Posted by: dorsetcpre | March 1, 2011

A LIFE IN THE DAY – Tracy Chevalier

Tracy ChavalierI am a city kid. I grew up in Washington, DC and have spent all of my adult life in London. However, the countryside is very important to me. As a girl I spent much of the summer either at a camp in the Maryland woods or at an old farmhouse we had near the Delaware beaches. That house was next door to a chicken farm, and had a swamp behind it that my siblings and I played in for hours, catching snakes and toads, swimming, exploring. I went everywhere in bare feet and only stayed inside when it rained or it was bedtime.

As an adult I guess I’m still looking for a place to go barefoot. In the United Kingdom the countryside I have gotten to know best is Dorset. I first came here 20 years ago when my now-husband Jon suggested we visit Yetminster to seek out the birthplace of the Yetties folk band. He had been on holiday to Dorset many times as a child and was adept with an Ordnance Survey map. I remember being shocked that public rights-of-way allow walkers to pass through private land unchallenged. When my family tried that in Delaware once the owner came after us in a pick-up truck with his shotgun. I expected the same treatment in the Dorset fields, and couldn’t get over how accessible the land is. I still marvel at it.

I fell in love with Dorset for its small lanes, its thatched roofs, and its hills the perfect size for a human to walk up without getting puffed. The landscape is lovely and unspoilt. We now have a cottage in the Piddle Valley, and for me the perfect day here starts with birdsong and ends with stars. I like to lie in bed and look out at the paddock in the village, where if I’m lucky there might be horses. We try to go out for a walk most days, often straight from our door up onto the surrounding ridges. The views of the green hills and valleys and fields edged with hedgerows always fill me with joy, no matter how familiar they are. I love seeing so much green and breathing such fresh air. If the season is right we forage – elderflowers for cordial, blackberries for jelly, mushrooms for omelettes, sloes for gin. We have our favourite walks, but even after seven years here we are still finding new paths. Often we don’t see another person the whole time we’re out.

If the weather’s fine when we get back we lie in the garden playing Scrabble and reading, with tea and scones to fortify us. If we need something stronger we listen out for the village pub door to open, and pop along – 50 paces away – for a pint and a meal. Just before bed we like to go into the road and look at the stars. Only out here can you see the Milky Way. I look up at it and count my blessings that I have found my way to such a wonderful place.

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