Blisters and Biscuits: A Love Letter to Hikes in the Great Outdoors

Katherine talks about her hiking trip to the Scottish Highlands and its benefits for mental health.

It’s a grey Monday morning. I have a tutorial to go to, and my body feels like that of an 80-year-old. There are blisters on my feet, my legs ache and I’m physically exhausted, yet I also feel happier and more refreshed than I’ve felt all semester. I’ve spent the end of ILW on a trip to the Highlands, taking three days away from St Andrews to climb mountains, explore the local pubs and listen to the Lumineers on repeat. The limited Wi-Fi meant that I barely looked at my phone, and the essay due for the end of the week is still waiting to be written. But the post- hike pain is a good kind of pain, and the stress of imminent deadlines doesn’t seem quite so bad. The blisters are simply a reminder of adventures, and I know that whatever time I didn’t spend on my essay was definitely not time wasted.

 

Source: Wilderness Scotland

Sometimes, being forced to take a break can be a good thing. Being busy is not in itself a problem, but with deadlines, classes and social commitments piling up, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Often the best thing to do is to do nothing but trying to relax in your room can be difficult in the knowledge that there’s an unfinished essay on your laptop. That’s why hiking will always be my favourite form of therapy. There’s no Wi-Fi at the top of a mountain, so no reason to feel guilty for not doing any work. Navigating a narrow ridge or steep slope forces you to be present- worrying about not twisting an ankle takes up far too much time to worry about anything else. And being outdoors makes you appreciate the little things so much more. No stale, squashed biscuit ever tasted as good as it does whilst sat in the sunshine after a long walk.

If those weren’t enough reasons to put down the books and take a wander, hiking has been proven to be beneficial for our mental health. Of course, everyone already knows this (how many times have you taken a walk to ‘clear your head?’) but it’s worth reinforcing. Exercising produces endorphins which can reduce stress and anxiety. Such effects can quite clearly be produced during a workout session at the gym, but there are benefits from exercising outside that could never be replicated by staring at a mirror on a treadmill for half an hour. A 2020 study showed that when people spend time in nature, their brains tend towards neural signals connected with making fewer decisions and relaxing more. The sense of calm that comes from listening to the birds singing or feeling the crunch of leaves under your feet is something that a gym just can’t offer. Then again, if you do decide to listen to music whilst walking, you could also be benefitting your health. Listening to upbeat music whilst exercising has been linked to improved vascular function. All the more reason to make a playlist specifically for hiking.

 

Source: Unsplash

Autumn in particular is one of the most beautiful times of the year to take a hike. The far north of Scotland begins to experience autumn first of course, which was obvious from the stunning orange hues of the forests in the Highlands. The golden valleys beneath the mountains were frequently shrouded in mist, and every so often the roar of a stag would echo across the hillsides, a sign of rutting season. But even here in St Andrews, autumn is now in full swing, and the town is looking prettier than ever, if a little colder and greyer. Whereas at other times of the year the rain seems gloomy and depressing, as soon as October rolls around, grey skies are no longer a problem. Instead, they seem somewhat mysterious and romantic, an excuse to wrap up in a long scarf, sip hot chocolate and make vaguely Halloween themed Spotify playlists. If the sun does appear, it only enhances every other colour, making the warm tones of the trees seem even warmer and brighter, like a real-life saturation slider. Even if the Highlands seem a little far to venture for the day, there are so many places to take a walk in St Andrews and soak up the autumn colours before they disappear. Lade Braes is one of my favourite places to take a quick study break, especially at this time of year. Craigtoun Park is a slightly longer walk but still definitely worth it, especially on a calm day when the reflections in the lake are stunning.

Spending time hiking in the beautiful Scottish Highlands has taught me that sometimes it’s okay not to be productive. Sometimes it’s okay to take an entire day away from work and have only a few blisters to show for it. And sometimes it’s okay to do something for no other reason than because it makes you happy. Sorry, Sally, but deadlines can wait.

 

Source: Unsplash

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