A family funeral in the Yorkshire Dales seemed a long journey at this time of year. Yet I felt I wanted to be there.
I coped with a long, dark drive one evening and was so glad to have overcome winter hibernation stagnation and ventured forth. Meeting up with distant family connections and seeing cousins from my childhood was moving and, despite the sadness of the event, cheering too.
The following day I headed towards Northumberland via a rather long detour through the Lake District.
I took a wonderful, single-track road which winds its way from Ambleside to Boot. It was quite an exciting drive, scarily steep, full of hair-pin bends and beautiful empty hillsides. It was a day of alternating sunshine and showers, so the light was wonderful, bringing out the colours of bracken andgrass. All the way, I kept getting tantalising glimpses of snowy peaks.
It was only when I reached the end of the pass that I checked the map and realised I'd been tempted way off my supposed route and would be hours late reaching my friends.
I've known Martin since my first year at University and Madeleine for nearly as long. I consider then two of my dearest friends. I love their home, a fortified 15th century farmhouse, it fits them as a snail does its shell, it is filled with their personalities and interests. Even the wood burning stove feels part of the family!
As for their beloved Dorothy, a more noble dog I have yet to meet. She has stolen my heart.
There is also Holtby an enchanting quicksilver kitten, who was too fast and to full of life for me to capture the spirit of her in a photograph.
I love visiting them, their life is no fairy-tale but one grounded by hard work, commitment to their beliefs and the strength of their relationship. Even on cold, stormy days their home brings me comfort and peace.
I have to be honest though and say that they are hardier than I am, so huge fires are lit for my comfort throughout my stay.
I enjoy catching up on their plans and projects. Madeleine is a Bee Keeper and is passionate about tending her bees in a natural way, often using skills learnt from the past. She made this skep, I love it and the bees are happier in an organic shape. Although the bees are sleeping we still went to greet them and tell them of my visit.
Madeleine also has a pantry... I have to admit I'm envious, I've always longed for somewhere to keep stores and supplies. For them however, it is a necessity, as they may be cut off by bad weather for days.
Martin has learnt the skill of making dry stone walls and is continuously re-building and repairing. It's immensely hard physical work but also needs a sensitivity to shape and pattern.
He is also in charge of the fuel supply. Isn't this wood pile a thing of beauty?
They are both great walkers but kindly allow me to go on more gentle potters with them. I love the winter landscape's beauty. Form and colour stand out in simplicity.
This visit we walked to the nearby willows and collected withies for garden projects. Madeleine is planning to make hurdles and supports for the garden and I picked some slimmer branches to make a wreath base. The day was still and calm, the only sounds coming from our work and the slight rustle of branches and grass. I could have stepped back in time a hundred years.
I feel sad saying farewell to my good friends. We live too far apart to visit often. Yet I always leave them feeling refreshed and re-inspired to leap back into my life with renewed enthusiasm and optimism. Thank you both.