Lochaber is referred to as ‘The Outdoor Capital of the UK’ but visiting this part of Scotland and taking part in outdoor activities doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bagging Munros’, conquering peaks, testing your endurance, or mountain biking down the Black Run. Here on the West Highland Peninsulas there are a wide variety of outdoor activities that you can take part in where you can mindfully engage with the beauty and tranquillity of nature and the natural environment that we have to offer.
It has been shown that time in, and contact with, nature are important for health and wellbeing1 but particularly where you are engaging in activities where you consciously (or unconsciously) engage in ‘nature-mindfulness’ and can develop a closer relationship with nature. The term ‘mindfulness’ is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed the concept of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”. Activities where this is often achieved include:
The area offers a wealth of options for walking by the lochside, over the hills or up into the mountains. Just make sure that you don’t make your goal to just reach the top, without taking time to slow down and note what is happening all around you using your different senses. Notice what you can see all around you? The wildlife on our peninsulas is superb. What can you hear? What can you smell? Notice the sensations in your body as you take each step and just tune into the beautiful scenery. A particular kind of nature-mindfulness walk called ‘Forest Bathing’ is described below.
Canoeing and Paddleboarding
We also have idyllic inland lochs and fjord-like sea lochs where you can canoe and paddleboard, often without meeting anyone else other than the wildlife. Paddling is often a mindful activity whether you realise this or not. The repeated action of submerging the paddle in the water, rotating it backwards, lifting it from the water and bringing it forwards, and then repeating the action creates a rhythm and focus that is conducive to being ‘in the moment’. The sound of the paddle as it enters and exits the water can be almost hypnotic.
There are many options for wild swimming in the area and this provides the perfect opportunity to engage with your surroundings and disengage from concerns about the past and worries about the future. Maintaining a focus on the here and now, noticing the sensations you feel as you move through the water and focusing on your breathing and the rhythm of your swimming stroke rather than on reaching a destination can free your mind from the anxieties and stress that often take up so much mental space.
The peninsulas offer the whole variety of climbing from bouldering to top rope climbing, from free solo climbing to traditional climbing and there are few activities as mindful as climbing! Climbing is all about being 100% focused and in the zone and many people are drawn to climbing as a way to escape from the stresses of everyday life.
The peninsulas offer access to mountainous terrain with challenging ascents and descents accompanied by mind-blowing views. Many trail runners will naturally find themselves paying attention to nothing but the present moment as they run, but try focusing on one sense at a time for ten to twenty minutes and then focus on the next sense.
Forest Bathing (or Shinrin-Yoku) originates in Japan and describes a practice of walking slowly and leisurely through the woods or forest, immersing yourself in the natural environment and mindfully using all five senses. Here on the peninsulas we have remnants of the ancient Atlantic Oakwoods that you can walk mindfully through, as well as policy woodlands with diverse species of trees and shrubs, and trails through woods and forests suitable for all ages and abilities. These offer the perfect range of places and spaces for Forest Bathing – tuning into to nature and tuning out from stress and anxiety.
1Leanne Martin, Mathew P. White, Anne Hunt, Miles Richardson, Sabine Pahl, Jim Burt (2020) Nature contact, nature connectedness and associations with health, wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours, Journal of Environmental Psychology,