An arresting place – striking, eye-catching and silent.
From ancient Greece, Rome and China to the present, there has been a persistent belief in the restorative power of nature. That belief has formed the bedrock of a passion for gardening, the enduring literary genre of pastoral, the concept of national parks and the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the 1800’s.
The English are particularly susceptible to the lure of nature: witness our gardens, our anglers, birdwatchers and ramblers. There is a long tradition that defines Englishness by way of landscape and what William Wordsworth called “local affections”
Dockey Wood is one of those special places
Almost all of life’s pleasures can turn out to be bad for you. Eating, drinking smoking – but one of the most enjoyable activities around can reduce stress and depression, ease muscle tension, counter attention deficit disorder, even calm an erratic heart. What is this wonder therapy? A walk in the woods.
Dr Karjalainen from the Finnish Forest Research Institute maintains, “Many people feel relaxed and good when they are out in nature. But not many of us know there is also scientific evidence about the healing effects of nature.” Forest bathing or ‘shinrin-yoku’ was first developed in Japan in the 1980s, following scientific studies conducted by the government. The results showed that two hours of mindful exploration in a forest could reduce blood pressure, lower stress levels and improve concentration and memory. They also found that trees release chemicals called phytoncides, which have an anti-microbial effect on human bodies, boosting the immune system. As a result of this research, the Japanese government introduced ‘shinrin-yoku’ as a national health programme. The National Trust are featuring this topic in their May ideas program.
Britain is one of the least forested countries in Europe, but woods still cover 12% of the countryside, and half of that is open to the public. According to the Woodland Trust, almost two-thirds of us live within two and a half miles of a wood that covers at least fifty acres. To enter even the smallest wood is to cut yourself off from work, home and responsibility, and thanks to the volunteers effort Dockey Wood is well prepared for forest bathing.
Within those walls of bark, it’s just you, and mother nature. If you can, try it on your own when there are few visitors – you can’t get lost! Savour the silence, for that’s what nature serves up, unless there is a strong wind blowing. In Spring it’s time to wake up and smell the flowers and sap. The emerging tree ceiling of green leaves provides a perfect cover for the violet blue floor. The flowering of the bluebells creates a carpet like effect with a dense blue haze, which combined with a delicate fragrance creates a heavenly experience. The volunteers have created the perfect picture by removing all of the undergrowth and fallen debris from the plantation to give a sanitised result – not normally the case with the natural wildness of the Ashridge Estate. This provides the silence for there is nowhere for the wildlife to hide or nest so it is absent. The Trust have provided some seating for anyone wanting to stay a while and take in the state of well-being afforded by the ancient wood, while some visitors will stay permanently being scattered amongst the oaks seeking the spirit of the place.