Dropping my phone and car keys into my pocket, I set off from the car park at Cladach in Brodick with a purposeful stride and absolutely no idea where I’m going. Well, that’s not quite true. I know the area: the woods that start at the sandy beach on the northern sweep of the bay and climb upwards, enveloping Brodick Castle and going until the going gets too high on the flanks of the Corbett mountain Goatfell.
It's just that today I want to walk for precisely the hour that I have available, not on the longer or shorter routes – up Goatfell, into Glen Rosa, down to the beach – that I’m more familiar with. So, I just set off and take the turns that make the most sense. I walk into woodland so green it looks artificially coloured. It’s a geometry puzzle of acid, pistachio, olive, khaki and lime green leaves. There are round leaves, spiky leaves, oval leaves, heart-shaped leaves, frilly leaves and sharp leaves – and the great green canopy swallows me. I feel as if I’m navigating the insides of a great green sea monster.
There are fallen branches knotted like rope at a harbour. Soon the mossy slope falls away into a steep gorge coated in moss like a shaggy green deep-pile fleece. It climbs across overhanging branches that terminate in great waxy teardrops of Rhododendron leaves, hung like Christmas decorations over a village street. They must be outliers from Brodick Castle gardens – it’s home to a world-renowned collection of the species. I reach the castle road that will return me to Cladach “the easy way” if I want. But I don’t want to pavement pound. I’m hungry for more of this green.
And so I keep climbing. Foxgloves add pops of pink to the green, and I look at the bracken leaves – pepped up by the recent rain and almost as tall as me so that I might be in a jungle – and I notice that the way the pinnae are arranged looks like orderly sapling Christmas trees in a farm. I detour along the Duchesses’ Pools Trail, where the path clings to the gorge side and the stream gurgles as it pushes its way between granite boulders. Eventually the path disappears into the green and I can go no further. I look up and squint at dappled leaves forming a web between me and the sky.
Retracing my steps, I return to the ascending path and soon find the weathered signpost that points you either up Goatfell or into Glen Rosa. I take the latter option, knowing that I can later join a lower path to return to Cladach. Birds sing and insects buzz, and I keep walking. By now the franticness of my early morning (I have a four-year-old) has melted away. I check my breath and am taking longer, deeper breaths without trying. The benefits of the Japanese tradition of “shinrin yoku” are well-publicised – such as reducing cortisol production, lowering the heart rate and boosting the immune system – but to feel these benefits, triggered by something so simple, is humbling.
An hour later and I can see the car, a solitary shape in the car park. It’s a drizzly day and the summer holidays haven’t yet kicked off. When it’s sunny, you’re lucky to find a space here. In the holidays, hikers bearing large rucksacks will mill around. There will be tourists and families with pushchairs. Cladach is an epicentre for walkers who come to strike out on mountain hikes, beach strolls, woodland wanders and meanders into landscaped gardens. It’s also home to some really nice shops. For today, this was perfect. An hour of forest bathing: better than any therapy, all for free, and right here on my doorstep in Brodick.
A few days later, the first day of the school holidays, I bring my shouty four-year-old into the woods. He shouts as we ascend the path, but is soon singing. There’s just something about that green.