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The first letter arrived at The Bookshop two weeks before Valentine’s Day. It was a beautiful card, featuring red tulips lining a path, their bright red exuberance leading right up to the front door of a cottage. Inside the message was just as charming and warm. A woman my grandmother’s age, a stranger, with impeccable penmanship, was writing to let me know she had heard my book on the radio.
My story about moving from Los Angeles to Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town, had struck a chord, chiming a reminder of how much she loved Galloway. As I read about her memories of the area, and her life-long desire to visit the USA, I realised this was not typical mail. This was a love letter. Not to me, or to someone, but to place.
It is possible - almost likely - that each of us has fallen in love with a place, or many places. They can be fleeting passions, like the thrill of courting a new city or town whose sights sounds and smells in the first days leave impressions that last a lifetime. Or perhaps, whether it’s a home, a hill, a tree even a road, the familiarity of those beloved haunts are life long affairs, and whether in reality or memory, the feelings those places inspire are akin to the deepest, most kindred romance.
For me my first love was The Big Rock. Deep in the forest - or it seemed deep as a child - housed in my neighbors back garden, surrounded by pine needles and moss was The Big Rock. A glacial size boulder, perfumed with the sweet forest scent, this was my favourite place to dream and imagine. With a rugged sloping side that I called ‘steps’, I believed if knew the secret words, The Big Rock would open and offer me its hidden treasure within. I returned and returned to The Big Rock until slowly it grew smaller, and I bigger, and like many first loves the memory remained as sweet even though we grew apart.
Later more letters, emails and phone calls arrived, as suddenly and quickly as the snow storms dotted Wigtown, and much of the country, in a patchwork of lace-like white. “I grew up in down the road from Wigtown...” one email began and shared a sense of longing and homesickness for the gentle rolling farmland and the expanse of empty shores. Another letter, with almost kindred glee, spoke of Galloway’s green hills and natural sense of magic. One visitor thought I had made her village sound too twee, for to her the ruggedness of Galloway’s landscape did not embody perfection but echoed a gritty restlessness, a thirst for adventure, that even into her 80’s she still cherished.
For this Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to share your love, your stories, your romances with place. Beauty they say is in the eye of the beholder, but places it seems have a magic that speaks beyond to the heart.
You can read more about Jessica Fox's move to Scotland in her new book Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets (Short Books). Do add your own experiences of love letters and/or passion for places to the thread.
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