24th August 2020
by Eloise Leeson
Scotland’s natural scenery is stunning – whichever way you look at it. Whether it’s the sweeping vista of Glencoe or the Hebridean coastline, we’re spoilt for choice – and our Scottish forests are no exception. Wild, ancient, wonderful – we think they’re perfect for ‘forest bathing’.
A term that originated in Japan, Shinrin-yoku is the art of slowing down and absorbing your surroundings, grounding yourself in nature and practicing mindfulness to promote wellbeing.
At Away from the Ordinary, we think forest bathing is one of the very best ways to restore your equilibrium, especially when coupled with a stay in one of our castles. The ultimate in luxury, you can delight in roaring log fires, exquisite food, and silken sleep – feeling like veritable royalty.
So why not soothe and restore your senses? First by roaming the forest, soaking in the beauty around you – and later, with delicious, locally sourced food or a spot of local salmon fishing, an indulgent spa experience, or a whisky tasting enjoyed in good company.
Read on for our favourite forest bathing and castle combinations.
Faskally Forest & Fonab Castle
Faskally Forest was originally planted in the 1800s by the wonderfully named Archibald Butter, who wanted to create what was termed a ‘model forest’. Broad-leaved beech trees, slender firs and fragrant Scots pine stand amongst wild cherries, silver birch and Norway spruce, creating a canopy of branches overhead.
The forest is a joy all year round, but it is particularly majestic in Autumn. The leaves begin to turn, and the woods become ablaze with colour, best viewed from the pretty little timber footbridge that crosses part of Loch Dunmore.
Less than five minutes’ drive from Faskally Forest (though you feel like you’re a world away) the castle lies so close you can gaze back over the woods as you draw the curtains in your sumptuous suite. And sumptuous really is the word here. Though it’s had many purposes in past lives, Fonab Castle has been transformed into a place that epitomises luxurious Scottish hospitality
Situated near Loch Tay, the castle also offers a wealth of things to do. Take to the skies in your own private helicopter, feasting your eyes on the landscape below, or try a different kind of feasting with a truly private dining experience in one of Fonab Castle’s ‘pods’. Commanding views over Loch Faskally, these relaxed spaces are all yours for the evening.
Glentrool Forest & Glenapp Castle
We’re taking the slow road now, moving towards the woods, water, and tranquillity of Glentrool. Whilst forest bathing is largely metaphorical, Glentrool is riddled with little rivers. If wild swimming took your fancy, your forest bath could quite easily become a literal (and invigorating!) one.
And whilst most forest bathing takes place during the day, once you’re beyond the shelter of the trees and darkness falls, you can’t help but become a stargazer. A registered Dark Sky site (a place where there is very little or no urban light pollution), the Milky Way can be spotted on the clearest of nights, stretching across the heavens.
Once you’ve had your fill of starry skies, you can make for home. Glenapp Castle, putting the ‘hidden’ in ‘hidden gem’, is tucked away in Ballantrae, a short jaunt from the emerald glory of Glentrool.
Though it feels remote, comfort and charm are some of the castle’s watchwords. That said – if you did wish to explore somewhere decidedly set apart, may we recommend taking the castle’s private boat to a secret uninhabited Scottish island, with an Olympic past?
Fine dining (and drinking) are, of course, an essential part of your stay. From your morning toast order to a languid six-course supper enjoyed as the sun sets, there’s always something delicious (we’ve got a weakness for their famous carrot cake) to walk up an appetite for.
Cardrona Forest & An Caisteal Sonn (The Secret Castle)
We’re rather spoiled here in Scotland for forests, and the verdant lowlands of the Scottish Borders is no exception. Cardrona Forest curls around the cool waters of the River Tweed, and is a rather special place to forest bathe at any time of year. You can revel in the calm and quiet for hours here, broken only by crunching leaves underfoot and birdsong.
If you’re a nature lover, the wildlife in these woods will thrill you. White-tailed deer, siskins, and both red and brunette squirrels can be seen on your strolls. Tranquil, calm, and steeped in history, the forest drapes itself around an ancient ruin known as Castle Knowe – an iron-age fort built some 2,000 years ago.
On the subject of remarkable historical structures, our An Caisteal Sonn here is an extremely well-kept secret. Stillness and solitude reign supreme, with just a single room available. All yours for the duration of your stay, this castle is a stone’s throw from Cardrona Forest, and stands ready to welcome you after your day soaking in the woodland’s beauty.
Whether you soak in the sight of a landscape unchanged for over 700 years, or dine on local ingredients gathered and prepared by your very own chef, the welcome of this ancient home soothes weary spirits, leaving you feeling utterly revived and at peace.
The Away from the Ordinary Guide to Forest Bathing
The founders of shinrin-yoku were quite clear – forest bathing is about taking your time! It’s less about how far you go, than it is about how you get there. A gentle stroll is all that’s needed to reap the benefits of this wonderful practice (especially if you’ve had a few wee drams the night before and need to blow away the cobwebs).
Clear your mind with some slow, deep breaths. Count in for four, hold for seven, and out for eight – it triggers your ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system, which helps promote relaxation and feelings of wellbeing. We recommend closing your eyes and taking a couple of deep breaths to really ground yourself in the present moment. Make sure you do this standing still though!
Isn’t a little bit of peace and quiet such a luxury nowadays? Pop your phone on silent, tuck it in a pocket, and enjoy some gleeful uninterrupted quiet time (we promise not to tell if you sneak a selfie at the end of your walk, though).
Delight in the Details
Can you pick out the liquid warble of a blackbird from the chatter of sparrows? How does the tree bark feel beneath your fingertips? What do the pine needles smell like, or the Linden trees when they’re in bloom? Take your time to notice as many details as you can, making memories in the process.
For more inspiration on the best Scottish castles to stay in, see here