A naturally raised area of land, not as high or craggy as a mountain.
A cold mist or fog, used on the east coast of Scotland to mean a sea-mist.
Full moon overnight, low tide, forecast of sunshine. We got ready early to meet the shallowest dip on the tide table.
I couldn’t remember the last time our town and the hill behind it had disappeared beneath the sea fog, or haar, as we call it here. Weeks, maybe months.
Now, the conditions were just right: a warm breeze from the east, passing over the cooler North Sea, creating milky cloud over houses and high streets, coating the trees’ leaves in silver damp. Not quite the sunny summer morning on the beach we’d thought.
We walked out towards the sea, past beached boats and horse riders and dog walkers and shell seekers. Across the long spit of sand was our town. Not quite our hometown, but looking at it through the fog, I felt a fondness, a familiarity, despite the distance from our families.
Framing the town like a painting, the hill was washed in dreamy grey-green, cloud between treetops, layers of fields dissolving into nothing.
A new name came to me in a breath: Hill and Haar.
For a year when I was twenty, I lived and worked in northern France, in a town about the same size as the one I’m in now. As the end of summer melted into a wet autumn, intense homesickness soon outweighed my earlier excitement. I began to think of nothing but returning to Scotland.
I was lonely. Sitting in my rented, mouldy flat, I decided to open an account on a growing social media platform. My common name had already been claimed as a handle, so what else would I use? I reflected on how I was feeling, adding my initials to the French word for return, and there it was: laretour.
For a decade the name has stuck on blogs, photos and emails, even though it means nothing much to anyone but me. Its story is tied up in memory. But all memories fade, even if we write them down, and especially if we change. The me that made laretour feels far away now, like remembering someone who was a friend but has slowly become a stranger.
I turned 30 this year, bare arms open to the last of the summer heat. The hint of autumn on the breeze felt like a new beginning.
I wake to lacy snow on dark branches. It is December. To warm up I have coffee and toast and read other people’s words on a screen. Outside, the trees on the slope are shades of brown and grey and purple.
I have written before about how daily walks up that small hill were a balm during lockdown. So too was paying attention to the slow changing of the seasons. Leaves falling and the smell of smoke on rainy autumn mornings, fields empty of cows but full of frost, then welcoming the first sign of spring — the haar.
Hill and Haar is a name that sums up where I am in life, quite literally. But it also reminds me of Scotland as a whole — from the mountains that framed my west coast childhood, to walking smoky Edinburgh streets on the way to my first office job.
It’s about the country I’m from, the landscapes that have shaped me, and the stories I tell myself about them in an online age, where our moments can be shared here, in screened spaces, for anybody to read.
And most of all, it’s about returning to and caring for the places that mean the most to us. Slowing down and switching off, coming back to somewhere — both outside and inside of ourselves — that is home.
Thank you for reading
Whether you’ve visited this blog over the years, or for the first time just now, thank you. Having this space to share my words, a space untouched by algorithm, feels more special than ever.
I’m hoping to share a new post every week. Slow moments from home below this small and often cloudy hill. Essays about switching off, noticing nature, thoughtful books, maybe even conversations with thoughtful people. And exploring Scotland, slowly and considerately, which for us will now be mostly by caravan.
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