Wicker hampers, tartan rugs and parasols or a muddle of misshapen plastic bags, sticky fingers and sand in the salad; either way, cometh the summer, cometh the picnic. Rain or shine (traditionally it’s drizzle), we don’t mind, the British will picnic regardless – and quite right, too. Picnics are sociable, sharing affairs, everything tastes better eaten in the open air and there’s something marvellously maverick about throwing down your rug anywhere you choose in the great British landscape and claiming your personal, perfect spot.
Édouard Manet’s singularly brave picnic painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe flew in the face of the artistic and moral conventions of the day, and there’s something in that which chimes with what happens to us at picnics. Untrammelled by routine, being out in the open, sprawled on the grass, sharing food, drink and conversation brings us back to earth, we can be ourselves: wellbeing sur l’herbe, as it were.
In April, the BBC reported a University of Exeter study which, not all that surprisingly, found that, ‘Parks, gardens and green space in urban areas can improve the wellbeing and quality of life of people living there.’
Beth Murphy, information manager at the mental health charity Mind, responded, ‘For people living busy lifestyles in densely populated areas, being able to get outdoors and access green space is a great way to escape the stresses of day-to-day life.’
In an earlier survey by Mind, 94 per cent of people who took part in outdoors ‘green exercise’ said it benefited their mental health and could have a huge impact on physical health. Plenty of good reasons, then, to pack a picnic and let the great green wide open work its revitalising magic.
Pick of the picnic spots
One can, of course, picnic in one’s very own garden – and it makes a refreshing change from eating around the table – but here, for your al-fresco pleasure, is a selection of woodlands, beaches and picnic events worth packing a hamper for:
Beaches Britain’s top ten selected by VisitBritain
Urban sand Beaches by the roadside at Brighton and Hove, Sunderland, Swansea, Bournemouth, Swanage, Aberystwyth, Galway, Formby, Aberdeen and Inverness.
Gardens For National Trust for Scotland picnic events go to National Trust Scotland and click on garden or family fun events then type ‘picnic’ in the filter results box.
Work up an appetite
Just gathering everything together and lugging all the gear to your chosen picnic spot is pretty good exercise in itself, but with the inevitable outdoor games – footie (particularly hard going on sand), treasure hunts, climbing trees, swimming (brrrr) etc. – picnics provide a workout as a given.
However, if the traditional run-arounds don’t do it for you, how about a verdant version of ‘parkour’? Usually practiced in an urban setting, parkour is the art of free, non-stop running while negotiating all obstacles in the way. The Woodland Trust recommends woods to train in , or download its woodland workout guide.
For complete wellness sur l’herbe the spread wants be top notch and tasty. Some traditional picnic food is unhealthily heavy on the salt, sugar and calories: white bread, for example, sausage rolls, mayonnaise and processed cold cuts such as salami spring to mind.
The healthy hamper might include, for example: wholegrain pita breads, vegetable sticks, hummus and yogurt- or tomato-based dips, hard-boiled eggs, sardines and green salads with herb-flavoured olive oil dressings, or try sweet potato, cous cous or wholegrain pasta with chicken or turkey (skin-off) and chopped grilled vegetables (hot or cold) – wholegrain bread sandwiches could be filled with most of the aforementioned.
Fresh fruits and berries with yogurt and honey make for a colourful, easy-to-pack pudding, or dip delicious early English strawberries in dark chocolate. Go for unsalted nuts, seeds and dried fruits to snack on or sprinkle over salads.
Drinks? Fizzy pop, we know, is not good. A recently published decades-long study involving more than 33,000 Americans found that drinking sugary beverages interacted with weight-affecting genes, increasing the obesity risk beyond factors of heredity. So, refreshing, summery alternatives include, tap or sparkling water with slices of cucumber, a splash of fresh fruit juice or add a citrus twist (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit); then there’s spicy tomato juice, home-made (to control the sugar) smoothies and tea (green or black), coffee and fruit or spiced infusions such as mint, lemon or ginger – drink them hot or iced. Red or white wine spritzers (made with soda) are refreshing and help cut calories and alcohol intake.
National Picnic Week runs from 17th to 23rd June
Run by the Eden Project, The Big Lunch on 2nd June is all about encouraging community spirit across the UK, so, it’s suggesting we all have lunch with our neighbours – you could make it a picnic…
Written by Ruth Tongue