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Eating & drinking   |   Mental health

Embracing autumn

Just as we reach the end of summer, nature gives us a real time of plenty. Crops are gathered in, and traditionally celebrated by harvest festivals on the Sunday nearest the Harvest Moon. This bright full moon is close to the autumnal equinox in late September, and often appears much bigger than usual, with a hazy orange glow.

The equinox, which this year fell on the 22 September, is a balance point in the year when day and night are equal in length. A transition from busier outdoor-focused (usually more social) summer to the winter months, we can also see it as a reminder to find balance between being inside and outside, activity and rest: a gathering in of what we need for the winter, like the harvest.

We often want to fight against the end of the warmer months; even more so during a year when much time has been spent indoors. So how can we embrace it in a different way?

Autumn leaves

Below are some of our top tips for free activities that can help you stay active while giving a sense of connection and wellbeing during this beautiful season. After all that activity, we can value the quiet, slow, cosy space of home with fresh eyes. Contrast the bracing walks, night skies, and first frosts with warmth, comfort, and candlelight. Rest, replenish and reset. 

Creative photography

Autumn can be a real feast for the eyes as trees put on their magnificent colour displays. From ancient woods to inner city arboretums, there are many wonderful places to explore. Try wildlifetrusts.org for ideas.  

Foraging

Foraging is a fun way to reconnect with nature. For anything more complicated than blackberries and hazelnuts, going with an expert is highly recommended, while eatweeds.co.uk is a great resource.  

Star watching

If you live in an area without lots of light pollution, a sun lounger or waterproof picnic blanket on the ground in the garden at night can be your viewing platform. Mobile phone apps like Star Walk or Google Sky will tell you what you can see from your current location. If you need to go further afield, try gostargazing.co.uk for lists of dark sky reserves.

‘Forest bathing’

Known as Shinrin-Yoku, which simply means spending time outdoors under the canopy of trees, immersing yourself in the forest and letting yourself unwind in the calm, woodland atmosphere. Increasingly, research shows how essential to our physical and mental health this connection with nature is; focusing on the senses during a leisurely walk has many positive benefits for both.  

Eating outdoors

Don’t just leave eating outdoors for the summer. Wrap up well, cook on a bonfire in your garden or the beach, and enjoy food around the fire.

Hunt for mushrooms

Mushroom gathering is only one to do if you have the expertise, but there are many guided walks and groups across the UK – look online for ‘fungi forays’ in your area.

Conservation

Taking part in wildlife surveys is a good focus to get outdoors and really notice the seasonal signs near you. You can add your findings at naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk and help climate scientists gain a fuller picture of nature, as they compare with records going back over the last 280 years.  

Seasonal eating

Seasonal eating helps our body adjust, giving us the right fuel at the right time of year. Cook a special meal at home with all the trimmings to celebrate the start of autumn and its plentiful produce, or try some of our autumn favourites below. 

Stuffed squash with kale, red cabbage and beet salad 

No need to peel - halved squash is filled with feta, quinoa and fresh herbs then roasted, and served with a crunchy salad of raw red cabbage, kale, red onion and toasted seeds, for a vibrant meal packed full of goodness. 

stuffed squash

Portobello toad-in-the-hole 

This take on a traditional sausage toad-in-the-hole uses Portobello mushrooms instead. Earthy savoury notes from the mushrooms add a special depth of flavour in this hearty veggie dish. Eat with mashed potato or roasted veg. 

Figs baked in honey, lemon and cinnamon 

figs

Totally moreish, this recipe marries the scented lusciousness of figs with citrus and spice. A wonderful autumn breakfast served with a dollop of thick yoghurt and granola, or enjoy them as a light pudding served with mascarpone. 

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