Returning to my roots - Island magic
Nestled on the southern side of The Solent, tucked away from the crowds is a network of creeks that lick the edges of a field of caravans. Belonging to two brothers the caravans have changed as their offspring have grown up and started to bring their own children, but the magic of the place has held through the years. In what seemed totally ordinary, I led a charmed existence here as a child. My friend, Etty, and her family were in the caravans; Fleur, Emma, Charlotte and their families were on a fleet of little boats.
From spring to autumn our weeks would follow the same routine. Bags and cooler boxes would be packed, boats loaded and on Friday night or Saturday morning we’d all head for the Island. Once rafted up together, we’d spend the days jumping in, playing in the mud and exploring in dinghies, while the parents laughed and relaxed. In short it was heaven. While memories of these halcyon days include plenty of sunshine my current packing habit of covering all weather forecasts is proof that it wasn’t always warm and dry. It never stopped us though.
Late in the autumn this year, when my depression reared its head once more, I retreated to Lymington for a few days to recharge my batteries with my parents. In a moment of serendipity the universe delivered Etty with 24hrs free and the suggestion to head to her hut in the field of caravans on the Island. With nothing more than backpacks filled with water, dog food, fresh knickers, ground coffee and a cafetiere we set off across the familiar stretch of water to Yarmouth.
Disembarking we headed for the pub to warm ourselves by the fire and make a plan. Anyone familiar with depression will know the way it drains you of your sense of self and identity. Walking into the pub in the early evening I came across the first of the building blocks of my identity - a family with a child with special needs. As if looking at my life from the outside it reminded me of my daughter and how much I appreciate the alternative view of the world that she gives. The second block was bumping into other people from the creek community having supper in the pub. Out of the blue parts of our lives were being brought back to us - childhood memories blended with our adult concerns and experiences as we began 24hrs of nurture and nature.
Getting off the bus from Yarmouth, we walked along the track that leads to the field of caravans among the creeks. Lit by moonlight we narrowly avoided puddles and reminisced about the times we’d walked here coming back from the pub with our parents, siblings and friends. We were heading to the hut for the night before taking the coastal path back to Yarmouth the following morning to get the ferry back to Lymington. Once inside the hut though, it was tempting to never leave again.
Waking to crisp autumnal sunshine the next day I felt waves of love, solace and sanctuary enveloping me. Suddenly my love of mountain biking, rough camping and time spent outdoors made sense - it’s what I’d grown up with. Feeling happy, secure and overwhelmingly grateful for Etty and my childhood, I tried to mentally bottle that moment to sustain and nourish me: another building block of my identity.
The first part of the walk home retraced our steps from the night before, back up the track and along the main road to Yarmouth. With a young lab on the lead this was not the idyllic journey we’d anticipated but before long we turned off into a field and headed for the coast. Walking alongside electric-fenced fields of sheep, we reminisced about coming to this farm as children to buy essential provisions for fry ups - milk, bacon and bread!
Every time we crested a hill and the water came into view it felt like another window on our childhood was opened and different memories came flooding back. We talked about the way we’d been brought up, the way we were endeavouring to bring up our own children, relationships and the fact that parenting and adult life are not what you anticipated as a child. As the hours and miles passed it felt like the worries and stresses of my adult life were being paired back to reveal the core of my being: family, community, nature, exercise and water.
With high air pressure and abnormally high (spring) tides it wasn’t clear if we’d be able to make it round the entire coastal path. However, that section of the path passed the amphibious landingcraft slipway from the Second World War which has fascinated me for years so we were not going to miss it.
Laughing at how a childhood of sailing in all weathers prepares you for adult life, we stripped off our socks and shoes, rolled up our jeans and ventured forth. The cold water made us feel alive and Pepper loved the fact that we were wading with her along the submerged walkway. Pushing and pulling we helped each other over the flooded path, howling with laughter and mostly remaining dry.
Coming along the coast into Yarmouth in the early afternoon we dreamed of our futures - our families, bikes, scow dinghies, the hut and maybe a little cottage in Yarmouth - as well as our next 24hr adventure on the Island. We plan to walk further next time, heading along the Yar to Freshwater, up to the Needles and back to Yarmouth sounds quite fun. Maybe my lab, Ned, will join Pepper too. Whatever happens, we both felt restored, grateful for our shared lives, friendship, love and the hut on the Island.