I had been trying to arrange a meet up with a friend for ages and she invited me to a forest bathing event in Montalto estate about 30-40 minutes outside Belfast.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was assured there would be no naked running through woodlands beating each other with birch twigs (I have to say I was a little disappointed by this, but went anyway).
Forest bathing is based on the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku. This a mindfulness practice, were you immerse yourself in nature. Exercises can include lying down the forest and allowing all your senses to take in what is going on around you. Other exercises can help you connect with others, while some are completed in silence to help you be present in the moment and contemplate your surroundings. We were led in this by the brilliant Gillian Calhoun, firstname.lastname@example.org, who made the entire experience accessible for everyone including people in our group who admitted they had previously found it difficult to switch off and rest. I finished the morning feeling a tremendous sense of peace, and one the my favourite things I took away from it is that rest is a verb, sometimes our minds and our bodies need to be allowed to rest and rest is an activity in itself.
I had driven past the Montalto estate many times before and but never visited. The original demesne dates back to the 1600s. Patrick McCartan one of the earliest owners had his lands confiscated due his involvement in the 1641 rebellion by the United Irishmen against the crown forces. The site was eventually passed down to the Earl of Moira in 1765 who built the grand mansion house and who’s grandson developed the impressive gardens.
Today the estate is privately owned by the Wilson family and the mansion house as well as other buildings can be rented out as wedding and events venues. Entrance to the grounds (not the house) is £7.50 for adults, but annual membership is £37.50. The estate also has a café, serving delicious lunches, pastries or even afternoon tea if you feel like really treating yourself.
The estate has beautiful paths and walks with a small lake, mature trees and some really interesting and exotic planting and was the perfect location for our forest bathing as we could take in different elements the estate had to offer. They also run events like kids bush craft, floristry and gardening events and yoga.
Go get out into some nature, and then just chill out and let it all wash over you. We’re all in too much of a hurry these days to appreciate the little miracles we are surrounded by. Your physical health will improve, and your mental health will benefit, so get your lazy arse of the sofa and go commune with nature.