Words by Lydia Paleschi
In a world where we are always trying to do things bigger, better and faster than before, it’s important to remember to hit the brakes and carve out some time to relax. Whilst there are a huge number of ways for us to do so, there’s little more satisfying than hitting a coastal trail, focusing on nothing other than placing one foot in front of the other and observing our surroundings for an hour, a day or maybe even longer.
As an island nation, the UK has a plentiful coastline to explore, amounting to almost 2,800 miles in total and open to the public at all times of the year. Depending on where you are you can expect to discover tidal estuaries and salt marshes, bronze age settlements, impressive cliffs, or to stumble across beaches and villages you may never have heard of. Not to forget, an impressive range of geology, geography and wildlife.
Source: Benn McGuinness
There are many ways for us to experience the coastal path – some opt for group trips, some opt for listening to a podcast and others opt for setting out solo with nothing but their thoughts and hitting the trail. Regardless, coastal walking is shown to have a positive effect on how we feel, both physically and psychologically. The reward is often a sense of satisfaction and tiredness at the end of the day, but beyond this it can help us to become more productive, more inspired and and more creatively inclined. It’s a great way to learn more about the world around us and to notice small things that would otherwise pass us by or go unseen.
What’s so special about coastal walking?
Science shows that coastal walking in particular has a positive impact on human health. Spending time in blue spaces has a relaxing effect on the human body and mind, through a combination of being able to see, feel and hear the water. Whether consciously noticeable or not, when we are within close proximity to natural bodies of water, our heart rate slows, our breathing eases and our muscles tend to relax. This new state of being makes it easier for us to find temporary respite from the realm of responsibility which we spend most of our time absorbed in, and to find a sense of peacefulness. It’s much more difficult to feel stressed or unhappy when you can smell salt in the air, look out towards an empty horizon line and feel fresh air whipping through your hair and across your cheeks.
As our bodies and minds relax, our stream of thought begins to slow down. Often our minds are overstimulated by screens, lights and technology, drawing us away from the present moment. Heading into an environment entirely devoid of such stimuli allows us to hit the reset button and to come back refreshed. Often it takes a while for our minds to adjust, to process what’s at the forefront of them, and to become accustomed to an environment where for the time being none of this is relevant. For this reason, longer walks are more likely to leave us feeling rejuvenated, as we’ve had time to clear our minds and take a break from the mental busyness that surrounds us on a daily basis.
Easing into observation
As our minds begin to clear and we settle into the present moment, it becomes much easier to observe what’s around us. When we’re able to walk for long enough to achieve this frame of mind (perhaps somewhere over thirty minutes), the true rejuvenation begins to occur. It’s usually at this point that our senses peak and we begin to pay closer attention to the sounds, smells and sights. The boom of the wind blowing through caves becomes something awe inspiring and the sound of birds calling to one another activates the inquisitive side of our mind, as we try to work out the species or wonder what they are communicating. The smell of the earth and the ocean mingle, enlightening us to how little we use our sense of smell, or, on an overcast day we may realise that we are able to smell the rain before it hits the ground. Heading out with any half decent foraging book, or even better in my opinion, the Wildflower Key and a bird book, it’s possible to be amazed by what you discover.
Source: Clément Falize
It’s often the case that when we’re in a relaxed or meditative state – perhaps on the precipice between being awake and asleep – that our greatest realisations and ideas come to us. For many people, a coastal walk makes it possible to achieve the same thing.
Seeing the light hit the headlands and light them up in amber rays at golden hour may serve as creative inspiration for an art project, or watching bats flit through the caves as dusk arrives may spark an interest in learning more about the natural world. Watching the moonlight hit the water at during the early evening so that for a second it looks like fairies are dancing on the surface of the water may help to trigger a childhood memory, or it may be that the freeing of space in our minds allows fresh ideas to come forth.
Whatever it is that a coastal walk provides you with, it’s likely to be something positive, which helps you to move forward with renewed energy. So, next time you’re looking for some rest and recuperation, or you’re short on inspiration, why not head to the coast for a few hours?