52 Things I Learned In 2023 (Part 2)

And a warm welcome from yet another train, this one speeding its way to the snow-capped mountains of the Lake District National Park.

You might have noticed that I like to call our National Parks by their full name. Adding the words ‘National Park’ is not only helpful context for people who might not have any clue what I mean by ‘The Lake District’ or ‘Dartmoor’, but also serves as a reminder that people like you and me fought tooth and claw for these wild places to be opened up for the awesome right to pleasure of people like you and me.

Thank you for doing that, people of the past. In 2024, I want to challenge myself to fight for the rights of people of the future.

Anyway. Today’s story is Part Two of my round up of 52 things I learned in 2023. You can read Part One here or just crack on.

27: I’d never seen a clutch of baby birds in their nest before. Now I know why these mouths-with-wings are called ‘swallows’. Les Sauges, France.


28. Dartmoor is always sunny (except at night when it’s starry)

That’s just a fact I’ve observed from the 25 nights I’ve spent on Dartmoor since 2020.

29. Bladder wrack is a kind of seaweed and it’s both delicious and abundant in coastal waters

Just a little something I learned in May, kayak foraging at Old Harry Rocks with Dani from Fore Adventures.

Starting with the delicious serrated wrack, we gobbled our way over ocean and shoreline: popping bladder wrack, garlicky pepper dulse, slithery sea spaghetti, slimey sea lettuce, spinachy-sweet sea beet, sagey-toothpaste rock samphire, and the invasive, but eminently munchable wireweed.

30. ‘You can’t stop bad things from happening, but you can stop good things from happening through fear and hopelessness’

Credit Rich Chapman for one of the many things I learned at the fantastic Adventure Mind conference. Can’t wait for the 2024 edition.

31. Italy is full of hot springs just bubbling out of the ground

Seriously. Go to the middle bit. It’s amazing.

32. Nature IS Medicine

This is a lesson that goes deeper every time I shift into the nature mind of our wilder places. It’s something that hasn’t always gone hand in hand with my pursuit of the forty ‘Quality Hill and Moorland Days’ needed to qualify for the next stage in my training as an outdoor instructor.

What I need to learn and relearn is much slower and more delicate: I need to learn to stare at the ground and notice the eyebright, knapweed and oxeye daisy; to stare at the sky and read the changing cloudscape; to close my eyes and listen for skylark, snipe and cuckoo.

There is a medicine that you can only absorb through eyes, ears, nose, feet, breath: wind, air, sunshine, rain. Nature, the moor, the relentless acceptance and infinity of it all. Welcome, it says, welcome all. You are whole, it says. We are together, it says, together at last.

Good news though: I now have all forty days in the logbook and can take my assessment to become a Hill and Moorland Leader in 2024.

33: Yew trees are AMAZING. Not only can they live for thousands of years, but they are also entirely poisonous (lethal dose: 50g of needles) EXCEPT for their bright red berries, which aren’t berries at all, but arils. Box Hill, Surrey.


34. 2023 was a 3.48 feel good year (according to one of my three different daily diaries)

I wrote about 196,000 words across 290 entries in my daily diary in 2023. I don’t know what to say about the incalculable value of diary writing that hasn’t been said by people vastly more eloquent than me I me.

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

~ Oscar Wilde. Who else?

I also filled two thick notebooks with my nightly ‘Five Great Things’ journal. Great Things only takes a couple of minutes and is a gentle way to tilt the mind towards quiet calm and restfulness, as well as capturing some of the day’s small wins (albeit illegibly).

Credit: I was inspired to start listing my Great Things after reading this article on For The Interested in February 2019 and it’s one of those tiny habits that make every day feel truly meaningful. Thank you, Josh Spector.

Finally, I also made 156 micro diary entries in a computer program that my dad made for me during the pandemic. (Thanks dad! 👋)

The program was initially designed to track mysterious symptoms of lethargy; in retrospect, I think I was mega stressed out by lockdown loneliness. It launches at a random time each day, asks me how I’m feeling on a scale of one to five and invites an optional written comment.

The results present fragments of my days — although they are all, by necessity, days where I happen to be near my computer.

From the good:

07/03/23 20:50. 4. Good day. Work. Sorting things out. Beach walk. Sauna. Long sleep this morning with plenty of dozing, dreamy, until 8.45amish.

To the less good:

11/05/23 14:43. 2. Headache. Tired. Just classic brain foggy symptoms like last year. Stress? So what’s the solution, if any? I’m struggling to write the newsletter, struggling to see the positive. Meditate? Belly full of gas from beany lunch.

My average recorded score in 2023 was 3.48, up from 3.23 in 2022, 3.24 in 2021 and 3.08 in 2020.

But what do these numbers mean? Not a great deal, I don’t suppose, but the data did help me identify the three counter-intuitive things I need to do when I’m feeling time-pressed and stressed (I say counter-intuitive because rest is not one of them):

  1. Be active outdoors
  2. See friends and family
  3. Aim for the exhaustion of what Josh Gondelman calls ‘good tired’ and what I call ‘being well used’

35. I still haven’t solved an imbalance in my relationship with screens, but a new laptop wasn’t the answer (phew!)

In 2023, I bought a new phone and, infamously, failed to buy a new laptop. Instead, I upgraded the battery on my old faithful 2017 Acer. Atta girl!

I spent about 550-600 hours staring at my computer screen in 2023. That can’t be healthy, but perhaps, gven the nature of my work and passion, it can’t be helped.

My phone use, on the other hand, can be helped. As my entry on podcasts suggests, I am keen to make my phone less useful in 2024.

I can hardly believe that I once locked my phone in a cupboard for a whole month. I missed only 4 calls and 44 messages — 2015 was a very different time…

Early in the year I successfully experimented with taking my SIM card out every evening until whenever I really needed it the next day, usually about 10am. That gave me about 10-14 hours of blissful phonelessness every day.

This experiment came to a crashing end sometime in March when I started to get really important messages from someone really important all the time. 😂

36: This is what I call a healthy relationship with screens. You’ll notice a sticker just below the screen that says: ‘Go away and read a book’. It’s my favourite quote ever and I was sent the sticker when I bought a book from Dog Section Press.

37. Friends = Wealth = Health

I hung out with friends or called them a total of 827 times in 2023. That’s two and a quarter friends a day on average.

This is an exceptionally silly metric and doesn’t really say anything to anyone, but it’s still meaningful for me. If nothing else, the data shows me two useful things: (1) the important people I might be forgetting in the busyness of life; (2) the surprise people I should maybe appreciate more for how often they show up for me.

38. I’m NOT completely broken as a human being (at least in terms of my gut health…)

In fact, my blood sugar control, blood fat control and microbiome health are all among the best in the WORLD (yep, I’m claiming it).

These test results were from the Zoe personalised nutrition program that I went on at the start of the year. I guess it means that my plant-based diet has been absolutely fine for my health.

The main change I made as a result of the program is the massive and joyful consumption of grapefruit.

39: Just a lucky pizza looking for a happy stomach. Homemade so NOT part of the $159 billion global pizza market. The country with the highest consumption of pizzas per person is not Italy or the USA, but, er, Norway, whose citizens apparently consider a particular brand of frozen pizza their national dish. Personally, I’m a total convert to cheeseless pizzas, but the world record for the highest number of formaggi on a pizza is not quattro, but 1001. Silly.

40. Am I runner again? Do I still sauna? And where do I even live?!

I went on eighteen runs across 65.6km in 2023; a looooooooong way off my peak as a runner four years ago when I did a hundred runs for 758km. But eight of 2023’s runs have come in the past two months, including three Parkruns (which I love). Am I back?

Going in the other direction, I did the same number of saunas as I did in 2022, but none since leaving to cycle to Athens in July. Am I no longer a sauna-er? Is visiting the sauna, a habit I once described as the keystone of my good health, important to return to my life in 2024?

Even more confused was the question of where I live. I spent only 156 nights at home in Bournemouth in 2023, a drop of nineteen sleeps from 2022 and a shade under three nights a week at home on average. The other four average nights were split evenly between two nights a-travelling and two nights with friends and family — 🙏 thank you to all my gentle generous hosts!


41. A day’s work as a vehicle delivery driver might get you £230 (and picking up hitchhikers is an assertion of our glorious humanity)

From Be The Miracle:

We humans are only fully self-conscious when we’re talking, laughing, rolling, relating with others.

42. The Supreme Court Has No Clue If You Have The Right To Build Sandcastles Or Not.

What I learned from this story is pretty much captured in its title.

Not even the judges of the supreme court know on what legal basis any of us have any right to go to the beach — any beach.

43. I’m definitely going to do more interviews with awesome humans

I’m delighted that both my Extra Ordinary Adventurer interviews hit the top ten.

The more I see, the more I realise that it’s just fantastic, an interview with epic cyclist Alice Baddeley, was also my most liked and commented story of the year — and for good reason. It’s not every day that you learn there’s someone out there who has cycled through every village, town and city in Sussex without once going back on herself.

44: ‘Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! / Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.’ There’s something arresting about seeing our civilisation submerged in the sands of time. Okay, so a cycle path in Crosby is probably not what Percy Shelley was writing about in Ozymandias, but we would still do well to remember the transience of our arrogance.

45. Most people avoid talking to strangers, ‘despite the fact that they are happier when they do so’

From Interrupt, Gloriously:

Most people avoid talking to strangers — ‘despite the fact that they are happier when they do so’


‘Conversations with strangers not only go better than expected, but generally go quite well.’

46. ‘Don’t put your life on hold — ever’

‘What the hell have I been doing for the last 20 years?’ was the ‘heart-melting’ story of Lis van Lynden, who cycled around Britain in 2022, raising funds and awareness for people like her with multiple sclerosis.

I learned so much from Lis across our two long phone calls. Not least this absolute zinger:

It’s tricky when you have a lot of people die and you think you’re going to die yourself. You do go inwards, no matter how hard you try, but don’t put your life on hold — ever.


47. Consuming half a cup of ice cream per week is linked to a 19 percent reduction in your risk of developing diabetes (yes, reduction)

48. A juice company helped heal a degraded forest in Costa Rica by dumping 12,000 metric tonnes of orange pulp

49. Older people are just as good at learning new skills as young people — if that new skill helps other people, not only themselves

50. In July, The Dartmoor National Park Authority won a unanimous verdict in the Court of Appeal that reinstituted the right for all people to wild camp on Dartmoor

Privatising landowners Alexander and Diana Darwall have since appealed to the Supreme Court to get this judgment overturned. 🙄 Our struggle for free entry to the million star hotel continues…

51. The tale is over and the aubergine is boiled…

… is how you end a story in Tamil. And if you do better than random chance on this global idioms quiz, then fair play 👏 I got five out of twenty.


52. Shout out to YOU!

Finally, as ever, huge thanks to you — yes, you! — for offering me your eyeballs and perhaps a little corner of your mind.

At the start of 2023, 493 beautiful humans subscribed to this newsletter; today there are 666 (😈), including (pleasingly) 52 who regularly read every. single. one. Wow.

I’d like to pause here for a short round of applause for the wonderful people who pay a subscription to keep me in green teabags —

Thank you Mike, James, Joe, Geoff, Georgie, Libby, Maryla, Claire, Harri, Cass, Illia, John, Jo, Tudor and JMJ. And shout out to those of you who have paid subs in the past — I shall never forget you (GDPR permitting) 💚

If YOU would also love to support this newsletter in 2024, then knock me down with a blowtorch because — you can! Prices have been slashed and it’s now only £3.50 per month or £30 per year.

Just click this lovely link 👉 Subscribe now 👈 and a choir of angels shall descend upon thee at the most unexpected and inconvenient moment. 👼

For one-off contributions (or if you would rather not send £$£$ via Substack) you can zap cash straight to my Paypal and I’ll spend it all on books. No, really, I will. 📚

I’m excited to see what stories evolve through the coming seasons and I promise to distil as many as possible into these pages.

If you’re already gagging for more, here are 208 things I learned in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. If you missed it, Part One of 2023’s great things is here.

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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