The smell of woodsmoke on a dank late afternoon, eerie plumes snaking their way across the darkening canal like thoughts I no longer want emptying from my mind.
Wet ropes, cold fingers, old gloves—there is no fashion show needed.
The joy of leaping from deck to towpath, easing our hulk of a home to its mooring. Metal on metal rings through the air as I bash pins in; the delicious weight of mallet in hand.
Looking around at the view — a new view, every day if the fancy takes you — and spying a "sunshine" tree right outside our window.
Being rocked to sleep as a boat passes slowly in the darkening night. Waking to watch the sunshine tree come to life at first light.
The sound of ice cracking around my ears in winter, fish and ducks nibbling at the waterline in spring and summer, the raining down of magical leaves in autumn.
Reflecting in the watery ripples that soothe my mind.
Then there is the shunting, rocking, manouvering - the throwing of ropes, jumping to other boats, ducking to tie up; slipping on mud.
Mud. Mud. Mud.
The smell of a boatyard—heavy, oily, like my dad's workshop—the cheery faces, "just chuck us a fiver mate."
And the peace. Always the peace.
The taking ourselves off to the countryside where we watch the sliver of a moon appear and disappear behind cloud, our gaze stretched across endless fields—from pitch black to orange glow.
But being in that glow if we want. And after the year we have had, perhaps that's the main reason afterall:
A home that moves, so we can be close to loved ones as we need and wish.
Nothing can replace our beautiful Highland hideaway - our yurt in the stone circle. But at least we experienced it, no matter for how short a time. And if there is anything I have learned this year, it's that our time here can be short so we must grasp every opportunity and absorb it with utter delight, yet not be afraid to leap as needed.
So now; now it's back to boats, to living afloat. And trying to write words again that right now feel jarred—lost somewhere in the depths of my mind but somehow, slowly finding their way out, albeit in mixed-up ways.
I have been sharing my story on Instagram in recent months… just working through a kind of potted history of my life so that people following can grasp who I am quickly in a series of short posts. It’s been quite a fun process, to ponder on the junctures in time that have most shaped me and to get those thoughts into a succinct 2,200 characters! I thought it would be nice to collate them all together here… I’ll add more as I write more.
Part 1: From the age of eight I grew up on an estate of straight roads and roundabouts in the centre of the new town of Milton Keynes. At one end of my street was a bridge leading to a mirrored mile-long indoor shopping centre and at the other, a path to a long-forgotten wood; a left over relic of an age before. This wood is the place that nurtured in me a love of nature. It was my quiet space, a place I could belong. Somewhere where nothing was expected of me, where I didn’t have to decipher feelings, instead I could just be.
For me, seeking out time in nature means the melting away of everything: all tension, frustration, feelings of being overwhelmed by expectation and instead, giving myself over completely to the mountains, forest, sea – whatever it may be. It has always been a physical thing, a palpable slowing down of heart and mind. My body, coiled and tightly woven, slowly unravels, eases and unfurls.
Throughout my life I have gone-a-wandering in order to attain this feeling because despite making conscious efforts to switch off, opt out, retreat from the incessant noise of everyday life, I still find myself submersed on occasion – rushed along with the tide – and always it has been my ability to disappear for a while that has kept me balanced.
Sometimes it is still that snatched hour in the woods, but other times I need to go further, for longer, to achieve that sense of solace. To seek out the quiet and a place where I can think, undisturbed and un-swayed by the relentless drenching of the world out there. In nature there is space to be open, creative and unabashed, to let go of irritations and angers, escape judgment and feelings of inadequacy and when I am in that world - wholeheartedly submersed - I am free.
Part 2: When I left school at 16 I had no idea what to do, I knew only that I loved art and that it was one of the few subjects I did well at in my exams. I had a creative, wild mind that wanted to be challenged, excited, inspired... and so it was that I went to art college, but within a month that little journey was over. I felt stifled by the lack of individuality, controlled by the herding of creativity. I wanted to live; truly live, wild and free, so it’s no surprise that I chose love and music as alternative avenues for artistic expression – fuelled by a 9-5 secretarial apprenticeship – over the classroom.
It was a crazy few years until my early 20s, where I lived the exciting and intoxicating life that happens in those hours when others are sleeping, but always – always – it was meshed together with taking myself out into nature even though, outwardly, that was not the world I was inhabiting. Something about the wide open sky, rippling water and overhanging trees where I would park my bike on the way home from work and lay for a while, alighted in me the ability to dream about the world and all its places and people.
“Let’s give up our jobs and flat and bus our way around Spain” I said with energy and excitement, but this wasn’t how it was to be and my dreams were shushed, so instead I would go from work to the library and devour books about people and place and observe the desire for more, begin to take root in my heart. It had been fun, living for the music, the night, the love... but it was no longer enough and so it was that through a chain of changes, I ended up at 23 on my way to Japan for six months.
The new sights and smells played havoc with my senses... ramen noodles cooked ferociously for impatient businessmen in backstreet restaurants where grease and smoke clung to the air with a heavy sweetness, twilight strolls through Kyoto where Geisha girls moved hurriedly along cobbled alleyways, heads bowed. My hunger to see new corners of the world was finally being fed and I felt inspired and excited and... ALIVE.
Part 3: Six months in Japan confirmed to me that there was a world beyond what I had known, and I was hungry for more. I felt alive with possibilities and returned to my hometown with a spring in my step and a belief that I would get to my next adventure.
It was a dinner with ex work colleagues that eventually set me on a new course. “What job would you do if you could do anything” was the question and when it came to me I said, “travel writer”. Everyone laughed, “how on earth could you do that?” For a few minutes I felt embarrassed as I hadn’t told any of these people about my writing, but I proceeded to tell them that I’d just walked my way around London posting some of my published-in-the-local-newspaper snippets through the doors of travel magazines asking for a job (none replied). They all thought I was bonkers; all but one and sometimes, one is all you need.
As it turned out, the daughter of one lady had come along to the meal and she worked in the admin department of a company that published travel guides. “Let me put your CV forward” she said and a few months later, after an utterly nerve-wracking interview and training process where I felt completely out of my depth, I landed my dream job.
Canada, America, Thailand, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Greece… the list goes on. I travelled my way around these places with a backpack, notepad and pen, and a computer to type things onto at the end of each day. There was no phone, internet connection, satnav (yes I am that old) and it was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
When I eventually moved on from this job they said, “if your CV hadn’t come with a recommendation that you were truly passionate for this, we would have binned it at the first round for lack of degree and yet, you’ve become one of the best we’ve had.” The lesson to take from this, I think, is: shout loud, be proud of who you are and what you want, know that you are worthy of your dreams and believe you can achieve them, because you just never know who is listening and taking notice of your unique, passionate self.
Part 4: By age 27 it was deemed by those around me as time to quit the travel writing job and ‘settle down’. As any wanderluster knows, this is not a phrase that sits well but, sometimes loved ones can overpower our thoughts… and I was lost, flailing about trying to form a picture of what a free-spirited life might look like and at times, acknowledging that the vision felt scary.
Settling down meant safety, didn’t it? It meant marrying my good solid boyfriend and having children. It meant the security of a nice two-up, two-down. It was what everyone around me was aiming for. This was it! So why did I feel empty when I considered that scenario?
It took a lot of dithering and heartache before I found the courage to say, “NO, this isn’t for me.” What I wanted was to be free: to walk, fly, take train rides, camp out under the stars, live in vans or on the side of mountains. I had no real plan, I knew only what my heart was hungry for and that I had to find a way to live that wouldn’t quash those desires.
But, like most people trying to follow their hearts, there are crappy times where you give up because, frankly, the what-you-know option feels like the easier option. So renting a room in a shared house and working a temporary office job I hated, was not the scenario in which I imagined meeting my now husband. But meet him I did and 17 years later, here we are.
In him I discovered my dare-to-dream-soulmate and within a year or so we were travelling to a Greek Isle to buy a little house in a village on a hill. This became the place to which we would return with our baby daughter, where we would marry and have a good ole’ party, dancing barefoot in our favourite restaurant to the tunes of a local bouzouki band. It was the starting place of our wandering family life; a life I had been led to believe wasn’t possible. But that’s how it started... and if there’s anything I would share from my experiences it would be: TRUST IN YOUR HEART. It’s not always easy and sometimes, honestly... it leads you in messy directions, but it is always exciting and energising and challenging and all.those.things.that.make.life... LIFE!
Part 5 to follow... #aliceisinwanderlandhistory
In February 2022 I moved my blog to Substack. There you will find weekly writings (with audio option also), plus you can sign up to have them delivered direct to your inbox.
I hope you will join me there!
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