“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
"The rumble of noise dissipates. Bright lights, the seduction of all you are told you want or need spinning around; finally trails away. For a moment – in that moment – I had become briefly blinded as to how life can be but now, now the window is rolled down and the night air is warm. I tip my face to the stars as our little rental car climbs and climbs and I realise that I am free again; that I can breathe again. I am aware that my lungs, recently so constricted with anxiousness, are instead open and infused with the scent of pine and eucalyptus. My ears, dulled by the din of expectation, are now alive with the sound of cicadas. We arrive in the dark, following our host down a long and dusty track flanked by shadowy hills and grapevines and there is something unbelievably sweet about not knowing exactly what is out there, trusting only in our non-seeing senses. Outside this simple home on a ranch in Catalonia we play cards and lounge on the swing chair until the early morning hours and those senses tell me to remember that this is how life can be and deep in my heart, I know that I have been away too long.”
Recently I've been sharing regular notes from my journal, poems, short stories and little passages from the book I am working on - as well as other writings - over on my Facebook Page: Alice Writes.
Do stop by and say hello - I would love to connect with you!
My latest article for Plants are Magic Magazine is now available to read right here...
Sometimes there are no photos; only words, because...
Can a photo really show you how the wind felt on my face ~ soft, airy and filled with fine grains of sand ~ as I sat against the grassy cliffs?
Can a photo tell you what I was thinking ~ freedom is to fly; to lose all sense of anything else around you and let this world we have constructed of noise, shopping trollies, bricks and wheels, fall away ~ as I tipped my head back to watch a white seagull soaring against a silent blue sky?
Can a photo really convey the look ~ sincere, compassionate, kind ~ as heartfelt words were shared, or how a hand felt ~ strong, safe, secure ~ within mine?
Can a photo let you hear laughter ~ infectious, raw, singing on the undulating breeze ~ of a true nature girl?
Can a beautiful photo of a beach, somewhere on the North Yorkshire Coastline, tell you how it truly made me feel ~ humbled, centred, calmed, thankful ~ to be there?
There is no photo, no trace,
for I left everything behind today
to simply lay
in the sand
and let my dreams take shape.
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 wrap my arms around my body, holding tight, and acknowledge that once again nature has taught me for as I prepare to leave this small Spanish village following a month of contemplation, I know I am leaving with the answers needed and the olive-shaped word rootedness firmly imprinted on my heart.”
I have been busy working on an article for Plants are Magic Magazine about my love for olive trees: where our journey together began, how they make me feel and most importantly, what they teach me.
It really is a blessing to be able to write from the heart and with deep honesty for nourishing publications such as this and I wish I could share it sooner than I will be able to, if only because it explains what’s been going on in our world since being in, and returning from, Spain, more than a month ago.
Alas, it won’t be out for a while yet, but hopefully I'll manage to get a little letter together sometime in March or April :-)
A heaviness that, once you give yourself over to it, becomes lightness…
And from that surrender there becomes a kind of freedom in the soul, as if there is no stone left unturned, no sense left unfelt, because you have allowed yourself time to delve deep, reach in, extract, and be true to yourself with what you do with that which you find.
“It is possible to feel as light as a gentle breeze,” I am reminded of when I am here.
I wake in the morning, the room darkened by wooden shutters. Opening them light streams in. There may be the odd rumble of someone going by below, probably to their allotment on the outskirts of the village, but otherwise there is no sound but birdsong, and my it is bliss.
My deepest fear was that this place I had reminisced about in the nine years since I left, would be changed somehow; would have lost its magic. When we first arrived and saw once again the desert landscape stretched out for miles around us, we wondered what had made us stay for five+ months. The scenery here can appear dusty and devoid of life and yet there is rawness, a realness that draws you in; there is a hunger to learn from those roots that can live so long without water.
In the absence of anything else to do we begin to walk ~ endless walking ~ and slowly I feel my heart releasing, easing, my thoughts starting to lace together into something coherent. We delight in the mountains changing each day… sometimes dry and uninviting, sometimes the deepest greens rolling like velvet, beckoning us towards them, sometimes even snowy tops. On other days a pale mist surrounds us hiding everything behind a white tinge… the olive leaves look frosted, the mountain tops hazy, and I find that I have fallen in love all over again.
There is no rush to the people here, they pass their time slowly and methodically, carrying out daily tasks with a relaxedness that I am envious of. In nine years it remains the same; tending olive trees, stopping for lunch perched on a stone, cutting greenery for animals, sharing a laugh or two. I remember with fondness the several old faces that have disappeared, but many remain the same and they smile and welcome us back with open arms and shining eyes and marvel at how our daughter has grown and at our dog; still with us, healthy and glossy (and now joined by another!).
I survey this place and say to myself that I must, once again, learn… and hang on to my observations for as long as I can. Wander slowly. Be more methodical and connected. Continue to nurture contentedness in simplicity… I arrived with a distance towards life, but I know I will leave with a deeper sense of closeness.
Pondering how our time here before also came at the beginning of a new adventure, having not long sold up our house in a city and given up a steady job to take our baby on the road in search of more freedom as a family, I wonder if this tiny timeless village in rural Andalucia will continue to call us back at important junctures. I hope so, because my love runs deep for this pocket of solace in a crazy world, for a landscape that encourages me to dig deeper within myself: to question, contemplate and ultimately… help discover our next chapter.
We’re currently in Spain enjoying some wood-working out on the terrace in the warmth ready to fill up the Little Loquat Etsy Shop in 2018.
There will be wooden ring presentation boxes, quill pens and a range of earrings and pendants…
Watch this space!
We left the UK on our migration south in a plume of noise… I find there is an exhaustion in this world that eats away not just at the physical self, but at something deeper and by the time we rolled our campervan onto a train to take us under the sea, we were spent.
Thus, the journey south began in an agitated manner; senses were heightened, hearts were unsettled but, as is usual on our road trips, in time the charged air between us all began to quieten and as we journeyed onto increasingly-empty roads, the reasons for our exhaustion began to slowly work their way out in our minds and through our mouths allowing tensions to finally ease.
To us the world can feel too fast; it demands of us to look, like and listen 24/7 and yet… how many of us actually hear? In all the rush things are left unnoticed, compassion seems in short supply and the nurturing of important relationships is often a pastime squashed into well-managed time slots. Then there is the traffic noise that permeates every moment – even sleep – as cars rush from a to b and trucks relay back and forth with all the food, toys and stuff we apparently need to survive and before we know it, the constant stream of noise begins to buzz relentlessly around the body.
Perhaps some get used to it, make friends with that nervous energy… but it seems impossible for us.
Some might say we run away; well yes, we do, for what else are you to do when you find yourself full to the brim with no space to receive? In order to live, to breathe, to love, to create, we need space to receive. And so I long for the road, long for the layers that begin to peel themselves away as our wheels roll, allowing me to, bit-by-bit, re-emerge, and here now in this small timeless village in the mountains of Spain where we will rest for a short while, I feel a warming of senses, the sweet release of decompression, and the ability to once again, begin to receive.
I guess we all have our way of breaking away, finding that place where we feel able to balance ourselves and return to zero, be it through walking, meditation, exercise, the sanctuary of our own home or a weekend health retreat… for us it takes the road and the discovering of places where life runs at a slower pace, to remind us of who we are and bring permission to indulge in our dreams once again.
Perhaps our dream for 2018 is that the road will take us to a place where we can once again sink our hands into earth, root down; find a more permanent place to run to and not from.
I guess we’ll see…
Wishing you all a peaceful year filled with love, adventure and the running to and from, as necessary.
As a family we are about to close down for the festive season and are looking forward to a time of reflection and hibernation as our campervan wheels turn in the direction of Spain (East of Granada).
I imagine some time in the mountains will bring plentiful opportunity for creativity… writing projects are brewing and we're hoping to do lots of making for the Little Loquat shop.
Thanking you for your warmth and connection this year and Warmest Wishes to all friends and followers out there!
After years of dreaming of Scottish landscapes, our van finally made it to the Highlands! and for us, the Cairngorms was the highlight.
The scenery as you enter this national park is simply breathtaking. The weather so changeable that there are a million colours and textures on the heather-covered hills.
I feel a freedom here – away. Such an expanse of space; of mountains. A place to think and contemplate, for sure.
Peace. Quiet. Beauty… like balm to the soul.
We have collected a fair bit of driftwood for future Little Loquat makings too …
Our Portugal is on the edge: bordered on one side by the indescribable lure of lively Spaniards and on the other, the comfort and softness of the Portuguese.
The land is green, spilling into hidden valleys. It is dusty, backed by breathtaking rock faces. It is hot, it is cool, but it is always balm to the soul.
I felt it clearly the other night on horseback as we galloped freely, reins loose, the rhythm of the animal beneath me all at once tender yet powerful. Submersed in the beauty of this landscape I was reluctant to be drawn away to anywhere else; the desire to stay put was strong.
We rode around mountains, through valleys and across streams, pausing for water in a village alive with guitarra and accordion; I felt as if I had stepped back into a long ago book.
To be invited to ride with our friends in the evening, saddling up on a piece of silent land in Spain, dismounting in the darkened hills of Portugal (the usual way of horse rotation as it is here) was a treat – four hours of bliss – and I just wanted to keep on going.
With the horses I feel I have rediscovered something from long ago, perhaps with an even stronger connection than ever before and yet, I came here this time knowing that we would soon be leaving this place; passing on our slice of Portugal to others. There is of course a slight heaviness of heart, yet despite this I feel also an immense excitement in knowing that fear of the unknown will never hold us back and that the richness of what we find as we wander is always a worthy element in the makeup of our life.
We do not know where we will come to rest again, sink our hands back into soil, continue our dreams of self-reliance. We do not know if it will once again be Portugal or if somewhere else will reach out to us, but we know that our hearts will find it when they need to and that it will be the right place and the right time to discover something beautiful.
Olive (our campervan) and us arrived in Espana yesterday and it feels good to be back in this part of the world.
The air is different, the light brighter, the breeze warmer. We pulled into an Aires in Vitoria Gasteiz, the Basque Capital, and were amazed at how peaceful it was despite it being effectively a huge car-park on the outskirts of a city.
We cooked and ate dinner with the doors flung open; dogs sprawled in their beds outside, and listened to the music drifting from nearby squares. We strolled around town, collected conkers and wandered by groups of people – old and young – enjoying coffee and beer outside the numerous cafes and were amazed to see how dog-friendly this city is.
This morning we rose to more blue skies and walked the back streets enjoying the myriad of murals, watching people shake their bedding out of tower-block windows and discovering tucked away cafes. We bought churros in a small bakery and went back to the van to melt chocolate before enjoying our own traditional Spanish breakfast.
When we’re out and about on the road in the sunshine in a self-sufficient van we are (for a time!) at our most relaxed. What more do you need in life other than that which you can carry on your back (or in a van!)?
Life is sweet on the road: a few good books, a pen and notepad, simple food, each other.
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.
It’s peaceful up here in the mountains. I didn’t realise how it would actually feel to be up here, but it’s just that. Silent. Quiet. So all-consuming that I haven’t even been able to muster the energy to write because I am able only to be.
Of course, settling into the new routines of a wwoofer also takes time and my energies have been focused on finding my feet, establishing my place, and ensuring that my daughter is happy and fulfilled by this experience of farm life.
I have stood looking out at the view raking cut grass and clearing terraces, and with them, my mind. I have been mesmerised by the sheep as they pass by my window each morning and I have marveled at the new birds and flowers I have seen and found.
And yet, all the time, I am wordless.
Stunned into silence.
Sentences come to me: about the beauty, the magic, the feeling. But nothing knits together as it should. I guess I am still settling myself into a new rhythm.
I know only that I am glad for the opportunity to escape the noise of life, that I love to be near sheep and horses because they make me feel everything that is good, that I don’t care if my arms are scratched and embedded with thorns, or that my limbs ache from throwing hay bales into the loft until the sky has turned inky and the moon is so close I can almost touch it… because in the mountains I feel alive.
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.