Over the Severn, past Port Talbot’s blue flames to the westernmost edge of the dragon.
We’ve been visiting more often, of late. We have learnt the landscape, taught ourselves the topography. Gradually, the place has made an impression, left footprints in our clay. When we are away, we feel the pull of it.
The house sits atop a hill, half a mile inland off an unnamed road. Around it: fields, ferns, gorse hedgerows. Empty in the off season, lent to us by family friends. This house has become our bolthole – a place we can go to recover, to gather our thoughts and quiet them. In the day, the air is still. At night, the sky is dark. Silence and stars still mean something here.
I had been going through a bout of depression. ‘Bout’ is the right word for it: a boxing match, punctuated by periods of remission. I was supposed to be working on a novel but hadn’t written anything for months. I didn’t care. Kim had seen me against the ropes, and suggested the house.
At the end of the second day, we drove to the beach and walked south. The sea-stretched sand mirrored the setting sky. The retreating surf bubbled with the patter of unseen rain. Moon and Sun were balanced in the pale, scales tipping imperceptibly. At the end of the beach: a challenge of boulders, ancient and moon-grey. We stepped onto the new terrain and continued until we came upon an inlet, hidden from the wind.
We sat, waiting for the sun to fall into the salt. The cold spread down our legs. The heaviness of a heron waded past us through the uncooked dark. In my palm, the silt was metallic and coarse – mountains, at one time, pulverised by the ungodly weight of the ocean.
This place: stones the colour of space; by the water, discarded branches of a bloated weed, like strange tusks. An alien world – a slick, still-dripping world, emergent for a moment and gasping. Trapped by the tide. Stuck in the churn eternal.
I lifted my camera. The dusk-chilled steel bit into my hands. I advanced the lever – it jammed halfway. I was out of film. My phone was dead, too. Kim had left hers at the house. We had no means to record our surroundings, bottle them, put them to use.
When we had first arrived to the house, I thought I could hear a road. Standing on the front porch, bags still in hand, I began to hyperventilate. I listened to the scream of machines that had followed me here. It took me a while to realise that the sound was waves breaking in the distance.
But here, in this space – tide turning, light failing, objects shifting in the sky – the sea sounded like sea again. Wilderness returned, the anthropocene put on pause – we had found a place where nature remained. My shoulders relaxed. I stretched out a leg until the water lapped at my boot heel. No one had sat upon these rocks, nobody had watched the sunset from this angle or touched this volume of water in this particular place, in this particular moment. In a matter of minutes it would go under and the portal would close. I filled my lungs with brackish air and held it inside. As the sky grew dark, I felt a darkness lifting. As my toes lost feeling, something kindled in my core. I was a creature rewilded. In the absence of civilisation, my depression had starved. The bout had come to an end.
In the days following the encounter, I began to feel more human. My notebook still lay blank on the coffee table, but I was now better equipped – the novel felt possible, and I wanted to write it. Once again, the house had sucked the venom from our veins. As we pulled out from the driveway, I wondered why we ever had to leave at all.
Kim slept beside me, lulled by the rush of rubber, the spray and fall of water. I watched the wilderness disintegrate, passing holiday homes, carveries, petrol stations burning in the night.
We merged onto the motorway, heading east. On the A46, I pressed the demister and flicked my beams to high.
Gradually, like fog condensing on glass, words began to form.
NICHOLAS HERRMANN is a writer and photographer based in Bath. His work has been featured in journals and online, including The Calvert Journal, Arcturus and Lodestars Anthology, and he is currently writing about the Ridgeway for Elsewhere. Nicholas is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa University, where he was shortlisted for the Janklow and Nesbit Prize. The manuscript of his first novel was shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award 2017. He can be found on Twitter: @NickPSH
Photograph by the author.