Coming Home

Amy Liptrot on Orkney. Photograph: Rebecca Marr for the Observer

“In London, I was hiding from my life and family in Orkney, breaking up and trying to escape. By coming back, I faced it and now Orkney is trying to keep me.”

– Amy Liptrot, The Outrun

I fell in love with Amy Liptrot’s book, The Outrun this September. Maybe it’s because we’re close in age, or I too spent my childhood in a quiet, out of the way place, craving escape and the excitement of cities. Like Amy, I also grew up in the shadow of depression, coping with the fallout of my dad’s erratic moods.

The outrun that Liptrot describes, is an odd, in-between place, part wild, part cultivated, perched on the edge of the Orcadian sheep farm where she grew up. Islands are shaped on the cusp of fierce, wild nature, and strange things happen there: ships are grounded on the cliffs; residents hear weird booming noises and feel tremors shake the earth as the sea encroaches.

The Outrun is also very relatable because I’ve reached crisis point a number of times in my life. As a teenager, I railed against living in a tiny village in The New Forest, where nothing ever happened. Public transport was pretty much non-existent and I often felt cut off. I was uncomfortable in my own skin, using alcohol and relationships to avoid ever having to feel alone.

“I don’t want to have to admit that I’ve come back – that I’ve failed. I wonder if it’s possible to really come back once you’ve lived away for a while, or if it’s called coming ‘home’ when you never belonged.”

– Amy Liptrot, The Outrun

In 2012, disjointed, adrift, I graduated University. Sitting in my childhood bedroom, unemployed and depressed, I felt like a failure, like I’d taken a step back. I dreaded bumping into people I knew, having to explain why I hadn’t moved on.

Nature became a salve then, and still is. I have a deep connection to the forest, having grown up there, and I often find myself craving time away from people, preferring instead to hunker down amongst the trees.

The longer I spend living near the woods, the more I feel a part of nature and its cycles. Often, I find myself thinking about all of the life out there, about how much there is still, to explore. Walking outside, in all weathers, I notice the seasons change and follow animal tracks through secret copses and clearings. I know where to find the best blackberries in summer and, in autumn, I prize sweet chestnuts from their spiky shells. It feels like it’s in my blood it’s so familiar, but that’s the thing about nature, no matter how tamed and cosseted, it always has the capacity to astound.