” You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself flows in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars, till you so love the beauty of enjoying it you are earnest to persuade others to enjoy it too.”
Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations, taken from John Lewis-Stempel’s gorgeous Meadowland.
I have had one of those weekends that I will cherish for the rest of my life, a collection of beautiful, sparkling memories that will stay with me forever.
I’ve been down to stay with my very good friend (no, not in that way) Simon in his beautiful little self-built cottage at the bottom of a hill in stunning Galloway. He calls it a hut, but that really doesn’t do it justice.
The view from the front step, or as I prefer to call it “Temporary Mistress of All I Survey”.
I was there, ostensibly, to help Simon finish building his polytunnel. I would argue, however, that the hard work had already been done and I was just there to hold some plastic, offer words of encouragement, and be bloody useless with a ratchet; and in return I was gifted the most comfortable camp-bed in the world, a purring cat to coo over, the best bacon butties in Christendom, unlimited caffeine and – oh my god – fillet steak. From one of his own cows!
Polytunnel by coffee-break number 3 (approximately 8.30am. ON A SATURDAY! I KNOW, RIGHT?)
Polytunnel by the time we finished faffing with it on Sunday morning (it’s all planted and seeds sown inside too, I’ll have you know…)
There is something about the light in Galloway, particularly the evening spring light that bathes everything in a golden glow, touches the clouds, and highlights every single shade of green and brown; making the countryside we drive through look like an exquisite patchwork quilt gently rising and falling between hills and coast. It must be this light that made Kirkcudbright the town so beloved of painters and other artists, the St Ives of Scotland.
As we drove I could feel the stress drop off my shoulders, I could feel myself unwind. I knew what I could expect from Simon’s gaff – no TV, no internet (I was actually proved wrong on this point, O2 now have coverage but I’d prepared myself for a no-phone weekend and switched my phone off), no bleepy-deepy console noises. No traffic or neighbour noises. Just peace.
I hadn’t realised how much I needed peace. Really needed peace.
Once there, I realised I had forgotten the sound of the birds on the farm he shares. The trees are spruce, predominantly, and of course they attract some different birds to the ones that frequent my garden, or even the deciduous woods I frequent; and the cheerful, gossipy chatterings of what sounded like a million finches made me grin, it’s such a joyous sound.
Simon was very earnestly showing me his raised beds in the uncovered shell of the polytunnel and asking my advice on crop rotation and catch-cropping when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye in the field – a rabbit? No. Too athletic a build. Ears too big. A hare!
(Confession – I am 44 and have never knowingly seen a hare before, so this was a pretty big deal for me, particularly as everyone who knows me well knows I adore them and their pagan imagery).
Unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone on me to take a photo, and I knew Mr (or Mrs) Popoff wouldn’t be hanging around for long, so this is a memory that will have to stay in my brain rather than shared as an image, I’m afraid. (Mr or Mrs Popoff re-appeared several times over the weekend, always in a rush, and always when I didn’t have the means for photography handy, so I am taking that as some kind of sign).
Poor Simon, every time he would be talking to me, I would cut him dead and say ‘Oh, is that a …..? Did I just hear a ……? Oh look over / up there, what is that?’.
One of the best things about Simon’s is a) turning your phone off and not having a watch handy (don’t wear one and I don’t think he has a working clock – if he does, he hides it well!) and b) Having to get up in the night to go outside to the composting loo for a wee. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain because you have to get your boots on but…..
Oh. My. God. The stars. It is just absolutely unbelievable, you feel as though you might get sucked into them at any moment as they tower above you, so many of them. You can even see the Milky Way, and you get a dizzy sense of being so incredibly small and utterly overwhelmed by it all. It’s both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying, but breathtaking. Oh! For darker skies back home, even in Wales the volume of visible stars was nowhere near this – I have been to the Highlands and have never experienced anything as gorgeous as the Galloway stars. (About nine years ago, incidentally, we were camping in Creetown (also in Galloway) and saw the Perseids and that was absolutely stunning and worth catching if you are in a suitably dark-skies area – if you click ‘Perseids’ there, it will bring up a calendar of meteor shower events that you can plan for if so inclined).
Oh. My. God. The Dawn Chorus! Sunday was apparently International Dawn Chorus Day . I didn’t know this at the time, but clearly my bladder did, and I awoke just before sunrise to hear the most stunning birdsong. Birdsong is still something I need to learn, but I was able to identify blackbirds, robins, thrushes, a number of finches and tits and so many songs I just couldn’t recognise. I confess I may have sat on that composting loo for a little bit longer than I needed to, letting the sounds rain down on me; both trying to identify the different songs, and wanting to appreciate the full chorus.
So, about the not-knowing-the-time thing. Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful. Wood pigeons coo’d, cows lowed. A cockerel crowed. Small birds chattered overhead. The windchime did its gorgeous chiming in a light breeze. We woke, stretched, put the stove on, made coffee, dressed for working business, drank coffee, went outside, stretched plastic over polytunnel, worked out how to use the odd plastic strips to attach plastic to runners, affixed those (not an easy task!), cut wood for door-frame, adjusted plastic over front and back ends to make taut….
Decided to have breakfast because we’d been working for so long, and it was only 8.10am!
We carried on tweaking and adjusting, and re-tweaking and re-adjusting the polytunnel in between coffee breaks and me wandering off to look at something flying, growing or making moo sounds; and then we decided to head down to Threave Castle to see the Ospreys. It was an utterly stunning afternoon, and the farm silage cutters were out….and so were the red kites. I had seen a kite flying over Simon’s field earlier that day, and wondered if I would be lucky enough to see one again.
I wasn’t expecting to see twelve!
They are incredibly hard to photograph with a phone!
They are so languid and majestic as they wheel and drift on the air streams; to see one is an event – to see twelve of them moving together, working together, gently and proudly circling the fields, watching and waiting quite patiently for their moment of carrion reward was mesmerising. I couldn’t take my eyes of them, and my god, they are beautiful.
We saw the ospreys too, they came onto the scene – though largely ignored by the kites. The female was on the nest, the male was involved in a dog-fight with an interloping male osprey from elsewhere. The kites looked down their beaks at these shenanigans as being below them, and carried on as though they weren’t there.
Volunteers told us that peregrines nest in the top floor of Archibald The Grim’s Galloway bolt-hole of Threave Castle, and they like to terrorise the poor ospreys, but we didn’t see them.
Back home with cows (gorgeous Dexters) to feed, and a hand-reared sheep (Lamby) to make a fuss of, and an evil bastard sheep (Horny) to avoid; and fast asleep, sun-kissed, sober, filled with amazing fillet beef and absolutely shattered by 10pm – I think that was the best sleep I have had for years. I woke several times in the night, but just had a smug ‘I’m really cosy and happy’ smile to myself and drifted back off.
The morning involved more bacon (for there can never be enough bacon), more coffee, more appearances by Mr or Mrs Popoff the hare, the reappearance of the red kite (singular); and a beautiful accompaniment whilst riddling soil up the hill of a skylark’s song.
All too soon we had to abide by the clock again so I could catch my train home. It went far too quickly; but I think that makes it all the more precious. I have gathered these images, these views, these memories into my heart, and there they will remain.
Huge thanks to Simon on this, Mental Health Awareness Week for offering me a perfect getaway, and a blissful weekend that I really needed to re-calibrate my brain for the weeks ahead. There really aren’t words to describe how much this time meant to me. And thank you, of course, to Richard my lovely husband-to-be, for making it possible for me to experience this. Love you both to bits xx