“I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.”
~ Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust (A Hisotry of Walking)
Lately I’ve been walking as a way to find some space, to help me pull words together for the book I’m working on. I stroll briskly, usually from the field where my caravan sits, through the woods and fields in a loop or sometimes to the next village, and back again.
Last night it was almost dusk as I set out but I could still see the hedgerows beginning their giving over to the autumn palette, the hawthorn and rose-hip berries ruby red and ripe. There were even some huge blackberries still hanging on. It’s been such a hot summer and everything seems to have come and gone in a rush.
As I walked I remembered how much and how far my legs carried me when I worked as a travel guide writer. The roads and pathways from country to city that I would pound armed only with my pad and pen. I thought about how strong I was then and long to be strong again. Lately I have felt weakened by the inevitable pressures that life throws at us and those carefree memories of myself sometimes feel so far away: untouchable.
I looked at the little wooded dells of green and imagined just curling up in them for the night. I thought about Patrick Leigh Fermor walking to Constantinople – across Europe in winter – and wondered if I will ever get to do a walk that long. One day I would like to.
I see rubbish in the bushes and ponder for how many years it will pollute this landscape – oh what us humans have done.
The fields are mostly bare now; harvesting is over. No more the sounds of combines and tractors working late into the summer evenings and I feel a deep loss for the long hot days we have had this year in England, for the eating outside for seemingly unending evenings and I recognise that old familiar melancholy for autumn deep in my heart. But the breeze is still warm; so warm, so I close my eyes to it and bask in its serenity.
Just before I reach the village a large group of crows fly over, squawking and cawing, and I am reminded of camping out beneath a rookery in Norfolk. I turn to begin my walk back, pausing first beneath their swell, watching them move together, working out where they are to roost for the night. I envy their living in the moment, for the moment. I walk again and hear a rustling in the hedgerow, it sounds large so I kneel down, stinging myself. I wonder if it’s a small deer but I can’t see. An owl hoots behind me and a pair of pigeons fly out of a low tree, their unmistakable flapping bringing an eeriness to the darkening sky that makes me feel suddenly vulnerable.
Ahead I make out the treeline and love that I know the shape of my field. I hop over the gate and walk – alive and refreshed – back to my caravan and the light and laughter of my family preparing to turn in for the night.
September 2018 ~ From my Notebook
Restful, deep breaths, a temporary equilibrium that feels easy.
Water runs, pipes warm; everything is stable and stationary.
There is comfort in this state for it brings a silencing of wired thoughts and yet… there is the constant danger of boredom lurking on the horizon. It’s been too long that my water has not run, that heat has been created with my own hands, that my view has changed daily, for me to fall willingly and without fight into the arms of something so… predictable.
These months here in our house between the moorland and coastline of North Yorkshire have forced me to recognise that my hunger for the road is not simply for the sake of travel, but more importantly: the sake of connection. Connection to every small seemingly incidental action that we open ourselves up to when we wander; when we make life tiny, yet wide, because there is the realisation that we are forever living in the moment.
Living in a house the moment can be lost within the ease of it all and yes, that can be welcome: to know that when travel fatigue sets in I can put my key in a door behind which I will find my pictures and books, cushions and blankets, writing desk and typewriter and know that I can stop, burrow down, rest; is something I do not take lightly.
But I find myself periodically running to our caravan tucked away in the corner of a field in the South of England so that I might fill up water containers, feel the wind all night long and be connected to life and when there I find myself dreaming rose-droplet-framed dreams about the road: about campfires and weathered faces; conversations and music, and I know that this house-living-lark could never be every day.
And so, as a family, we adjust to the realisation that we are here, find joy in the vegetables growing at our allotment and tentatively allow our roots to venture a little below the surface, whilst also reminding ourselves that there will always be a need for us to go away… to walk barefoot, wash our clothes in a bowl, cook on one ring and wake up together overlooking the sea, because we are travellers, wanderers, gyspy souls and it is the call of the road that makes us know we are alive.
Wandering = Movement = Freedom.
It is a stretching of limbs, and of mind. It is never standing still for long and yet, standing still long enough to breathe. Mountain, coast, forest, meadow… walkways, waterways, roadways; the life of a wanderer is a perpetual anticipation of next steps and new adventures.
Perhaps the attraction is in the new? The erasement of that which you do not want to remember because you find yourself lost in the absolute freshness of possibility. It is a running away; a running to, and I have a hunger for that lightness of step – that release – that comes, both physically and mentally.
The wandering life is lived deliciously simply, out of a bag… once upon a time (for me) on foot, but as a family: in a van, cabin, boat, cottage, caravan… shared houses; shared spaces – so many places and people found, so many adventures that have grown within us like a patchwork quilt and so many experiences we are endlessly glad for and yet, like any life there are periods of unrest… the flailing about on an unknown path without destination, the night-time awakenings given over to creatively developing ways to sustain such a lifestyle and then there are the waves of uncertainty, wondering whether the wandering life still works for the whole family.
On a practical level, living from here to there brings challenges… there is water to be collected, waste to be disposed of, laundry to be done with cold red hands – either from hand-washing or dragging a bag to the laundrette in mid-winter. Food must be prepared and cooked in tiny spaces and higgledy piggledy places while crafts, projects and colouring are limited and put out or put away to accommodate. Beds are endlessly made up and down whilst stepping over dogs – and each other. Pans and kettles are boiled for washing up… and washes, for showers can be taken only when there is enough solar power. There is paperwork in foreign countries; translations, invitations, conversations… a combination of sometimes wonderful, sometimes tiring things, because tiny little incidentals can loom large when you’re out of your comfort zone… and there is the endless packing up and unpacking; forever losing and finding.
For ten years now as a family we have wandered. Sometimes standing still, but never for too long and for any hardship this life has presented, there have been more than enough joys to balance it out. For every irritation such as living without running water for weeks on end because the canal has frozen, there has been felt a sense of accomplishment for being independent and resourceful. For every night spent uncomfortable, tired and lost on the road, there have been ten heart-stoppingly beautiful stopovers that remind you why you do what you do. For every anxiety arising from living in a different country there has been a cultivation of pioneering spirit and a warmth from locals that restores your faith in humanity… for every mean person, there have been five beautiful souls and for every frustrated word (or ten!) flying around our tiny spaces and big dreams, there has been nurtured a deeper love, admiration and respect.
However, recent months have seen our path edging into a different space and it has taken a while for us to navigate this changing route, to acknowledge our collective desire to stop, root down, maybe even belong somewhere for a while, in our own country. We don’t know for how long we will need this, but we know that finding ourselves in a house – our own house – nestled in a village between the sea and moors of North Yorkshire, feels right. We know that for a while, having some comforts and space feels as exciting as running away. We know that the connections our daughter yearns for at this stage in her life are valid and that being close to our extended family is important and we imagine (hope) that having such endless and boundless beauty on our doorstep where we can seek out plentiful micro-adventures, will allow us to weave these wandering hearts into our new chapter of standing still.
I love the silence of snow… lying in bed it closes around us; cocoons us. I can hear no planes in the sky, no cars on the road, no sound but that of nature, of snowflakes falling softly onto our caravan roof.
Reluctant to wake completely I stay motionless, lost in the stillness of it all, but the sound of horses hooves passing the window on the other side of the fence make me realise that it is daylight and animals need feeding. I close my eyes again, grasping a few more moments, lost in the sound of compacting snow beneath hoof.
When in the depths of nature, closed in, I realise I never want for anything like I do for this feeling. The noise of the world we have constructed around ourselves suddenly seems futile, pointless, and just as with the freshness of snow, I want to start again, choose what to grow from this beautiful blank landscape.
My daughter wakes and delights at the sight of real snow; “real snow!” she sings, and hurriedly we pile on layers before venturing outside. The alpacas sorrowful faces look up to us, their ears weighed down with moisture. We scrape thick snow from their troughs and break the ice in their water bucket. The horses are going crazy, galloping around, and we scurry about organising hay for them.
Pausing for a moment I look out to the landscape, relishing the magic of working methodically in snow and I am suddenly overwhelmed by the utter newness of things, of this clean and silent world, un-marked in every way and find myself wishing for snow to fall in my mind.
As I type I am sitting on my boat willing the weather to begin it’s turn towards warmth so that we may untie our ropes from the safety of their mooring and go in search of solace on the fringes of a city that seems too big for me. I’m currently moored in my hometown and struggling with the highs and lows of a love/hate relationship: the dichotomy of belonging, and yet not.
I moved here when I was 8 and work opportunities ejected my family from a country village in the North of England to a bustling new city in the South, and I have battled ever since with the overwhelming sense that this is my home-ground – the thread that has always tied me on and off – and yet, not my home.
There are memories woven into the neatly gridded pattern of this space and over the years I have managed to find comfort in the carefully crafted green areas and occasional natural patches of land that have been saved from the bulldozer. When I was a child my mother walked me daily around the ancient woodland that still stands - as if in defiance - amidst city estates; this, her own piece of tranquillity in a world where she too felt out of place. I wandered there again just the other day to gather my own thoughts and to stand rooted at the sight of a Nuthatch: the glorious sound and colour bringing to life a stark winter branch against a grey lifeless sky, momentarily pulling my attention away from outside noise.
My heart felt heavy as I left the woods because I realise that as time goes on and I grow, memories and friendships appear not always enough to make my months here manageable and instead I feel a sense of sinking; of a growing departure, and with each stay an increased difficulty to maintain a sense of calm. Every moment, every walk, every sleep, is permeated by a growing drone of traffic noise and each drive out to activities accompanied by so many people and cars that I am exhausted before I even arrive at my destination, simply from the din. I realise that with each trip I take away from my hometown; by boat, car or camper, there is within me a deep and necessary longing for silence and with each journey I return ever more rested and at peace, and thus ever more struck by the busyness of life here.
As we drove along a road just the other day I told my daughter how I used to cycle home along the adjacent path from my job 20 years ago. I pointed out the weeping willow tree on the banks of a lake and reminisced about how I would lean my bicycle up against its trunk to sit down and write.
“What did you write about?” she asked.
My husband and I both looked at each other and laughed, before he replied for me:
“Oh, you know, escaping here and finding peace!”
And it’s true. I have never felt at home here, but I have made it my home, because that is what you do when you belong somewhere because of circumstance. But my parents have long since retreated back to the country in retirement, my siblings were never young enough to maintain a link and so my connection has decreased to the friends and community with whom I have shared life experiences. In some quiet moments I think that this must be enough. But in those quiet moments also, I feel bereft and empty. I long with a deep and heavy mournfulness for windswept beaches, wild cliffs, moors, forests and mountains and the sense that I need to belong also through my connection to the landscape.
In an effort to reconnect I take my daughter on a pre-activity walk down memory lane. I photograph her in front of the first flat I lived in, wander the pathways and underpasses that take me back to a distant time, a time when I was a different person, and yet exactly the same. We stop for a moment to ponder sculptures that I too pondered beneath all those years ago and for a few fleeting moments I feel buoyed that even in cityscapes I can find some clarity… but just a few hours later I find myself staring out of windows toward more and more windows - a mirrored land of all that is manufactured - and I feel suddenly overwhelmed again with loss and longing for the places I have been.
But loss and longing do not breed happiness and so as I type I think only of the warming air, the untying of stiffened ropes and effortless floating, the friendly faces of the cut and smell of bookshops that I love, and the sound of metal on metal as we moor our home elsewhere; still in this city, but with a greater connection to home.
Here is where I explore and muse about life... share news of writing projects & wanderings and weave the words that crowd my mind, into little stories. Occasionally I also share some of the nature-inspired jewellery & gifts I make and sell at craft fairs or on the road.