And so the road beckoned once more. As late summer flirted with autumn, I heard the call. It was my land.
I haven’t met my land yet. I don’t know where she hides, nor what she looks like. But she called. Or cooed. Or was it that she sang? Suddenly, from the cosy security of my Dad’s lounge in Essex I ached for the wild. For old trees with old secrets. For a babbling brook. For the aroma of rich, musty earth.
I had to find my spot of wilderness.
It was a blustery cloud-swept morning that left. I arrived in Harwich port where the cranes tore mercilessly at the stratus. They were huge mechanised raptors pillaging the shoreline, clanking hysterically as they worked. The waterfront was the epitome of the modern world. A world made by people who value different things than I. A world where magic, beauty and sentiment have few places to hide, and no currency to bargain with. A world of systems, logic, levers and pulleys.
That world is not my world. But I am not homeless, because as soon as I distance myself from a city, or a computer screen, or a newspaper, my world reappears. It is waiting for me. It never left me. There is a covenant between our hearts and this planet. And by our will, love and imagination our worlds arise.
As I sat in the spacious belly of the ferry, my van tucked neatly into the floating car park below, through a porthole I watched England being sucked out of sight. The clouds thinned. The sea flattened. Sunlight flicked over the water. And I felt the pull. There was a grace in that light. A guidance. A summoning.
It was evening when I rumbled off the gangplank into the Netherlands. I motored slowly. This time I felt none of the restless haste I had in the winter. Because my land is there. Waiting. And all that could happen has. There really is nothing but The New ahead.
Soon the slick highways of the Netherlands and Belgium had disappeared from the rear view, and I was once again cruising through the motorists’ heaven that is rural France. Miles and miles of smooth, fresh tarmac with very little on it. Rolling fields. Old stone bridges arcing over untroubled rivers. Sun-kissed villages. Patisseries and crêperies and cafés and tabacs. It’s another type of civilisation here. A province where money and success are no longer Gods. Where shops are closed more often than they are open, and where things take their time. Beauty counts. Art counts. Digestion counts.
And faster than I could have hoped, the land touched me. It was as if the road was a tendril striving for the light, twisting and stretching though a landscape of secret signs. There was no longer just me navigating the outside. We were a multitude of interwoven intelligences.
My heart was full. I was on the right track.
I hadn’t planned to visit the Dordogne. I hadn’t planned to visit anywhere in particular. But a peculiar stone round house on a roadside drew me to a halt. I turned off the road and parked, sniffing the air. The weather was whimsical, glorious sunshine playing hide and seek with heavy, driving rain. Currently, it was the sun’s turn in the sky, so I left my jacket in the van, and strode over to look at the stone house.
On closer inspection I saw the small stone building was mortarless. With its conical schist roof it resembled a stunted wizard, or a rocky sufi. The structure was too tiny to be a dwelling. And with no obvious information on it, there wasn’t much more to learn from it. So I walked back to my van feeling a little ignorant.
It was then, there in the small car park, that a sign caught my eye. I trotted over to it, hoping it would tell me about the stone structure. It didn’t. The sign was adorned with maps and photographs, an outline of the Dordogne (which I was on the very outer edge of) replete with prehistoric caves, ancient villages, and other sites of interest. I studied the pictures and the map. My eye fell upon the cave of Lascaux.
Lascaux is a prehistoric cave housing ancient paintings from 20 000 years ago. I’d visited a similar one in Spain – Altamira cave – and the experience had left an impression on me as the artwork was astounding. Indeed upon visiting it, Picasso famously said, “After Altamira, all is decadence.”
Pulling out my phone from my pocket, I checked where Lascaux was on the map. It was in the opposite direction to the where I was heading. But this was a treasure trail, I could tell...
Because I had run out of water and was needing a shower, I didn’t want to camp wild that night, so I scanned the virtual map again for a campsite in the Lascaux area. The least expensive one I could see was in a village about an hour away from where I now stood.
And so it was. I buckled myself into the driver’s seat once again, turned the ignition and pulled out of the car park. The sky darkened and sank onto my van. Within seconds the road was a splashing river, and my windscreen wipers were groaning.
An hour later the sun had carved a reasonable groove into the cloud once more, and I had arrived in the most charming rustic village. It was an oasis of natural tranquillity. A thick flat river coursed happily beside my pitch, and I was lulled to sleep by the sound of gurgling water.
I never reached the cave of Lascaux. I was too taken by where I was. There was an evocative ancient church in the village. When I sat inside, its cool walls soothed me. And each evening as its large old bell struck, I was reminded of something, somewhere. Stone homes, tiny nobbled passageways, and a prehistoric cave a 5 kilometre hike away. One with ancient houses in, not paintings.
Two days later, I left the Vallee de Vezeres. The rational mind was scratching its head. What did it all mean? The old church? The river? The dancing sunlight, and the troglodyte city? But on another level entirely, both my heart and soul, with their fingers dipped into the intelligence of The Beyond, had already spotted the clues. Though it would take a few more days for me to see where they were leading.
Atulya K Bingham
"This is such a compelling book. It will make you want to abandon everything you know, move to the forest and commune with the trees and earth." Luisa Lyons, actor, writer and musician.
"Inspiring and beautifully written."
The Owner Builder Magazine.