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Three outdoor UK adventures to embrace the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv

As winter sets in, the temptation to stay indoors grows. Break tradition this season, and do as the Norwegians do by embracing the outside world.

Published 18 Dec 2020, 08:00 GMT, Updated 21 Dec 2020, 10:11 GMT
A hiker makes his way down from the summit of Snowdon.

A hiker makes his way down from the summit of Snowdon. 

Photograph by Getty Images

When Norwegian poet Henrik Ibsen coined the term ‘friluftsliv’ — loosely translatable as ‘outdoor living’ — in his 1859 spiritual epic On The Heights, he presumably didn’t know just how relevant his concept would be in 2020. But friluftsliv (pronounced ‘free-loofts-liv’) has turned out to be something of a pandemic saviour, bringing us the soul-nourishing, mind-cleansing benefits of nature and solitude that Ibsen waxed lyrical about over 150 years ago.

The Nordic people have always embraced friluftsliv in their lives and travels, and they’re all the better for it. In 2020, the region excelled itself in the World Happiness Report, with five of its cities (Helsinki, Aarhus, Copenhagen, Bergen, Oslo and Stockholm) adjudged to be among the 10 happiest. The conclusion? Clean air, exercise and time spent just being in nature matter. Nature is so integral to Nordic realms that it barely even registers as special. Become disconnected from your environment, the elements and the seasons, and you become disengaged from your true self physically, mentally and emotionally, they say.

Perhaps it’s easy in landscapes of fjords and forests full of berries and bears, snowbound log cabins and frozen lakes to jump into after a fiercely hot sauna. Children can ski rings around you by the age of three and 80-year-olds think nothing of a morning’s jaunt over a mountain pass. But what about the rest of us? You’ll be pleased to hear that friluftsliv travels well.

As coronavirus has reined in our personal freedom and scuppered our travel plans, many of us have learned to see the world through a different lens. The outdoors gives us breathing space, purpose and perspective. Whether we’re closely observing the starry night sky, swimming in water so cold it makes us gasp, going for a lunchtime run in a park, or wild camping on a boggy moor with just the sheep for company, we’re moved and empowered. Slates are wiped clean. Minds are reset. Endorphins flow. Something small but significant inside us shifts.

Friluftsliv is a malleable thing. Emblematic of an egalitarian society, it transcends class and age, status and gender. It sees nature as the great unifier: free, transformative, non-judgemental and always there. It’s not about who can climb the loftiest peak, walk the longest trail or brave the iciest water. It’s about respecting a higher power, familiarising yourself with root and rock and making the wilderness, however small, your own.

So, this winter, when your inner sloth tempts you to hide under your duvet and binge on Netflix, instead, open the door and step outside. Walk barefoot on the frosty grass. Jump into a lake or stream instead of a hot bath, just for the hell of it. Feel the rain lash your face and the wind stir your soul. You’ll feel a million times better for it, Nordic promise.

Three to try: outdoor escapes

For an off-grid escape
After a Scandi-inspired adventure? Check out Wales’ new eco-conscious glamping retreats. Lockdown babies include woodland By the Wye, with luxe safari tents high in the tree canopy, and fabulously forested Welsh Glamping in Abergwesyn on the edge of the Cambrian Mountains. Both are brilliant for wild swims, middle-of-nowhere rambles and stargazing.  

For starry night skies
Celestial tourism has seen a massive boom recently. For Milky Way magic with a dash of romance, head to Glenapp Castle in Scotland’s Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, where a two-night stargazing package (from £229 per person per night) includes a private ranger, boozy hot chocolate and night binoculars.

For coastal hiking
Doing a lap of the sensationally beautiful Dingle Peninsula in southwest Ireland is up there with the world’s loveliest long-distance hikes. The 111-mile Dingle Way takes in wild Atlantic coastlines, standing stones and lonely golden beaches. Go solo or hook onto a seven-night self-guided hike with Macs Adventure (from £652, starting April 2021).

Published in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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