Forest Bathing

Excuse me – forest what? Don’t worry, it doesn’t involve any actual bathing (the clothes stay on) – perhaps immersion is a more apt word.

The whole idea is Japanese and comes from the concept of shinrin-yoku, which translates literally as ‘forest bathing’ but really conveys the idea of immersing yourself in a woodland environment for a while and reconnecting with that part of you that needs this experience.

And we do need it – it’s buried in our genes and our psyche that we are creatures who used to live close to nature and who feel good when we are back in that place. Forest bathing has been developed as a kind of therapeutic return to the natural world as well as an escape, for a while at least, from the civilised one.

Future forest – tree planting is ongoing at Caherbeg farm, native species only

The event itself was part of the Taste of West Cork Food Festival and it took place on Caherbeg Free Range Pork Farm, home of Avril Allshire-Howe and her family. I’ve written about Avril before, in my post on black pudding way back in 2015. A leader in the thriving West Cork food scene and a very busy woman, Avril discovered that her way of relaxing and centering was to take a walk down into the woods on the Allshire farm, and so the idea of introducing other people to the healing power of time with the trees was born.

As we walked, Avril explained she and William’s philosophy of farming and how they hoped to plant more trees over time. They are pioneers in the new discipline of agri-forestry – a true mixture of trees and agriculture, where the trees are planted far enough apart to allow for agricultural activities (such as hay-making) to take place among and between them.

Here is an example of agri-forestry, with trees widely-spaced. We were fascinated by the grass growing up the tree-tube along with the tree

One of the trees they have found thrives in our ever-damp West Cork environment is the water-thirsty eucalyptus. So our first stop (after saying hello to the piggies) was through the eucalyptus grove.

The aroma all around us was incredible and here we stopped and breathed deeply, rubbing the leaves and the bark with our hands and taking in the sinus-clearing benefits.

Then down beside a rippling brook – the air became still and the noises of the farm and pork plant disappeared. We came to a conifer plantation that was put in before the Allshires bought the land. It had not been properly managed so it is not commercially viable but it’s perfect for a dark forest immersion experience. Very little light penetrates the canopy and the air is perfectly still, almost spookily so. We wandered the path through it, saying very little and concentrating on the suddenly-cool air, the feel and texture of the tall straight trunks and the soft, sterile ground underfoot.

Where light could pierce the darkness ferns took hold and along the pathways as we emerged we found wildflowers taking advantage of every beam to put down their tenacious little roots. Although the Foxglove was finished we could still see their basal rosettes getting ready for next year, and along the little watercourses running through the trees Water-mint took hold wherever it could – more leaves to crush and savour.

Of course, no country walk in Ireland is complete without the obligatory ruin – this one a highly satisfactory house that must have been quite fine in its day.

And then, what was this? At the bottom of a field was a table, laden with West Cork goodies, and Avril invited us to browse and make a sandwich using her own home-made challah bread. A picnic has never tasted so good!

I have my eucalyptus and mint leaves by me as I write this – aroma is a sure-fire memory stimulant and I am back in my head walking through the trees, time slowed down, breathing and listening, with the rough bark under my hands.