Walk out to winter

As the sun sets on a challenging year, it’s worth pausing to consider the wisdom of winter. That may sound cavalier, after all the darkest season throws many of us off balance and we feel a primal need to retreat indoors, hiding from the elements under a cosy blanket and seeking comfort in rich, rib-sticking dishes. The desire to hibernate like a bear is almost overwhelming, but retreating altogether is neither healthy nor particularly rewarding, says Signe Johansen. And there’s always a warming whisky as an incentive or suitable reward

Consider the secret every person from a cold climate – be that Scandinavia, parts of North America or vast swathes of Russia and China – learns at a young age: hardship is brutal but builds resilience.
So rather than feeling glum about the shorter days and increasingly dreich weather, reframe your expectations.
This is the hardest season to get through, but you can do it with both grit and grace. The key is to get outside as much as possible, every single day..


A spirit of grizzled outdoorsiness binds all populations living in the frozen north, and its restorative power is not to be underestimated.

The old saying ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’ rings true and this year more than ever a smart investment would be to seek out a mix of layers to keep you cosy and warm outdoors: thermals, cashmere, wool and waterproof outer layers so you can spend time safely with a pal or two, whether on a walk or cycling to a destination where you can take in the scenery, or indeed leaping in a cold water pond, tarn or the sea.

Time spent in nature is scientifically proven to improve mental health, and keeping fit is vital to our sense of wellbeing so committing to a daily outdoor activity will do wonders for boosting your morale.


In our pandemic year burnout, lockdown fatigue and anxiety about what the future holds all contribute to a climate of fear and disorientation. That is completely normal. It’s worth taking a beat and reflecting on how to actively cultivate a positive mindset to make the most of the months ahead.

Carving out time in the day to get outdoors is an essential first step, next go easy on yourself when you’re indoors. Rather than doom-scrolling on your phone, draw up a calendar of books you’d like to read each week, make time to rest each day when you’re feeling exhausted.

Look to nature: hunkering down and recharging the batteries with nourishing activities is essential, especially if it’s something creative you can do with your hands: cooking, knitting, woodworking, painting, anything that allows you to rest your mind and feel more grounded is a kindness to yourself and a well-earned reward for all that time spent in cold, fresh air.


A renewed sense of neighbourliness has been a widely reported upside of this year, if you’re not already checking in on those near you and further afield then now is as good as any, and will not only be a kindness to them but help you feel connected.

Even if we can’t come together in large groups this year to eat, drink and be merry we can still foster a sense of community anywhere and anytime.

Coorie, or hygge as we call it in Norway, is as much a state of mind as it is about the cosy kinship of spending time in the company of others, so let’s adapt accordingly.


While a lot of emphasis is on the midwinter festivities in mid-late December, it is arguably wiser to treat the season as one sprinkled with many small pleasures. That crump of boots hitting the season’s first snowfall, the starkness of trees losing their leaves and exposing their reassuringly solid trunks and gnarled branches, a wee dram sipped from a flask on a long ‘dramble’ along the coast: a life lived outdoors, embracing all the elements have to offer is one to savour especially if the reward is a delicious Scotch. Of all the lessons we might learn in this strange, discombobulating year, then that is a comfort indeed.

Signe Johansen is a contributor to The Food Almanac (Pavilion Books 2020), co-author of ‘Smörgasbord’ with Peter’s Yard (Kyle Books 2020) and author of ‘Spirited: How to create easy, fun drinks at home’ (Bluebird Books 2019). Follow her @SigneSJohansen