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NICKY MARR: Time alone helps to connect with nature

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky out on her bike in Strathconon.
Nicky out on her bike in Strathconon.

Some days, it feels good just to be outside. Last weekend was a lovely combination of pottering in the garden, an al fresco catch-up with friends, and a ‘fresh’ (freezing!) swim in the clear waters of a favourite loch.

To hang onto that outdoorsy feeling, I took myself off for a cycle this morning.

I followed roads I’ve not explored before, up in the depths of Strathconon. I passed the hydro dams at Lochs Luichart and Meig, and the power stations at Orrin and Tor Achilty.

I cycled solo, although I certainly wasn’t alone. Apart from the occasional dog walker, I was surrounded by birds and deer, red squirrels, and rabbits. If I knew more about birds of prey, I might be able to tell you if it was a red kite or a buzzard that was keeping an eye on me as I cycled through its patch. I also free-wheeled past the remnants of a slow worm, sadly caught by an earlier tyre.

The River Conon from the saddle.
The River Conon from the saddle.

It was a beautiful ride, and perhaps all the better for me being alone. While I love the company and conversation of my rides with the girls or with Mr Marr, being on my own connected me more closely to my surroundings.

Being without either mobile phone signal or a map made me more mindful of my surroundings, of the curve of the river or the contour of the hills. I was remote, but I was connected, with nature, and – in the absence of my ubiquitous headphones too – with my thoughts.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme, after a year when so many of us have found solace in our gardens and parks on our daily walks, is nature. It can’t cure everything, but the power of nature to lift us out of our worries and to give us perspective on our troubles, can’t be underestimated.

Like many last summer, I found myself with a vastly reduced workload and nowhere to go. Thankful for our cramped patch of garden, I channelled my energies into making every square inch as bonny and productive as it could be, and that included building a raised veg patch in the middle of the front grass.

That tiny four-by-four square gave us salad crops and French beans, plus broccoli, kale, spinach and chard. The cabbage and beetroot failed, but you live and learn. Already this year’s garlic and lettuces are coming on well, and I’ll repeat my trick of growing peas in orange B&Q buckets; at 97p each they’re cheaper than pots, and colourful too.

I’d have struggled throughout lockdown without access to an outdoor space – I know how lucky I am to have one, and to live here in the north, with wild, beautiful spaces on our doorstep.

The statistics are clear. Nature helps our mental health. Get out there, get soaked (probably!) and help yourself to feel better. And if you’ve space for a few veggies too, you’ll be winning!

More from Nicky

Nicky Marr. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Nicky Marr. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Shopping trip was a disaster

It’s official – I have forgotten how to shop. With non-essential shops finally opening, I took myself into Inverness city centre the other day with an open mind, an open(-ish) wallet and the plan to spend.

It’s been months – literally! – since I bought any new clothes; this was my chance.

There was a spring in my step and a smile on my face, not that anyone could have seen it under my mask. The blood was pumping. New jeans? A top? A jacket? Maybe some make-up, if I’m going to be out in public again?

Three hours later, I returned home. I washed the 17 layers of hand sanitiser off my hands and laid my purchases on the table.

New pants and socks, and a punnet of cherry tomatoes. Hardly enough to restart the economy. I’ll be back next week to try again.

Ready for our new arrival

New puppy.
New puppy.

Mr Marr and I are becoming grandparents! Instead of 10 tiny toes, the wee boy will have four fluffy paws.

In a fortnight, Daughter No.2 and her boyfriend are taking delivery of a golden lab, name tbc. Having resisted dogs for our entire adult lives (on the basis that we’re far too selfish and busy to give one a good life) I’m secretly ecstatic. All the cuteness and puppy cuddles, and none of the vet bills.

At least that’s the plan… remind me of that in a few years’ time when they’re off travelling and we’re the resigned owners of an ageing hound.

Read more from Nicky Marr here.

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