Early Days, September 2003. The tiny, rural hamlet of Sweethope lies deep in the heart of The Scottish Borders, about an hour southeast of Edinburgh, two hours north of Newcastle. My mum, dad, brother, dog Inde and I moved there in 2003, just the latest location in The Thomas Family Scotland Roadshow. Surrounded by rolling fields, scattered farms and the nearby peak of Sweethope Hill, this secret little corner of the world would play a crucial part in my life over the following twelve years. I’ll never forget the summer I spent here after my trip to India, sat atop the hill every day with Inde reading Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend. Sweethope was also the base for an amazing summer romance (see my short story Car Crash Girl Part II), not to mention my sister’s wedding and the scene of many wonderful Christmases. Sadly, Inde passed on in late 2006, but it wasn’t too long before another Brittany called Solo arrived to claim Sweethope as his own.
Winter Wonderland, December 2006. Christmas 2006 was a memorable one in that the entire Scottish Borders was transformed into a frosty, silvery, yuletide paradise. Sweethope Hill was magnificent that year, the trail crunching under our feet as we made our way up the slope. Prior to my arrival, there had been some really rough weather, with swirling rains, light snow and high winds. And the results could be seen during our daily walks, with strewn branches, collapsed fences and, in this case, a heavily damaged tree. It was perfect timing on my part, being lucky enough to enjoy the calm after the storm.
Mild Winter, December 2007. The following Christmas couldn’t have been more contrasting, with manageable temperatures, autumnal colours and mostly clear skies. Weather-wise, no two Christmases were ever the same at Sweethope and it was always fascinating to witness the hill’s varied personalities.
My Sister’s Wedding Day, March 2008. This was taken on the morning of my sister’s wedding, with family preparations getting underway at Sweethope. I remember Natalie dressed in her pyjamas, getting her hair done, a glass of rosé in her hand. Sportingly, both my dad and my brother had decided to wear kilts for the occasion.
Not Saying Goodbye, July 2015. Twelve years after my first Sweethope summer and I had no idea that this visit would be my last. I’d just got back from a three and a half month trip around Asia. It was great to be back on the hill with Solo for a week of blue skies, lush greenery and that fresh country air I’d missed so much after months of scorching temperatures. I’ll really miss Sweethope, a home forever associated with dog walks, Christmases, my mum’s cooking, squash with my dad and FIFA sessions with my brother. Amid the ever-changing environments of my vagabond lifestyle, Sweethope was a reassuringly familiar time-capsule place I could always return to for some much needed perspective.