“These are the en­ter­pris­ing folks who can name a book­case ‘git’ with a straight face.”

The Scan­di­na­vians are full of bright ideas. Thank­fully, one of their best is al­ready head­ing our way...

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

YOU MAY AL­READY have heard of the word ‘hygge’. If you haven’t, you’ll hear it a lot more at Christ­mas be­cause Christ­mas is very hygge. It’s a Scan­di­na­vian word, but it means the op­po­site of Scandi Noir. In­stead of bleak snowy cityscapes, tor­tured souls and vi­o­lent mur­der, it means fire­light, cosi­ness, cud­dles (It’s where we get the word ‘hug’ from). All that good if slightly schmaltzy stuff.

The Scan­di­na­vians are famed for their lex­i­cal in­ven­tive­ness. These are the peo­ple af­ter all who gave us ‘om­buds­man’ and ‘mael­strom’ (two faves of mine) and they are, lest we for­get, the en­ter­pris­ing folks who can name a book­case ‘git’ with a straight face. Now, af­ter ‘ hygge’, the Swedes and the Nor­we­gians are ar­gu­ing, in a very civilised way nat­u­rally, about which of them gave us an­other ex­cel­lent word for ‘well­be­ing’ and its as­so­ci­ated no­tions.

‘ Friluft­sliv’ lit­er­ally means ‘free air life’ but the spirit of it is ‘un­wind­ing in the out­doors’ or ‘re­lax­ing with na­ture’. Like hygge, it has been a defin­ing and im­por­tant part of Scan­di­na­vian cul­ture for many years. I visit Nor­way each spring and have al­ways been struck by how fam­ily re­cre­ation is built around phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in the out­doors. Even in the depths of win­ter, a Nor­we­gian fam­ily con­sider it a wasted week­end if they haven’t been for a stomp or taken the sledge up to the hills.

Now we too are start­ing to get wise to the joys of friluft­sliv. As you’ll have read ear­lier in this mag­a­zine, it has ar­rived, af­ter a fash­ion, in Shet­land, where GPs have be­gun to pre­scribe ‘na­ture’. From now on, these GPs can pre­scribe ‘na­ture’ as part of their pa­tients’ treat­ment. (It’s just for Shet­landers. There are no pre­scrip­tions for stays at the Scal­loway Ho­tel.)

I don’t have to tell you how good for you get­ting out there is. But it’s nice to see our pas­sion get­ting of­fi­cial. Stud­ies con­firm that walk­ing in the open air re­duces the risk of heart dis­ease and strokes, di­a­betes and can­cer. But we know that get­ting out there can be a balm to a trou­bled mind, re­duc­ing anx­i­ety and help­ing us sleep. When I climb a hill, how­ever small, I lit­er­ally get the stresses of life ‘in per­spec­tive’.

Wain­wright put it well when he said of his favourite fell: “a man could for­get a rag­ing toothache on Hay Stacks”. Gyms are fine, but there’s no sub­sti­tute for feel­ing the wind on your face or hear­ing leaves crunch un­der­foot.

Of course, Shet­land has all this medicine in easy and abun­dant sup­ply. As lo­cal GP Mark Macau­ley told the New States­man: “We’re lucky here, as na­ture is out­side our front doors. It howls around the eaves of our houses – the nat­u­ral world in Shet­land doesn’t sit and wait for you to go out look­ing for it. And there’s room for a lot more peo­ple out there.” This is true. But we all have a space some­where nearby – a park, a piece of wood­land – where we can es­cape to. Macau­ley makes the point that “fre­quently, the res­o­lu­tion of some dis­tract­ing dif­fi­culty has come to me whilst out­side think­ing about some­thing else.”

I call it “tak­ing a piece for a walk”. If I’m stuck on how to be­gin or end or struc­ture some­thing, I’ll walk it around the park or the woods. The sheer act of mov­ing in clear light and open air of­ten un­locks some­thing. When I’m watch­ing the TV news, or per­haps read­ing the lat­est Tweet from the US Pres­i­dent, I of­ten dis­ap­pear men­tally to Shet­land, to feel the wind and rain come howl­ing at me over Eshaness, or watch the skuas on St Nini­ans, or the puffins on Sum­burgh Head, and even just be­ing there in my head helps.

But the real thing is even bet­ter. And now it re­ally is just what the doc­tor or­dered.

Hear Stu­art on Rad­cliffe and Ma­conie, BBC 6 Mu­sic, 1pm to 4pm Mon­day to Fri­day.

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