There are places we go that are good for the soul. For me it tends to be high windswept places, where the air is so fresh you can feel it move through you, blowing away metaphorical cobwebs.
The nearest such place to me is Dunstable Downs. We go there quite often, whether winter or summer, though it does need to be a sunny clear day. The ancient hillside is lined with chalk deposits like bones poking through the soil, and the view is spectacular. You can literally see for miles, the landscape disappearing into a misty distance – you feel as though, if only you had elvish vision, you could see to the coast itself, silver sea glimmering.
It’s also a wonderful place to fly kites and it’s rare to be up there and not see at least one brightly coloured flapping sail, whipping and floating in the wind. Down below, on a rolling green meadow, is a gliding club. The gliders come up like giant white birds, swooping overhead as we whoop and holler, amazed by how close they come to the edge of the hill before disappearing into the blue beyond. Parasailers drop from the steep hillside, rising up to surprise us as they lift into the sky, circling above us on the updrafts.
In the near distance, next to a small village, I can see a well-maintained field with a square of trees left untouched at the centre. This field has now become the basis of another book. It’s just notes at the moment, but the mystery of the grove is one I’m looking forward to exploring.
When we lived in Australia, there was another such place where I liked to go.
Along a rutted track lined with huge cypresses and twisted gum trees, kangaroos in the fields standing like silent sentinels among the blowing grasses. A turn down a driveway lined either side with olive trees led to a house with a long green lawn. Another row of cypress trees stood at the edge of the lawn and beyond that curved the horn of the Peninsula like a crescent moon, blue ocean one side, gleaming silvery bay the other, the view stretching for miles. In the ground floor of the house was a very small restaurant – small enough to be run by two people alone, just as the owners wanted. There were only ever nine things on the menu – three entrees, three mains and three desserts – but the selection changed daily and it was always delicious. They grew their own vegetables, made their own olive oil and wine like bottled sunshine, warm and sweet. I remember being there one day and seeing Ted, the owner, driving up in his tractor from one of the fields. His small trailer was piled high with tomatoes, red and gleaming in the sunshine. ‘Help yourself,’ he said, smiling. ‘Please, take as many as you like.’
It was that kind of place.
So where do you go that’s good for the soul? Is it near to home or far?