A reunion from the ruins

Daffodils behind a wall, with a view to hills on the horizon

For the first time since November, we’ve been able to travel out of Fife. Some of the restrictions in Scotland have lifted, and as the leaves begin to unfurl, we can go anywhere we want.

It’s hard to put into words how this feels. Perhaps you know what I mean.

Physically it’s a freedom stretched, a world expanded, fingers reaching along faraway roads.

Mentally, it is a lightness, a weight lifted. There’s something about knowing you’re allowed to go beyond your local authority limit that calms. The borders, invisible anyway, melt. We can go to Perthshire again and enjoy our favourite loch route in the hills. We can see our friends for a takeaway coffee in Edinburgh.

A ruined house amongst trees

We haven’t actually done those things yet. Instead, we have driven across Scotland’s central belt to the west coast, to see family.

On the promise of a sunny forecast, we leave a grey Fife behind with a packed lunch and coffees in the car. As soon as we cross the Forth Bridge, the cloud parts, leaving only blue. Everything seems sharper, my eyes seeing the mundane afresh.

I swallow details: three lanes of traffic, the warm tone my sunglasses give everything, city overpasses, the stretched Glasgow skyline, my university’s spire, the River Clyde. The deep blue river. I drink it up.

We pass a stream of vehicles south of Loch Lomond, and soon we are back at my parents’ house. It is sunny, I am wearing black, the blossom branches bend, and we are finally together for a good reason.

After a few hours of talking and eating, we go for a walk. I forget how built up Fife is in comparison to the countryside around my parents’ village. In about five minutes, we are on a gravel farm track, and the hills roll away in front of us. Above is the trig point, behind us the river and the sea lochs. It seems endless.

A black and white photograph of a horse framed by branches

It is one of those perfect days where time seems to stop under blue skies. It’s not that deep transient blue, but instead a pastel, a hazy baby blue which holds down the heat. Flies buzz. Branches are still bare, but at their tips, buds, trying — like us — to reach brightness.

I have never done this walk before. We follow my parents from lane to lane, perpendicular at times, threading between the patchwork of fields and shelter belts. Into one we go, the trees’ shadow a reprieve from the dust and dirt of the tracks. A building appears ahead.

We begin to wind back towards the road I used to cycle in my early twenties, when I still lived at home. I don’t recognise this area, but the strange structure we saw from the shelter belt has crept up on us from around the corner. My brother and father duck into a break in the wall. I follow.

The leaves here have unrolled, little parasols holding the sunlight back from my creased face. It feels cool, dappled, surreal — like a summer scene from a film. My dad and brother discuss the square ruin by the wall, saying it must have been a private church for the estate, but I barely hear them.

In a sort of daze, I crouch under branches until the trees fall away. In front of me, daffodils frame the ruin of the doocot.

Although there are many on the east coast, like round cones dotted around the countryside, this pigeon house is different. The shape of it is peculiar. It reminds me a bit of Preston Mill in East Lothian — unexpected, a mirage of the past, somehow magical.

I wonder what this abandoned building was like when it was used by the owners of this estate — and the pigeons — centuries ago. I wonder what it could be like, if someone bought it today, and spent love on making it whole again.

A crumbling dovecot with daffodils in the foreground

Around the corner, I recognise the old road. Some kind of spell is broken by the familiarity of this section of tarmac. And yet, although it’s familiar, I haven’t walked here in years. More grey hairs have appeared above my ears. My parents have kept their jobs, but lost loved ones. My brother is no longer at university, and talks of adult things, like houses and savings.

Underneath this hazy familiarity hides the passing of time, the pause of the pandemic, a world remade with masks and distancing.

The next day my face tingles. It could be the slight sunburn of skin not used to the Scottish sunshine. It could be from smiling. Perhaps it’s both.

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