The site was the remains of Norman Castle Motte and Bailey Castle on St Ann’s Hill, Midhurst, where trees guard the foundations.
Here I built a close connection with the natural environment with a small group.
The three-hour brushing with nature is called “forest bathing”.
When I signed up for the experience at the Spread Eagle Hotel, just a few minutes’ walk away, I had visions of exotic pools and waterfalls surrounded by trees to dive and swim in.
But this is very different.
It simply means slowing down and total immersion in the forest atmosphere and is designed to relieve stress and give you a deep sense of calm.
It does not fail to deliver.
In this busy world we all live in, Mother Nature’s power to help us relax is too often overlooked.
Under the skilful guidance of Swedish teacher Helena Skoog – who was born and raised in the forests of Sweden and has lived off the grid in ancient Sussex woodlands for the past six years – we went through the ‘portal’ into the forest area.
For most people, this “portal” was a simple gate – but it can represent so much more.
There, each with an exercise mat, we completed a very simple series of relaxation exercises – everything from channeling the environment through each of our senses to remembering the extraordinary beauty and complexity of even the most drab branches, earth and twigs.
Which led us to select a tree and examine it more closely. I rejected all healthy-looking specimens, preferring a gnarled and decrepit elderly resident who looked like he’d endured a lot over the years guarding the old castle.
Of course, you don’t need a special session or a wood to enjoy the benefits of the great outdoors. A simple tree in a garden can be an equally effective spot. But taking time to reconnect with the natural world has never been more important when so many people suffer from mental health issues.
This was of course quite a luxurious experience as it was the Spread Eagle.
It included a healthy two-course lunch at the hotel and a non-alcoholic fruit cocktail at the hotel.
Cost is £38, no prior experience required, wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Future forest bathing sessions at the Spread Eagle Hotel, Midhurst in 2022 are: 20th June, 4th July, 6th September and 11th October.
As old as the trees nearby, the hotel has almost taken root in its old home in Midhurst.
It dates from 1430 and Admiral Lord Nelson is listed as a visitor.
It has been in the same family for 65 years and has sister hotels at Ockenden Manor and Bailiffscourt, both in West Sussex.