Almost a decade ago, I found myself wandering alone on a remote jungle path in Guatemala. I hadn’t planned it that way: I’d been abandoned – too long a story to tell here – by my guide. At first I was livid. How dare he leave me on my own! It was a long, sweaty, three-hour hike to the next camp. After a while my anger began to turn to anxiety. Who knew what dangers lurked in these wilds? On either side of the trail were twisty lianas, gnarled branches and trees laden with toxic sap. Hidden away among them were scores of reptiles, spiders and other potentially dangerous creatures.
The art of horse whispering is just one of the things you can learn in Wild Times © David Wakefield/Adventures with Horses
However, as I walked, my fear slowly ebbed away. In its place grew a feeling of elation. Suddenly, I was aware that all around me was a living, breathing natural community, and that I was a part of it. The separation I felt from my wild environment melted away. I felt safe, supported and swept along with euphoria. Every tree, flower and bird seemed to sing out at me. Why had I never noticed this before? When I reached the next camp I was jubilant: that walk had not only made my trip; it had felt fateful and life-changing.
For the first time ever, I’d experienced a truly conscious connection with nature. I’d gone beyond observing and admiring the landscapes I’d walked through and reached something deeper. I’d felt empathy, reverence, joy and a feeling of kinship – all for and with nature. Above all, I felt truly alive. Once you awaken to something in this way you’re never the same again. And so it was for me. From then on I was hooked, eager to explore this communion further.
Roll on a few years and I was beginning to tire of the long-haul life of a travel writer, with its airport hassles, jetlag and carbon footprint, so I turned my attention to Britain, with its quilt of extraordinarily vivid and varied natural landscapes. I hungered for creative ways to connect with the natural world on our shores: experiences that I – someone who most definitely can’t name every bird, plant and tree and who didn’t spend her childhood emulating Ray Mears – could relate to; experiences that reflect our diversity as humans, with our wide range of interests and backgrounds, and the diversity of the natural world. We may more often think of nature as green landscapes or as flora and fauna, but the earth – the very soil beneath our feet, the wind, the air and fire are nature too. Sunshine and rain and snow are a part of our natural universe and so too is nightfall, with its moonlight and stars. And, of course, cities can be a haven for nature: that lone tree on the high street weathering our indifference is still a wild thing.
Learn how to forage mushrooms with Mina © Lucina Dransfield
I sought experiences that aren’t specifically aimed at naturalists or wildlife experts (or at adrenaline junkies and challenge-obsessed adventurers hell-bent on conquering rather than befriending nature), but rather those that nature novices, devotees and eco-travel enthusiasts alike might enjoy. Everything within this book offers a thrilling intimacy with both this land and those who care for it. Here the more creative rubs shoulders with the mainstream and the downright offbeat. Some experiences involve weekend jaunts or short breaks, others a day out. Either way, though, it’s not the destination that takes centre stage but the experience. And it’s worth singing the praises of those who will frame that experience and help to weave a spell you’ll not forget: the passionate, dedicated women and men beavering away among our moors, coasts, hedgerows, woods, highlands, lowlands and cities, just itching to share their wild, wise ways with you. You may not have heard of them – a few are well known, but others are happiest flying under the radar or even living off-grid – but all are special and often pioneering people.
There’s a transformative power to time spent in nature and experiencing a personal, connection or ‘conversation’ with the wild can be the start of a beautiful, reciprocal relationship. The natural world can awaken our senses, oblige us to slow down, offer adventure, meaning, solace, wonder and healing. Nature may challenge us, and invoke a quiet peace. And the mysterious otherliness of our fellow creatures and the intelligence that the wild presents us with – if we listen carefully – is quite extraordinary.