28 days later

That’s how long it’s been since we parked the van outside our house and put the key in our own front door for the first time in seven months. In some ways, it feels as if we were never away; in other ways it still feels new and lacking permanence.

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Four weeks on, there are still things to unpack and re-assimilate. We are shocked by how much ‘stuff’ we have. When we left, we crammed everything we weren’t taking into the garage and now, bringing it back in to the house, much of it seems surplus to requirements. Do I really need four different pairs of black trousers? Is an entire shelf full of mugs necessary? A PC, a laptop and a tablet? Dozens of pairs of socks? After having just what we needed and no more for so long, the amounts we have of things seem absurd. Equally superfluous is the space we have. Anyone who knows our house might laugh at this – it’s not exactly a mansion – but we’ve got used to living in a small space, be it a two-man tent, a log cabin or a croft. This is the first time we’ve had two floors since we moved out in July. We’ve joked about renting the upstairs out on Airbnb.

Our intention on returning home, but not yet to ‘work’ (Jeff’s sabbatical is until September), was to keep the same routine we had in Scotland, with space for creativity and nature… But it’s been hard not to slip back into old habits when all the stimuli around us are so familiar. I want to get out for early-morning walks with my binoculars and listen to the birdsong, but instead I’m marching Morris around the field worrying about my future… I want to pick up the guitar and practise my chords, but instead I’m touting for work in a panic about money. Everything seems the same but actually, everything is different.

This is not a completely-unfamiliar feeling. I’ve been ‘travelling’ before: twice actually – a year in Australia and then almost two years away in Thailand, Vietnam, Borneo and Australia. I know that coming home can leave you feeling flat and wondering – in the words of the great Peggy Lee – ‘Is that all there is?‘ But I was young then. And somehow, a few months in Scotland didn’t seem to qualify as ‘travelling’ in the same way that backpacking around south-east Asia does. So the coming-home blues have taken me by surprise.

One legacy of our trip is the increased length of the Morris’s walks. It’s led us to explore further from home (I even discovered a new running route). And we’ve started to go to the beach more often – it’s so near (we can see the sea from the bedroom window on a sunny day)

IMG-4780…and yet we’ve never quite made it a habit before. It’s hard to be heavyhearted when you reach the top of the dunes and look out across that vast expanse of sand, practically deserted at this time of year. Morris loves it.

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It feels churlish not to appreciate being home when we live somewhere so lovely. I’m getting there…I just have to wait for my heart to catch up. I think I left it somewhere along the M9.

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Pastures new

Remembering all the things I yearned to do at the beginning of this trip when the vast, blank slate was mine to fill, I spend the first fortnight at Incheoch attempting to cram them all in.

It’s our final month in Scotland. Edging closer to a return to reality, we decide that we need somewhere less isolated than our previous locations in order to re-familiarise ourselves with things like, er, other people, cars, towns and places that boast more than one shop.

We head for Perthshire (or more correctly, the County of Perth) in central Scotland at the start of a snowy January.

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With an expectation of spending more time indoors, we prioritise comfort and cosiness over wild surroundings when we choose the farm cottage at Incheoch as our base. It’s a working farm, and although our next-door neighbours (pictured below) are generally quiet they do occasionally like to lick our windows.

But in a repeat of our experience on Luing, a place that first appeared to be relatively limited in terms of inspiring walking and running routes turns out to be an unexpected gem. From nearby Alyth Hill there are 360-degree views over moors and farmland; the broad valley floors filled with a patchwork of fields in muted shades of green and yellow.

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Our cottage is just a stone’s throw from the Cateran Trail, a 64-mile circular walking route that connects up the trails used by cattle drovers – and cattle thieves – in the 17th century; immediately opening up route possibilities in two directions. A couple of miles away, a precarious path through woodland leads to the waterfall at Reekie Linn – modest in drop, but thunderous in power.

The hills may be lower, the lochs fewer and the forests smaller but gradually, on foot and by bike, we discover the beautifully bleak moorland north of Kilry, the wooded Bamff Estate, where beavers have been reintroduced (we didn’t see any but there is plenty of evidence of their presence – including gnawed tree trunks and impressive dams), and the riverside trails in the Den O’ Alyth.

Although our intention is to continue with the daily routine that’s served us so well up until now, it feels harder to settle. There’s a slight shift in the atmosphere. We know we’re going home soon and that creates a mix of excitement and anxiety. Are we ready?

Remembering all the things I yearned to do at the beginning of this trip when the vast, blank slate was mine to fill, I spend the first fortnight at Incheoch attempting to cram them all in. One minute I’m on acoustic guitar lesson one, the next I’m mastering some new core stability moves, taking part in a creative writing webinar or updating myself on the latest running coaching science. It’s quite exhausting and unsurprisingly, stressful. One evening I’m lying on the floor, foam rolling my calves when I spot the set of acrylic paints I got for Christmas eyeing me reproachfully from the shelf: you haven’t used us yet, they whisper. Enough already, I scold myself. I make a concerted effort after that to remind myself that I am not going back to a 9-5 job – I still have time, I still have freedom and opportunity. It’s not over.

Perthshire is the most populated place we’ve stayed in Scotland (apart from Edinburgh, of course). So, as part of our ‘unwilding’, we do stuff like drink beer at craft breweries and go for coffee. We go to look at the newly built V&A museum in Dundee, run the Parkrun in Perth a couple of times, go training with Perth Road Runners one evening and do our weekly food shop in the nearby town of Blairgowrie.

One day, we walk into Alyth on the Cateran Trail and, finding no cafe that allows dogs, take a punt on the grand mansion that is the Lands of Loyal Hotel, on the outskirts of town. We end up sitting in our scruffy walking gear in the magnificent ‘Great Hall’ drinking coffee in front of a roaring fire.

Tomorrow, we are packing up. We’ll go for one last dog walk, one last run, and then load up the van with the crates and boxes that have been our mobile wardrobes, pantry, bathroom cabinet and library since we moved out of our house back in July.

We’ll put the kayaks on the roof rack, cram the bikes in, along with Jeff’s snowboard (used once) and my guitar (I’m up to lesson four). On that walk, I’ll keep my eyes open for the hare that crouches in the field at the foot of the hill until we get too close and then bounds away, making speed look effortless. And when I run, I’ll head up to the top of the hill to marvel at the vastness of land and sky in every direction.

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