The train glided past a narrow, clear meandering stream and alongside a cloudy canal with houseboats and people watching the locks. Past small groups of multicoloured ponies and white sheep.
Eating my cheese and oatcakes I avoided my hard boiled eggs, not wanting to be the unsociable person who stinks out the carriage. A very vocal little girl was showing her mum how to braid the latest craze – loom bands. My texts to Miranda were probably irritatingly cryptic, because I knew they cost 10p per text. We passed a chalk white horse cut into the hillside near Westbury and the landscape seems beautiful. Silage bales are wrapped in black plastic and houses are creeping up the hill. New buildings are being built next to the railway line.
A very loudly talking man is organising something for Glastonbury festival as if it was all that mattered in the world. After a long time I ask him if he could speak more quietly, and am greatly rewarded by him lowering his voice. Then he gets off at the next stop. It took me so long to work up the courage to ask, why didn’t I ask earlier?
The hills become small and gentle and covered in trees while the fields also become smaller.
Staring at the back of the seat in front of me I realise I’m frowning intensely. Every seat now has an entertainment screen on the back, like on an airplane, all using electricity. I look around but I can’t see anyone using them. Mine won’t switch off. I’d rather have a cheaper ticket, and somewhere to put my bag.
Travelling to Taunton there are lots of little streams and drainage ditches and waterlogged ground. In Taunton itself new, brutal blocks of flats are visible. Past an empty picturesque factory then more construction sites.
There’s a shiny field of lines near Tiverton and with a shock I realise it is full of solar panels. I’ve never seen that before and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Is it a waste of agricultural land? How are the panels made? It’s a lot better than a coal mine and apocalyptic climate change.
New arrivals on to the train eat pungent burgers out of polystyrene. I overhear talk of things washed away by the flooding earlier in the year. A lone wetland field had been left wild, then order resumes, with partial flooding. Past the low tide estuary with lots of small stranded boats, a sterile holiday trailer park then…the sea.
Sparkling, wave topped, most people in the train turned to look and the tone of conversations changes. I haven’t seen the sea for months and I missed it, though I didn’t realise till now. Dark orange low cliffs with dark geological lines are close by on the other side of the train. The rail line is so close to the sea, just a meter or so above the surface and right next to the edge. There are signs of a landslide near Teignmouth. The water near the shore is red with sediment like old blood I’m not sure if this is usual, then I realise this is the railway line that had got washed away by the flooding.
In Totnes I caught the bus out towards Steph’s village then it was a fifteen minute walk to the village in sunshine. The lane to Rattery is incredibly quiet, some insect buzzing but no car noise. There are bees and flowers and edible plants along the steep banks lining the road like walls.
The cottage is like I imagined, old, with white walls, plants, a little wooden gate, with an open front door.
“Hello?” I call. I get my first view of Steph – wavy hair, shy smile and a long skirt.
[This chapter will feature text from Steph at a later date]