Outside

Shropshire Union

I write this sitting in the campervan in the dark, something over 100 miles due west of Heckington. We’re parked at a marina beside the Shropshire Union Canal: very English, very rural but different to the landscape we left this afternoon. This is border country; green hills and mists of Wales beckon, instead of cold marshes and bracing winds.

A nice surprise at the pub tonight was a gig by a young singer-songwriter called Heidi Browne (www.heidibrowne.co.uk). Her dad sang I Can’t Stand the Rain, but I love it against the van windows. It’s a tiny campsite and we’re in the car park, but walking to the toilet block in the rain and the dark, it is every campsite I’ve ever stayed on and my spirits lift.

I remember this feeling of freedom, expansion, contentment from every year that we used to camp in France when family were younger. Now I have it when I walk down the garden or to the garage, or to the field with the dog. Now I wonder how I didn’t know how much I craved outdoor space; or how, knowing it, I let myself live without it for so long.

When my two-year old granddaughter visits, the first thing she does on coming downstairs in the morning is run to the back door and try to open it. ‘Outside! Outside!’ she cries. I know just how she feels.

Audlem Wharf

Bumpy way home

Peak District

I’ve mentioned before (Heckington, Grantham, Doncaster, Manchester) how the train from Manchester to Sheffield passes through lovely Derbyshire scenery. I captured a swift peek (no pun intended…) through the train window on my way home from sweet day with daughter and grandbabies. More rural England, but with bumps.

I’ve lost what little tolerance I once had for Manchester traffic. Out on a walk I was so happy once off the streets of Gorton and onto the Fallowfield Loop cycle track, surrounded by trees and birdsong instead of cars. It’s a pity there are so many disused railway lines, but lovely when, as with this one, they have become peaceful green corridors for bikes, dogs, grandmothers and toddlers.

And now I’m at Nottingham, safely on the little train to Heckington. Feels like home already; even though part of my heart is left behind, over the Pennines, in the smoke.

Flat vs bumpy

Road to Walcot

A friend says she likes my blog but so much open space and sky (in the photos) makes her feel dizzy. She comes from West Yorkshire, an up and down sort of place.

A woman at my pottery class speaks of growing up near Skegness, in a place so flat and open you could see people coming from miles away. She says hills make her feel trapped and closed in.

The grandeur, the silence, of hills and mountains inspire me with awe; as in a forest or cathedral, I have that sense of the whirling, busy world stopping for a moment on its axis.

But here, in these flatlands, there is another kind of awe, a sense of huge freedom and fresh wind blowing away the cobwebs of the mind. I love the way the sky is always a big part of the picture (as in this photo taken on the road between Newton and Walcot). And against this emptiness, under the great bowl of sky, people, animals, birds busy themselves with all the tiny, important details of daily life.

What is it that connects us to a particular landscape? Is it early home or later love? Whatever place does it for you, whether flat or bumpy, one thing I’m sure of: a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

As always, tap or click on the photo to get a bigger, maybe better version.

Heckington, Grantham, Doncaster, Manchester…

Grantham

Four railway stations I’ll have visited between 10 o’clock and 5 o’clock today; each one bigger than the last. Tomorrow I’ll do the journey in reverse, together with daughter and family, coming for a few days visit – nice treat for me! Today I’ve been sat alone on trains, checking email and reading cheery documents about the likely impact of Universal Credit. Tomorrow I expect instead to be entertaining small grandchildren during the rigours of the journey. Only now do I remember that I meant to bring with me a new book called Maisie’s Train… Oh well.

The picture above is Grantham station, with the little train I get on at Heckington just pulling out on its way to Nottingham.

Last time I did this journey it was dark by the end of the afternoon. The year has moved on a little so today there’s light for me to see the Peak District between Sheffield and Manchester out of the train window; those smooth green hills stunning even under dark, lowering rainclouds. As at home, in that very different landscape, the green of the fields has a strange intensity as twilight falls.

Time passes and travel is such a strange thing: it seems only moments since I was looking out on those grassy, ancient slopes, but now it’s dark, I’m on the tram and Manchester is all shops and lights and rain.

Change at Cornbrook: a cold wind blowing as always, but worth it for the sunset over a city skyline.