Abby Lacey set up Mental Health Mates – Reading after needing help herself, the support group helps anyone suffering as well as their family and friends
Founded in 2016 by author and journalist, Bryony Gordon, Mental Health Mates is a network of peer support groups, run by people who experience their own mental health issues, meeting regularly to walk, connect and share without fear or judgement.
In early 2019, being a fan of her writing and podcast, as well as suffering from anxiety for most of my life, I decided to check out Mental Health Mates. The nearest to me were about 20 miles in either direction, so after about five minutes of procrastination, I contacted them and offered to start my own group.
I know from experience that mental illness magnifies through isolation. I also know that being outside in nature is great for your mental health, so to incorporate walking and talking to someone, sharing with them or simply walking beside them – just connecting – is the first step to recovery.
In May 2019 I set up Mental Health Mates – Reading, organising bi-monthly weekend walks for people suffering from mental illnesses, along with their family and friends, in and around Reading.
We were lucky enough to have almost a year of walking together before the pandemic hit, but we’ve carried on walking when we can, and when we can’t, we meet bi-weekly through Zoom. The Zoom calls are a great way to check in, in a really informal environment. There is no structure to our calls – we chat about everything from TV to politics, from fashion to medication – we cover it all! There is never an expectation to talk and if you don’t want the camera on, that’s fine too.
We have built a great community of like-minded people, and we have visitors on the calls from all over the country as I, along with other walk leaders, actively advertise that all are welcome.
When we are able to get together, our accessible walks are as gentle or as brisk as the group would like, so we cater for everyone, covering about two miles over an hour.
We are truly spoilt for choice for locations in the area from beautiful lakes such as Dinton Pastures and Whiteknights Lake at the University of Reading, to the River Thames at Caversham. We’re hoping to expand our offering to west Reading too in the early summer too, so we can reach even more people.
Chilterns Walking Festival is back from 22nd May to 6th June with more than 80 guided walks to enjoy
The Chilterns Conservation Board is delighted to announce that the Chilterns Walking Festival, sponsored by Brakspear, is back with an impressive programme of outdoor events.
The walks will help people explore the landscape, villages, nature and heritage of the Chilterns. The activities and events are designed to appeal to different age groups, interests and levels of fitness. Whether you are interested in sampling local drinks and produce, finding out about the history of the Chilterns heritage, or trying out a new activity or experience with your family, there is something for everyone.
Chilterns Conservation Board People & Society Officer Annette Venters said: “After months of lockdown we are delighted to be offering such a full programme of events. It will be a chance to explore and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the Chilterns in small groups, led by experienced guides”.
For details of all guided walks, events and activities, which must be booked, please visit visitchilterns.co.uk/walkingfest. Most are free of charge, though some require a small fee which is clearly shown. To assist walk leaders with expected numbers, most events must be pre-booked. There has already been lots of interest, and numbers are limited for Covid compliance, so book early to avoid disappointment.
As lockdown measures ease and the weather improves, Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty remains a popular destination for both locals and visitors.
The past year has drawn more people than ever towards our green spaces in an effort to find fresh air for exercise and to reconnect with nature.
The Government’s roadmap out of lockdown sees measures eased this week, with the relaxation of the ‘Stay at Home’ rule, meaning outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed, making it easier for friends and families to meet outside. From Monday, 12th April, non-essential retail will be able to open including most outdoor attractions and settings and hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors.
These dates also coincide with the Easter break, school holidays and improved weather, all factors that will see a greater volume of visitors head to the Hills for recreation and relaxation.
Heather Kerswell, Chair of the Surrey Hills AONB Board says: “As lockdown measures slowly ease over the coming months, we expect the Surrey Hills to attract a greater volume of visitors. It is important that those who do come follow the Countryside Code and our guidance to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit. We encourage those who do come to seek out the less well-known areas of the Surrey Hills and keep away from the busy beauty spots where it will be harder to socially distance. Please remember to respect, protect and enjoy the outdoors and where possible support the local business community who very much need our custom at this time”.
We encourage residents to be tolerant and visitors to be kind as we see an increased enthusiasm for the Surrey Hills over the coming months. In-line with the newly launched Countryside Code we’ve set out our top tips for visiting this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to ensure the countryside is a safe place for all:
• We are aware that many visitors who love to walk and cycle will have greatly missed the Surrey Hills landscape, the views, and the well-known beauty spots. We advise you to avoid well-known sites such as Box Hill, Leith Hill and the Devil’s Punch Bowl which may become congested and therefore difficult to socially distance. Instead, why not visit lesser-known areas of the Surrey Hills.
• Please check before you travel that hospitality, car parks and facilities are open. Some local amenities such as loos may not have reopened yet.
• Take your litter home, leaving no trace of your visit. This keeps the Surrey Hills a special place for everyone. Please don’t light fires or BBQs unless there is a sign to say they are permitted. It is easy for a fire to get out of control and destroy rare habitats.
• Respect local wildlife and look after nature by being extra cautious and sticking to footpaths and bridleways so as not to disturb ground-nesting birds and other wildlife.
• Please be aware that our local farms are under great seasonal pressures during this time and we would encourage you to respect their needs by keeping dogs on leads and follow all designated footpaths and bridleways to keep yourselves and farm animals safe.
• Remember to consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors. Observe social distancing measures to help restrict the spread of the virus and ensure the countryside is a safe place for all
• We encourage you to continue supporting local during this time of transition and want to highlight all the wonderful products and services available on our doorstep in the Surrey Hills. Take a look at our list of businesses offering home deliveries, online support and services, gifts and inspiration.
• We hope that renewed enthusiasm for the Surrey Hills will translate into more people getting involved in caring for nature, wildlife, and the landscape. Remember to Respect, Protect and Enjoy – breathe deep, stride out, and give a cheery heartfelt hello to those you meet along the way!
Chris Howard, Chairman of Visit Surrey says: “Visit Surrey is delighted to welcome back our residents and visitors to the many attractions our county has to offer. It will, however, be a challenging time for the county’s most popular beauty spots and researching to find some of the Surrey Hills hidden gems may make for a more enjoyable and safer experience. Remember many places, even if they are free, will want you to book in advance. Also, toilets and other facilities will still be limited, so do plan your outings carefully.”
Stephanie Fudge, National Trust General Manager for the Surrey Hills comments: “We would encourage all visitors to plan outings carefully and to check facilities are fully open. As wildlife emerges from the winter, we are seeing large numbers of ground-nesting birds across the Surrey Hills from March until early Summer. Their breeding success is critically dependent on not being disturbed and so we would ask that visitors are considerate, keep to paths and keep their dogs on leads in sensitive areas. By being respectful of wildlife and the local community we can all benefit from an enjoyable visit to the Surrey Hills.”
The Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is one of 46 nationally protected landscapes in the UK, having equal landscape status and protection to a national park. The Surrey Hills AONB was designated on 8 May 1958, which makes it the first AONB in southern England to be designated (the first was the Gower Peninsula near Swansea in 1956). The Surrey Hills AONB stretches across a quarter of the county of Surrey and includes the chalk slopes of the North Downs from Farnham in the west to Oxted in the east, and extends south to the deeply wooded Greensand Hills which rise in Haslemere. The Surrey Hills Board is a Joint Management Committee which is funded by Defra, the National Trust, Surrey County Council and the local authorities within the Surrey Hills area.
For further information on the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) visit www.surreyhills.org
Giant bird boxes, crocheted funghi and a striking metal sculpture are among the artworks you can enjoy as part of this year’s Heathland Artworks.
Now established as an annual event, all work is inspired by the RSPB Farnham Heath.
Local emerging artists studying craft, fine art and textiles at the University for the Creative Arts have explored the wildlife, geology and history of the heath all year to develop a series of artworks that are temporarily placed on Farnham Heath and incorporated into a walking trail.
This year pieces include giant bird boxes, crocheted funghi, ceramic birds and a striking metal sculpture. There is also the added bonus of The House of Invisible Hands by sculptor Walter Bailey and a result of his research into historical forest glassmaking locally.
Heathland Artworks is a Surrey Hills Arts project and provides a new way to view and learn about the heath. Visitors can get up close to each of the 12 artworks by following a specially created trail.
The project has given the students an invaluable experience in preparing a proposal, presenting this to a panel, and developing the necessary skills to create and install the works.
Surrey Hills Arts aims to engage and inspire people in the natural landscape through the arts programme, promoting heritage, health and tourism.
Programme co-ordinator for Surrey Hills Arts, Ali Clarke said: “It has been fascinating seeing the students develop their artworks in response to the wildlife and environment on the heath.
“The final pieces will be enlightening for visitors of all ages providing pauses for thought along the route.”
Heathlands Artworks is free to enjoy and open to visitors until 27th October at Farnham Heath which is next to the Rural Life Centre. Visitors are welcome to use the facilities.
Photo – Walkers at the Chilterns Walking Festival, credit: Chilterns Conservation Board
If you want to get out and enjoy the fresh air over the next fortnight how about trying the Chilterns Walking Festival?
Now in its third year the festival, 5th to 20th October, has more walks, more activities, more crafts and more dates, and is set to be bigger and better than ever.
The walks provide opportunities to meet artists, craftspeople, farmers, archaeologists, historians, countryside rangers, food producers and storytellers of the Chilterns, and each walk is guided by an experienced walk leader who will bring their story to life.
Whether you’re interested in sampling local drinks and produce, finding out about the history of the Chilterns heritage, or trying out a new activity or experience with your family, there is something for everyone at the Chilterns Walking Festival.
Spending quality time with the family?
From Iron Age time travelling and stunning autumnal walks with breath-taking views, to ghostly tales from the riverbank, there are so many to choose from
Exploring and discovering?
The Chilterns is brimming with history and heritage and with so many places to explore it is no surprise there are many walks offering the chance to discover more about our rich heritage and ancient landscapes. Why not take a ride on a heritage steam railway from Princes Risborough to Chinnor, explore and discover Grims Ditch or hear the story of the 1830 machine breakers’ riot
Learning something new?
Whether it’s mastering tree identification, practicing map and compass navigation, or having a go at Nordic walking or a watercolour workshop, there are lots of opportunities to get involved and try something new
Time for a rest?
What better way to end a scenic walk than by sampling some of the fabulous food and drinks by local producers. Why not try a gentle guided walk around Wilstone Reservoir Nature Reserve followed by a distillery tour and gin sampling? Or sample the famous “Bedfordshire clangers” on a ranger-led walk around the beautiful Barton Hills National Nature Reserve and Farm
Joining a storytelling walk?
For those looking to escape the everyday and immerse themselves into something a bit different, why not try one of our storytelling walks such as Ghostly tales from the Riverbank: complete with hooded monks, phantoms & headless horsemen
Improving your health and well-being?
Focused on sharing techniques and tips to increase health and improve general well-being, there are a number of walks from yoga and mindfulness to a visit to Amaravati Buddhist monastery
Details of the more than 80 guided walks, events and activities available in the autumn programme can be found here
Most are free of charge though some require a small fee which is advertised. To assist walk leaders with expected numbers, most events must be pre-booked
There are a wide variety of walks to enjoy – however you like to take yours – as part of the Chilterns Walking Festival from Saturday, 18th May to Sunday, 2nd June.
Are you an ambler? Do you like to saunter? Would you consider yourself to be a plodder or are you a trekker?
However you like to stroll, trudge, wander or roam, the Chilterns Walking Festival is the right route for you if you like to put one foot in front of the other. The 16-day event offers spectacular views, local stories and fun activities to enjoy as you get out and explore the countryside on one of more than 50 guided walks and special activities this month.
There’s a wide variety of walks to choose from, ranging from short gentle ambles to more challenging hill hikes, all to the backdrop of the stunning Chilterns countryside. The walking festival offers the chance to meet artists, craftspeople, farmers, food producers and storytellers.
You might choose to “meet the maker” with an art and craft walk from Nuffield, visit a blacksmiths and a furniture maker and be inspired by the scenery around you or perhaps you’d like a walk to a woodland camp where a simmering kettle and chance to cook lunch over a campfire await?
For something rather different how about discovering “powerful places in the Hundreds of Aylesbury”: an Iron Age fort, a medieval castle and the Prime Minister’s country residence at Chequers. Discover Henley, explore its history and go on the trail of Midsomer Murders and filming locations – you’ll hear personal anecdotes and details not found in the guide books.
There’s lots of history to enjoy along the way, too. Follow in the footsteps of your ancestors along the Tuddingway, a medieval route along the Thames corridor with divisions up into the beechwoods and take a guided tour of the historic Jordans meeting house (complete with tea and cake at the end) in the company of a life-long resident of the Quaker-founded village of Seer Green.
How ever you decide to walk the Chilterns, there’ll be a trail for you with walks for different ages, interests and levels of fitness; walks for young families, those with limited mobility and dog walkers. Each walk is guided by an experienced knowledgeable leader.
The main event sponsor is camping shop Complete Outdoors. Managing director Andrew Inkley said: “For over 35 years, we’ve been helping people to prepare for their adventures, whether walking in the park, or climbing a mountain. As a Chilterns company we loved the idea of supporting a local walking festival that helps people to discover what’s on their doorstep.”
The festival is also sponsored by family-owned and run brewer and pub company Brakspear and many of its 132 pubs are located along the routes of the Chilterns, so why not pop in to in and enjoy a well-deserved pint along the way?!
Most of the walks and events are free but must be booked in advance. For full details and to book head to Visit Chilterns
Step out and step up your health and fitness with a good walk
Walking, we all do it everyday, but have you ever really thought about all the health benefits and how you can make it really count?
With Walking for Health, the Guildford walks programme, you can take part in a short free walk nearby to get active and stay active at a pace that suits you.
And as well as being active, it’s also a great way to explore what’s around you and make new friends while you walk, you don’t need any fancy equipment and unlike most things – it’s free!
To take part in one of the Guildford Walking for Health walks just pop along to the start point and one of the trained leaders can take your details then you can get involved in as many and as often as you like.
Walks currently take place every Monday in the Guildford area and are due to start on Tuesdays in Worplesdon and Thursdays in Shere. For more information about any of these contact Annelize Kidd on 07554 423010
Shalford area walks can be enjoyed on Wednesdays, contact Georgina Churchlow on 07714 821159
For walks in the Whitmoor Common area on Fridays, contact Roger Philo on 07905 282658
Volunteers are also needed to help the walks happen either as a walk leader or a back marker. If you are interested in helping with the walks, contact Annelize Kidd on 07554 423010
If you still need convincing, it’s worth bearing these health benefits in mind:
– Help your heart and lungs work better
– Lower your blood pressure
– Keep your weight down
– Lighten your mood
– Keep your joints, muscles and bones strong
– Increase “good” cholesterol
The Walking for Health programme operates around the country helping people to lead healthier, more active lives. To find more walks near you or if you’re not in the Guildford area have a look at walkingforhealth.org.uk