Just after 5am the Friday before last, we loaded ourselves and the cats into an already jam packed car and drove down the Autoroute du Mont Blanc for the last time in the foreseeable future. It was probably just as well that it was dark, so we couldn’t be reminded of how beautiful this place we were leaving is; so we wouldn’t be distracted by the towering crags where we’d spent so many blissful summer days, climbing until our muscles ached and our fingers bled and our tummies cried out for dinner, a dinner that would be pulled from the garden and eaten in the quiet mauve of dusk.
We sped across France and crawled up England through Friday traffic and omnipresent road works, and somewhere just before the Scottish border I fell asleep and woke up in Aberdeen. We had no bedding that first night, but were too tired to care, falling unconscious beneath our down jackets and dressing gowns, too tired to worry about our heavy hearts.
That came the next day, of course, as we braved the bustling town centre to buy work shirts and sheets and were reminded of what an awfully long way we have travelled. But there was recuperation, in the form of a dinner cooked by Ben’s Mum, and a wonderful, heartfelt gift, though I found it hard to accept the cries of “welcome home,” when it feels like anything but.
It’s been a little over a week now, and we are slowly settling into this new place and new routine. The purchase of several maps and climbing books has allowed us to dream about the summer and make the most of those winter days when the sun is strong and bright and life giving.
Sometimes, when I think about France, it feels like a dream; as if we moved here straight from London. And then I look at the photographs, and I think, were we really that lucky?
But when I sit in the kitchen in the morning, as I am now, watching the day grow light, watching the delicate frost on the hedges slowly retreat with the sun, watching the spidery fingers of the leafless trees probing the pale sky, I can pretend that there are no other houses and no football pitch between me and the distant hills that I see from my window. Their gentle swells are nothing like the awesome, jagged peaks of the Alps, but they beg to be explored just the same.
And closer, on a nearby rise of land, there is a stand of trees that reminds me of a series of books my brother and I read as children about talking cats and witches and highwaymen. As if I might look out there one night and see a fire flickering amidst the elderly trunks, a fire that tells you this is where the magic happens…