As you may have gathered, I have been on holiday recently. I am usually content to spend my holidays in my flat, windows shut and curtains closed and desperately pretending that the world outside my door doesn’t exist and revealing in solitude. It’s an introvert’s favourite holiday. No hassle, no travel, no fuss and most importantly of all: no people. But sometimes even a wannabe hermit like myself needs to get out and go on something approaching a proper holiday. To get away to somewhere else, a place that is new, different and entirely not here. So I squeezed myself into the back of a friend’s car like something resembling a flat-pack man-shapped thing and off we pootled to Devon. For the next week myself and some 24 others stayed in grand stately home. We’d rented out the entire thing. We then promptly used its vast amount of table and floor space to play games. Swallowed by the countryside and lost in the rural hinterlands of England, there was no phone signal, no mobile internet, there were only games and relaxation.
The house itself was grand in the way so many old buildings are grand: resplendent in its decay. The rugs might have been worn and threadbare; the floorboards might have had yawning gaps between them; their creaking might have been reminiscent of a poorly made caravel in the middle of stormy seas; the windows might have been paper-thin slivers sets in rotting wood frames covered in peeling paint; but that didn’t stop any us quietly swearing in awe of it the moment we entered. Some buildings, despite the encroaching ruin of time simply demand a certain amount of respect, because they’re still here, still intact, because they have endured.
I met new people, friends of friends. I played new games, ones I’d heard of and ones I hadn’t. I had fun and wrapped myself in a big fluffy blanket of mellowness. But after six days of being cooped with other people, even in a building of such size and labyrinthine complexity, I got one of those urges to just get out and get away. An urge to just be alone. So with the sun high and bright in the sky, beating down upon the earth with most of, but not quite all, of its fury; I donned my big white sun hat and went outside for a wander.
There’s something quintessentially English about the very big house in the country, the grey stone, the parkland, the trees. It’s all very comforting. I followed a path which wended its way down the gently sloping hill behind the house, through meadows filled with grass so tall that it had gone to seed and faded out of its traditional green to a pale purple at its head. I meandered along mown paths which looped and circled through the swaying greenery. The earth occasionally scarred by tractor wheels and the flat plateaus of where the chassis of the mower had bottomed out on the soil, sheering the caps from dirt mounds. Every one of my footsteps were slightly springy as they fell upon loam like soft dust.
Before long my wanderings brought me into the woods.
The canopy of the tress enveloped the sky and I became lost in a world that was at once outside, yet separate from it. The smooth paths of mown grass gave way to deep rutted trails scoured deep by tractor tyres and still slick and wet from the rain of three days past. The water pooled in the ruts, floating atop thick and stodgy clay. As I walked I pondered. On everything. On nothing. On triumphs. But mainly on my regrets and the things not done and opportunities missed. I find it helpful to hang onto your regrets, that way you might make the same damn fool mistake again when the opportunity arises again. The woods gave me what I had sought. They gave me the solitude I had wanted. They insulated me from the entire world around me and left me alone with my thoughts, and my muddy shoes.
Alas the woods were not without end and eventually I ran out of paths and places to go, so I returned to the meadows, their grasses and their wild flowers.
My little walk left me filled with a wistful melancholy, something approaching a pleasant sadness. A feeling both familiar and comforting, something which left me feeling more human than I usually do. I was out in the late afternoon sun for just over an hour before I finally returned to the house. I sat myself down on a bench by the back door and quietly worked my way through a big mug of green tea.
It wasn’t a long walk, it wasn’t even a particularly special walk, but it was probably my favourite part of my holiday. Sometimes it’s nice to be alone somewhere that isn’t home and yet know that you have good friends just within reach.
Should you need them.