BEAUTY IN THE CITY Sydney Harbour from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, an exposed sandstone rock cut into the shape of a bench, hand carved by convicts from sandstone in 1810 for Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s wife Elizabeth. Pic: Flickr.com/avilasal
One of the joys of travelling between Ireland and Australia is jet lag. I might not have too many supporters for this theory in my own house, but bear with me. You see, whenever my body clock is mixed up, I find myself awake by 5am, which in Sydney means seeing the sunrise, and I get the chance to go out for an early run.
So while I was down home for Christmas, I ran down to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair on the edge of the Botanic Gardens shortly after dawn. For those of you who have never been to Sydney, don’t worry, you know it well. Do you know those postcards that show the Opera House in the foreground and the Harbour Bridge alongside? That’s the spot.
What does Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and Sydney Harbour have to do with anything? Here’s the thing, we’ve just been staying in the inner city suburb of Surry Hills and as I said, jet lag had me out for a run before 6am. To get to the water, I had to run through Hyde Park and the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The harbour was its usual stunning blue-green, the early sun had turned the white sails of the Opera House a golden orange and there seemed to be birds of all shapes and colours in every tree. It made me grateful to be a non-resident in Sydney; to see it from an outsider’s eyes and appreciate how incredible it is to have a city full of pockets of nature was a pleasant surprise.
I had expected to be there alone. But no, there were walkers and runners everywhere, swimmers too, at the Boy Charlton pool nearby. Having lived in Sydney for years, I got the impression that, like me when I was in their shoes, these people didn’t appreciate what they had.
All this made me think back to a day not long after we moved to Westport. We were out walking along the seashore in Kilmeena and came upon a neighbour who has lived nearby for most of his 80 years. ‘It’s just so beautiful here, Pat’, we remarked, to which he replied, ‘I’ve been here so long I don’t notice anymore’.
We live in a beautiful place, there is no doubt about it. Sure, there are some days when the wind is howling and the beauty seems a long way away, but that’s the same everywhere - Sydney on a hot summer’s day can be an insufferable hellhole. The interesting thing for me is that the beauty of Sydney lies not in the built environment, but in the parks and harbour, just as the real beauty of Mayo is in the hills and bays.
Research suggests that exercising within nature relieves stress better than exercising elsewhere; and seemingly the more natural the better. Running in a park is better than running in a car park, but running in the woods is better again.
So here’s my suggestion for the new year and beyond: every so often, once a fortnight or once a month, do some exercise somewhere as natural as you can. Instead of running on the Greenway, go for a hike, or run around the water’s edge. Get out of the gym and look at what’s around.
And while you’re there, enjoy the view. Because just like you can recognise the beauty of the view from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair without knowing where it is or who Mrs Mac was, there are others who know the beauty of this corner of Mayo without ever having been here. And once you see the beauty and appreciate it, it will do you more good than just passing through it on the way to somewhere else.
> Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.