Restful, deep breaths, a temporary equilibrium that feels easy. Water runs, heat burns; 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 into the arms of something so… predictable.
These months here in a house between the moorland and coast of North Yorkshire have forced me 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 you can put a key in the door behind which you might find familiar pictures and books, cushions and blankets, a writing desk and typewriter and know that it is possible to stop, burrow down, rest.
And yet, 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.
If it can then surely we are heading speedily towards death.
And so, as a family, we adjust to the knowledge 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 and yet, also remind 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, moorland, 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 the 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 human nature… 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 saw 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 for a while, maybe even think about belonging 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 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.
We worked our boats through the lock in opposite directions but in that relatively brief exchange she reminded me – this woman – that life is short; so very short. So affected by our conversation was I, that tears pricked my eyes as I continued walking the towpath, working my boat through the last two locks.
In those few moments we had that rare immediate connection and she spoke about her daughter dying just weeks earlier, about the grief and yet how she had also been reminded of LIFE. I talked to her about how sometimes I get scared as to if we’re making the right choices; that I worry about what others think of our nomadic, sporadic, seemingly shambolic lifestyle. That sometimes I lie in bed at night wondering if we should just settle down.
Her parting words were to tell me to keep living: to change, evolve, take chances… to give up, try again and most importantly: not give a shit about what anyone else may say, think or believe because it’s our journey; our life, and there are no rules.
Setting off early the fog is light and feathery on waters turned matte grey by mist. There is a slight frost laying thinly on the ground, I reach down to touch it with my shivering fingers to see if it is real, before I pick up the rope and jump aboard.
We are wrapped up in coats, hats and boots; sturdy boots that won’t slip as we jump on and off the boat, untying ropes and easing her bow slowly round with a pole so as not to wake our still-sleeping neighbours. We are captains of our ship, captains of the waterways, which are undoubtedly at their best when the rush of summer traffic has subsided, when early mornings are our own, interrupted only by the pretty chirpings of a blackbird as she perches on the ridge of a stone barn.
I work the lock gates silently, a passing jogger helping me to push. I wave my frozen hands – cold from the metal of my windlass – at my daughter and her friend through the window as they lounge in bed munching toast and chocolate muffins, overdosing on Winnie the Witch books. By the time I am waiting at the gate for our boat to pass through I am several metres above them; their pretty faces are now stuck to the window pane beaming their smiles up at me. I laugh before closing up the gate and running down the towpath to jump on the front.
The sun comes up, her warmth welcome, and the girls are finally coaxed out onto the deck where they feed passing ducks. By the time we moor up for the day at a peaceful spot across from open fields, the sun is so warm we change into flip-flops. I sit on the bow of the boat while my daughter plays with sand on the towpath and bids hello to other boaters as they drift in and out. Mooring for lunch, mooring for afternoon tea, mooring just because.
I needed this.
To be reminded, once again, why we have chosen this way of life: for the freedom, the beauty, the nature at every turn.
I hang my handmade wares in the window with bright signs saying “For Sale!” and feel like a wandering water gypsy from times-gone-by.
There is no better life for me, for us, I think.
Hello, I'm Alice
and I love... my husband, my daughter, my two dogs, meaningful friendships, day-dreaming, seeking out new experiences, cooking on fires, walking on wild beaches, reading under the shade of a tree, sleeping out under the stars, dancing, wild swimming, saying yes, walking barefoot, trying to live the best life I can, learning from my failings, crunching leaves underfoot, running downhill in the wind, being kind, being loved back.