If you've been dropping by for some time, you probably remember a little hype around last June. We'd saved and stagnated for over a year in Exeter. Unexpectedly, I'd found many things to love in that sleepy South-Western city; a small but solid medley of people, plenty of camping on Dartmoor and Devon's coast. Still, I was restless, we were gearing up for a great adventure. Burt the carpet van spluttered into our lives as a kind of tiny home on wheels, a fortified tent with space for a duvet, and we finally set of on our epic European road trip. Though the weather was better, things started that month the same as we just have, with a trip up to Scotland. As you might also know, that first drive up North and down was our last great road trip of 2016. We finished the year in Calais, laughing and crying and forgetting to shower. We're starting that original plan from scratch.
Beginning as before, in Exeter, we wound our way up to Exmoor, to say goodbye to Dan's family who cheerfully put up with us for a few weeks when we first got back, to see friends near Bath, in Bristol and Bradford and finally up into Scotland. As with Christmas in Exeter, I only felt half present with my family on Islay. Hopefully neither side felt that too harshly- they took it well. The island, as ever, was teeming with deer and seals and gnarl-horned goats. We chopped up some wood, ate a lot and got blown along on bicycles, having left Burt on the mainland.
Happy to find the van where we'd left him, we trundled back more or less the way we'd come. Perverse creatures of habit, we found ourselves at Haweswater. For the first time in a long while, I couldn't count the stars, but at least one was shooting; I hurried a wish. We couldn't see until morning, but the mountains were iced with snow this time.
We got stuck on ice once and in mud twice, spent hours looking for a nice place to sleep only to end up next to a dirty tissue strewn bush, somewhere in Kent, with lorries hurtling past; a suspiciously steam filled car parked in front of us through the night.
Leaving the UK, Calais was unavoidable. We stayed just long enough to see what remains of our friends there. The relentless woodyard, enslaved to the cause, impressed me more than ever. Nobody could enjoy breaking up pallets day in, day out for months on end. You couldn't pay them to. Along with wood, food, clothing, bedding and hygiene items to the one and a half thousand, mainly Kurdish and Afghan, refugees in the Dunkirk camp, our friends and others are helping rapidly increasing numbers of teenagers turning up in Calais town. I felt sick to see them struggling; the volunteers that is, I didn't talk to anyone receiving the aid. I continue to hope it ends soon, but know it won't, even if the people are different.
Leaving before we couldn't, we drove through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and finally into Switzerland. Through industrial cities and forests, the grey that saturated the gaps gave the impression of watercolours painted with a dirty brush; the detail of coloured buildings still visible under the blur.
We drove until we'd gone too far. Somewhere half way up one of the toblerone mountains, beyond Lake Geneva, Dan began to mutter under his breath. He often swears loudly in the face of small mishaps, but is always quiet if there's trouble. It was dark, there was a bus behind us and suddenly our wheels were as useless as daddy-long-legs feet on a bathtub. I was clenching my teeth together, heart beating out of my rib-cage, my eyes (no doubt) as wide and pathetic as Bambi's. Dan, characteristically level-headed, found somewhere to pull off the road that wasn't the edge of a cliff. Also having purchased £11 snow chains at Lidl, immediately breaking and then fixing them with a giant cable tie*, fitting them despite having to lie down in six inches of snow and safely rumbling us back down to a lay-by we could sleep in, I was a whimpering wreck in comparison. I tried to make Afghan eggs and spilt them on the grass.
That night I slept badly, nervous of the morning's road, listening to the gentle rapping on our roof and wondering how long it would take for us to be rescued if we were buried under an avalanche. I figured that if people could be rescued from under rubble after days or even weeks, we could last almost indefinitely with our sleeping bags and food. Would it be worth using the gas stove for warmth and cooking our pasta if it would steadily eat up our oxygen? Probably not. We were on a slope. Every time Dan stirred, dislodging the mattress down a little, I imagined it was Burt's wheels on the ice. Cars buzzing past threatened to veer off course, smashing us over the cliff. I knew it wasn't real, but I couldn't breathe. Come morning, the real one, and the light of day, it was evident that the pattering was mostly rain, no giant lumps of snow were suspended above us and we weren't in any serious danger of sliding anywhere at all. Last night's eggs were frozen eerily into the grass, I spilt half the coffee before I could get it into the cup and we set off without breakfast.
At first it was fine, steadily snow appeared on the edges and then the middle of the road. We slid to a halt in the same place as the night before, though this time Burt's behind stuck out more than would have been ideal as we were forth in a queue of cars doing the same. With the hazard lights on we (Dan) refitted the budget snow chains and we lurched off with only a shadow of the previous night's trepidation.
At this time of year, the only one I've seen, Morgins appears like the 3D materialisation of the picture lid to a faux Victorian tin of chocolate biscuits. An inescapable cliche of winter Switzerland, there are wooden cabins, tall pine trees clumped with snow and the shape of mountains I often draw from my head, though I've never previously made them so white.
We're here because my friend Sam, or rather his parents Penny and Charles, have lent us their chalet for a week. When it's falling heavily, being inside feels like the inverse of a snow globe. We're comfortable and warm by the fire, but through the windows in Narnia.
There will be much more about Morgins in my next post.