Thursday, 17 January 2008

Northern Lights

On Sunday: I packed a bag, locked up the house, loaded the dogs into the back of the car and headed off for the North of Scotland. I was going to visit some very special friends.

Owing to Hudson not having a driving licence (and Ripley being a girl and therefore congenitally unable to drive), I thought it prudent to break the journey overnight. I had booked a B & B somewhere in the Lake District. By early evening, the car was splashing its way slowly along the narrow lanes to the West of Lake Windermere, through a soft, yet persistent rain that shone like silver lametta in the headlights. Warm within, I carefully scanned each farm sign as we passed until, eventually, we arrived at Esthwaite Old Hall.

Helga, whose cheery welcome belied her somewhat intimidating name, showed us to our room and, later, after a meal and a pint at the King's Head in the village below, the dogs and I curled up on the large, four-poster bed and watched an old black-and-white film on the television. Ripley thought the acting a little wooden. As always these days, my sleep was ably assisted by old Laphroaig whom I had brought with me in a hipflask: my dream genie.

In the morning, after breakfasting and settling-up with Helga, Hudson Ripley and I climbed the fell above Esthwaite Water and lost ourselves. After several hours tramping about in the rain, we eventually found the track which led us back down to where I had left the car. Much later than planned, we continued our journey North.

We sliced through Glasgow on the motorway and took the beautiful A82 which runs beside Loch Lomond, climbing slowly towards the Highlands. The last time I had been on that road had been twelve years before. With Ann.

It was the Spring of 1996 and I had managed to secrete a week between the end of my first six months' pupillage (apprenticeship) in Southampton and my "second six" at 5, Paper Buildings in the Temple. Ann had persuaded a university friend to lend us his parents' holiday cottage and I had persuaded my tired old car to carry us there.

The cottage was of the 'Canadian chalet' style; all wooden verandah and plate glass. It had been built just a few feet from the banks of Loch Fyne. Our evenings were spent on rugs in front of the log-burning stove and we passed our days walking and cycling.

One day, we had driven to some remote place and then walked for hours on the moors, exploring, following old drover's trails and sheep paths. I remember that we picnicked amongst the heather, looking down on a roofless long-house. It's clean, stone walls seemed newly-quarried, crisp grey against the rich green of the mossy grass which surrounded it, apparently immune to the hundred or so years which had passed since the last crofter had closed the door and walked away.

Later that afternoon, whilst circling back towards the car, we came upon a fast-flowing stream that cut straight across our path. The stream appeared too wide and too fast to ford and there was certainly no time left in which to retrace our steps before darkness fell. I began to worry. It was very warm for the time of year, but the nights were cold enough to preclude any possibility of spending a night on the moors.

"We'll have to try to cross," I told Ann. She looked doubtful.

"Are you sure we need to cross it?"

I spoke in a poor parody of a Native American tracker's accent.

"Car there." I pointed North. "We here; river in between." I gestured appropriately.

Ann rolled her eyes. I pretended not to notice and indicated various parts of the stream. "We could get to that rock there; then, if we could find a tree branch or something, we could bridge that bit..." I tailed off as I saw Ann shaking her head. I pursed my lips.

"Look, I'll try it. It can't be that difficult!" I scrambled down the bank and stepped gingerly out onto a wet rock. I turned back to Ann. She was staring into the distance. "See!" I exclaimed as I wobbled precariously on my perch. Ann ignored me.

"Back in a minute," she said. Then she disappeared.

"Hey!" I shouted. But there was no response. Slightly annoyed, I positioned myself for the next stage of the crossing and then leaped from one rock to the next, nearly slipping as I landed. I continued doggedly in this manner for half an hour or so, hopping, zig-zagging, advancing and retreating, never reaching further than the middle of the stream. I was about to give up when I noticed that Ann had reappeared. She was sitting on the bank , watching me.

"Oh, you're back are you?"

Ann nodded and bit into an apple.

"Well, I think I may finally have cracked it..." I started. "Hey, where did you get that apple?"

Ann grinned.

"From the car", she replied.

"What? How...? Where...? I stammered, confused. Ann pointed West, away from the stream.

"Car there; we here; river irrelevant" she replied.

If Ann had been with me on that hillside in the Lake District, I wouldn't have been nearly so lost.

At a little before eight O'clock on Monday evening, having crossed most of the snowy, Scottish Highlands, I pulled into the driveway of my friends' stone house by the sea. Although Laphroaig made an appearance that night, for the first time in a long time, I felt that his friendship might not be quite so necessary.


Kitty said...

Lovely to 'see' you Philip. Hope you and the dogs have a lovely time at Tracy's. Take care. x

A Saucerful Of Secrets said...

Hi Philip, what a lovely post. Have a great time way up there. Best wishes from Annie x

Hilda May said...

nice one!...
Rachel x

Katie twinkles said...

Lovely post. Have a simply wonderful time. x

trashalou said...

Have Goodum Holiday Paleface.

Kat-in-a-flap. said...

Oh mister.....I think she was with you all the way,she just wanted you to see you could do it for yourself !!!!
Hope you feel some peace and some rest for your soul while you are with friends.
Keep Buggerin' in ....

Kat x

Leanne said...

that post made me smile. nice to see you back Philip, enjoy your break in scotland.
leanne x

Gill at Lucy Locket said...

"Woman with wise head on shoulders" always know better than "Man who jumps in feet first". Enjoy being with your lovely friends in Scotland, look forward to hearing from you again.

françoise said...

Enjoy Philip! And please tell them that more news on the sheep would be nice. It's 9 degrees F here, I hope it'll be a little warmer for you!

Jane said...

I'm glad that you are chez cupcakes - good friends, good chat, someone to share the whisky.
But most of all to stop Tracy from taking bloggers advice on naming that poor pup - it will end up as tinkerbell or popsicle.

Jane said...

Hope you have a good break in the Highlands Philip. Jane x

Tracy's Mum said...

Give my Darling tracy a big hug from me,I know you will be well and truly loved,cuddled,licked...enjoy.
Tracy's Mumx

Studio Christine said...

oh dear.

a laugh-out-loud story.

and I think the dogs would have been on Ann's side too!

mollycupcakes said...

Great post Philip,
your a very good storty teller, I was right there with you watching from the other side of the river lol
Hope you had a nice time at Tracy's, she's wonderful isn't she?
Catherine x

françoise said...

ça va, Philip?

Nin said...

Nice to see you back, I hope you had a marvellous time with Cupcakes!

Anonymous said...

Hello Philip,

I, too, lost my life's partner last September, but, unlike your good self, I lack the courage to set out the joys and the agonies of what it means to find someone, to love them and then to loose them.
I have read and re-read your lovely, wonderful love story a million times through a million tears, and now feel that its something that transcends the apparent simplicity of a Blog, and deserves the permanence of print.....

Katie twinkles said...

Peek-a-boo Philip x

How are you filling your days? Like the reader before me I can only admire the enormous talent you put into writing your,often far apart, blogs. They are powerful and wonderful when they arrive.
I hope that your silence is healing for you.
take care x