Wales has long been an established haven for hikers, renowned for its beautiful coastal pathways and mountainous trails that twist their way to scenic lookout points. But the country is now becoming a go-to destination for a new breed of walker, more interested in focusing on the internal rather than marvelling at the external.
What exactly is a mindful walk?
Mindful walking is the practice of rambling with a still mind. Hikers use meditation techniques, such as focusing on the movements of their body or listening to soft sounds around them, to keep their mind in the present moment. This exercise helps to alleviate stress and provides respite from the endless to-do list our subconscious tends to be constantly scrolling through, ultimately leading to a greater sense of calm and wellbeing that lingers long after the walk has ended.
Ideas for mindful walking
Wales is an ideal destination for a holiday focused around wellness walking. For starters, our abundance of green space provides a perfect environment for peaceful, uninterrupted strolling. Additionally, the country is home to a number of specialist providers who are on hand to help newbies take their first steps towards reaching inner calm. These classes can mix meditation with activities such as yoga or paddle boarding as part of an all-round positive wellness package.
Ready to try this form of meditation in motion? Here are some ideas on how to get the most out of a mindful walk in Wales.
Walk among a variety of landscapes
Wales naturally makes for a great place to try wellness walking thanks to our diverse natural landscapes, typically found in the protected green spaces (such as national parks) that cover around a quarter of our total land area. These rural zones not only help to enhance a sense of zen, but walking amidst nature has been proven to lower stress and reduce feelings of depression, providing additional mental health benefits to your stroll.
Visitors can focus on the feel of the rocky path beneath their feet as they clamber to a hilltop in Eryri (Snowdonia), or listen to the sound of the crashing waves while navigating the coastal trails of Pembrokeshire. Alternatively, mindful walks can be undertaken in forests, along riverfronts or even beside waterfalls, with each form of terrain offering its own unique sights and sounds to vary your meditation experience.
Combine your mindful walk with yoga
Meditation and yoga go hand in hand, allowing you to begin the process of de-stressing before starting a session on the mat. For this reason, undertaking mindful walking meditation en route to one of Wales’ majestic outdoor yoga spots is a no-brainer, with the added benefit of being able to perform poses while enwrapped in beautiful natural surroundings.
Some top options for open-air contorting include the sweeping golden sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr Nature Reserve on Wales’ west coast, or the wide, flat summit of Skirrid Fawr in Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park, a highly spiritual spot and former pilgrimage site that is still referred to by locals as the ‘Holy Mountain’.
Commune with nature
One of the great things about mindful walking is that it can be done anywhere, whether as part of your morning commute or while popping out to the shops. But rather than observing the brickwork of apartment buildings and focusing on the roar of passing motorists, an immeasurably more soothing experience is to focus on the sights and sounds of the natural world – something that's easy to find in Wales.
Top Welsh wildlife spots include the beautiful Dyfi UNESCO Biosphere, where the air wafts with the scent of wildflowers and the calls of birds of prey soaring high above, such as the peregrine falcon, red kite and, in the evening, barn owl. Alternatively, a walk along the coast of Ynys Môn (Anglesey) offers the chance to see red squirrels scurrying across forest floors and Atlantic grey seals basking on white sand beaches as you silently slip by.
Follow a curated itinerary
For hikers who’d like to focus all of their energy on finding mental clarity, rather than finding their way back home, there are a number of curated mindful walking itineraries soul-searching strollers in Wales can utilise.
The team behind the Wales Coast Path, an 870 mile (1,400km) trail that traces the entire coastline of Wales, have detailed a handful of tranquil sections along the epic route that are ideal for self-led meditative walking, including an easy loop around the hilltop remains of the 12th-century Llansteffan Castle and a short jaunt along a quiet stretch of Cardiff’s old canal network.
At St Fagans National Museum of History, you can take a mindful walk around St Fagans Castle gardens, taking in the surroundings and exploring your senses. A self-guided mindful walk map is available at the front desk, or you can download a PDF version from the website.
Practise mindful walking on a mindfulness retreat
For a real mental cleanse, visitors to Wales can book a stay at one of the country’s wonderful wellness retreats, which curate multi-day itineraries that pair mindful walking sessions with other sanative activities.
If time is short, Adventure Tours UK, offers a North Wales 3 day package that includes a full day of guided mindful walking and accommodation in a homely 15th-century Welsh inn. Stables Wellbeing, located within the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park, mixes meditative walking sessions with yoga and Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) lessons, while Chapel on the Green dovetails outdoor meditation classes with a course in gin making.
4 steps to mindful walking
Unsure of how to get started on a mindful walk? Here are four key steps to undertaking a contemplative stroll to help you unwind:
- Find a safe place to begin the exercise where you can walk freely with minimal interruption.
- Begin walking at a normal pace. Try to bring your focus onto your movements. If your mind begins to wander onto other things, work to bring your concentration back to the sensations in your body.
- As you continue to walk, start to focus on your immediate surroundings. The sounds, sights and smells all around you.
- When you are ready to end your walk, choose a point to stop. Ensure to pause for a few moments to notice and appreciate the new-found sense of calm before completing the exercise.