Ever since my youth I've felt the embrace of my landscape. I've known its curves and its cures.
As a troubled teenager I'd disappear into the thickness of the woods, unseen by all but the familiars of the place. There I could strop around all I liked, the gracious trees would simply take it all on-board, granting me a clearer mind and a steadier solar plexus.
I was a solitary lad really, crowds intimidated me, my stammer isolated me. Whenever I felt peopled out I'd reach for the dog-lead and wander on the moor tops with Fleet, my collie.
Wild winds and soaring skylarks raised my spirits, telling me of my oneness with Anglezarke, my home.
Like most teenage boys I left nature as I got older.
Cars called. Rusty cars, old cars, dangerous cars. As long as I could make them go faster I didn't care. Life became defined by the edge of sanity.
Eventually I reached a place where I wasn't truly happy unless I could feel my tyres losing their grip on some treacherous corner. Rather than wandering the paths of my growing days I thundered around the West Pennine Moors in Capris and Minis, attempting to disconnect my wheels from the tarmac at every available opportunity.
This crazy madness came to a pinnacle one gorgeous summer's day in my 20th year. The moment stays with me as if it was yesterday. Tearing around a tight bend I accelerated along the straight, my engine screaming in time with my racing heart.
I hurtled past a glance of dog, a lurcher type, lying by the roadside.
Braking hard I came to a halt and walked the hundred yards or so back to where she lay, her eyes glazed with shock, her body a-quiver. Someone had run her down. Someone hadn't stopped.
Miles from anywhere she lay there, bloodied and whimpering. Her belly was torn apart, her back was broken, yet tragically she lived. I sat on the roadside and cradled her head in my lap. Her blood mingled with my tears.
I stroked her face and spoke softly to her, telling her it was all right to let go. Eventually she passed over, I felt the full weight of her against me as her muscles relaxed into death. Her tension was taken by the soft boggy ground on which we sat.
Gathering her up I took her to a place of dark peat and with bare hands dug her grave. As my fingers clawed into the damp earth I felt my own 'letting go' begin. A letting go of the need to rage, to live on the edge of death. Death was here in my hands and that was enough.
Deeper and deeper I carved a hole to lie her in, eventually covering her over and erecting a cairn of gritstone to mark this place. This place of change, of awakening, of reconnection with what mattered most.
I walked the moors again, hearing the welcome wind howl a rebuke to me.
Too long I'd neglected nature, too long I'd dishonoured the gift of life. Yet somehow I felt nurtured here, the feeling of wholeness was only a grass blade away.
It wasn't her death that turned me around, tragic though it was. The black peat under my fingernails did the trick. Pouring my darkest thoughts into the land as I scraped out her grave began the healing process.
For decades I've spoken of the 'healing of the land', the 'solace of our countryside' and the 'nurturing of nature' because in my soul and my heart I've always known this as a truth. However there's nothing like a real, physical, tangible connection with nature's healing to ground down this truth.
A while after, I visited a hospice to take photos of a team member for a magazine feature. The hospice was a single storey building with a large central courtyard garden. As soon as I walked through the door a feeling of light and warmth suffused through me, my preconceptions of this 'dying place' flying out of the window. The staff were incredibly warm and endearing. Perhaps they're not the right words but I don't think one exists to describe them.
The nurse and I talked and talked for ages. She took me on a tour of the hospice, introduced me to members of her team and told me of the hellish weekend they'd just endured. A weekend of 'death, sadness and terror', her words.
I asked how they coped with this, thinking back to my trauma with the dog on the edge of the moor, and she replied simply 'It's all out there...' pointing to the garden.
The gardens were lush.
Even the lawns were a place of paradise. Spared the weekly short back and sides of suburbia these lawns were allowed a flourish of daisies, clovers and self-heal flowers. Rabbits and squirrels romped through the blooms, delighting the patients whose every window poured full of nature love.
In their dying days they partook of the cup of nature's abundance. The staff? These dedicated folk who supported the patients through these dark days found solace here too. Whenever they felt weighed down by the tragedies unfolding within they were free to walk amongst the lushness of nature, to dig vegetables, to cut a few flowers, to plant some herbs, to nurture the nature that so abundantly blessed this place.
To go barefoot in nature, feeling her cool life-force flow within. In turn they too buried their problems, processed their worries and worked through their troubles.
I left the hospice with a renewed hope and a spring in my step. Years later here I am, telling people that it’s all out there. We simply need to give time to building our relationship with nature, with the land.
Nicola and I know full well that every minute spend in silence and solitude out in the landscape weaves deep, bright threads through our veins and enlivens our lives.
This is why we create special opportunites to run away to the hills and embrace ourselves in the healing folds of nature. We have two such escapes planned so far this year. Space to Emerge, is our very special four day retreat in the heart of a Lake District bluebell woodland which runs in early May. We also have our newly announced Yorkshire Dales residential, 'The Lynx and The Solstice Sun' in June.
If you too hunger for a connection, if you too have a bone deep sense that there’s more to being human than just existing, perhaps you too need Space to Emerge.