This piece is inspired by Gibside in Northumberland. I hope you enjoy reading.
In the autumn the sky was pushed out by red leaves, thick and heavy, weighed down by the Northumberland rain. In his wellies and coat he liked the nip of the wind from the high trail where you could step to the edge of the path, lean forward and imagine you were at the top of a mountain. He liked to jump in puddles and skip along with his parents following behind and his big brother running ahead. He liked the feel of getting out of breath and the sudden rush of rain bringing with it a thousand leaves and soaking them through. Then there would be the warmth of the tea room, the promise of tea cakes slicked with thickly spread butter and standing under the hand drier to get warm, dancing from foot to foot while his brother spun him around and around until he was dry.
When his brother got older he stopped coming with them. For years it was just him and his parents. Their voices were quiet in winter, listening for signs of Robins and passing other frozen families with dignified nods of the head. Talking about Sunday dinner to warm them through once home. Jumpers piled up under coats and scarves wrapped twice around his neck. Stomping his feet heavily on the frozen mud to keep the blood reaching his toes. Reaching the top of the hills to look down on a horizon frozen grey and blue, layers of usually green fields iced to pale white, farm animals huddling together until their breath rose above them in little wisps of warm air. Breathing in great gulps of fresh air and feeling the ice in the back of his throat.
His brother returned when they were both married to girls with bright smiles and long hair, their kids running ahead in trainers in the first promising warmth of spring. Their parents walking between them and watching the grandchildren with satisfied smiles. A little girl with a dress and sand shoes, pushing her hair back with the flat of her small hand to look up at the trees with her mouth a small, surprised ‘o’. The smell of strawberries warmed in Tupperware, dripping juice on sticky little hands, eaten quickly as though it was a competition. Cartons of apple juice slurped from straws before the liquid could spill and stain shorts and dresses. The sound of laughter carried over the green trees and down into the valley below. He helped his daughter onto the monkey bars, helping her reach across one, then the next, until her brother noticed and said that it was cheating. Walking back, his wife with one of the children on her back because their legs were tired. Making friends with sheep and sitting outside the chapel to drink a coffee on the grass and chat about the coming summer.
He watches his grandson run, his first race on grass, little legs flailing like a colt. He watches his daughter walk behind him, her arms outstretched just in case. He falls back slightly with a smile, tips his head back to feel the heat of the day on his face. His wife holds his hand and behind he can hear his parents, the tapping of their sticks on the mud. Always following. They keep to the flat paths, sit down on every other bench to enjoy the warmth of the British summer.