The trusted Land Rover bumps up and down and over the dirt road – the one I’ve taken so many times I know the potholes, minor craters and cavities like I’ve got them etched out like a map in the palms of my hands. The sound of the barking Rottweiler is fading and I like how the feeling of familiarity slowly takes a gentle hold over me. The turn is the same. The steep recline is the same. The sharp bent and then the quick halt before the gate is familiar. Jumping out of the car is familiar. I am greeted with the sight that I’ve seen for over two months just the year before. It feels like travelling back in time. It’s weird how easily I fall back into it, like I slip that old life back on like a glove. The daily routine – one that I left for over a year – is the same also; we pass the hours before late tea by wandering around the acres of grass, sporadic cows and miniature forests where rabbits speed away, frightened by the dogs.
I am not travelling back in time – I am travelling back to little pieces of myself, the memories I’ve left behind and in between I transcend back into today, only to dip back into the past as I realise how much I have left behind here.
With our backs to the house, we stroll down the dwindling road that’s more of a somewhat permanent indentation in the grass of the many times the tractor drove through than it is a road. There is are a few metres where we walk up and then I’m back to the first time I was here.
I gaze around, so unsure of what exactly I’m looking at, overwhelmed with how much of what I’m looking at, that I’m not actually seeing anything at first. Then my mind calms down and I take an organised approach and let my eyes float from left to right slowly. The view over this outstretched part of land is incredible. There are the ever-green hills on my left, the sea of grass where the waves are the curves of the earth. I can see the little church and the partially hidden graveyard down at their feet. A little further – it seems like such a short walk, but I’ve walked it and it’s not – there is Dovedale, still as impressive, still as welcoming and still as beckoning. It is a matter of having-been-there rather than knowing-how, how the stream of soft rushing water runs between the two hills that stand like pillars and the river like a lover’s hand between the breasts of a woman. Then there are the surrounding hills that I know have names, usually named after farmers that lived there hundreds of years ago, like Cliffe Top Farm, but I can’t remember them. Somewhere on the right, in the unknown that is known only because I’ve walked there – twice. Once when we took a long morning walk and visited an old, abandoned and in-dire-state farmhouse. The second time I ran passed the road on a morning run, not going all that fast because the road was steep and it was hot.
I smile when I see the fields where I know the brown cows are, with cute little white spots dashed their heads like freckles, and remember how sad I felt when Mace was being chased by a small herd of them. He’s been afraid of cows ever since. I tell her all this, briefly, allowing her glimpses into the past that I’m sure I’ve shared with her before, but this time is different. This time I get to point at something real, something in the distance, and tell her ‘remember when I told you?’ & ‘ it was right there’.
I guide us through the little ‘forest atop the hill’, point at the exact same spot where I stood when filming the view and explaining that this is the highest point but not necessarily the best spot for the views. I shove my finger in the air and guide her eyes to one of my favourite places – the small recession in the hand-built stone wall where I went to watch the sunrises, hurrying out of my little caravan with a cup of tea and a cigarette, quite often still in my pyjamas and the legs of my pyjama bottoms tucked in my boots because the grass was always still wet and damp. The memories are so present here that I can see Mace darting through the grass, knowing where we’re going and running out ahead, his nose in the air ir between the white spots of dandelions as he dashes through.
I’m glad it’s windy because that’s how I remember this part. I’m also glad it’s windy because we turn around and walk around the trees for a while and the wind disappears. I can feel the softness of the moss growing through my boots and I can see myself sitting here – escaping from the wind, catching the last of the sun before it disappears behind the treeline, writing or just watching how things change when it feels like they don’t change. Like they could never change.
We walk back down to the farm and then take the climb up to the second highest hill here, where the view is better to the one side, the road on the other side. If you forget the road, or look passed it so that it fades, then there is that other view. The one that is more mighty than the view I’m so used to, but because life on the other side of the ridge we’re standing on is so distant, so far away, riddled with the public footpaths I’ve only walked a couple of times, the grass fields left unexplored because we were busy climbing Thorpe’s Cloud or dipping our toes in the creek that runs through Dove Dale, or finding secret passage ways that after only a week were no longer secret because they were now traced with familiarity.
But no – it’s not the fact that those seas of stringy grass are left unexplored that makes them so removed, it’s the fact that they’re on the outside – they are not part of the world that exists here. They are an other realm. An other world. I turn and slip back into the world I know, where it’s like being safely harboured after a long journey, with another long journey still ahead.
This country is forever beckoning.
(ABOVE: From the archives, England 2015.)