Headspace in the Hills - Rebecca Lees
08 July, 2022
There’s always a welcome in the hillside for writer and Ordnance Survey ambassador Rebecca Lees, who has learnt the importance of ‘making time’.
I have hiked since I was a child, scrambling up the steep slope of Fan Gyhirych in the Swansea Valley and peering at the orange contour lines on my dad’s OS map (on Gyhirych, the contours are very close together). In my teens and twenties, I worked and played a little too hard; in my thirties, the work was juggled with a different kind of play, as my children arrived. But the mountains always reminded me gently that they were there, and I turned to the outdoors again as bereavement and divorce abruptly shaped an unplanned path.
Instead of getting outdoors ‘if I have time’ after ticking things off an endless list, I now plan time in nature with the same priority as work and family. I run along quiet streets as the day wakes up and take lunchtime walks from work. In 2020, I was delighted to be chosen as an Ordnance Survey ‘Get Outside’ champion, helping people access the great outdoors safely and responsibly. In lockdown, nature saved me - as it did so many others - offering respite in scraps of urban greenery close to home.
And here’s the key to finding that 20 or 30 minutes every day. To ‘go for a walk’, you don’t have to drive somewhere pretty; you just have to step outside your door and go. Be nosy and follow footpaths. Use the ‘Greenspace’ layer on the OS Maps app. Find out where your nearest nature reserve is; it’s probably in between two local housing estates. I’ve seen fox cubs playing and bats whizzing overhead within a few hundred metres of the very busy main road on which I live. When I post photos from a blissful little hillfort a short run from home, friends ask every time: ‘Where is this?’ - yet they drive past it every day. Everyone aims to climb Pen y Fan, but not so many have seen the sunrise - and a stunning view of those Beacons - from the top of the Garth, a magical little hill between Cardiff and the Valleys.
Invest in decent kit. To anyone who says: ‘the outdoors is free’, it isn’t - but neither does it have to be as pricey as those glossy influencers would have you believe. Stores like Go Outdoors sell great budget boots and waterproofs, and there are also good kit exchange groups on Facebook. Learn the basics of map reading and practise navigation. Particularly as a solo female hiker, this simple skill has given me complete independence. Try an online navigation course, look for a female mountain leader or join a group such as Adventure Queens or Black Girls Hike to boost your confidence.
The mental health benefits of being in nature are innumerable and, for me, it’s a cornerstone, along with eating healthily, sleeping well and learning to say ‘no’ when I feel overwhelmed. People are often surprised when I talk openly about also taking low-dose antidepressants. I get frustrated with the idea it’s ‘brave’ not to take meds, as if those of us who do just aren’t trying hard enough. Similarly, I don’t think a doctor can give us - quite literally - a magic pill. It’s up to all of us to look after ourselves to the best of our ability, physically and mentally, and for me, the hills and the pills go hand in hand.
Rebecca is a Marketing Executive at The Royal Mint, a trails books author and an outdoors blogger at www.girlonthetrail.co.uk.
She has also featured in an episode of 'ReConnect' with Poet Patrick Jones.