We are travelling more quickly than usual at the moment. As I do this final edit, a heatwave has pushed temperatures to well over 35ºC in central France, which in turn has hurried us north. We have learned to position the van so that the sun shines on the driver’s side where there are no windows and the walls are super-insulated, which also means I can sit on my trusty step in the shade. Today we’re parked under a giant beech tree that towers easily the height of a four-storey building, and I’m gazing out across a field of undulating grasses watching swathes of swallows & swifts scoop insects from the pond in this stunning nature reserve. All of this is overlooked by the grand and imposing Château de Regniére-Écluse (requisitioned 1030) at the top of the hill. Its great coned turrets catching at the occasional cloud in an otherwise clear blue sky, this building looks like the blueprint for every Disney castle ever constructed.
Political history seeps across the land everywhere in this northern costal Somme region of France: the British army were occupiers here during the first world war, then in the second it was the turn of Germany who used it for a hospital – a reminder of how much our history is tied to mainland Europe regardless of the empty spoutings of hot air from some in our political classes.
As we draw closer to the UK I feel a turmoil of conflicting emotions: on the one hand I cannot wait to see family again – our grandson is growing at a seemingly ridiculous rate, almost as quickly as the wildflowers that wash the agricultural landscapes of central France with so much bright colour (I have never seen so many poppies!), and his smile lights up our days in countless ways. We anticipate spending long lazy summer days with him and our kids-who-are-adults on the beaches and in the forests of north Wales. There are also many wonderful friends we have plans to see, stories that are begging to be shared around campfires, reconnections that we are grateful to have the opportunity to make, and new-found friends who we are looking forward to meeting in real life for the first time. Wales is beautiful at any time of year – the Blenau Ffestiniog slate grey colour that has come to infuse many memories of my home-country still offers great comfort in any season (and you’ll see it in the skies of Cymru in all seasons), but long summer days will make this return visit all the more special, and I’m looking forward to sharing as much of Wales with you as possible before we head back to mainland Europe in early September to begin the southward journey for winter.
Contrasted with these feelings of love & joy are my misgivings on the current political climate in Wales. I spent a long time reeling from the outcome of the Brexit vote. It is devastating to me that so many of my fellow country-people want to leave Europe. This was definitely part of the catalyst for us moving into the van when we did. How we will continue to travel in the future across Europe we don’t yet know, mainly because our politicians still don’t have any clue (or even seem to care) as to what the effects of their political gerrymandering will have on the wider population. I also cannot live in a country run by BoJo-the-clown. What a laughing stock he is making of us across the globe, and the only people who seem unable to recognise this is the man himself along with the rest of the shambles of the Conservative party. Maybe the outside world doesn’t matter to them. Maybe a collective myopia is preferred over the reality of this situation. Maybe they really do want to just hoist up the drawbridge and tell the rest of Europe (and the world except for MAGA-man) to go screw themselves. I will stop ranting there because this is not how I want to use my time anymore. The giant behemoth of our political establishment has chosen its course and I can do nothing more about it.
Which is why I am returning to the personal. To the small. To making genuine connections with people who share similar values and thoughts. To travelling across Europe free of baggage, both physical & emotional, but with an open mind & heart, willing to engage with new people, sometimes, although not all the time because I have also realised on these travels that I am not a person who sits well in large crowds or with too many new people at once. And that is ok. The peace and solitude vanlife offers is like a balm on sunburned skin. I am happy to keep my friendships group small. I want to put a lot of work into growing these authentic connections rather than reaching some sort of imaginary & massive group of people. It is lovely to meet new people on the road but I don’t need that all the time. My politics these days are those of the land – of sitting with trees, of swimming in clear water & following the migrating swallows who recognise no borders or political structures; who are only dictated to by the rolling seasons calling them north for summer and south for winter. I will continue to follow their example with a deep feeling of gratitude that I have this opportunity to weave myself into the natural landscapes of Europe in this way.