It's early evening and it's mid October so most people are sitting inside, eating their dinner, drinking a pint, chatting with their fellow passengers, reading the newspapers propped up against the counter in the shop. The decks are the preserve of the smokers, the workers who have been on the ferry all day and the owners of new dogs, unsure whether or not their puppies can last indoors without peeing on the floor or stealing someone's handbag. The deck wraps around three sides of the boat; port, starboard, stern and is lined with rows of red plastic chairs, their seats curved to harbour puddles in the centre of each one.
I find my mum in the furthest corner, huddled by the most sheltered wall, chatting to the ferry men and with the puppy bounding around on the end of her lead. She hands the dog over and disappears inside to take her turn in the cafe to warm herself with chips and tea. 'Bye dog with no name' the man in the white overalls laughs as I walk bend my back into the wind and walk around the boat sto watch the sunset from the other side. The sun has gone down behind the islands we are sailing towards and the sky fades downwards from cobalt through the slightest hint of pink, a glowing yellow the colour of hope and into the deepest, richest peach, the flaming almost-red of the flesh that clings to the lined and pitted stone in the centre of the fruit. Wisps of cloud drift over this colourwash bruising the sky a rich purple and the sea reflects it all back upon itself. It is a work of art. It is hope and it is joy and it is a welcome home.
I sit on the hard red plastic, the wind blowing against my face, warm in the depths of the black duvet-like parka that I bought on the way here. Fish and chips fill my belly, the ferry ploughs calmly through cold dark depths, roaring and shuddering, carrying us into the fire of the sunset and almost invisible in the darkness a puppy curls into my lap, chin and paws white and the rest of her disappearing into my coat, black on black in black. I run my hand slowly and repeatedly over her warm soft baby coat that smells of dust and biscuits and feel her chest rise and fall against my stomach. A feeling that I haven't had for as long as I can remember floods my body and I feel my own breath slow against hers. It is contentment, this thing that I feel, contentment, satisfaction, warmth, homecoming.
The road snakes in front of us, long and smooth and undulating surely over the moors, a ribbon of grey slicing through the blazing autumn grass and heather. The sun cleaves through the thick dark clouds that have been hanging over the island all morning and catches the rain that is both falling lightly from the sky and is coating every blade of grass, every inch of tarmac. The low, soft landscape is cast in gold and steel, diamonds glint in the air and deep purple bruises blush across the arcic blue sky that hangs like a backdrop behind the drama playing out in the heavens. It is a Tuesday morning and we are on our way to the shop to buy bread and toilet paper. It is a Tuesday morning and the world is as beautiful as I have ever seen it. It is a Tuesday morning and I feel my chest tighten with the glory of it all.
Backs bent, eyes cast down, before us a screen reel of a thousand greys of the pale sand, tidal patterns twisting, dancing and decorated with seaweed scattered and dropped by the wind and the sea. Every so often one of the four of us looks up and a thousand drops of cold water coats our faces. I can't yet think of it as rain, rain starts up and goes down and hits land; this, this is more like wet wind, water that flies parallel to the ground and only stops when it meets solid matter, like a face.
I look up less than everyone else, being the only one of us that wears glasses I'm the only one of us who is rendered sightless when I straighten my neck, the brief view of the pigeon grey sky, the turbulent sea and the grass whipping on the dunes quickly blurring and disappearing behind a veil of water.
'This walk is gnarly!' a small voice squeaks from a cobalt blue hood, her little hand in mine, our woollen gloves rapidly absorbing the weather making our hands and faces the only cold bits of our bodies. 'I love this exciting weather!' squeaks the other hood, the one holding Nye's hand and I feel a lightening in my self as I shed one more worry, the worry that they would hate being outdoors in this Weather with a capital 'W'.
The last time we tried this they were a little less than three years old and not at all impressed with their parents' idea of holiday fun. It was November and it was howling and even wrapped head to toe in waterproof clothing they shivered, fingers and noses turning angry magenta in the cold. 'No beach, no beach' was the cry that would come from both of them as we started to wrap them up and strap them into their car seats, anything but the beach.
It was one of my major worries about coming here, to this wind battered Atlantic island - that the girls would hate the weather and that the winters would be interminable, trapped in the house watching telly and sinking deeper and deeper into cabin fever. I knew that Nye and I would go out anyway, cocooned in thermal and fleece and gore-tex but the thought of trying to drag reluctant five year olds along the beach, listening to their whimpers and shrieks of discontent was not a happy one. Aware as I am that their enthusiasm may not last, relief washes over me with the rain as they proclaim their first experiences of northern life 'exciting' rather than 'bloody wretched'.