This week... Two ways to transcend isolation, four happy distractions and one way to save 27,000 trees and beat panic buying.

Happy Friday!

And warm greetings from Bournemouth, where I'm getting used to the idea of isolation. I’m one of the lucky ones: a friend sent me a playlist she called the Covid-19 Lovelist. It’s full of absolute bangers about the end of the world. Right now I’m listening to 101FM by Little Simz. Play along at home.

Photo teaser: I’ve hidden the other fifteen song titles of the playlist in the rest of this email. Let me know how you get on!

Transcend #1: Spring Trees

Last weekend I spent four, five, six, seven hours a day rambling in the Peak District. It’s the perfect isolation activity. Solitary, wondrous: an easy way to free yourself from the invisible bonds that are tying you down.

Staggering down from Bamford Moor, I stumbled into a shady grove of stripped oaks, clad in living moss. I climbed over a crumbled drystone wall and sat with my back to the rocks and listened carefully for the sound of carbon-based lifeforms.

Back in Bournemouth, I’ve been breaking the isolation with walks along the seafront, watching the ceaseless, sleepless tide, in-out, ti-de.

I always make sure to ramble through the copse that stands on the clifftops and, invariably, my footsteps slow and I’m drawn upwards, climbing up through the stepladder branches that spiral a pine or holm oak.

My companion on these climbs is Jack Cooke, author of The Tree Climber’s Guide:

Trees anchor us in nature’s cycle; lining our pavements and filling our parks, they remind us of another kind of time-keeping, a vegetable clock that keeps ticking to an alternative rhythm.

In this strange alternative reality, trees are a comfort. All is not rosie in the garden: trees wrestle with their own diseases, of course, but they are a warm embrace when another warm embrace could be infectious.

The awakening buds and the loud birdsong remind us that life is still growing strong. It’s easy to spend my time in front of screens, refreshing, counting time until recovery. But the trees give me a reason to trust in time.

Space and time
Are not the mathematics that your will
Imposes, but a green calendar
Your heart observes

~ R.S. Thomas, Green Categories

I don't know what’s happening and I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that there’s a tree’s roots growing underneath me and that its branches reach up above me. That some people believe me and some people love me.


While I was away, I read a review of nature-based interventions for mental health care published by Natural England in 2016.

The mental health benefits from nature-based activities like gardening, conservation and farming are impressive:

  • Psychological restoration and increased general mental wellbeing

  • Reduction in depression, anxiety and stress related symptoms

  • Improvement in dementia-related symptoms

  • Improved self-esteem, confidence and mood

  • Increased attentional capacity and cognition

  • Improved happiness, satisfaction and quality of life

  • Sense of peace, calm or relaxation

  • Feelings of safety and security

  • Increased social contact, inclusion and sense of belonging (okay, maybe not so much right now…)

  • Increase in work skills, meaningful activity and personal achievement

There is good news outdoors.

The National Trust are closing their indoor attractions, but intend to keep the larger gardens, parks and forests open to the public, for free — even waiving car parking charges.

Close to home on the south coast, Purbeck nature sanctuary has recently tripled in size, creating the largest lowland heath in England at a site already reknowned for its wildlife diverstiy. Life is still growing strong.

Transcend #2: Dark Skies

My last night in the Peak District was fresh and bright. I strode away from the acid lights of the youth hostel, found a sheep-cropped clearing, and looked up. The milky clouds rushed overhead, pulling back like a curtain on a light show for the rapture.

Seeing more stars than I had done for a long time, I stretched my power of imagination and learned a few nice things.

  1. We are all poorer for our light pollution. The night sky outdoes any of our tawdry displays — but only when you can see the constellations that come alive in the dark. This is a map of the UK at night, with light pollution marked in colour from green through to yellow and red in our cities. Aim for the blackness: the Dark Sky Reserves.

  2. The famous Plough is actually a small part — an asterism — of Ursa Major, the hind quarters of a much bigger beast that rears menacingly over the night. A mother protecting her cub, but only in the darkness. In most of our skies, the fearsome monster is reduced to an outmoded piece of farmyard machinery.

  3. I connected the dots and found Leo for the first time. Leo is not a difficult beast to conjure, but if you don’t know where to look… He follows the Plough in the sky, facing the wrong way, with a question mark head and an isosceles rump. It’s really more spectacular than I make it sound.

  4. In times like these, we can seek refuge in the infinite universe and feel the love come down.

Distraction #1: Don’t lose your way

Stuck inside, but wishing you were out rambling?

Take five minutes to track down lost paths on our OS maps and keep public rights of way open for future generations.

The Ramblers have made this actually helpful clicktivism quick, easy and oddly therapeutic. A much better way to spend our screen time than constantly refreshing the infected statistics.

Distraction #2: Let’s have a 15 minute conversation!

Pick a time slot and I’ll give you a call for a 15 minute conversation.

This is a bit of an experiment, but if you’re intrigued, bored or lonely what could possibly go wrong?

I’ll be available any evening between 6 and 9pm and if you’re lairy about giving out your phone number or Skype handle, I can set up a reasonably private Zoom call.

What we do with that 15 minutes is entirely up to you. Awesome!

Distraction #3: Love’s in need of love

War, virus: wherever isolation flourishes, there are broken love stories to be pieced together again.

Distraction #4: Good news

I’ve recommended Future Crunch in this newsletter more times than I can remember, but this week’s edition is astonishing.

We know that traditional media sources focus on negative stories. Take a look at the Wikipedia list of News Values and then judge for yourself whether ‘news’ based on negativity, conflict and threat is the right place for you to be looking at this time.

It’s time for an information diet and Future Crunch is an excellent place to start.

  • In New York, a network of thousands of volunteers created by two 20-somethings is delivering groceries and medicine to older residents and other vulnerable people.

  • In the United Kingdom a network of over a thousand mutual aid groups has sprung up overnight, creating platforms for people to help others locally.

  • In Canada, what started as a way to help vulnerable people in metropolitan cities has now become a widespread ‘caremongering’ movement across the country.

  • Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark are paying their citizens, essentially, a basic income.

18 months is a long time to wait for people who need a vaccine today, but Future Crunch offer a timely reminder of how incredible the science is:

Medical research is faster and of higher quality than at any other time in history. It only took two weeks after Chinese health officials reported the virus to the WHO for geneticists to isolate it and figure out the full sequence. During the SARS outbreak in 2002 it was months before the viral genome was sequenced and longer still before it was remade in the lab. Back then, it cost $10 to create a synthetic copy of one single nucleotide, the building block of genetic material. Now, it’s under 10 cents.

Dozens of biotech companies and public labs around the world have created those synthetic copies, and are now working around the clock. In the last 72 hours, three companies that specialise in messenger RNA therapeutics, BioNTech, CureVac and Moderna, have announced they have candidates. Animal testing has shown promise, and human trials are now just weeks away, with a vaccine expected to be ready for public use within the next 12 to 18 months. That means that a vaccine could become available within two years of the virus’s emergence. By comparison, it took 48 years to create a successful vaccine for the polio virus, and decades for most other vaccines, including Ebola.

And good news hasn’t stopped with coronavirus. There are plenty of other stories in Future Crunch that you probably won’t have heard about:

  • Peru’s recent crackdown on illegal mining has been a big success, cutting deforestation by 92% since kicking off in February 2019.

  • Global carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector fell by 2% last year, the biggest fall since at least 1990.

  • Terrorist incidents in Pakistan decreased by 13% in 2019, and deaths from terrorism fell by 40% compared to 2018.

The ripples of courage that issue from these snippets of positive news remind me of the gathering momentum that inspired mountaineer William Hutchison Murray’s famous clarion call for commitment:

[T]he moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

We can commit, today. To what? You decide.

Running out with the runs?

Considering the current state of our supermarket shelves, I thought this week it was time to revisit one of my more culturally repulsive positive constraints: No Toilet Paper.

Note: the ‘positive’ part of ‘positive constraints’ refers to the free choice we can make to restrict our own behaviour. Obviously, for most of us at the moment, running out of toilet paper is therefore not a positive constraint.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t retrospectively choose to dump the toilet paper and save 27,000 trees a year. It’s not for everyone, but the more people who go paperless, the more bog roll there’ll be for the others. #joinme

Your neck of the woods?

One downside to my premature self-imposed exile in Derbyshire, combined with the social distancing and popular self-isolation since, is that I haven’t touched another human being since Sunday 8 March.

Even though I’m expecting all my outdoor work to be cancelled soon, I can be grateful that most of my work is solitary by nature and that I don’t rely on earning my money through face-to-face interaction.

I may have spent the past year and a half striving to develop lines of business that does take me outdoors and into contact with other humans, but I’m hoping that this virus is an interruption rather than a permanent rupture between us.

High fives and group rides might be out of fashion, but cycling is one of the best ways to get out and about during a pandemic and Thighs of Steel are undaunted. Tomorrow (Saturday) at 9.30am, I’m joining cyclists in London, Bristol, Hastings and Athens on a virtual group ride. It’s called — wait for it — Thighsolation.

Take me with you,


David Charles wrote this newsletter. He publishes another newsletter about reading called Books Make Books. David is co-writer of BBC Radio Wales sitcom Foiled, and writes for The Bike Project, Forests News, Global Landscape Forum, Elevate and Thighs of Steel. He also edits books about adventure, activism and more. Reply to this email, or delve into the archive on Thank you for reading!

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Photo teaser answer: That’d be telling! Seriously: there’s a prize for the first person who gets more than ten songs correct. It’s tough. Huge thanks to T.S. for the playlist — I’ve been listening to nothing else for two days.