100 Things To Do In The Forest

Magic fairytale forest with fireflies lights and mysterious road

Whether you’ve always been an outdoorsy type, or the confines of the recent pandemic has led you to embrace new al fresco activities, there has never been a better time to connect with nature. For starters, it’s now proven to have positive effects on your mental wellbeing. We say now because it’s a relatively new concept. Professor Miles Richardson who led a recent study undertaken by the University of Derby’s Nature Connectedness Research Group revealed that in 2001 there wasn’t a single research paper on ‘nature connectedness’ but that over the past decade, research in this area has blossomed due to the focus on the mental health crisis. Indeed, their study over four years has found that simply ‘noticing nature’ significantly improves quality of life. Similarly, Japanese studies have reported that just by looking at plants you can alter the electrical activity (pumping) of the heart, reduce pulse rate, muscle tension and blood pressure as well as boosting your mood.

It’s no coincidence that the activity known as Forest Bathing originated in Japan. Also known as Shinrin-Yoku, it was developed in 1982 as part of a national health programme designed to reduce the population’s stress levels. A practice that aims to open the senses to the forest surroundings, it teaches participants to inhale the forest air, listen to the sounds around them, feel the breeze on their skin and take a moment to connect with their environment. Gaining traction in the western world over the past couple of years, you can easily go forest bathing of your own accord or if you could sign up to some Forest Therapy where you will be assigned a guide to help get you in the swing of things.

Shirley Gleeson set up the Forest Therapy Institute last year which is an international training organisation for Certified Forest Bathing Guides and Forest Therapy Practitioners. “It’s a ten-day intensive course with a six-month mentored practice. Guides are trained choosing the best forest trails in terms of restorative elements (natural soundscape, flowing water, rich in biodiversity, wide variety of tree types etc) and also trained in designing sensory nature-based invitations to deepen your relationship with nature, enhance vitality and reduce stress levels,” explains Shirley.

You can find a list of certified guides and practitioners on their website but it’s becoming more commonplace than you might think so don’t be surprised to see it pop up on a spa menu. At Armathwaite Hall Hotel and Spa in the Lake District, they’ve recently introduced a two-hour immersive Forest Therapy session. “We were running a forest bathing package without a guide which was proving popular, but we felt participants were missing an important element and with a specialist, it’s a much more fulfilling experience in helping participants connect more fully with nature,” explains owner Carolyn Graves. Led through the hotel’s 400 acres, the experience ends with a tea ritual in the woodland gazebo. Bliss.

If you go down to the woods today

While the idea is to immerse yourself in the outdoors without technology or distractions, there are some apps that provide some virtual hand holding. Go Jauntly, a walking app, has a new function called Nature Notes that encourages users to record three things they’ve noticed in nature every day. Birdsong, the smell of wild flowers, an unusually shaped tree – it all counts. And if you’re getting more inquisitive by the day, there are also apps like Chrirp! that helps to identify birdsong and Plant Snap where you can upload a picture of a plant that’s caught your eye and it will report back with its vital statistics. Nature Finder is another good shout as it contains maps, events and listings of over 2000 nature reserves in the UK.

There are even festivals dedicated to the forest – Timber, held at Feanedock, a woodland site on the Leicestershire/Derbyshire border is far more than tree hugging and combines music, workshops, dance, gong baths, forest bathing and campfire stories for a nature-immersive experience like no other. And while it’s been postponed until next July, they are encouraging people to submit 60 second soundbites of the forest around them to create a soundmap that brings together tones and textures from the world’s woodlands. An ongoing project, it’s possibly the most relaxing thing you’ll hear if you’re stuck inside.

On The To-do List

Another excellent resource is forest educator Jennifer Davis’ book, 100 Things To Do In A Forest, out in August. Suitable for solo explorers or families, it does what it says on the tin and throws up original and unusual ideas of how you can spend your time outdoors. “We live in a world where we’ve become so accustomed to having goals, intentions or ticking off items on to-do lists. This book makes several suggestions for gentle activities that you can do to enable the process of letting go and just doing not very much,” says Jennifer.

Forest bathing is just one of her suggestions. Others include Nature Framing, Pond Dwelling, Urban Cooking, Fish Tickling, Green Exercise, Insect Management and Dadirri – another ancient method of reflection that utilises nature. “It’s an aboriginal practice in which people employ stillness, deep listening and a willingness to look within,” explains Jennifer. “It is far more self-focused than forest bathing which is about taking in everything around you and heightening the senses. It’s about becoming part of the natural world, rather than an observer of it. Many people find that they are uncomfortable with the level of inner-reflection that dadirri indicates as again, it’s the opposite of our fast-paced solutions-focussed society but by practising it you will become more tuned in to the energy of the world around you.”

Not all of Jennifer’s suggestions might resonate with you but even if you simply use some of them as a starting point you might notice you start to feel better in mind, body and soul. You might also subconsciously start to switch your habits. “Several years ago I read some research that said that people who spend regular time in a particular outdoor space are more likely to become environmental advocates for that space when it is threatened. I loved the idea that just being in the woods would naturally turn you into an eco-warrior and that it really was as simple as just going to the same green space regularly,” she says.

Does exercising outside count?

According to these latest studies, it’s what you notice when you’re outside that counts and will impact how you feel rather than how long you’re in the open air although the University of Exeter has found that 120 minutes a week in nature is the sweet spot. A bootcamp in the park won’t cut it though. You’ll still get the endorphins and fresh air, but your focus will naturally be elsewhere – “it’s more a form of green exercise than forest bathing,” explains Shirley. It’s also proven that the more you do your chosen activity – eg go for a walk in the woods, the more benefits so choose something that you can do almost every day rather than a once a week, weather-dependant activity.

How you’ll know if it’s working

Feeling calmer, more positive and less anxious are all wellbeing benefits that are said to come from spending time in nature. Carolyn Graves also flags up that it has been shown to accelerate recovery from illness while Jennifer says that alongside rosy cheeks and a feeling of cheerfulness, people report better sleep and is often one of the first things they notice. Then there’s the desire to share the good vibes. “If you find yourself asking other people to join you on your next woodland exploit, you’re probably reaping the rewards and subconsciously hoping to share that joy with others,” she points out.

Regardless of whether you remain working from home or the busier pace of life is returning, if there’s one thing you take from this slow-moving start to the year, make it an affiliation with the outdoors. Once you’ve found that natural high, you’ll be hooked.

It’s A Jungle In Here

Urban jungle background with a copy space

I have turned into Prince Charles, during lockdown. Well, not literally turned into the Prince of Wales – but I have adopted his oft-joked-about habit of speaking to my plants. This is obviously because, save for my husband (who I thank my lucky stars I was able to be locked down with), I have really only had my houseplants for company. And boy, have we been getting on well.

Now, I’m perfectly well aware that there is a houseplant frenzy gripping the nation. (Anyone who spends more than two seconds a day on Instagram realises that; it’s right up there with avocado toast in the hashtag popularity stakes.) And I was pretty late to this party, actually, despite being a keen (outdoor) gardener – scarred by the memory of murdering too many plants during my flat-sharing days. (Although I’ve never felt quite so guilty about killing plants since I learned that Vita Sackville-West – of the legendary Sissinghurst Castle garden, no less – once compared her own plants’ death rate to infant mortality in the Middle Ages.)

It was Craig (aforementioned spouse) who first brought a houseplant home with him, about a year ago. ‘The air in this house needs improving,’ he insisted. I countered by saying that the rattly windows and floorboard draughts in our old house ensured we got plenty of fresh air, but the plant stayed. And then came another. Soon after, not one but two beautiful local shops opened within walking distance of our house in Hastings (Reste and The Clockwork Crow, if you’re interested), and lo and behold, it began turning into a jungle in here.

And instead of sulking and turning brown, as I’d expected, almost everything grew new leaves and really brought our house to life. (I have stopped short of marking their advancing height on the walls with a pencil, as for a small child – but it’s tempting.) What’s more, they’ve been making us healthier, with it. Many studies exist about how plants counter indoor pollution, essentially air-scrubbing it to counteract toxins like formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and more; plants absorb these toxins, breaking them down into harmless compounds in the soil which then feed the plant later. They’re also good for humidity levels – which in turn is good for skin: one study found that a collection of spider plants – almost impossible to kill, BTW – raised the relative humidity in a bedroom from 20% to a more comfortable 30%.

But those aren’t the health benefits I’m so interested in. Because over the past few months, I’ve realised that caring for my plants has been a grounding, steadying activity that has enabled me to build a ritual in my life at a crazy time when most parts of my day-to-day routine have frankly gone out of that rattly window. Fact: plants are good for mental health. It has been found, for instance, that employees who work in offices with plants tend to feel better about their jobs, fret less and actually take fewer sick days off.

Students in classrooms with three or more potted plants performed better at spelling, reading, science tests and maths than children in classrooms without any greenery. Surgical patients recover faster when they have plants in their hospital rooms, with reported lower blood pressure, pain and fatigue levels. (Ironically, despite that research, most hospitals won’t even let patients have flowers on the bedside now, never mind plants on the ward.)

Now, I’ve long supported horticultural therapy charities like Thrive (and my local Friary Gardeners charity, which gives vital employment to disabled people). But – duh – I hadn’t really twigged how houseplants could do that for moi. Tending for plants is the most miraculous way, I’ve discovered first-hand, to take my mind off all the bad stuff (of which there has been way, way too much) and to lower my stress levels. And while I’m lucky enough to have an actual outdoor garden (something I will never, ever take for granted after the last few months), I have found just pottering with my houseplants incredibly therapeutic.

Fact: when you’re tending your Swiss cheese plant or your rubber plant or your begonia, you can’t really think about anything else. And I can’t tell you how much, over the past three months, I’ve wanted not to think about anything else at all.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, who are very picky about the research they publish, the psychological benefits of indoor plants have been shown as: ‘Improved mood; reduced stress levels; increased worker productivity (adding plants to office environments in particular); increased speed of reaction in a computer task; increased attention span’ – ‘in some scientific studies, but not all’, they point out, in an RHS-y sort of way).

Meanwhile, one of the reasons my success rate with houseplants has been so much better this time around is, quite simply, Google. When I bring home a new plant, I quickly research online to make 100% sure that I’m giving it the right level of light and water, and feeding it (or not feeding it) enough. I really try NOT to venture too far down the rabbit hole by looking at videos of how to propagate it and make lots of gorgeous new baby plants to give away – but it has been known.

And just to confirm my nerd-dom, there’s even an excellent podcast about houseplants that I’ve become slightly addicted to, which glories in the name of On The Ledge (available on podcasts platforms like Apple podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher). Presenter Jane Perrone is UK-based – which means her advice is much more relevant than US houseplant podcasts, with our climate and light levels.  And if you don’t know your amaryllis from your elephant’s ear, it’s a great listen.

But what’s really helped my indoor jungle to thrive, I reckon, is that I’ve been talking to my plants. I dread being overheard doing this (although um, who by?) because it sounds embarrassingly like I’m cooing at a new baby. But the Prince of Wales has been doing it for years, of course – and if it’s good enough for Charles.  To cement his status as a visionary – the man who ‘wittered on’ for decades about climate change, organic farming, biodiversity, carbuncular architecture and so many other things that the world has slowly woken up to – it seems that HRH was spot-on about conversing with his flora, too.

Because none other than the aforementioned, august Royal Horticultural Society itself carried out a month-long study into ‘talking’ to plants. They made recordings of ten people, women and men, reading from literary or scientific works, then played them to tomato plants. Each plant got to listen to one person’s voice, via a set of headphones attached to each pot. (Two plants didn’t get read to, poor little darlings, as a control.) At the end of the month, the plants which had ‘listened’ to female voices grew an average of an inch or so taller than those which were spoken to by a male voice. So clearly, this is where I’m going right.

And if you still think our future King and I are bonkers, chatting to our plants? I’ve got a thriving begonia (or seventeen), who’ll beg to differ. And far from being a sign of madness, it’s keeping me sane.

It’s A 10

sparkle background with it's a 10 product display

I must have tried a gazillion hair masks in my day. You can virtually hear my bleached-to-high-heaven hair slurping them up from the next county. But just sometimes, I try a product that makes me do a double-take – and It’s A 10 Miracle Mask was one of them. From distressed to silk-tressed, in a few minutes: that’s the best way I can put it. Converted, delighted and surprised, I then figured I’d try something else in the range – the spritz-on conditioner that’s had the beauty world buzzing.

Now, no leave-in conditioner on the planet has ever managed to smooth and soften my monstrously hungry hair to my satisfaction – till It’s A 10 Leave-In Conditioner, which turned my feelings about leave-in conditioners upside-down. And I’m really not kidding here. (Which is of course, duh, why it’s America’s bestselling leave-in product, with 13 million sold every year.)

Who ARE these guys?, I started to ask. And then Gill – brand-sleuthing Indiana Jones of the beauty world that she is – told me It’s A 10 would be landing on Victoria Health, and would I like to interview the founder & CEO, Carolyn Aronson…? You betcha, I replied. So: one seriously fun Zoom call later (not something you can often say, actually), here’s the gen on this just-landed-at-VH haircare name and its dynamic founder.

What made you think the world needed ANOTHER haircare line?

My whole career was spent as a hairdresser, behind the chair for 20 years with my own salon. I started in beauty school at the age of 16, having been torn between being a nurse and a hairdresser; hairdressing won and I’ve lived and breathed hair for over 30 years. This isn’t my first venture – my first company completely failed and I lost everything, so I started It’s A 10 from nothing. It was born out of the fact that when I had my salon, I used to cherry-pick the best products from different lines; I could never understand why there wasn’t one range that did everything I needed it to. Well, now there is!

Why the name?

It comes from the idea that every single It’s A 10 product offers 10 different, easy-to-understand hair benefits. I wanted to create hair products that worked across many different hairtypes, rather than a complicated range with too many different collections that just bamboozled the customer. Working as a hairdresser with every type of hair on the planet from the finest baby blonde to black coils has given me an insight into how to create a hybrid hair product that would work across multiple hairtypes, something that was easy for the customer to grasp. Even hairdressers get confused by the ranges out there! I would layer products to get the results I wanted; my products do it all, in one. At the beginning, we had no budget for advertising or promotion, so we just got it into hairdressers’ hands – and it became a huge word-of-mouth hit, in salons and beyond.

What’s your fundamental philosophy for the range?

It all begins with healthy hair. We help you bring hair to its natural, healthy state, nourishing the scalp, protecting with antioxidants, protecting the hair shaft… When you do that, natural body is restored, hair will behave better – and I’ve had countless women tell me their hair grows better and faster, including many black customers who we’ve reunited with their roots because It’s A 10 has enabled them to return to their beautiful, natural hair state. Most haircare just delivers cosmetic benefits, but the idea behind It’s A 10 is that it really feeds the hair. So depending on the particular product, we pack it with ingredients like sunflower seeds, panthenol, silk amino acids, green tea leaf extract, sweet almond oil, linseed extract, marshmallow extract, oat kernel extract… It’s not an organic line but I am very particular about the ingredients within products, and we source these botanical wonder ingredients literally from all over the world.

How involved are you in the creation of the products?

I am very appreciative of the experts, I partake in their knowledge, but to me it’s like building a house: you want your dream house, and nobody understands what you want like you do. All my years behind the chair made It’s A 10 what it is. I am totally hands-on; I develop each and every product, pick every fragrance, every Pantone colour for the bottles – and incidentally, it’s no coincidence that the bottles are colour-coded, because I wanted to stand out from the other products out there.

You live in Florida now, but where did it all begin for Carolyn?

I grew up in Michigan, with lots of snow – and let me tell you, I prefer the Florida sunshine. But Michigan was a very diversified area, which meant I was working with many, many different types of hair. There are many, many different types of hair even within my own family, my own kids; I am Puerto Rican so I have brothers with Afros, and my blended family of kids have different hairtypes; my biological daughter is half-Nigerian and half-Puerto Rican, so they’re great for trialling products on a range of hairtypes, outside our own team.

Why IS our hair so bound up with our confidence?

It’s part of our identity. When we feel pulled-together and groomed, we just beam. It’s totally an expression of who we are. I got into hairdressing, to make people feel and look beautiful. And it just doesn’t matter who you are. I have several brothers, and during lockdown one of them drove across the border to Ohio, an hour south of Michigan, to get a haircut, because he didn’t want to have an Afro again. So this isn’t just something that impacts on women!

You’re a female founder and a mother of four, though. How do you keep healthy, so that you’re not running on empty while running your business?

It’s so crucial to stay at the top of your game when you have your own company, because so many people rely on you. Diet is very important to me. I’m not perfect, but I try to eat lots of protein and lots of veg, and stay away from sugar. If I drink, it’s limited amounts otherwise I really suffer the next day. I go through workout phases; sometimes I get busy and can’t work out but when I do, I like to build muscle. I watch my weight, but it’s more important to keep my body strong. My grooming routine is also a huge part of my mental wellbeing. So I get up every morning, wash my hair, do it properly, put oils on my skin, use body scrubs, style my hair and do my make-up. I am not very good at relaxing but I can relax in a bathtub in an oil bath, and breathe. I’m out of whack if I don’t do this stuff. My other solace is to float on the ocean in a boat. I love the outdoors, and I love the ocean.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I like to make people not only feel and look better, but feel empowered. Because it may be a cliché but when you have a Good Hair Day, it’s a good day, full-stop. And if it’s a Bad Hair Day, it puts a little cloud over you…

It’s A 10

Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life


I’ve heard the last few weeks described, quite lyrically, as ‘The Great Pause’. Now, like everyone else, I hope that this experience of lockdown is something we never have to go through again in our lifetimes. And it is certainly true that the world will never be the same. Our workplaces will be altered. (If they still exist – I mean, you know the world’s shifted on its axis when Twitter tells its entire workforce that they can ‘work from home, forever.’) Our wings will be clipped, at least for a while: very few people in my circle fancy getting on a plane with their former nonchalance. But perhaps even more momentously, with the very real fear of a deadly illness (literally) in the air, Covid-19 has, I think, brought into sharp focus thoughts of how we want to live the rest of our lives. Because that feeling of immortality and invincibility that many of us cloaked ourselves in has been taken from us. And you know what?

I think that’s a great thing. Read More…

Nobody’s Perfect


Every cloud has a silver lining, they say – and for those of us at Beauty Bible, it is seeing how everyone’s gone au naturel, in the past few weeks. Google ‘bare-faced celebrity’ and you can marvel at an unrecognisable Drew Barrymore (we spot a grey hair at that parting, along with the manicure-free nails), an equally low-key (yet so pretty) Kate Hudson, and – our favourite – Jessica Chastain, without a single swipe of make-up and looking more beautiful (and definitely more relaxed) than we’ve ever seen her. Away from the red carpet, in the comfort of their own bedrooms or living rooms or kitchens, they’ve been free to let their hair down. (Roots ‘n’ all.)

Part of that, of course, is simply that actresses can’t rock up to their derms for Botox jabs, models are suddenly required do their own make-up/hair (and probably don’t know how), and everyone (including us) is mourning regular hairdressing appointments. But we think it goes deeper than that: an actual seismic shift which comes down to: ‘I’m happy to be alive. That’s more important than looking flawless.’ Read More…

Timewasters Inc

3d model of an hour glass icon with a nearly complete ring around it in pink on blue background

Apparently Shakespeare banged out Macbeth, King Lear and Anthony and Cleopatra during a bubonic plague lockdown. Well bully for him. Since I self-isolated, I’ve managed a few cursory paragraphs of the book I’d apparently been waiting for this opportunity not to write, a couple of short articles and made a feeble, unsatisfactory attempt at finishing Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and The Light on Audible for God’s sake!

Is it just me or has this pandemic radically shortened our attention spans? I’d like to blame the news, but I have imposed a black-out, because it made me too angry.  I’d blame box-set bingeing if I could find anything I liked enough to devote more than about 30 minutes to. And what about the menopause and mental health?  Candidly, I had made inroads into both of those afflictions in one way or another before this whole thing began, and I’ll still have them when it ends. So I guess I’m going to have to go with the trite: unprecedented times.

In light of the aforementioned, I have developed a range of displacement and time wasting activities, so honed that they would surely qualify as an art form. And so my fellow time fritterers and challenged attention spanners, I present them to you, in the hope that they might reinforce VH’s sentiment that we are all in this together. I should add that that management and I take no responsibility for you damaging yourselves or your furniture in any way.

  1. Hair cutting. Number one on the list of top time wasters:  A hairdresser would tell you not to, but unless you are trying to cut yourself an entirely new style, or a plumb line straight fringe, I say go ahead. There’s serious satisfaction to be had from snipping away at irritating layers and split ends. Make sure your scissors are sharp. On short hair or fringes, take a piece and pull upwards above your scalp and then snip down into it, rather than straight across. Pull long hair in towards your nose, chin or chest before you snip and constantly check each side as you go, measuring against where the other side falls. Position a hand mirror if you can so that you can see the back view too.   Snip gradually. Or you could do what I did last week during my brief 10 minute yoga session, keep your scissors close and chop away at the ends as your hair falls over your head towards your feet. Very satisfying.
  2. Oiling. Not the car, you. A friend who sailed around the world endorses the use of any form of domestic oil before or after a shower to keep things in good order. Try it. It’s inexpensive – I like Olive or Almond but you can as she says use literally anything – canola anyone? Don’t forget nails and hair, both benefit from an oiling up before showering or bathing. You can of course go the whole hog with your hair and crack an egg on the top and massage in (or whisk it up beforehand for less dramatic effect). It works.
  3. Makeup kit clearance. Top displacement therapy. I don’t wear much makeup, but I have recently discovered that much of what I do possess is ancient. Surely you too have a few dried mascara brushes, hollowed out blushers and crumbling lipsticks to attend to? The key is their appearance and their smell. If your mascara pongs then chuck it out immediately, if your eyeshadows are crumbly like old Christmas cake icing then do the same. Wash your brushes, sponges and that makeup bag in warm water with a drop of washing up liquid. If you’ve got stuff you have never used then try it out (see 15 minute attention span) but be prepared to jettison.  Just because Beyonce can wear gold eye shimmer, doesn’t mean you can.
  4. Un-Kondo. I’ve read the book. I’ve sorted through and given away. And I regret it bitterly. Nostalgia is sometimes the thing that ‘gives me joy’ . This has led to my buying back items I’ve given to charity shops and lamenting the things that have already been sold by the time I’ve rushed there. If you have passionately loved something, but haven’t worn it in years , now’s the moment to  get it out again and flaunt it (who’s going to see you in those sequinned hot pants?) or pack it up and store it – under the bed, in the garden shed (damp proof box naturally) or if you are fortunate in ‘the spare’ wardrobe. Do not under any circumstances waste time by putting it into your ‘charity bag’. That’s for things that you never want to see again, either because they bring back bad memories, or they don’t fit. These are, I believe, the only reasons for you to cleanse yourself of your clothes. Now and in the future.
  5. Exercise Ambush. I used to be a manic exerciser. These days not so much, in fact these days often not at all. To keep myself somewhat fit I’ve had to develop a kind of exercise via stealth approach. This means that I spring exercise upon myself when I least expect it: star jumps whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, toe touching and sit ups whilst waiting for the washing machine to finish, I’ll often seize my weights whilst on hold via speakerphone, something I seem to do endlessly these days. My neighbour does the same thing with his daughter, suddenly breaking into a jog or sit ups with her, making a competition out of it. What I’m saying here is that if exercise has become a chore (and I know that for some people it’s still the saving grace it used to be for me) then you need to go full Cato. If you don’t know who Cato is, then watching the Pink Panther movies starring Peter Sellars and Herbert Tsangtse Kwouk, will most certainly be a valuable waste of your time.
  6. Housework. Don’t do it. Kidding, sort of. When the world is falling apart do we really need to care about the dust and debris of everyday living? Far better to develop one particular time wasting mania, on the basis that doing one thing is better (marginally) than doing nothing. My own current fascination is for taps and how best to shine them. Next week it might be for wooden floors and how to clean them. This is what the internet is for people – my taps will never go grubby again. I’m adding that to my CV.
  7. Children’s TV shows. The stuff of your youth, not your youth’s youth. Think back to what you loved and look it up on what my gran calls ‘The YouTube’. This is also a valuable displacement activity, the satisfaction for which is not to be underestimated – I’ve been humming the theme tune to Flambards for weeks and Pogles’ Wood- well, I want to move there. Speaking of which…
  8. Property porn.  Both you and I know that we are not going anywhere, well certainly not for the foreseeable. But why let that stop us?  Think of the place you most fantasise about living, plug it into a property portal and pore over the delicious results. There are still lots of houses out there to fritter away time salivating over. I know this because I check daily. Sometimes twice daily…..