Sunday Reading: Hiraeth

words: Helen Duncan
photo: Liz Seabrook

It was the views that did it for me; held in the frames of the large sash windows that dominate the upstairs rooms. That’s probably the reason why I chose the house on the hill. Look North and your eyes meet Wytham Woods on the horizon. Look West and the land stretches further into the distance. Your attention rests for a second on a glint of silver as the light hits Farmoor Reservoir before moving on to the bluish rise of land beyond.

West. And that old familiar call. It’s only recently that I learnt there’s a name for it.


It bubbled up from within my subconscious. And in certain locations, where the landscape seemed somehow familiar, I would feel a deep longing for another place. And that is still how it hits me today, each time I gaze from those upstairs windows, or when I travel North or West.

I can feel strangely at home in new places. And yet home feels far away. I might recognize the bent silhouettes of windblown trees outlined against a wintery sky, or near-horizons formed by land close to rising in a sharp ascent.

Crashing waves, and a glittering sea that stretches far and wide, tug at a part of me. Newly-ploughed fields hold distant memories in their ridges and furrows, and long shadows, cast across fields in the golden hour of midsummer or on a crisp midwinter’s morning, stretch out as if to meet me, pulling me back to the place from which they spring.

Perhaps it is the tilt of the earth or the angle of the sun that causes such feelings. Or perhaps the lives of our ancestors continue to resonate in places; their very existence running through the landscape still, like a live wire: a frequency that some part of me, from somewhere long ago, remembers and receives. I have been out on the moors before, and moved between the mountains: the primordial crackle tuning and retuning as it tries to reconnect to some memory within. Where is home?

Come and sit with me for a moment on another hill, among the grey stones of Tre’r Ceiri hill fort, high on Yr Eifl on the Llŷn Peninsula. Here you can breathe in the 360-degree view of land and sea as easily as oxygen. Imagine the wonder its Iron Age inhabitants must have felt as the sun rose and set, and the weather fronts rolled in; as the moon waxed and waned, and the stars made patterns in the night sky. Did they feel this same yearning?

North and West, West and North. I am almost there.

But my home, it seems, is always just beyond the horizon, waiting.


Helen Duncan is a freelance writer and grantseeker based in Oxford. Her writing is inspired by the natural world, special places, folklore and fairytale. She celebrates life’s simple pleasures and seasonal living on her blog The House at Nab End and on Instagram. Discover more stories of finding home in Issue 34 of Oh Comely - Return