WELLBEING | Stop, stop and listen for the bough top is whistling

Camping with Style Camping Blog | Activities • Glamping • Travel • Adventure

In the ’70s, an Irish poet named Austin Clarke published a poem entitled ‘The Blackbird of Derrycairn’. It’s a clever poem, based on an 18th century ossianic lay. In his version Clarke makes commentary about the role of religion and government.

Stop and listen

I studied this poem, amongst many other works, in my (distant, and growing further by the day) youth. Of all of the novels and essays and poems that have come my way over the years, I must confess it’s the opening verse of ‘The Blackbird of Derrycairn’ that comes to my mind most often.

Stop, stop and listen for the bough top
Is whistling and the sun is brighter
Than God’s own shadow in the cup now
Forget the hour bell. Mournful matins
Will sound as well, Patric, at nightfall.

Stop, stop and listen for the bough top is whistling.

It is such a simple suggestion. That first line and a bit has embedded itself irrevocably in my memory.

Stop, stop

I think sometimes of George Orwell’s novel 1984, where it was positively the done thing to be the same as everyone else. To do the same as everyone else was doing and to fill up one’s time so completely with the popular things in the same way as everyone else that one never had to stop and think about enjoying anything. The enjoyment could be taken for granted since the activity had been undertaken.


I believe it’s important to stop sometimes and take stock of what’s going on. I believe it’s important to spend some time not doing anything.

I believe that it’s ok to spend some time neither actively consuming something, nor actively producing something.

Just – stop. Stop and breathe. Find time to think.

Stop, stop and listen

Actively listening isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Stopping to do nothing but listen – no taking notes, no absently doing something else – is physically very easy, but sometimes I find I have to make a real effort, particularly when a conversation interrupts my current chain of thought.

Stop and enjoy nature

The act of actively listening can be ported to actively looking, and actively paying attention.

I like to go outside because I spent a childhood mostly outside. I like to potter in the garden and ramble around the lakes. I like to be outside because I grew used to being outside as a child.

I live with my husband and partner of many years. He is not so keen on the outdoors. He spent a lot of time indoors reading as a child. There are no prizes for guessing that he just simply doesn’t know what to do with himself outdoors, the same way that sometimes indoors of an evening I find myself hunting for something to do and staring longingly out of the window.

Very simply, people feel differently about being outdoors.


It’s important for us to understand these differences. I know that he likes camping but that sometimes I need to be the impetus behind picking a site and a date and getting the car packed. I know that when we go outside, he’s happier when he has his stuff with him. He likes having technology on trips, I like to go tech free and turn my phone off. I like the silence, he likes having some music on.

It’s ok that we aren’t equal in this. What is important is that we don’t preach to each other about how we should be enjoying the outdoors. There is no right way to go outdoors, just the same as there is no right way to go camping.

Stop, stop and listen for the bough top is whistling

Last week I found a delightful wild space. Bluebells and daffodils and cow parsley, all overgrown amid the grass under the tall trees. Birds sang above me. The sun came out. I stood happily for a minute or two and just appreciated the small moments of loveliness. Will 120 seconds out of my day result in some kind of butterfly effect that causes the downfall of humanity? The odds are against it.

Relax and enjoy nature

Around me, other people kept walking. Not stopping to look, not stopping to listen. Why should they? After all, we were all on the pavement of a major road, just a few hundred metres past a ring road. This isn’t an idyllic country park with a golf course and a children’s play area, we weren’t in a castle or manor grounds with a conveniently located coffee shop and a variety of shops so that we can remember to buy something before we go.

I feel sometimes that the outdoors has been too thoroughly commercialised. Someone I know walked up a mountain in trainers and a warm winter coat from the clothes aisle of a supermarket, and was gently laughed at by a group of walkers with all the ‘correct’ gear. While even I have good arguments for having good gear in certain circumstances, these weren’t those circumstances. It was a paved pedestrian route and the weather was good. She walked up a mountain! Just because she wanted to, just because it was there, just because she could.

It’s ok to just go outside and expect to find nature out there. Nature is everywhere. It’s creeping up between the cracks of the pavement and finding roots in the clogged gutters. It’s making nests in the hedges by the tram stop and trying to get ducklings safely across roads.


Go outside. Go safely, and go warmly, but go outside. Go on your own terms. Take your devices with you, if you want, or a backpack full of survival gear, or take nothing but what you’re wearing. Look around you. Listen.

Try camping. Rent a pod, try some canvas, or take a nylon popup from the supermarket. Go somewhere posh, go somewhere remote, or go five miles out of town to the nearest big campsite with a shop and showers. Just try it.

Try walking. Go to a National Trust site, find a map for an off road ramble, or stroll across a city to the big park. Amble (safely) along country roads or join a walking group to make it a social endeavour.

But do go outside, and when you are there, stop and listen – for the bough top is probably whistling.