This is a snapshot of my new project exploring how we as society make peace with nature.
In the summer of 2020 I set off on a 300 mile walking trip through the forests, woodlands, hillsides and mountains of Wales in the hope of finding an answer to a question all of us were pondering. How do we as humans rebalance our relationship with nature so that we can fight together against climate change and prevent more pandemics like the one that had brought the world to a standstill?
I had been walking ever since the Covid-19 pandemic put all Wales into lockdown. Like many people I was feeling anxious during this stressful time. Walking became my coping mechanism – it helped me relax and also sparked my creativity. Then, one day a few weeks into lockdown, I read about an ambitious new project to create a National Forest of Wales – where I lived. Its goal was to connect the whole of the country and to inspire its people to care for the environment, fight against climate change and enjoy being in the forests. The National Forest was still in the planning stages. But I had an idea. What if I could map a potential walking route across all of Wales that would be blueprint for the National Forest? I started researching, learning about trees and nature, and preparing until, in July 2020, I was ready to start.
I felt like this long walk couldn’t have come at a better time. Our world was in crisis and yet that crisis had opened our eyes to new possibilities of how we live our lives as individuals and how we build our future collectively. We had found ourselves caught in a liminal state – we were on the threshold of a new, more sustainable way of life yet we hadn’t let go of the destructive path we’d been on for so many years. I wanted to explore how we could move beyond that liminal state and embrace a better future.
As I wandered through Wales I discovered how deep our relationship with nature once was and how, over the centuries, we had lost that connection and created the mess we now find ourselves in. By walking on the trails, footpaths and long-distance walking routes across the length of Wales I started to learn about and understand the history and causes of deforestation and how industrialisation destroyed our relationship to the forests. I stumbled upon the lead and silver mines dug by the Roman armies and I walked through the heartland of the Welsh coal mining valleys – once the most powerful force in the most important industry in the world.
I also discovered how the ancient druids of Celtic Britain inspired the legendary Welsh bards and magicians; how they bards, in turn, shaped the views of the Romantic poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge; how their love of a Picturesque Wales created Victorian tourism and how that became the catalyst for what we now know as environmental sustainability.
Along the way I visited the sites that inspired the myths and legends of King Arthur, the Lady of the Lake, the magical realms of the Mabinogi and the mysterious healing powers of the Physicians of Myddfai. I visited the forest cave of Twm Sion Cati, the Welsh Robin Hood, and I followed in the footsteps of Owain Glyndwr – the last independent Prince of Wales. At one point, I even stumbled upon the secret valley where Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant was rumoured to live.
Through conversations and research I learned about the science of trees and how they anchor the well-being of the rest of nature and the earth’s biodiversity. I explored the need to afford nature the same legal rights as humans. I studied the pros and cons of the mass tree planting efforts taking place all over the world in response to climate change. I investigated how we can really balance our growing food needs without destroying forests. And I researched the new rush to put an economic value on nature so we can redefine what successful capitalism looks like…and whether we should be doing that at all.
As I explored the landscapes of Wales, I began to realise how important walking in nature is for all our physical and mental well-being and how this journey was helping me recover from years of stress and repair my spirit. And, throughout my journey I came to understand how creating an equal balance and relationship with nature could define the national identity Wales has long searched for – and also provide an inspiration for other nations.
Learn more at The Liminal Forest