Dilly running in Haldon Forest

How a forest taster day for over 55s led to a new passion

At Forestry England, our mission is to connect everyone with the nation’s forests. We believe that spending time amongst the trees enhances people’s lives in many ways, and whilst we will never tire of spreading this message we also know the power of hearing first hand from visitors who have felt the benefit themselves. 

That's why we wanted to bring you Dilly’s story. We met Dilly, 55 and from Devon, at her local forest to hear more. We hope you feel as inspired by her story as we do. 

So Dilly, how did your forest running journey begin?

For quite a long time I have been an occasional visitor to Haldon Forest Park near Exeter to walk my dog. I always enjoyed visiting there but really just saw it as a good place for my dog to roam and not much more. However on one visit last year I saw an advert for a taster day for over 55s. I was in a really difficult period of my life and experiencing some personal problems so was feeling really low. When I saw the taster day advertised something inside me made me sign up, even though it was outside of my comfort zone.     

I went along not knowing quite what to expect and had the most fantastic time. There was the opportunity to try lots of activities including segways, running, Nordic walking and cycling. I had such a good time that I found myself signing up to an over 55s beginners running group. I still can’t believe that I signed up, I have never been someone to put myself out there, but I just had this strong feeling that I wanted something in my life that was just mine and something that would take me out of my comfort zone. 

What was joining the over 55s beginners running group like?

It was really scary turning up to the first session but I very quickly felt inspired by the others who had signed up, it was great meeting new and different people who were from all walks of life. The instructor Helen, really put us all at ease and so began a 10-week introduction to forest running which I can honestly say changed my life! I hadn’t done any running since I was at school and it was really hard at first, but being part of this group and running in the beautiful forest environment was so enjoyable. Plus, everyone was so encouraging of each other.

Since completing the 10-week course I now run regularly at the forest, with friends I made in the group, on my own, and with my grown-up daughters who now love it as much as I do. I love the variety of running in the forest, the different paths and changing seasons mean you never get bored. There is so much wildlife to see as you run as well as some stunning viewpoints – I always end up running further than I think because there’s so much to see! 

Running club at Haldon Forest

What are some of the benefits you've found from running in the forest?

I find the forest terrain much easier to run on than running in the street. Once a week I run near to my house, but it is nowhere near as enjoyable as running the forest and I feel much less self-conscious and freer when I’m here.   
Running at Haldon has also opened me up to many other opportunities forests bring. As well as running here with my daughters, we also meet up with my grandchildren. There are so many fun things for kids to do and it's a wonderful place to spend time with the whole family. I also bring my Mum now, mobility is an issue for her but we hire one of the off-road Trampers and Mum can explore everywhere that I can. 

Do you think you'll be trying any other new forest activities?

I’ve recently taken on another challenge and joined a beginners cycling group which I’m enjoying and am planning a visit with my grandson soon with our bikes, he wants to have a go on the pump track here and I love now being a ‘fun’ Nanny that says yes to things! As well as all this I still love to walk at Haldon, there are some brilliant waymarked trails but now I have more confidence I like to go ‘off path’ sometimes and discover new parts of the forest.     

I’m here three or four times a week now, and it has become part of my life, I can spend all day here and never get bored. As I come so often I invested in a Membership which means I don’t pay to park each time and get a discount in the café – the best £38 I have ever spent! 

A year ago I would have found it bizarre to say that the forest has become part of my life, but it really has! I feel so much better in myself and my confidence has come on leaps and bounds. I’ve also seen my blood pressure come down and always have the best nights sleep when I’ve been in the forest that day.   

The Vet'runs beginners runners course at Haldon Forest was funded by Active Devon as part of their Connecting Actively to Nature (CAN) project, in partnership with Forestry England and local coach Helen Lynch.

Dilly sitting in the forest

Inspired by Dilly? Find out what your local forest has to offer!

Whether you'd like to try a forest run like Dilly, find a local group to join, or discover the scenic walking trails on offer near you, simply use your postcode to find your nearest forest activities

There are thousands of trails to explore across the country, and 18 of our forests have an Active Forests Coordinator organising fantastic events, activities and beginners groups, like the one that started Dilly on her forest adventure! 

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