Crossing the border…again

I was tired on Sunday morning. I hadn’t done much the day before, other than sitting and reading and having a steady mooch round a National Trust property with my mum.

But I had 6 miles to run, and after a couple of days off, my legs were feeling as sluggish as the rest of me. I seem to be OK if I take one day’s rest, but two days is too much. I’d skipped my run the day before, just too tired, so I needed to push through this one and get it done.

For my parents, the fact that I run at all is still a new thing. Normally they wouldn’t bat an eyelid as to what I was up to but it was a bit different that morning.

Where are you going, how long will you be, have you got everything you need, are you sure, how far are you going?

I don’t know, just over an hour, yes I just need my phone and my inhaler, planning about 6 miles but maybe more.

Dad had pointed me off down some quiet lanes which I hadn’t thought of, and off I went.

I’d never dream of running in the roads where I live now, it’s far too busy. This is quite an odd thing to say given Scotland is generally much less hectic than the corner of south east England where my parents live. Their village is a bit of a tourist trap and it can take a while to cross the main road that runs through it, but once away from this, you can go for miles and hours without seeing another soul. Maybe the odd farmer.

I passed a beautiful old church, just as I crossed the county border into Essex. A lot of people don’t know that Essex is like this. The bright lights of Bas Vegas and the orange glow of Brentwood are a world away, and out here the land hasn’t changed much in over a thousand years.

I run down deserted lanes, with my ears pricked for the rumble of a car. Only two pass by in almost an hour. There are fields overhead, the crops high above me. The verges are filled with wild flowers – in particular I notice the poppies. Public rights of way here are rarely used, and they pass through ancient fields and farmland. Trails as I know them in Scotland are non-existent in this neck of the woods, and any off road running is strictly a cross country affair.

It’s easy to think of wilderness and remoteness being an exclusively northern concept, only consisting of the moors, the hills, the Lakes, the mountains, the islands, the lochs.

But here you could drive for miles in search of a pint of milk. You could reach for many more miles across the wide open fields before you touched another living soul. Here, it is quiet, seemingly idyllic, wild in its own way. Beautiful traditionally built (and coloured!) houses peak out over hedges or from behind walls. Here I feel close to the natural world in a totally different way to how I feel in Scotland. I feel at home here also, and yet it is only the fact that my parents and a couple of very dear friends live here that gives me this feeling. I have never lived in this immediate area, never worked here or been to school here. It’s somewhere I come to visit the people I am deeply connected to.

Early last year when I was last here, I thought maybe my time in Scotland had come to an end, and here would realistically be the only place I would consider moving to. I’ve got used to the peace and quiet of where I live, the vast expanses of space around me. My mum asked me if I still wanted to stay, not having the same ties to Scotland as I did before.

But I can’t imagine living anywhere else now. I am restless and looking to move on again. I’m not sure where to but it won’t be south of the border unless something unforeseen changes things drastically. My whole life has changed, and access to those hills and mountains and lochs is a hugely important part of where I would choose to live. I love the proximity to the bright lights of a big city, but much as I am curious about what city living would be like, I don’t think it would be for me.

After a few miles, I am back at a main road. I’ve crossed the border again and I’m back in Suffolk. I’ve miscalculated a little, forgetting which village is how long along this road. I have to dodge the traffic a bit which adds a few unplanned intervals into my run, and I’m brought back to reality quite sharply. Even on a Sunday in the countryside, people are in a rush.

But before long I’m back at the top end of the village, the even more picturesque, chocolate box, country life end this time, and yet I’m standing around waiting for some time to be able to cross the road.

It’s baking hot, muggy and close and the pollen is high. This is how I remember the summers being here, the constant hayfever and streaming eyes but also the endless warmth and the changeable weather from very very dry to incredibly wet with little warning. The mornings and evenings are often misty as the farmland holds the warmth overnight while the air cools sharply above it. Dad collected me from the airport on Friday night and I’d forgotten what it was like driving with fog lights on. I realise how much I miss the mist across the fields outside my old bedroom window. I miss the beach that was so near to where I lived before.

Maybe I am an East Anglian girl after all. Maybe the rural backwaters of deepest darkest Suffolk and coastal North Essex are where I am meant to be. The cosy pubs, beautiful old churches, brick and beam and thatched cottages. rickety old clanking boatyards. The chip shop here shuts at 9pm and the reading material consists of Horse and Hound or Classic Car magazine.

But I don’t miss the traffic. I don’t miss the rubbish transport links, sitting for hours on the A12 or A14 before you get anywhere near the ridiculously congested motorway network. I don’t miss the lack of decent public transport. I don’t miss the house prices.

No, this is no longer the place for me, but coming back at this time has reminded me of the connection I feel here, and I know it is somewhere I can always return to when I am feeling adrift.

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