A damp, dark hush engulfs the valley. All day the mist has hung low with just the tips of Loughrigg visible from moment to moment. The last of the autumn leaves, the oak and the magnolia, cling wet and heavy to each other and the road. The visitors walking in just their twos, threes or fours have tucked their muddy dogs and boots into their SUVs and gone back to put up the Christmas decorations. I’m completely alone in the cottage, apart from a very pregnant Sahara and Pip, who is curled up contentedly in a basket, which she has claimed as her own, by the cosy Aga.
We had four months between our first and second lockdowns. This period in between meant we could open the guest house again, hosting yoga retreats and Airbnb guests, working hard to ensure social distancing, hygiene, compliance with all Covid laws and still creating a welcoming space for people who hadn’t left their homes for months. The ‘rule of 6’ applied, which enabled only very small gatherings, and preferably outside. This challenged us to be creative with picnics and barbecues on the island, breakfasts with friends on the studio patio and wet afternoon teas in the summer house. Dear friends and family from the south ventured to the infected North West to visit us and we sought out walks which were new to all of us with Tim as our intrepid guide. There was this feeling that each day was an adventure, a challenge whether that was keeping guests safe whilst they ate or did yoga or whether it was finding fresh experiences in our familiar landscape. All the time the backdrop was the pandemic and the peculiar sensation of not running our language courses. Sometimes I felt like Alice in ‘Alice through the looking glass’, sometimes like one of the Famous Five with my picnic, thermos and map, and, frequently like an alien when I ventured into the village to see long queues of masked people outside the cafes and chip shops.
We have been running our English language courses for 38 years, 35 of those have been at Nab Cottage, or to be precise next February we will have been at Nab for 35 years. This means that we have always spent all of our summers with our language students for almost 40 years. Then, suddenly, this year that didn’t happen. Each Sunday we would still say ‘Who are the students coming today? Where are they from? Have we remembered to book/change/cancel the taxi?’ It felt strange to have a summer Sunday dinner on our own and not to be eating in the studio which had been transformed into a restaurant complete with candles, uniquely arranged garden flowers, students turned professional waiters and alive with conversation, discussion, the clink of wine glasses and a vast repertoire of music. The warm buzz of open-hearted people wanting to genuinely connect with each other, to explore what we have in common and to bathe in what makes us each an individual with gifts to share.
Here I am, alone, enjoying the contrast, the space for reflection, the deep, deep dark, the owl hooting over the lake, Tim about to cook a wild mushroom ragout just for Wojtek, him and me, and of course we’ll have a couple of glasses of wonderful Spanish wine and we’ll toast all our friends, family and students feeling truly blessed to have and have had the extraordinary, ordinary lives that we do.