Summer is my favourite time of year. I enjoy the earthy colours of Autumn too. And I acknowledge the particular beauties of Winter; there is something quite clarifying about the silhouette of a tree whose heart is revealed to a world of snow. There is no doubt that Spring holds out a special message of promise and hope, and this year especially I welcomed her arrival with open arms. But the fulfilment of hope and promise encapsulated in the taste of the soft fruits of Summer is, for me, both satisfying and sweet.
Following the rhythm of the academic year, a pattern that has been an integral part of my life since childhood, Summer heralds the opportunity for needed rest. There is much to bless in days that stretch out more slowly: days with fewer demands and requirements; weeks with fewer appointments and responsibilities. More time, simply, to be.
I sit looking out at the blue of the Atlantic, and note that on this day in early July it is bathing the North Coast of Ireland in an uncharacteristically gentle and unhurried way. As I continue to look out to sea, my mind turns to Summers that have gone before, for these opened up gateways to explore places that lie further afield, to experience different cultures, and meet new people. This year we will not travel far from home. But the rich memories that were made in other times remain, and today there is space to enjoy them.
I remember journeys we made with our children when we discovered fairy tale castles in France: we became a small troupe of intrepid flâneurs, navigating the capacious parklands of the mighty Chambord. We found the resting place of Leonardo da Vinci by the banks of the languid Loire at Amboise. And we witnessed, spellbound, the tranquil chambers of Chenonceau, arching their way in grace across the blue-green jewel of the Cher.
Once, when exploring the ancient towns of Italy, we stumbled upon the setting up of banquet tables in the brick-paved squares of Sienna, its neighbourhood dwellings mellowed by the passing of centuries, each one draped in a banner emblazoned with variations and themes on the balzana, billowing down from upstairs windows in the late afternoon. The excitement in the air in anticipation of the Palio was palpable.
I cherish memories of Andalucía, whose silver Mediterranean shoreline gives way to oceans of olive groves, stretching dove-coloured over endless hills. I see in my mind’s eye the sun-scorched streets of Córdoba, the architectural mosaic of which recounts the rich story of the Convivencia. And at last, we reach the dazzling light of Cádiz, her sea-washed citadel looking out to Africa and the Americas beyond. Later, in the evening, from the very Western fringe of Iberia, we watched the spectacular sphere of the sun, sherry-soaked and sinking, as it continued its own journey, disappearing beneath our European horizon.
I might recall more of these expeditions retrieved from memory as this unique summer begins to unfold. If I do, I will try to take the time to share them here. For now, the green shores of Antrim call me back to the present story, to a summer to be spent in a more temperate clime, with skies that are clouded as often as they are fresh and blue. Here the land is watered by cool mists and soft grey rain, sometimes mingled with smoke rising gently from peat fires burning in the hearth. Even in summer.
Photographs by Sharon and Mark Jones.
Summer at Home Staycation Series:
Into the Mist at Whiterocks Beach