Scotland’s forests are the stuff of legend and inspiration for thousands, and who can blame them? That first refreshing breath of nature. The one which cleans out your lungs and relaxes your shoulders. Feeling the forest all around you as you immerse yourself in green quiet for just a short while as you wander through it. A little bit of “you-time” which feels good on a level you can’t quite explain – and more than anything you don’t want to.
Recently forest bathing has taken off as a source of health and wellness, with more and more over-worked individuals immersing themselves in a quiet wood or forest in something between a walk and a meditation to cleanse the self and relax. First popularised in Japan as Shinrin Yoku, the phenomenon goes beyond codified thought into an instinctive niceness that we all understand on a deep and almost spiritual level. Forests have a hush like a library in its many books of green leaves, and they share a certain peace if you’re willing to walk with them a little while. Recent studies have shown drastic increases in wellness in those who took up the practice of forest bathing.
“Bathing our eyes in the greens, blues and browns best found in forests we naturally feel more at ease, and it is this sensory feast that we’re trying to tap into.”
Put simply, forest bathing is the act of mindfully immersing yourself into a woodland setting so that you can enjoy the natural world around you. To de-stress and “reset” through your environment. This act of reconnecting with nature not only re-centres ourselves but is a useful reminder of why these majestic woodlands must be protected; that we are a part of this living ecosystem and that we must treat it with care. Bathing our eyes in the greens, blues and browns best found in forests we naturally feel more at ease, and it is this sensory feast that we’re trying to tap into.
Forest bathing provides a range of health benefits both physical and mental.
The act of forest bathing has been proven to profoundly affect our mental and emotional health. By connecting with hardwired connections in our mentality, immersion in forest landscapes allows us to feel safe and provided for. This instils a sense of calm, more accessible pathways to joy while easing stress. It has also been tied to positive attention outcomes and a greater sense of creativity.
This manifests through decreased blood pressure and a heightened immune system. This has also been tied to decreases in recovery time after illness in those who engaged themselves mindfully in nature. Additionally, it’s been proven to reduce heart rate and cortisol production for lower feelings of stress.
These boosts to health and wellness are so well demonstrated that the Japanese government instituted a shinrin-yoku program for its citizens.
We’ve listed a few of our favourite Scottish forests for forest bathing: ranging from the dense pines by the North Face, to true Caledonian woodland in the Cairngorms and the tall trees of The Hermitage.
Lochaber is best known for its mountain scapes rather than woodland, housing Britain’s highest peak in Ben Nevis. However, if you look a little past The Ben you’ll find a spot of greenery you can lose yourself in. The smell of pine needles and pleasantly damp earth balm the mind, and the skyline from frequent viewing spots looks out towards Glenfinnan and the sea. This oasis of calm is a reasonable walk from Fort William and many who take our West Highland Way trip love to use it as a spot to reflect upon their journey before heading back to the hustle and bustle of Glasgow.
With easy access and well-made trails from Mugdock Country Park, Mugdock Wood is swiftly accessible from the central belt between Glasgow and Edinburgh but a world apart. As you make your way away from the visitor centre you can feel the tribulations of the world around you fall away, leaving behind beautifully shattered ruins of a castle and friendly staff until you reach the quiet you can simply bask in. You may be lucky enough to witness the minutiae of robins and goldfinches as you take in the golden leaves. The contrast between lush moorland and lochans you pass by gives way to lots of wildflowers and wildlife to augment your experience, allowing you to digitally detox and drink in your varied surroundings.
There’s a sense of grandness in The Hermitage National Forest. It evokes awe in the same way that a mountain or a whale can take your breath away. The fir trees here are some of the largest in the United Kingdom, and you never quite get away from that as you wander amongst these stately giants near Dunkeld. They also emanate a sort of calm which is best described as the realisation that they’ve been there for so long and they’re likely to endure long after. Calming sounds of the wood mix with the frothing of the River Braan and make it incredibly easy to relax in this beautiful spot of Scottish wilderness. There’s a lovely folly beside the waterfall if it gets wet and windy, but you’ll want to be among the trees on a good day!
The Hermitage is a must-see if you take our Highland Perthshire Self Drive Trip.
Assynt and the North Coast aren’t particularly known for their forests, with high winds and cool weather making it hard for seeds to take root. The rarity is what makes Cula Wood such a gem. Managed by a local community trust, the woodland here is simply magical after cycling the North Coast 500 all day. The woodland is a refuge not just for weary travellers but also for wildlife, with a vast variety of birds calling the pocket of trees home despite its small size. From majestic herons who frequently make their nests there to picturesque views of Suilven from the viewpoint, Culag Wood is a banquet for those seeking to unwind and ease their minds with the rich sights and sounds found here – it even gives opportunities for a little wild foraging!
The sheer diversity of flora and fauna will make you want to stay in Mabie Forest for hours! With so many natural sights and sounds to take in, it’s easy to fall into a mindful state that forest bathing asks of its practitioners. The mixture of evergreen conifers and healthy hardwoods backing down onto Lochaber Loch is simply breathtaking, and the area plays host to many species of butterflies and birds flitting above squirrels and other inhabitants such as foxes. We’re particularly fond of the bats and nightjars which come out to catch midges as the sun sets when we stay nearby on our Five Countries Road Cycling Trip.
Kelburn Castle is one of the most striking in Scotland, if for no other reason than that the side of it has been beautifully graffitied in a flamboyant exhibit which looks especially striking when lit up at night. However, to one side of the castle is a far greater treasure and one which is almost entirely natural. Across Kelburn Country Estate there is woodland, but the Never-Ending Glen is especially evocative as it’s been peppered throughout with art displays going back over a decade. A mixture of mirrors and woodcarvings mark your way past waterfalls and secluded dells where you can sit and drink in the truly world-class atmosphere around you. The quiet footpaths deeper into the glen allow for the peace and solitude to truly connect with nature and unwind as you wander through this gallery of broad leaves.
Glenelg Forest is a place that is rich with history and has a serene intimacy to it. The hills come around you in this secluded valley to keep the wind off, letting you submerge in a sea of green. Up the glen, there are some beautifully preserved Iron Age Brochs, the final stop on our Isle of Skye Trip. The conifer forest gives way to vibrant moorland that seems to stretch in a natural transition that allows for reflection on the week past spent taking in the natural wonders of Skye before journeying back to Inverness.
There are some places so close to home that not including them in a list like this would simply be rude, like not inviting a friend or relative over for a catch-up. That’s how we feel about Glenmore, which we’re lucky enough to have by our doorstep at Wilderness Scotland. It’s truly iconic Scotland; with Caledonian forests like this providing the name for all of Britain North of Hadrian’s wall when the Romans arrived millennia ago. The mixture of juniper and wintergreen berries provides highlights in the vibrant green of pines and birch, and if you’re lucky you may see some elusive species such as capercaillie or pine marten. Many of our trips start, finish and are based in the Cairngorms; and many adventurers on Wilderness Retreats, our Cairngorm and Royal Deeside adventures, and our Rewilding Trips take time in Glenmore to process, relax and enjoy this rarest of natural landscapes.
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