For the last week of the school holidays, I was home alone.
Rather than staring at the walls, I took the chance to join the rest of the Whittle clan for a few days on their annual trip to Scotland.
Way back in 1976, my grandparents spotted six wooden cabins on a remote beach in the Scottish borders. The following year, they went back. And then back again. And again.
My family has stayed in the cabins pretty much every year since, in various configurations. I wasn’t quite three years old when I first visited.
This year the clan included my parents, my brother and his family, two cousins with their kids and partners, a couple of friends, one aunt and uncle, and my sister-in-law’s Mum. Not forgetting the two dogs.
It’s a place that holds so many special memories.
When I was little, we’d go rock-pooling, and gather whelks. My grandfather would cook them in a big pot over the fire.
I remember my Mum sitting on the verandah and reading while all the kids organised games of hide and seek, water fights and football matches. Sometimes we visited at half-term, and I remember Easter Egg hunts and Halloween parties there.
Not much has changed since the 1970s – literally.
Aside from an odd new bed here and there, the cabins look the same as they ever did. They’re rough and ready, with tiny bathrooms and electricity meters. The cupboards are the same exact ones we slung our wellies into, almost 40 years ago.
There are no on-site facilities, and virtually no mobile signal, but that means there’s privacy and peace. Each cabin has huge picture windows facing the sea, and a wooden verandah where you can sit out and read, or spot seals in the distance.
Because there are no shops for miles, and only a handful of cottages in the village, it’s very safe. The children (and dogs) can run freely down to the beach, between the cabins, playing games and catching up with their cousins.
This year, my cousin Richard brought his boat, while my brother bought his kayak. There were boogie boards, and everyone had a wetsuit (it is Scotland, after all). There were long days on the beach. At night, fires were lit and beers opened, as we caught up, late into the night.
We still organise family rounders matches after dinner, and Uncle Tony still pretends not to realise he’s out. The kids still hunt under the verandahs for the best bones and shells, and catch crabs in buckets.
It’s so special to see a fourth generation of our family make those discoveries. And at times like this, when Flea is away and I’m feeling lonely, it’s good to remember that our family is much more than just the two of us.
I could tell you where it is, but I sort of like that it’s our secret place. Also, my family would kill me. They all admit that when friends ask them where EXACTLY these cottages are, they change the subject…