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The Three Day Effect: The Lakes and Scotland's Wild West Coast

We’ve both listened to a podcast series on the three day effect, the theory that spending three full days immersed in nature leads to huge mental health benefits, from combating depression to increasing focus and helping with problem solving. I thought I’d document my own experience of this over the next few days as we will be spending all day everyday in autumnal woodlands and hiking up mountains over-looking lakes. I might not be the best candidate for a three day effect trial as I haven't been through any majorly traumatic event, but I am interested to see how it impacts my mindset and generally piqued anxiety levels.

Our first day immersed in nature was amazing. It was a little overcast so we chose a walk in Grizedale forest, the silurian way, a 10 mile look taking in a few hills and the highest peak in the forest. It’s a diverse woodland full of oaks, pines, larches, birches. We had been looking to take a foraging course but were struggling to make the timing and availability work, so instead looked up a blog on what to look out for in the Lake District. Once you start looking, you see mushrooms everywhere. Our first find was a birch mushroom, a large flat beige cap with a spongy white under-side and and white chunky stem. We also stumbled across a few bright red spotted poisonous varieties - for aesthetic appreciation only, before finding the win of the day, a perfect porcini mushroom.

What I loved about the day was feeling so immersed in the greenery. The lakes obviously get a lot of rain, so the trees are incredible and dense green moss covers the stone walls or branches. I had been listening to a podcast exploring forest bathing, an ancient Japanese concept to use the experience of being in a forest to help with mental well-being. It’s an obvious truth but knowing the concept helped me really appreciate the deep sense of peace and calm that folds through you in the misty atmosphere.

We drove back along to a point on the trail for a quick freezing dip by a small waterfall we had walked along once we finished the walk before going to The Eagle’s Head for a nice pint and rubbish meal. It’s been really tricky to get into campsites during this trip so we had to find a wild camping spot next to the forest - I did not sleep well.

Day two we drove an hour north towards Keswick to walk up Blencathra - a fairly substantial 14k loop up to the peak and around a couple of the other surrounding hills. Beautiful weather and a solid work out, though not a marked route so you need to be able to read a map yourself to navigate where you are. We don’t have ideal shoes so we didn’t do the ridge routes up which are a bit on the dangerous side. The view from the top over green fields, lakes and surrounding mountains was amazing.

We were seriously hot and sweaty by the time we got down, so we drove to Ullswater for a swim in ice clear water before attempting to go for afternoon tea at The Inn on the Lake. The service was so slow and we didn’t have a seat in the sun, so we gave up, grabbed a snack and went to The Traveller’s Rest for a drink - a lovely pub on a hill facing a mountain with good outside space for sunny days. We the headed on to find a spot by the lake for a barbecue, and the still silence of the evening was perfect for a paddle board and peaceful beer and meal.

Again we failed to get into a campsite so had to park in a lay-by next to the lake. I’m getting used to the wild camping set up so slept much better here. You aren’t actually allowed to wild camp around the lakes, but as we have no choice we are absolutely regimented about leaving these spaces just as pristine as when we arrived: we only park where parking is allowed during the day on hard standing, and we’re completely self-contained in our little camper. We did get politely told off by a Forestry Commission employee today…

Waking up this morning right by a silver rippling lake at the base of a mountain just feels amazing. I am writing every day and generally feeling great, at peace and full of optimism. Another glorious day today - we started with breakfast by the lake before doing the walk around Aira falls near Ullswater Lake. It’s a beautiful walk full of mossy oak trees, huge ferns and tall white waterfalls rushing into black streams. We spent around two hours doing a very leisurely walk - this one is very accessible. With beauty and accessibility come the crowds though so this gets a mixed review from me.

After the falls we drove back to one of the lay-by parking spots by the lake for coffee and took the kayak out, paddling north up the lake and stopping on the East bank which can’t be accessed by car to have another go at mushroom foraging - not much luck this time. Another icy swim and we set off for Scotland, driving a couple of hours to Luss, arriving in the dark and parking for the night in a lay-by next to Loch Lomond. Wild camping is generally allowed in Scotland with a few exceptions and requirements for permits sporadically in the countryside. For future reference there is a much nicer space for overnight parking near Tarnet.

As we were waking up in the Argyll Forest Park, we thought a quick walk to appreciate the woodland should be done. For convenience we chose the Isle of Tarnet loop, and learning from past mushroom hunting experience we took a few bags and a plastic tub with us. We have a mushroom guide book on Kindle, but I’d also downloaded and subscribed to an app called Picture Mushroom, which uses photo recognition to identify the possible mushroom matches. It’s amazing - not completely faultless of course so you want to back up the identification, but it gives a really detailed scientific description of the species. My A level biology historical self was loving this. We are pretty sure we found and ate a velvet bolete, common yellow russula, a few bay boletes and 2 incredibly slimy larch boletes. We fried a few and ate them in an omelette. I have to say the tension of potentially making yourselves ill does take a bit of the pleasure out of eating…

We headed on to Oban, a fishing town on the west coast and base for trips to the Isle of Mull. Our complete lack of planning which allows us to respond to the elements had its downside here, as the tours around the nearby islands were fully-booked, as were the seafood restaurants that we were keen to eat in. We managed to sneak into George St Fish Restaurant for plaice and scampi and chips, before driving to Dunnollie to camp by the beach for the night.

This was a beautiful place to wake up, and we shifted a couple of minutes down the road to a carpark by the sandy beach to eat more wild mushrooms and eggs for breakfast. The light was so stunning - reflecting a pristine silvery blue on the glassy water. I had to get in for a swim - the water was so stunning and clear as glass, showing the forms of colourful, or stringy, or leathery seaweed. A little grey flat fish shot away as I stepped out into the water. It is freezing - worth the pain once you’re in but super hard to warm up again afterwards as I was swimming for at least 15 minutes. We spent a chilled sunny day on the beach, caught at ate fresh mackerel with fried beetroot and salad, and watched the stunning sunset over the mountains, having another sunset swim.

Cold water swimming is a strange addiction. I’ve been swimming a couple of times a day during this trip when we have been by the lakes and sea so far, and there’s something so beautiful and simultaneously calming and exhilarating about it. Getting in is so painful, almost agony in your feet, wrists and collarbones. But once you’ve adjusted to it, it feels amazing. Lots of research says that it’s great for your mental health, as your body goes through the symptoms of panic but in a positive setting, and learns how to calm the symptoms down. It’s hard to assess this in yourself, but I certainly find that I feel overwhelmingly peaceful and able to soak up the beauty of the surrounding I’m swimming in, the light reflecting on the water as it ripples out from your strokes, and when I get out there’s a kind of high - lifted spirits and happiness. There’s also growing evidence for the positive effects on physical health - circulation, weight loss through the activation of brown (good) fat in your body which is linked to metabolic rate.

The weather was staying beautiful but we wanted to explore a little more, so we followed the edge of Loch Linnhe inland on google maps and came across Cuil Bay. This is the most amazing wild camping spot - right on the beach surrounded by mountains, sweet-faced cows, hilly forests and over-looking the silver-blue expanse of water with an island at its centre. We were lucky to have blue skies and enough warmth to hang around in swimwear, which is a little unusual in Scotland coming into autumn.

As we arrived a flock of geese flew over our heads in V formations, making huge amounts of noise and skidding onto the water. There’s so much birdlife there: song birds, swallows, diving ducks and some super cute black and white birds that look like a penguin crossed with a puffin. We spent the day paddling (kayak and paddle board) out to the island, trawling for fish. As you get out to the island the waster is glass-clear, with forests of kelp growing up the steep slope of the rock. I picked a couple of varieties to try - it has amazing nutritional value. Robin almost instantly caught a pollock there, while I paddled off to look for (but fail to find) oysters and sea otters. The water is clear enough to see the marine life, with little fish, lions mane jellyfish and baby pink sea urchins scattered around. Over an hour of paddling accompanied by the local seal got us back to shore for another freezing swim, a sunset fish barbecue to rose and a driftwood campfire under the stars. Cuil Bay was so perfect and the weather so sunny that we stayed the next day in the same spot.

As the surf was getting good we tore ourselves away from our favourite wild camping spot to drive up to Thurso past Glen Coe and Loch Ness. The sun was still with us, but the driving is so beautiful that it still feels like an experience and part of the adventure, rather than a waste of time. There’s real variety of landscape along this route, from misty early morning valleys, craggy mountains surrounding lochs, to stunning birch forests, rolling agricultural hills, and the sea. We were driving away from the nice weather and chilled activities, towards a much colder and different part of our road trip!


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