As I write this, a storm of conkers just descended onto the roof of our neighbour’s car and it’s 23 degrees Celsius outside. This is our topsy turvy year of seasons encapsulated.
Summer 2018 was, in many ways, my dream season. Weeks of bright, bare-footed and loose-armed days. Dinner in the garden every night, finished off with a teapot of homegrown mint tea. Claustrophobic socks left in the drawer. And yet, it was also a mixed bag. A little too hot to function at times; resilience a little fractured once 30 degree days had turned into weeks. And a creeping concern that this is the shape of things to come, the climate change canary in the mine (something I wrote more about here).
And then, at the end of August, summer seemed to suddenly and subtly give way to autumn. Things turned. Fallen leaves. Warm evening air found a chill in its edge. Arms searching their way back into jumpers. And, despite a ridiculous long summer season, I wasn’t quite ready for the change.
I learned a new word recently: “thalassophile” – a lover of the sea; someone who is powerfully drawn to & by the ocean. And it named something deep in us. You see, we are coastal people at heart. I grew up gazing out over Belfast Loch, even on to Scotland on a rare, clear day. My husband was further from the sea but spent just as many hours on the water, racing dinghies and yachts whenever he could. And until our move eighteen months ago we had only ever known each other, lived together, by the water’s edge.
So the move inland was a wrench on our maritime souls. We spent the next eighteen months talking, dreaming and searching for the right vessel to get us out on the river. We didn’t want to spend a lot (nor did we have a lot to spend), or have the space to store something big. We just wanted to potter, to mess about on the water. You know how it is.
When I told people that we were going to Morocco for six nights they all spoke of the colour, the crowds, the hum of those narrow streets. And that set my expectations. Expectations that our first experience seemed to cement: following a stranger – who carried our bags while we held onto our wide-eyed wonder – through a central square of fire-silhouetted figures, and drums beating, and raw, wild energy. This, we thought, was Marrakech.
“To those who are enthralled by mountains, their wonder is beyond all dispute.
To those who are not, their allure is a kind of madness.
What is this strange force that draws us upwards,
This siren song of the summit?”
– Robert MacFarlane, Mountain
I’ve been spending time with mountains. It started with the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival for a showing of ‘Mountain’. The film is a collaboration between director Jennifer Peedom, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and writer, Robert MacFarlane; an experiment in stomach-soaring cinematography, sparse narration by Willem Dafoe, and a soundtrack of original and classical music. The collaborators explore our changing relationship with the peaks over the last few hundred years. They note, but don’t push, concerns about the destruction that can accompany our quest for the summit, or a high-speed descent down it. They hint at the inequality of relationships – those touristing to the top and the sherpas who get them there (“those that have the least, risk most”). There is admiration and terror of the heights – and the drops – to be found across this world.
Well, two hours fifteen minutes but that doesn’t have quite the same pith to it. And what a two hours fifteen minutes it is. I’ve done some long train journeys in my time – 55 hours between Ulan Ude and Khabarovsk in Russia being my record – and it’s left me with a real taste for this form of travel. The trip on the Eurostar was no exception. I love the way train travel reinforces a sense of connection between destinations – you see one slip away and another emerge out the window; a contrast with the cloud-covered ascent and descent of flight.
If you’re seeking countryside, the quiet, the expanse, it’s a good start when your destination’s arrival instructions tell you “the road is marked unpassable for cars, but it’s fine if you go slowly” (and it was). This was the beginning of our week staying in a barn in ‘the last valley in Devon’.
Holidays have always been a big part of family life for me. Each year as a family we would have a treasured three weeks traveling together, moving every few days, keen as we were to keep exploring new places. We’d take a stash of books that we’d all work our way through, sharing hushed conversations about unexpected twists in the tales, away from those who had not yet read them. As most of our holidays took place on boats, we’d often dine on delicious locally-caught seafood in small tavernas. Continue reading