Snowdrops and camellias are two of my favourite flowers.
Snowdrops, because they’re tiny pearls of light in the big midwinter dark – they set the ground on fire with the promise of spring. Camellias, because they’re the roses of winter – magical flowerfalls of colour sitting alongside the steely skeletons of trees.
Add a splash of glittering sunshine into the mix?
Well, that right there is a recipe for happiness and a heavy January heart made light.
My brother and his girlfriend are down from London over the holidays with their seven month old miniature dachshund, Remi.
Remi is ADORABLE. He’s cuteness and mischief and cuddles and fabulousness on four tiny legs; with a heart of gold, the smooshiest little face, the floppiest and fluffiest ears you ever did see, and a nose that’s perfect for booping.
On Sunday, we took him to Studland beach for his first trip to the seaside.
He loved it. And it was the loveliest thing to see him discovering a whole new world; see him sallying forth into a great unknown; see his first steps on the sand; see his nose covered in it too; see him meet the sea, smell the water, paddle along the bubbly edges of it and look out at the horizon. Probably the biggest and widest horizon he’s seen so far. Poole, Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight, Old Harry Rocks, the silky silver English Channel, cloud after cloud after cloud. He took it all in his perfect, wibbly wobbly stride.
The beach was busy – but Remi’s a city dog, a seasoned pro in busyness, so he wasn’t fazed. He made lots of new furry friends and won himself lots of human admirers too.
And watching him got me feeling all philosophical.
(What can I say? I just like overthinking.)
To be fair, the end of a year and the dawn of new one always makes me reflective. What did I learn? What did I do with my life? Did I make the most of the last twelve months? What do I want to learn and do in, and how do I make the most of, the next twelve? I don’t really know how to answer those questions properly. They probably aren’t truly answerable.
All I do know is I want to be a bit like Remi meeting the sea over the next twelve months – constantly curious, open to the unknown, finding joy in the little things, and quietly confident I’ll be up to the challenge of what’s in store.
I probably won’t look quite as cute as him though.
It’s only a few more days until winter is officially over here, and I am so, so ready to say goodbye to it. Readier than I have ever been. I’ve tried to embrace the last few months, tried to get on board with the constant tingle of cold gnawing at my bones. I’ve tried to appreciate sludgy snow, biting winds, silver grey skies, short sharp days, and spattering rain; tried to embrace my inner ice queen. I have so, so tried. Really and truly.
But my heart wants spring now, right this very minute, more than it has ever wanted spring before.
I want blooming flowers and zesty bright greens. I want long, long days and I want evenings spent laughing in slowly, gently, softly dying light. I want to lounge in warm, golden sunshine with a book, blossom tumbling from the trees, bees humming through the air. I want strawberries that are fresh and juicy and sweet. I want floaty dresses and flip flops. I even want SPF 50 sunscreen.
There’s just the matter of those tricksy few more days to get through.
I’ll be spending them how I’ve tried to spend the rest of winter: walking off the cold, walking off the grey, walking off the cabin fever.
And, of course, there’ll be the odd bit of reading thrown in too.
It’s been over a month, and I still dream of the sky. It was all fire and bruising purples, peachy pinks and electric blues. It was the deepest navy pinpricked with the shiniest stars. It was never-ending shards of multi-coloured light severing through the dark. It was glittering fireworks, and it was a sun so bright it burned the tops of my ears purple and my scalp a furious red. It was a sky speckled with tight-rope walkers and flying trapeze artists. It was a sky filled with dust that whipped into eyes and flags streaming in the breeze and a ferris wheel with rickety seats. It was confetti and it was the moon. And it was butterflies, so delicate and quiet in the middle of all the chaos and noise.
If you look too long into the green the green will eat you up. It will wind its way around your heart and its splintered roots will lodge inside your bones. Underneath your skull, a whole forest will unfurl and make your thoughts a muddle. You’ll try to leave it, try to live beyond it, but you’ll find your soul ensnared, find it calling you back, pulling you back, painting your blood and staining you through.
The sun is burning hot and the sea shimmers a thousand beautiful blues.
We pick our way down a washed-away jumble of steps and baked mud, beyond a sign that says not to go further. The beach is toasty under my soles and tingly around my toes.
We set up camp half way round the bay and I strip quickly down to my bikini, head straight to the water because if I don’t get in now I never will.
The water is sharp and cold, a shock, a relief, icy as it slicks across my goose-bumpled skin. It cloaks me, hides me. I float, I swim, paddle, sit, stand, wriggle till I’m soaked through to my blood, salty down to my bones.
And I stay longer and longer, a fear bubbling under my skin until the cold forces me to ignore the fear.
Getting out is the worst part because my head hates my body, even though my body doesn’t really deserve to be hated.
Somewhere lost – very lost – inside me, I know that. I know it but still I don’t believe it.
The short walk back to our spot makes me, ridiculously, want to cry.
The towel is my saviour, a shroud, a thin paisley-strewn defence against eyes that will surely hate my body too if they glimpse it.
A book is my saviour too, releases me from my self.
Butterflies dance over pebbles, brush across my knees. They save me as well.
And the skylarks, they save me. They sing and sing, cheep and cheep, and they lull me away from the thoughts that circle round like vultures desperate to pick apart, literally, my flesh.
As we head back, back up those jumbly stairs, back up a very hilly hill, I try to love my legs, love every sinew, every muscle, every bit of cellulite – the real bits and the (apparently) imagined bits – as every one of them helps me back to the car, but I struggle to undo over half-a-life’s worth of muddled thinking. Of being and knowing and believing.
At 36 pages, Holloway by Robert Macfarlane isn’t the longest read on the planet, but it was one of the nicest reading experiences I’ve had in a long time.
It’s teeny-tiny and delicate and cherishable, something to be picked up and reread every now and then. Something to get lost in for ten minutes. Something ‘within which ghosts softly flock’. It’s kind of like a prayer book – one where God is south Dorset (biased? me? *waves hand dismissively but guiltily*), gnarly knotted trees, sunken many-lives-haunted pathways, friendship, and quiet adventure.
The castle looms like it always does, a tangling mess of steely grey rock studded into tufted grass.
I try to ignore my hands as they turn redder and redder, try not to worry about the purple blotches growing in amongst the red.
I collect a ticket and hand it back in a minute later, after the bridge, after the wobbly entrance arch, after getting attached to it and feeling like I don’t want to hand it in (the hoarder in me wants to keep it, as if not keeping it will mean I have never been).
Beyond the entrance, there are stocks to the left. A memory of sticking my head and hands in it years ago flurries round my head. My lungs remember how much my sister and I laughed that day.
Up, up, up goes the path, and I follow.
More paths, more steps.
The views are beautiful. Fields and trees and hills and tantalizing sunbeams falling far away.
Heart slowing, lungs calming, I stop with one hand pressed against a towering chunk of wall that’s angled very unhow a wall should be angled. The picture of it crumbling, the feel of it giving way, floods my head. Maybe it’s best to move on.
Walk, slip, trip.
Broken hallways hiss with icy gusts of wind. Walls are painted green with veils of moss and drip with sticky rain. Elsewhere, they are blotchy with lichen, a mix of grubby white and sickly yellow that blurs into the grey.
The sound of children playing on their lunchbreak twinkles all around the air, filling it with echoes of playful happiness. The sound of traffic buzzes like it buzzes almost everywhere. I wish I could eavesdrop on the sounds of five hundred years ago and five hundred years from now, wish I could know who’s stood here before and who’ll stand here one day.
I take a turn. It leads to a dead end. I head back, try to refind the main path. I attempt to take a shortcut and slide inelegantly between a rock and a hard place. I pray there are no cameras to record my momentary wedgedness between aforementioned rock and hard place. I wonder if walking/shuffling through (getting slightly stuck in) a wall makes me some sort of ghost. I worry I might’ve just frightened someone in the fifteenth century.
Soggy steps lead downwards.
I look up as the sun bubbles through a patch of clouds. It’s framed by one of the many derelict windows and I try to take a nice photo, but, no matter how many I take, none of them look better, none of them shine brighter, than the real-time thing. Away goes the phone.
I head back down the hill, trying not to slide down the cobblestones, trying not to surf down the grass.
The castle looks smaller than it feels in my head when I look back up, and I’m not sure if I’ve imagined it big or my eyes have tricked it small.
I came here looking for something. I don’t know what exactly. I don’t even know if I found it. I hope so.
Come and walk where the trees burn with rainbows! Join us in a land of magic and wonder, where colours bleed into the sky and claw their way towards the stars, where darkness is made bright! Ladies and gentlemen, follow us to a place where the air is so cold your lungs will turn it white, a place so cold your skin will bump with gooses!
Roll up, roll up, and keep your eyes wide open!
And please, ladies and gentlemen, remember to stay with us on the paths!
For we cannot help you beyond the lights. We cannot help you in the dark.
You know the saying “blow the cobwebs away”? After walking at Durdle Door today, I’m pretty sure I’m sorted on the cobwebs front for life.
It was so – so, so, so – windy. My face hurt. My ears hurt. My eyes hurt. My eyelashes even hurt, as the air tried its best to burrow into my eye sockets and brain.
Between the steps down to Man O’ War beach and the steps to Durdle Door, the air funnelled through so hard it was like being battered in the face and chest. I thought, at one point, my shirt and jacket might sink through my skin, tear through my ribs, and rip out through my spine, leaving a tangly mess of me and my clothes in the churning sea below.
Luckily, that didn’t happen. Which is good, because it means I can go again sometime.