Left Cumbria at half-past seven, with the mercury hovering at minus six. It was the bluest, clearest morning I ever saw.
For miles, I saw hardly another car on the road. The sun rose with a fierce red clarity, turning the hills a deep pink. Somewhere south of Douglas, with the land the colour of roses, and Alan Bennett reading his diaries on the stereo, talking of Christopher Logue and Princess Margaret and Kenneth Tynan, I found myself trying to sketch the landscape in words. Must write it down, write it down, said the authorial voice; must tell the Dear Readers. Then, another voice said: can you not just look at the beauty? It does not always have to be recorded. It can just be.
Then I switched to the radio, and there was some classical loveliness, and I wept fiercely and unexpectedly for my lost dog. That too could just be, yet I cannot help recording it. It was one of those waves that comes and knocks me flat to the floor. It was that I was going home, I think, on that familiar journey north, for the first time without her.
But I had a living fellow in the back, who turns out to be the best traveller ever, and when I turned left onto the hills of the Stonehaven road, dusted with snow, with the high white mountains between me and my house, he sat up in the back seat and gazed about with excited amber eyes, as if to say: I too am coming home.
‘You’re in Scotland now,’ I told him, with portent.
At least half the family was gathered when I got back. Everyone loved the dog; the dog loved everyone. My mare fell in love at first glance, dipping her beautiful head low to the ground to greet this new arrival. Stanley the Lurcher was mildly freaked out and jumped and barked a bit, as if alarmed by what he must see as an enormous red dog.
‘It’s a horse,’ I told him sternly.
The mare can be spooky and jumpy herself, but she did not flinch at the antic fellow, just blinked at him gently with her liquid eyes. They shall be friends, all right.
As I write this now, my dear, rescued gentleman comes and settles himself on the absurd collection of sheepskins and blankets beside my desk. He curls himself up into an elegant comma, and sighs, and looks at me out of one eye, and then falls at once to sleep.
‘You are home,’ I tell him.
No pictures today. Too tired. 280 miles in the frost and snow have finished me off.
But I am back. There is no beautiful black shadow, only the memory of her, but there is a living, breathing, brindle fellow, all the way from Somerset. There is, once again, a dog in the house.