Lake (trip 2)

by haywardhelen

william mountain


Next morning after breakfast I tell my husband that I would like him to put his writing first, even before family. Even before me. He hugs and thanks me, and we both look each other in the eyes. As he heads off to a café to write, my son, daughter and I head off for an adventure in the mountains nearby. My husband is a writer, not a hiker, and the challenge before him is as big as any mountain.


My daughter asks if we might see the Royals at Balmoral. My son scoffs. Instead we walk out of Ballater on the wrong road, under my son’s direction. His sister grabs the map off him and takes us out of the town over the bridge. Still no sign of a walking track. Now it’s my turn. Diving into a café I ask two pleasant looking men to look at our map. They laugh and tell me that we are in the wrong town. Instead they suggest a walk by a lake just outside Ballater, and give me directions that even I can follow.


The road twits up to a plateau, surrounded by a band of small mountains. As we pull on hiking boots the sky clears to blue, our first sight of sky since arriving. The bitter cold of the morning gives way to perfect walking weather. We take the track to the left of the lake, leaving the paved track on the right of the lake until last, in case dark falls before we reach it.


My daughter, as if smitten, stops countless times to take photos – running to catch up with me and her brother, who scoffs at her. Undeterred, she keeps stopping, taking it all in through the lens of her camera.


Once we reach the end of the lake we fall into step, relaxing together in a way that is familiar from previous hikes. Out by that lake, with the moon on our right and mountains all around, everything seems possible. I say a silent thank you to a world that has allowed us to walk, arm in arm, with a lake on one side and mountains on the other, the moon coming up before the sun goes down.


The following morning, after my husband writes over coffee and the three of us walk up Scolty Hill, we set of for my father-in-law’s studio near Perth. As usual it is raining. We are all nervous. The car still feels like a minibus to drive, and I wonder if I’ll ever get used to taking up so much of the road.


The table is set and wonderful smells from the tiny kitchen greet us. My father-in-law can barely contain his excitement to see us. The candlesticks gleam, fruit sits on silver salvers, and an important bottle of wine is ceremoniously opened in my husband’s honour.


My father-in-law’s partner, an ex-French diplomat, has taught herself to cook since our last visit, and she spoils us with a delicious lunch. By the time she serves dessert, my son is announcing his intention to sail round the world with friends on leaving school. One of his friends has a suitable boat, he says. And no, he replies with a laugh, they won’t be attacked by pirates. They’ll sail through the Panama Canal and avoid Cape Horn.


I can hear my heart beating. This is news to me. I glance at but don’t catch my son’s eye. Clearly this announcement is aimed not at me, but his grandfather, who for the first time since we sat down to lunch pauses to take in what he has heard.


Sitting in my father-in-law’s studio, an ex-saddlery, my heart sinks. My son could have told me about his plans to sail from Tasmania to Norway on the hike yesterday, or at any time in our kitchen at home over the past month. But instead he announces it over lunch at his grandfather’s studio. It doesn’t help knowing that he announced it to head off his grandfather’s question about his future – although he doesn’t know what he plans to do with his life, he does know how he wants to spend the year after next.


I clean up the kitchen with my father-in-law’s partner as my son disappears up the wooden stairs into my father-in-law’s studio. She and I chat and confide, as openly as ever. Drinking coffee from small cups we talk about what it is like to share our lives with men who are devoted to their work. Men who are driven yet anxious about their creativity, and who, so understandably, fret about how their work will be received.


The track is muddy as the three of us walk up the hill behind my father-in-law’s studio in the dark. My son tells me more about his plans, making it a somewhat less scary prospect. It’s his girlfriend’s father, he explains, who is planning the voyage. It won’t just be his friends. ‘Oh’, I say, ‘I see’. He puts his arm through mine and apologises for surprising me. With my daughter on one side, and son on the other, we skip down the farm track – and I silently pray I won’t slip.