I realised this evening that I’ve been home seven weeks, which is almost as long as I spent on boats between January and March. Hours have turned into days, into weeks and now months. Instead of the thousands of miles I had thought I would be sailing, the dozens of shores I was going to visit and tropical seas I’d swim in, I doubt I’ve travelled more than 5 miles from my shed, and usually by foot or pedal.
I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by fields and woodland, with coastline within walking distance in all directions except north. I’ve been able to walk to empty beaches and reconnect with my beloved sea (a good 15C colder than it was last time I swam in it the evening I left St Lucia).
As I walk the familiar footpaths, it’s not just the landscape I travel through but years of memories. It has been a blessing to rediscover old paths and hidden places from my childhood in the peace and quiet of lockdown, while nature has filled the spaces usually taken up by visiting tourists and missed in the rush of flying visits.
I have watched as spring has turned the trees a vivid green, as the grass has grown and as different wildflowers emerge each day. All but one of the 13 ewes at home have lambed now, and we have 17 bright and bold characters in the lamb gang, running through the fields together, ignoring their mothers’ bleats and climbing anything they can find.
The swallows have returned, and cuckoo’s call has echoed down the valley. The resident barn owls and tawny owls do the rounds at dusk, and a pair of pied wagtails have courted and nested in my garden.
A family of wood mice have taken up residence beneath the shed and the caravan. They are used to my presence now and I often see the grass moving and hear them chomping through the undergrowth, with the occasional beady eye shining through. After I blocked up the hole they were using to get into the caravan at night to nibble on my tender pea shoots, they have only gnawed the edges of my bar of soap on the table outside. Long may our happy coexistence continue.
And the garden. I’ve dug and I’ve sown and I’ve planted and I’ve sweated and ached and been semi-permanently covered in a fine layer of soil. Slowly but surely, soil has been revealed beneath the turf, and tiny seedlings have emerged from the bare ground and grown bigger every day.
And tonight, finally, I ate my first meal consisting not mostly of wild garlic foraged from the woods, but featuring produce I have grown. It may have only been two radishes and a handful of baby salad leaves, but I challenge you to find me a more tender, sweet or juicy radish, or a leaf with a shorter journey from soil to supper.
As I ate it, I sat on a bench in the last of the evening sun and reflected on the past few weeks. I have dug eight new beds in strips, and cleared the area between the shed and caravan for my salads, strawberries and (soon) tomatoes and cucumbers. I’ve planted potatoes, radishes, beetroot, carrots, turnips, kales, cabbages, leeks, fennel, squash, courgettes, far too many peas and beans and a whole bunch of flowers.
I have a caravan full of seedlings and herbs waiting to be planted out after this week’s cold nights have passed. (We had a frost a couple of nights ago which the squash and runner beans were not happy about).
I’ve created an outdoor shower, reusing parts from a solar shower that Alec put together a couple of years ago, and planted sweet peas around it to (eventually) grant some degree of modesty. Dad has even found me an old mast in the hay barn (?!) which I can lean against the opposite side of the wall to hoist my bucket of warm water from instead of a sail.
I’ve built a fence to keep the sheep out, and Tim and Beth spent a frustrating afternoon pulling rusty old hinges from the bonfire to create a functioning gate for me.
The turf I have taken off I am using to build a turf bench, which so far the sheep have enjoyed climbing and sleeping on more than we have sat on it, but hopefully it will be finished by the end of the weekend. The next project is to build a cob pizza oven, which Dad delivered a tractor bucket full of clay for this afternoon, removed from a new fence line he is putting in. Watch this space…
For now, I’m looking forward to sharing my (hopefully) abundant produce with as many visitors as possible once it is safe to do so.