Wobbling backward and forward, as the train bumps along, I watch the world bathed in the light of a late summer evening passes by outside. Illicit tents hidden among trees, people and cows alike entirely nonplussed by our passage, and advertising in garish colours pitched for train users such as myself emblazon slogans across the inside of my skull.
I travel up the West Coast Mainline to Scotland on a fairly regular basis, but there is always a gasp – sometimes internal, sometimes external – that emerges, as the towns subside and make way for the hills and mountains of the Lake District.
The landscape, filled with (almost) every shade of green, grey and brown stretches in every direction, filled with patterns, texture, and shadow as gullies cut into mountains or rocks are exposed. Countless paths entice me to take them, meandering along a river (my preferred direction is upstream – we always know where rivers eventually end up), or hiking up mountains – the upper reaches hidden behind a cloud veil; endless opportunities to explore collapsing shacks, historic buildings, rock formations, and copses.
Standing in the middle of this – surrounded by crickets, stones and sheep (there are always sheep), you are freed from observation, from the constraints of time, from the busy-ness of others. The silence and space to think, feel and observe pull you away from the mundane or day to day, and give you space to work through the big thoughts and focus on what is really important – before returning to daily life refreshed and anew.
Even the act of remembering previous adventures and explorations, while staring from a brightly lit tube out on to these hills, is enough to refresh. It’s enough to make me wonder, every time, how I can return to living in properly rural communities again, in all their breath-taking beauty, isolation, and harshness.
(Part inspired by the train journey up, in part inspired by playful comments made in this article – which part reminded me that while I love exploring cities, it has absolutely nothing on walking in the countryside)