I often begin the day with a walk from my home to the beach. I generally follow the same route, with occasional slight variations. The fresh air wakes me up and the exercise is beneficial. It is also an opportunity to think; often I contemplate my writing. Sometimes it is more like a form of meditation. Being close to nature is uplifting and good for the soul. It inspires the creative spirit and nurtures the imagination.
I usually start by walking through the garden, noticing the bursting buds on the many trees we have planted and pop into the polytunnel to check on the progress of seedlings or the size of the over-wintered cauliflower. Then I hop over the fence, cross a field cropped short by sheep and climb the small hill. From the top I can see the hills of Sutherland beyond the Dornoch Firth, an ever changing view of sky and sea and land, where the incongruous bulk of Dunrobin Castle’s French renaissance style backside throbs like a thorn in the side of the cruel history of its infamous erstwhile Duke.
More pleasing at this time of year are the signs of the slow northern spring. Below the hill a swathe of gorse, fulfilling its role as a pioneer plant, is enabling a gradually establishing woodland to emerge above its prickly canopy. Dozens of elder have colonised the area with a few hawthorn, willow and a solitary ash. The display of gorse flowers, as more and more blossom appears daily on each bush, matches the colour of yellowhammers’ heads. Birdsong fills the air and hundreds of little winged things flit back and forth busily preparing nests and establishing territories.
The beach, where yesterday I saw a fishing osprey, is a sandy inlet with areas of weedy rocks where I occasionally see otters. I squat on the dunes to rest and observe the bird life. Depending on the time of year this can include various waders and ducks, terns, sand martins and the ubiquitous oyster-catchers, the raucous pied pipers of the shore.
Strolling back over the fields the skylarks’ mad yet beautiful twittering reminds me of Ireland where I first heard them on holiday many years ago. It was that rural respite that first inspired us to move from the South of England to somewhere with more space, where we could grow trees and fruit and vegetables and live a home based lifestyle of craft and sustainability more in harmony with nature. We have renovated an unloved and abandoned croft house and created a woodland garden from neglected and abused land. We are still here 22 years later; we have put down roots, literally, and have no intention of moving.