Living and belonging where clouds go to die

Living and belonging where clouds go to die January 21, 2013

I’m sorry, I know, today’s blog post is very, very late. In my defence, today is ‘Blue Monday’ — supposedly the most depressing day of the calendar in the northern hemisphere – and boy, am I feeling it. It feels like someone’s pulled a plug in me somewhere, and all my energy’s just drained away. It’s not helped by the constant cloud.

Not that that’s any surprise in Eskdalemuir – there’s a meteorological office here, Eskdalemuir Observatory, and apparently the scientists there joke that Eskdalemuir is “where clouds go to die”.

Eskdalemuir is in fact the coldest and wettest place in the UK. It is, perhaps, a good thing that I and my Seasonal Affective Disorder didn’t know this before we moved here.

It is a seriously cloudy place. During one period, I swear we didn’t see the sun for 18 months, and last ‘summer’ was a stretch of cloud and temperatures of 10-12 Celsius. But as much as I dream of dryer, sunnier climes, Eskdalemuir is a surprisingly hard place to leave.

One of my friends at the other end of the valley, who has lived here for nearly 40 years, animates this place in how she talks of it ‘getting its claws into you’. I wouldn’t describe this place, the land, the genius loci in that way, but I know what she means. I’ve been trying to go somewhere else, thinking about living somewhere else, off and on, for about seven years.

It’s a mystery to me why I’ve not been able to leave. I’ve never had this trouble moving before – this is the only place I’ve lived longer than three years since I left home in 1989. Even now that we have the opportunity, my partner and I are finding it difficult to imagine living anywhere else. Despite talk of moving to somewhere warmer, dryer and closer to people, we just haven’t been able to do it.

I have a feeling of loyalty to this place, these hills, even this weather — the living embodiment of the Cailleach, and Angus, and Bride — which defies all logic and all common sense. It made its way into a sonnet I wrote around the summer solstice in 2006:


It falls, the shrouded weight of winter’s rest,
to mock me at this sum of summer’s height,
sunlight appearing only as a guest
to glisten on the swallow’s feeding flight.
The wind tears at the trees with snapping strength,
still sheep stand, unconcerned, intent on grass;
the heavy clouds drag down the sky’s whole length,
revealing only more clouds as they pass,
yet birds and insects dart and flowers bloom;
the hills in all their greenness do not care
if summer days are filled with sodden gloom.
I do, but would I smile if hills were bare
and brilliant rays glanced off a half-parched soil?
Perhaps – but love and hope still keep me loyal.

Love and hope.

Perhaps that’s my childhood Christianity showing through, or perhaps it’s a summing up of how I feel about this place, this web of relationships called Eskdalemuir. And in place of the ‘faith’ of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, a heart-deep, bone-deep sense of belonging, of being a part of here.

Perhaps, I’m coming to realise, that sense is worth any number of ‘Blue Mondays’.

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