‘I can’t feel my face,’ Tracey says as her words are blown back at her.
I have to lean in at forty-five degrees, using my body weight just to close the door.
‘At least it’ll blow away the cobwebs,’ I say, sounding like my Dad on a wet Bank Holiday sometime in my childhood.
Staying on the Fife coast in January is my idea. We’d rented the cottage last summer and sat out sipping wine on the terrace till midnight watching the sunset over the Forth. We knew it’d be ‘bracing’ – another of my Dad’s favourite descriptions – but hadn’t expected an Arctic blast.
Thick snow fell the first night making the steep road from the harbour treacherous, impassable. So we’ve been stuck indoors sitting close to the fire, drawing lots to see who fetches tea with blankets around our shoulders. We’ve been spoilt inland and we’re soft, I say, hoping it’s not my turn to fill the kettle.
On this, our third day, we set out for the next village. Battered by easterly winds we’re forced to take astronaut steps. I squint and point to a distant windmill. We haven’t packed sunglasses. Only Bono would’ve packed sunglasses in this climate, but the glare is intense.
Shelter, I shout, but Tracey cannot hear and I have to mouth the word slowly and deliberately the way my mother used to talk to market traders in Croatia. Tracey nods. We run stiff-legged, chins dipped in collars, breathing through thick woolly scarves, crushing the frozen, crusty snow under our boots.
We pitch forward, slumping into the thick stone walls at the base of the windmill, out of the wind and breathless. My eyes are leaking and my head throbs. I rub them with my knuckles and stare out to sea. Fingers of jagged rock spear into the surf. Waves crash over them, titanium white, sending blobs of foam drifting high over the headland to be spiked by marram grass.
There are hollows in the turf here, where workers once toiled in fierce temperatures to produce the local salt from the sea. The trade here was built on coal and salt and pottery and fish. The people must have been exceptionally tough. We’re shivering and thinking of central heating and hot baths. They must have faced these conditions through many long, hard winters.
We walk on trying to get the blood coursing. Our ears tingle and the cold wind forces us to gasp. Beneath us, a rushing stream gushes out into the sea. The rocks are the colour of red ochre. We follow a stony path rising through gorse and bracken, past a pebble-dashed house with yapping dogs, doubtless desperate to be back at fireside.
We take shelter in a tiny cove, glad to be out of the howling wind and shards of salt-spray. An empty fishermen’s crate has been blown onto the rocks. Tree stumps and limbs, picked clean of bark and blemishes like bleached bone have been abandoned by the tide. There are tangled ropes, fuzzed at their ends, and broken packing crates.
Our skin feels smacked and raw. Our noses are running. A gust of wind blasts us with stinging sand.
Beyond the outcrop of rock is the lido. Before there were bargain flights Glasgow’s factories and schools would empty for a week as holidaymakers headed to the coast to splash and paddle in these outdoor pools. The thought makes us shiver and stamp our feet, but it must have been a wonderful sight.
We head down into the next harbour. Sheltered by a steep rock face, we walk past pastel cottages with thick wooden doors and heavy iron knockers. I blink as snow slants in from the sea giving the street lamps an orange halo.
Darkness is coming a little after lunch. We climb from shore to High Street between cottages and churches passing the gated St Filan’s cave.
We order thick vegetable soup at a craft shop and cafe, stretch out and thaw our toes and fingers, blowing the soup and letting the peppery steam hit our faces. We smear butter on warm bread and guzzle our soup. We watch heavy flakes of snow drift down and feather the window pane.
‘We’ll have to walk back,’ Tracey says and smiles, because it’s great to be here.
Despite the cold there’s nowhere else we’d rather be. It’s a shock to the senses and a world away from computers and offices and central heating. It feels great to be alive.
Walking back we see a fishing boat ploughing through the waves. It soon becomes a speck, then no more beneath a heavy, graphite sky.
We think of those fishermen and it gives us cause to be grateful. There is a raw beauty here, but we have the leisure to enjoy it. We have the fire and we have whisky and, for a little while, we only have to button our coats and bow our heads into the wind, after all.
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