I’m standing on the corner of the main junction just before Portslade train station. My backpack is heavy with all the things we’ve collected over the past few months – this collecting suppressed during the first few months, but gradually let go off as the prospect of my mother arriving with her car came nearer. During my years as a student, I always thought there was only a certain number of books one could possibly carry, but I’ve changed my mind on that for sure. One can never carry enough books. Buying books, apart from obvious reasons, has also become my way of collecting little souvenirs that I bought instead of the tourist-y nothings, clothes or postcards. There’s a secondhand book on film photography from Robin Hood’s Bay in my bag. A novel from Waterstone’s in London, naturally. I’ve got an amazing little book on war and terror bought from the highest bookshop in England – Bookstore Brierlow Bar near Ashbourne. Another piece of literature, photography also, from a bookshop in Brighton.
I did manage to refrain myself from buying the complete collection of Edgar Allan Poe when stumbling across it in a narrow, cosy, mum’s-attic-alike bookshop in Buxton – I think. Not because it was too expensive or too heavy, but simply because it was too big and would not fit in with the rest of all my stuff.
Apart from all the things I’ve left, I’m most certain I’ve left a trail of visited (secondhand) bookshops and I’ve left little pieces of myself in almost all of them as I gazed up at the rows and rows of books, trying to read all the titles and memorising them while keeping myself in check and not buying everything.
My mum is late and I wait patiently – I have given her clear directions of where to go and how to get there, knowing the area well enough already after only having arrived three days prior myself. Mace is, somehow, maybe, on the lookout too as if he knows she’s coming. I did tell him, so perhaps he understood. Or perhaps he’s keen to travel by car for a change, after so many miles travelling by train and bus.
It’s ironic, really – I still stand at that junction, a weak breeze carrying the salty sea-air and the sunlight on my face and I’m still there. Just like I still got my feet in the puddles of the Peak District, still driving down the winding roads in the Lake District with the gusty gale in my hair and rain on my window, up on the hills in Scotland, with the fishermen in the fishermen-towns of York, back in Beccles or at home in my London. But I’m not. I close my eyes and I am. But I’m not.
178 days. That’s four and a half days short of exactly half a year. But it are 4272 hours – though approximately only 1780 of those hours were spent awake. Almost six months. equal 106800 minutes. Roughly calculated, we’ve travelled well over 2200 kilometres/1400 miles on our own and then an additional 900 kilometres/600 miles, which makes a grand total of 3100km/2000 miles. And that doesn’t include the trips we’ve made – Beccles/Great Yarmouth isn’t included, Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Scalby aren’t added, just like Edinburgh and Glasgow (for the most northern point, Glencoe was used), the roads covered in the Lake District were drastically cut down to just ‘Windmere’ and I excluded Penrith, Otley, and about 70% of the Peak District that has been covered isn’t on the list, and though I was more accurate with the stops made during our trip to Devon/Dorset, I think the mileage only covers about 60-70%.
As I’m looking at these figures, these numbers, 188 days later after coming home (188 days, that’s five and a half day longer than exactly half a year, 4512 of which approximately 1880 hours awake, a grand total of 270720 minutes) and they all mean nothing to me – it all falls short. 6 months of my life is nothing, especially not compared to my desires, my dreams, my longings to stay and turn those numbers into infinity.
I guess, though, covering over 3100km in the 178 days spent in the United Kingdom isn’t too bad. Perhaps I should count the pictures I’ve taken. Or the people I’ve met. Or the friendships I’ve made. Or the memories I brought with me.
Again – it’s not right. I only care about the things I left behind and all the memories I haven’t made. Yet.
Here we go, towards the last 10 days.
I spot my mum’s car and she turns onto the parking area before the railway tracks and not after – as I told her – and where I’m standing waiting. Dramatically heavier due to the backpack hanging from my shoulders, grabbing the second bag with all of Mace’s stuff, we waggle towards the other parking area, crossing the tracks of the station I already seem so familiar with, and are reunited with my mum and her own collie.
It’s been 4 months and 24 days (approximately 12 hours) since we’ve seen each other. Despite of this, our reuniting is brief, though bliss – perhaps it is because Brighton is in the not-to-far distance, beckoning. We hurry towards our AirBnB accommodation, drive back to Portslade and hop on the train.
We return hours later, when the sun has already set, and I enriched by yet another book to add to my collection.
For more on Brighton, go here.
Two days later – much too soon – we leave Brighton behind us and point our noses towards the long, long drive ahead of us. It’s not until after we stop seeing the signs for Bournemouth that excitement reaches a high point. We’ve never been this far. This is a territory unexplored. There are new things here – like those news things aren’t there where we’ve already been. We made a few stops along the way for a cup of tea, stretching our legs and letting the dogs out for a run, but now that the road is suddenly snaking and curvy as it follows the coastline we wanted to see (and thus avoided the mainstream, dull motorways) we are both torn between wanting to stop to have a look and continue to drive to see more.
We eventually pull the car to a halt at Abbotsbury for lunch on the beach and have our first encounter with the mighty Jurassic Coast – the enormous 95 miles of stretching coastline named fifth-greatest natural wonder in Britain and its cliffs housing 185 million years of geological history. Funniest thing is that while it is so well-known and famous, I have yet to find someone who can explain to me why it’s called the Jurassic Coast.
Travelling through (and, naturally, stopping at) Weymouth and Westbay, we eventually make it all the way to Axminster where we are greeted with the most pleasant of luxuries such long-distance travellers as ourselves can wish for: a cosy cottage on the side of a slow sloped hill with a view over the valley where the town of Axminster rests. That evening we fall asleep soundly in an early night, exhausted from the adventures of the previous days and ever so ready for the adventures yet to come.