I have taken part in some of their activities in the past – a three week storytelling workshop meeting in an entirely unique barge tethered near the swing bridge, and a climb up to the woods to sit around a campfire listening to tall tales in the dark. This time it was a couple of afternoons spent with their Highland Canal Officers.
Their “Nature Walks for Wellbeing offer the perfect opportunity to get outdoors, enjoy nature and socialise, with the added bonus of a hot drink to keep the cold out! “
“Spending time outdoors and connecting to nature is very beneficial for both our physical and mental health, so don't let the winter weather put you off - come along and join us!”
One of the things that has cropped up often in my quiet times is the solitary nature of life since I retired. I don’t feel lonely, and I have a hermit gene that I struggle with, and the writer within enjoys nothing more than closeting myself in with a cup of tea and composing poetry, so I have to kick myself outdoors.
This week we met bedside the swing bridge and headed off for a walk along the canal to the Lock House and the lock gates out to the Beauly Firth. No hills this time, but a biting wind that threatened to tug the hat from my head. Heads down, shoulders bunched up, gloved hands firmly pushed into pockets, we walked on.
The two lads from the waterways know stuff – like birds. Last week, a wee dot circling high above us was identified as a red kite. It’s all the tail feathers, apparently. This time it was an obscure species of duck that spent lots of time swimming under water catching fish. I looked and saw just ripples. There were also finches hopping around the empty branches of a nearby bush.
There is always a focus to the walk. Last week we had a list of things to scavenge – leaves, pinecones, straight bits of wood, fluffy things and interesting stuff. This time we were encouraged to make a wreath with ivy and other bits of winter foliage. It’s an opt-in-opt-out thing. I opted in and looked at the hedges for bits to decorate my wreath. It wasn’t quite big enough to wear on my head as some of the other ones were.
There is something vaguely reminiscent of my Geography filed trip about these walks. Whether I start at the front walking with the officers, or in the middle of the line trying just to keep breathing as we climb a hill. I always end up at the back. I just walk slower than most people. I have shorter legs than most people. I amble. There’s always a man to keep up the rear. I feel well looked after.
There is a tea stop along the way. One of the lads makes a fire and boils a kettle and the other lad hands out flapjack, a little burnt at the edges. There is something about that cup of tea that makes it taste so good. That’s when the meaningful conversations begin.
I have had a number of “God” conversations. I mention that I’m newly retired. They ask about the job I used to do. I tell them I was a teacher. They ask what subject. I say, “Religious Education”. They ask whether I believe in God. I say “Yes”. And then the conversation opens up. One man had a very Buddhist philosophy of causing no harm. He is not out there to be preached at, so I don’t preach. I talk about how essential God is to my life and how I try to allow Him space to direct my way. It’s a very casual conversation.
Nature is amazing. Most of us know too little about the world around us. It has been good to be taught stuff – about the red kites and their tail feathers, about molehills and clusters of ladybirds. It is good to be in the company of people that can tell you about the rare duck swimming under the water to catch fish.
Early theologians believed that God had two books - the Book of Nature and the Bible. Both books read together lead to a knowledge of God.
I’m reading both books!