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And I Wouldn't Walk 500 Miles...
You definitely wouldn't. Not to here anyway. I refer to the relatively momentous decision my husband and I made in November 2016: to move from our little market town in Cambridgeshire to the wilderness of the Highlands and the quaint seaside gem that is Nairn. The 500 miles is exactly the distance between St Ives (not the one in Cornwall as is often wrongly suggested) and Nairn. Beloved of Charlie Chaplin and home to the actress, Tilda Swinton, we had holidayed in this latter town only twice: once in spring and once in summer. Our daughter Emma was somewhat sceptical of our insistence that we were moving there a rather distasteful 7 months after she moved out of the family home to begin her own journey.
Now make no mistake, this move is not for the faint-hearted! Wearing just t-shirts in mid-November we arrived in a house that hadn't been inhabited for two years. It was cold. Really cold. Thankfully Sainsbury's does excellent knitwear so with a dad cardigan (him) and a rather fetching plum jumper (me) on we shivered a little less as we set about making our house a home.
I cannot lie, it has not been easy. Many people see my husband’s photographs of the beautiful scenery and assume we are living the dream.
The house wasn't straightforward. Having been full of nine long-haired-cats, evidence of their fur ball existence was everywhere. The place felt so dirty it made your skin crawl. After moving in, we discovered that we couldn't use water for nearly a week so had to make do with wet wipes. I was starting to itch at the end of day five, desperate for some hot soapy water to de-fur the house or to take either a hot shower or a bath. There were some interesting features to behold: a rather attractive taped piece of cardboard behind the door to the lounge which hid a huge crack in the glass, and the back garden was like a jungle with fruit cages up around head high vegetation. It was difficult to even find a path through this primeval forest.
And nobody mentions that crippling sense of loss that can suddenly invade your soul at a moment's notice. The tsunami of tears that spring forth after you bravely wave goodbye to your friends after their first visit, despite the knowledge that they will return again soon. Or the heartbreak of leaving your daughter to a life of independence, knowing that she will never again be just round the corner to pop in for that impromptu meal or glass (or several) of wine. And speaking of returns, the sad realisation that some friendships may fizzle out. However, there is the reassurance that some will stay beautifully the same. Only the frequency of meet-ups aren't as often as you want them to be, given the distance.
If you have a dog/dogs, the Highlands will cast their spell over your soul and become nirvana to all of you. We came up here with our previous terriers, Timothy and Barney. Luckily they had nearly three years of a very beautiful life left and they were so happy here. The new incumbent in our life, Alfie, the Patterdale terrier, has lived with us in Nairn since July 2019 and has got his paws firmly under the family table (and many other places).
So, after reading all this, if you are still up for a potentially life-changing move, here are some sage pieces of advice that I would like to give you: join clubs in things you are genuinely interested in and try some that you've never done before; don't expect too much too soon; do have an emergency pot of money; be brave and invite people round for coffee and dance on the dance floor first (you will get noticed). You will see the red squirrels, the stags, the dolphins and maybe even the eagles – with perseverance. I've yet to see a pine marten, an otter, a whale, a white hare and a capercaillie which are on my bucket list of things to see.
Patience is essential. Not just with wildlife, but with your social life, your house, your work life. Remember to reflect on the decisions that brought you to this point in your life and don't look back but forward with hope for this is what has brought you to this juncture. We wouldn't change a thing, despite the challenges and, as a true Scot, I am so happy to be back in my home country. My husband is an honorary Scot in an Englishman's body and we love living here. Take a deep breath of the sweet, relatively uncomplicated Highland air and relax.