Early November, in a small wooded valley on the edge of the Forest of Dean.
The only sounds are the soft crunch of frosted grass and gravel beneath my boots, occasional bursts of song from thrushes and blackbirds, the chirruping of a robin who appears to be following me, and the noise of my own breathing. It quickens as I stride up the steep muddy path, and forms clouds before me in the crisp winter air.
I speak to no one. No one speaks to me.
I am completely alone with my thoughts – treasured memories of things past, things lost, things still to be, future hopes and future heartaches, but never regrets. A life lived in regret is no life at all. Regret distorts the memory of our past and the shape of our destiny. In these quiet moments, fuelled by fresh air and limited only by the bounds of my imagination, dreams are made and plans formulated, possibilities weighed and ambitions measured.
I close the door of the tiny forester’s cottage that is my temporary escape from the world. I shut out the birdsong and the winter winds, shaking off my muddy boots in the hallway. I settle in the stillness and take pleasure in the quiet ordinary moments of the day; pouring tea from an earthenware teapot into a china cup, spreading open a newspaper on the worn oak kitchen table, taking the time to read every article, studying maps laid out upon the floor, throwing a fresh log on the woodstove.
And I write. For hours. Perhaps even days. Words and ideas tumble onto the leaves of my notebook. Page after page after page, the pen in my hand barely able to keep pace with the ideas in my mind.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of words are written, but not a single word is said.
I speak to no one and no one speaks to me.
There is gentle, restful, restorative silence, punctuated only by the occasional turning of a page or the scratch of pen on paper, the spit and crackle of the fire and the gentle snoring of a snoozing Spaniel. He knows me and I know him. I don’t need words. Just a look, a raised eyebrow, a wag of the tail, a stroke of his silken ears. He reads my mind and I his, and we each anticipate the other’s every action.
I delight in gazing out of the kitchen window, watching dusk creep in over the valley, pin pricks of light from distant farmhouses growing ever brighter. I linger there, leaning over the counter-top, until darkness descends, neither moon nor stars perceptible through the thick November night. All I can see now is my own reflection and the dying glow of the fire, mirrored in the window panes.
I sleep with the windows open. The bitter night air steals slowly into my room. There is something sensual about breathing in that delicious coldness whilst my limbs are cocooned in the warmth of a snug quilt.
I lie awake in the dark, my senses heightened, listening to the breeze play among the leaves, and the occasional screeching of a passing barn owl.
I smile though no one can see me. I am completely content. I have mastered solitude. It is an art – the art of being alone, without loneliness.
“Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement”.
– Alice Koller
I stayed at the wonderful Nuthatch Cottage in the Forest of Dean. You can find out more and book here
MY BOOKS (NON-FICTION/HISTORY)
The Horsekeeper’s Daughter (2017)
Above Us The Stars: 10 Squadron Bomber Command – The Wireless Operator’s Story (publication date Summer 2020 – now available to pre-order).