Last week we drove down to Lancashire to see friends and family. It was a trip we'd been planning for months and we were really looking forward to it.
On the morning of our departure I ran a printmaking workshop then was collected in the car and off we went. No point in describing the journey; it actually turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Thirteen hours (we got stuck for two of them on the M6 after a lorry hit a bridge) of sweltering in the car and we didn't arrive until 2am. Then we ended up having to land unannounced at Jay's dad's house as our accommodation plans had gone unexpectedly awry.
Still, we were lucky in that a friend offered us her house while she was away so we got to stay back in the village. I must admit, I'd been a bit worried about whether a return home would make me want to stay for good. If seeing our old house and Joe's school and all those familiar places would bring about a big 'What have we done?' moment.
It was, however, lovely to catch up with family and friends. We met for coffee and cake at the local museum and sat out in the sunshine. I visited people for more coffee (and a bit of gossip). We took Joe on the East Lancs Railway, riding on the trains with his grandad and gran. We went to Ramsbottom and bought fruit from the Saturday morning market, and ate chips from The Wayward Tyke. I called in to say hello to Joanna and Rachel in their beautiful shop.
We visited one of Joe and my favourite places (favourite for different reasons): the animal sanctuary, home to Joe's old friend Wallace the goat. Wallace was doing well and whilst I doubt he recognised us, he was happy to be made a fuss of. In fact he butted a rival for our affections firmly out of the way. I went in the secondhand bookshop and picked up a nice selection; books are priced at 3 for £1 so I often come away with a little pile.
This time was no different. Three novels and some children's stories, to add to a few others I bought from a sale in the church in Ramsbottom. My favourites are A Gift Book of Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales (illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone - I wrote a post about them years ago), and Tales from the End Cottage by Eileen Bell. I read the latter myself over a few nights and loved it so much I'm now on the hunt for the second one, More Tales from the End Cottage. It's published by Puffin Books but is now out of print and I think I'll have to just cross my fingers and hope I find one. Serendipity and all that...
We did a few lovely walks in all the old haunts, along the river and the disused railway line. That did make me feel a bit homesick, admittedly. When you know somewhere like the back of your hand; when it's where you grew up and you have all those memories from childhood through being a teenager to adulthood, and being a parent yourself... Those woods and fields and hills have provided adventure and, at times, much-needed solace.
Joe was with us for a few days and then went to stay with his grandparents. We had a night in a country pub B&B. A walk at dusk, a nightcap of Hendricks gin, hot deep baths and then, the following morning, a cooked breakfast. And after breakfast we did the same walk in daylight. This time we could see further across the hills; we also spotted (and ate) berries from the hedgerows. The last of the raspberries and some early blackberries and whinberries. It seems we'd caught them all just as their seasons briefly overlapped.
There were, of course, a few shopping trips. Joe got a new bike as he'd outgrown his old one and we didn't bring it to Skye. I stocked up on bath salts and treated myself to a glass teapot. A few bits of clothes, some fancy French soap.
The entire week was a whirlwind. We did so much visiting and meeting up with people. A few things didn't happen at all, sadly. I'd been longing to visit Hebden Bridge but we just couldn't fit it in. We were flitting between Cheshire and Lancashire, staying overnight in three different places, living out of our travel bags.
But I was sad to leave my friends. I miss them. And their children, Joe's little contemporaries and classmates...
The journey back to Skye was a few hours shorter but no less tiring. It was good to be home though. And it is home. I don't miss the traffic or the shopping centres, the noise or that feeling of being somehow confined and crowded-in. Yes, the house needs attention. And our friends here are new. But they're still friends - who'll eventually become old friends. And my really old ones will be visiting us here.
The house, of course, is a long-term project. It was always going to be.
And the cat - needy at the best of times - was so very happy to see us again. In fact he's not keen on letting us out of his (compromised) sight. He keeps his one eye trained on me at all times; I seem to be the Chosen One.
The next few days will be spent list-making and catching up with correspondence. It's bliss to sleep in our own bed again, and to relax in the evening at home. We're going to work on the garden too. My houseplants have survived our absence and the lone pumpkin outside has grown bigger. The gooseberries in the croft next door are almost ripe enough to pick. Our first autumn here on Skye is approaching. Little things which make me glad to be back where we should be.