This last year has been a period of change; settling back into a country, a life here. I had no idea where it would take me when I first stepped off the aeroplane, but 12 months later I find myself firmly ensconced in Bristol once again, a wonderful group of friends to hand, made up of a pleasing mix of old and new faces. I have not one, but three jobs I adore and that utilise my skills and challenge me in new and different ways. I make time to write, and sometimes the words come out. I’m pushing myself outside my comfort zone and happy to see the evolving nature of the work that pours forth.
But most of all, over the last year, I’ve fallen, quite honestly, totally head over heels in love with this land. I’ve always held a certain regard for the countryside; childhood life took me on daily walks, and my twenties saw me roaming out into its reaches with increasing regularity. But this last year I’ve fallen hard.
At first, the farm visits took me beyond the city limits, leading me down winding country lanes and to places I didn’t even know existed; I started to see that behind the hedgerows and gates, another world existed. Walks up north with my sister took me onto moorland and the wildness there reminded me why I’d begun to love walking so much in Canada. I started to disappear off occasionally at weekends, utilising a collection of walks and maps my sister had cut out of magazines for me, slowly learning the landscape that existed outside the city limits.
Then in May I had an urge to venture on my own for more than just a day trip. I headed to Pembrokeshire, and my planned four days of writing turned into four days of walking as I delighted in the coast path that stretched endlessly in front of me. I conquered my fear of not being able to do it. I walked 12 mile days, then got up the next morning and relished the next section with excitement. From that point on, it became an almost weekly occurrence. I would grab my walking boots, stuff a few snacks in a daypack and head for the hills. 6 miles no longer seemed enough, barely a leg stretch, and 8 or 10 miles became the norm. I sometimes invited company but, more often than not, sought the solitude that walking alone brings. The headspace proved the perfect antidote to the fullness of city life.
What started out as a remedy to maintain my mental health then evolved further. I started to stop and observe my surroundings. I delved into the writings of Robert Macfarlane and began seeing the countryside with eyes anew. I began looking for the words to describe what I saw, my love of language connecting with my love of nature. I saw beauty everywhere. The rolling hills with a lattice of fields and hedgerows that harked back to land divisions centuries old. The coast paths that wound their way through alliterating headlands and bays, continuing in an eternal loop of our island. The gullies that provide solace and hidden worlds, deep in their chasms. The changing landscape, both with the passing of the seasons but also with increases in altitude and altered topography. On the same walk I observed the end of blackberry season in one section, the fullness of the berries in another, and bushes covered in the unripe redness in a third.
I began to witness the wildlife that was there all along. From the humble dung beetle on a mission to somewhere only it knows, to a kestrel tucking into its prey nervously at the edge of a clearing. I paused to watch deer as they cross my path, and file away a magical moment of shared eye contact with a reclusive fox as it crossed a road ahead of me. I saw the bees hunting for nectar and the dragonflies lining streams. I started to notice the geology of the landscape; curious formations of rocks on coastlines and beaches. I found myself stopping to touch things, to feel the difference between the rocks I see.
All of this was there before, but my mind was not. I was too distracted by my own thoughts or lost in conversation to notice it. I’ve begun to choose the path less hurried; possibly why I’ve come to favour my own company when walking, so I can stop and pause without having to explain. I sometimes pick odd stops for breaks; sheltering under a lone oak tree so I can watch the grey clouds rolling in. I find myself favouring walks where the journey is the point, avoiding those where the peak is the aim of the walk; a coast path is a constant constellation of new perspectives, with each twist and turn bringing unexpected angles and surprises.
I am thankful to have found this. To discover happiness in an old woods, inhabited by a familiar cast of trees and shrubs. To find wonder in the waves crashing on cliffs and the salty air on my lips. To feel free on a moor, buffeted by the wind and smelling the floral scent of heather. To be content wandering down country lanes and observing the immense variety of plant and animals in the hedgerows around me. To know peace, sat by a river. To find love around every corner.