Familes enjoying a sunny afternoon in Exploratory Park, Brent Cross Town

PLAY in your park

Exploratory Park is now open for use from early morning till dusk, daily – just a 12-minute walk from Brent Cross tube station.

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Familes enjoying a sunny afternoon in Exploratory Park, Brent Cross Town

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07 December 2020

How to flourish outdoors in winter

Take a walk with a thermos of tea or shoot some hoops at Exploratory Park

This summer, life in Britain moved outside: unable to socialise freely indoors, we flooded the parks to enjoy the sunshine. Bars and restaurants filled pavements and whole streets with tables and chairs for socially-distanced dining. It was a unique time, and in some ways, inspiring – proof that people can always find ways to spend time together. 

Now we’re facing a less amenable season, winter, with yet more Covid-19 precautions – and what you really want to do when it’s misty and drizzly on a Sunday afternoon in December is to sit in front of a pub fireplace. But there are places in the world where people don’t feel like that. In Scandinavian countries, which routinely make up the leaderboard of the UN’s World Happiness Report, going outside is part of the national culture. 

Flourishing together is at the heart of our vision for Brent Cross Town. So what can we learn from chillier Northern Europe about how to connect and thrive throughout this challenging season?

Swans on a lake fringed by trees
A long walk around the Welsh Harp calls for the thickest coat you have. Photos: Tian Khee Siong

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” they’d tell you in Norway. In Scandinavia, where the weather is colder and more exposed, people don’t really discuss the weather that much. Why bother, when you’re going outside anyway?

The Norwegian word ‘friluftsliv’ roughly translates as ‘open-air living’, and a bit like ‘hygge’, it’s a testament to how a different attitude can change your experience. “Friluftsliv is more than just an activity, it’s a kind of lifestyle,” Lasse Heimdal, secretary general of Norsk Friluftsliv, said to National Geographic.

The term can refer to going hiking in the woods, but equally to taking a walk with a thermos of tea, a slow bike ride or shooting a couple of hoops at Exploratory Park on your way through. Heimdal says outdoorsiness is akin to being healthy and social, “You get kind of a time-out from cell phones and computers… being outdoors and in nature, it’s one of the best places to relax.”

Being outdoors and in nature, it’s one of the best places to relax.

Next, let’s consider those winter clothes. Elegant winter coats without lining are fine for running to the tube, but for a long walk around the Welsh Harp in January, you’re going to need the puffiest coat you can get – ideally something that repels water and has a hood that you can tighten around your face. Get some thermal underwear too, and you’ll be able to trot on for hours. It’s all about layering and waterproofing and, for the kids, making sure there’s no gap between their trousers and shoes so their feet don’t get wet.

Wrapped up warm, head down to the Clitterhouse Farm Project – 15 minutes from Brent Cross tube – one of the recipients of the Brent Cross Town community fund. The project is running outdoor nature engagement wellbeing sessions; you can pick up eggs from their hens, or if you’re lucky the Grub Club will be serving up lunch al fresco. The Cricklewood Market is also a winner for picking up a falafel or a Sri Lankan treat, while browsing for fashion and homewares. 

Lastly, let’s take a moment to enjoy the city at this time of year. Each season has its own charms and opportunities, and that includes winter. Psychologist Kari Leibowitz spent a year in Tromsø, a Norwegian city where the sun doesn’t rise for two months in the winter, and she argues that having a “positive wintertime mindset” is key to a good experience of winter, far more than temperatures and even sunlight.

Hand holding mug on snowy day
Person in coat in the snow

“Before you dismiss the idea of outdoor winter fun, think of the cold-weather traditions you may already have positive associations with, like tailgate parties, bonfires or ice skating,” Leibowitz writes in The New York Times. You don’t have to love everything about winter, she adds, “When it snows, it’s equally true that you might have to shovel your driveway as it is that the light is diffuse and beautiful. But which one of these you pay more attention to makes a huge difference in how you experience that snowfall.”

The real secret to the Scandinavian winter attitude is the knowledge that while it might look unappealing through the window, that fresh air will feel great once you’re outside, and even greater afterwards when you’re back indoors. So next Saturday morning, feeling toasty in all those layers, take a walk across Hampstead Heath and enjoy the weather for whatever it is, knowing it won’t last forever. There are even some pubs around there that are open for takeaway, like The Stag in Belsize Park and Highgate’s The Red Lion & Sun. If the weather turns, it will at least be a funny story about that time you got caught in the rain and drank mulled wine under a tree during that strange winter of 2020.

Covid-19 guidance changes regularly, so please check the latest before you make plans. Read more about how we’re building a North London town at Brent Cross where everyone can flourish.