Sometimes, it’s all about saying something at the right time. One of the downsides of being in Manchester is the obviously limited amount of green, and the fact that I don’t have a car means it isn’t the easiest thing to just go “right!” and disappear off into the Peak District. Mooching about across hills and wildernesses isn’t something I get to do very often, so I try to enjoy them when I get the chance – but it’s very easy to assume those chances aren’t going to come along very often. Anyway, I was mentioning to Anna (who I lodge with – describing her as ‘my landlady’ would just sound bizarre) that the book I’m currently working on meant I’d need to go and have a wander around a stately home at some point – I knew there are a few in this area (not always easy to get to, of course), but the main location for my current book is a really big 17th century hall surrounded by miles of sprawling grounds; it needs to feel real, and wandering around a place like that would work wonders. I mentioned this, and Anna’s immediate response was ‘Tatton Park!’ It’s a stately home that’s open to the public, with gigantic grounds – and she drives past the main entrance to it every single day she goes to work. Just like that, I had transport there and transport back, and a few days later – yesterday, to be precise – I was on my way. I was there from 8.30am through to about 5.15pm, and it’s genuinely one of the nicest days I’ve had in a very long time.
It’s a big place – the house grounds are probably just under three miles from top to bottom, and they spread out in a lot of different directions. And one of the best things is that outside the very formal and controlled gardens, it has a distinctly wild feeling to it. There’s grass as far as the eye can see, and trees, and scrubland, and gigantic lakes where ducks, swans and other birds cruise up and down. There’s also deer – within half an hour of arriving, I’d sat myself down by the biggest lake in the park and was simply soaking everything up, when I looked to my right – and about 200 metres along the side of the lake, there were three stags with absolutely gigantic antlers gently munching on the nearby vegetation. My jaw dropped, and I simply sat there, staring. There’s something about seeing animals like that when it’s quiet, and you’re the only one around – and I saw plenty more deer later, on my way back from the house; a massive herd of them, quietly minding their own business. It’s the kind of parkland that goes on for long enough and is arranged so that you can sometimes forget that you’re not that far from civilisation – at least, until the next plane roars by overhead (the park is unfortunately smack-bang on the flightpath of Manchester Airport). Looking around the house was both fascinating and tremendously useful, but it was the walk in the park and the gardens that I enjoyed more than anything. I even timed it right – it’d be beautiful in the summer, but with plenty of autumn leaves on the ground, there were places where the whole place was a mass of shades of golden and brown.
I got to explore – it’s the kind of area where unless there’s a ‘PRIVATE’ sign (and there aren’t many of those), you can go where you like – and it reminded me how much I love exploring, just the whole experience of going somewhere new, and finding out what’s over the next crest of the hill. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to indulge in that kind of wanderlust, and it was wonderful. And, in a small kind of a way, it was a little sad at times as well. There’s something about times like that which make me wish I wasn’t just experiencing them on my own – that I had someone to share them with. The last month has, to be honest, been rather hard at certain points – hitting the one year anniversary of my separation from George was difficult, and it (along with a few other incidents) has dredged up a lot of darker feelings deep inside my brain. And it’s hard being somewhere like that, because George has got so much of a love of the countryside and the natural world (I feel like I notice an awful lot more because of the way she’d stop and spot things). Wandering along paths through wooded groves, or exploring the various twists and turns of the gardens and staring at some of the truly beautiful trees from all across the world… it feels wrong to be doing it without her. It feels like I want to be able to turn, and point something out to her, or tell her about something. And she’s not there. And she’s never going to be there again.
I don’t want this to sound like the whole day was completely melancholy – it really wasn’t. Some of this is simply autumn happening, the evenings drawing in, the leaves gradually vanishing from the trees, and the knowledge that winter is only just around the corner. And some of this is simply being tired – I spent virtually all of yesterday walking (after a day in the park, Anna and I went shopping in Sainsburys, and the results virtually wiped me out for today as well), and being tired easily makes me prone to sadness. There are just times when it’s really sad – and times when it’s really boring, like you’d really like to be able to scoop all of this out of your head and forget about it. And I think, it’s partly because what I went through in 2007-2008 is starting to fade in my mind a bit and not seem so vivid… so it’s easy to forget how bad it was. I still miss George, but I think part of what I miss is the version of George I had all those happy memories with. Recollections can get terribly distorted after a while. And it probably doesn’t help that I’m still living in a land of uncertainty with so much in my life, waiting and hoping for stuff to happen. Until it does, I’m stuck in the middle of a ‘time passing’ montage, and waiting for the story to really kick into gear again.
But whatever happens… I had a good day yesterday. I wish I could have gone with someone – but also, being on my own gave me complete freedom. It gave me the ability to spontaneously say “I want to go to a stately home” at the beginning of the week, and then a few days later be actually doing it. I’ve soaked up tons of history, I’ve seen deer, I’ve sat by a lake and watched the world go by. And hopefully, not too far in the future, I’ll go find some more wilderness and do a little more adventuring.
I may be a little down. But I’m a long way from being out.