounds like a dog barking but Mike assures us it’s a deer. It’s rather wonderful.

Pausing in a grassy meadow, the sun’s rays cascading down on our faces, Helen encourages simply embracing the atmosphere.

I squat down on an old tree stump, then stand, gazing skywards. It’s so simple but it feels amazing to be here, drinking in this rich, stunning environment.

Helen then takes us through some gentle breathing exercises, encouraging calmness and relaxation.

Gayle and Helen stroll through the woodlands.

I’m reluctant to leave this magical place but I experience the short walk back to the castle through fresh eyes. Trees seem more green. Bird song sounds more beautiful.

It’s as if I’ve woken from some fuzzy snooze and I can see and hear things more clearly. It sounds corny but it’s as if my senses have come alive.

Anyone considering joining a forest bathing session should forget any hang-ups about it being “hippy nonsense”. Sure, you can do it on your own, and you probably should, but a session at Glamis is a fantastic starting point and the benefits are tenfold.

In a haze of greenery.

“Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese expression for forest bathing, was developed in Japan,” explains Helen.

“Although people had been taking walks in the country’s forests for centuries, new studies showed such activity could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory.

“A chemical released by trees and plants called phytoncides was found to boost the immune system.

“As more research highlighted the benefits of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese government incorporated it into the country’s health programme.

“Evidence-based research on this topic is very important and many countries are starting to gain traction within this field of study, both clinically and holistically.

“The health benefits of forest bathing are important for psychological wellbeing and an opportunity to disconnect from our 24/7 digital environment.”

Wandering through the woods.

Helen hopes participants will feel a sense of rest and relaxation after sessions while others will simply feel liberated from their mobiles!

  • Forest bathing sessions at Glamis Castle take place on July 11, August 21 and September 11. More dates may be available.
  • Mobile phones and devices should be switched off to allow participants to enjoy this sensory experience. Wear suitable clothing and footwear for walking among trees and bring a yoga mat and/or pillow if you want to lie down during the meditation session.
Gayle is a fan of forest bathing.

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