LAST year I had the great privilege of seeing far more of my own country than I had previously. This was for a writing project, and though none of the writing has yet happened (the plan got derailed by events in the country, money, actual work and many other excuses), the fact-finding part of the project (i.e. the travelling) did take place. What a country, it turns out, we live in.
Imagine, for example, the scenes of a Hollywood epic, where we sail towards an island, shrouded in mist, a mountain slowly coming into focus on approach; a dense wilderness, containing untold mysteries, awaits. That effect is available to us all: just catch the Calmac ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool - that landscape, early in the morning fog, is a vast expanse of wonder. This landscape is not alone in captivating the imagination - catch a train from Inverness to London, catch the MS Oldenburg from Ilfracombe, watch the sun set over St Brides Bay; from crofts to forests to farms to cities you will see it all.
We are a country of religious wonder, with sites of pilgrimage, monuments, antiquity and anachronism dotted from the farthest corners of Wales to the Western Isles. There's a church shaped like a rocket. There are treasures in ancient scripts. You can even visit a secret prayer room in the depths of Gwynedd, if you know the right people to ask.
We are a country of rich wildlife, including wild eagles, puffins, otters, whales, dolphins and orca.
We are a country of rich history, a fusion of Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Celtic, European and other cultures. We are a conglomerate of languages, some ancient, some extinct, some flourishing - English, of course, and Welsh, Cornish, Scots, Gaelic and Norn, to name a few.
We are a country of quirks, too. There are fire festivals with people dressed as astronauts. Plus, who can forget the shop in St Albans that sells only sewing machines and telescopes?
Most of all, we are a country of openness, of shared experience: in my year of travels, people kindly shared their faith, their music, their homes, their fishing lines, their homework, their wisdom and, on one occasion, their grief. To all I was a stranger.
All of these things remain true, whatever political leanings currently rule over the land.
I implore you to explore it.
And with that, some news: we are going away for a while. For the next two years, satisfactory paperwork-depending, we are moving to Australia. For many who have followed this blog over the years this choice of destination will hardly be a surprise, it has been a long time coming. Yet, for us, this is an exciting and daunting step. We have adventures ahead no doubt - I have my eye on traversing the Nullarbor, of exploring the Kuring-Gai, of circumnavigating the Gulf of Carpentaria - but challenges too. We're considering it a learning experience, somewhere warm.
There are still things I want to write, and other projects I wish to share, so you haven't seen the last of me. But, for now, farewell.