The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde

New word required

Morning has broken - on the K&A

Morning has broken – on the K&A


I knew this would happen. It always does.

In my last post I mentioned hiraeth – the Welsh word for a kind of homesickness that settles in the blood. Now I need a word for its opposite – the sudden rush of love you feel for a place you’re about to leave, and the people in it. A word for missing a place, before you’ve even left it. Every boater will recognise this feeling.

The Kennet & Avon canal knows that I am planning to leave. Like a scorned wife, it’s putting on its finest show to remind me what I’ll be missing as I head for the Severn. What has Severn got that I haven’t got? At every turn there are flag irises, moorhen chicks, the sweet smell of elderflower in the air, the sound of familiar boats steered by friends. The bar staff know my name in the canalside pubs. The dry dock nearby is full of laughter and conversation, and has become the focus of my little community.


Avoncliff Aqueduct – even better from the beer garden of the Cross Guns

I have a tight knot of friends here. A few nights ago I sat with some of them in one of the most spectacular settings in England, and saw the moon rise over the Avoncliff Aqueduct. The weir boiled and rumbled, the slow reaches looked like molten glass and the sound of sea shanties drifted across to us from the pub, where the local shanty group (yes, really)  gather on Tuesdays. It was a perfect summer evening in perfect company.

This, friends, is the most dangerous time for a boat-dweller. This is when the voice in your head says; You don’t have to go. Stay. Stay. 

So why not stay? Because…. we don’t live on boats to stay still. Because…. one gets an appetite for more of everything – new rivers, new places, little journeys in the England you can only know by water.

I’m gobsmacked by the beauty of this corner of Wiltshire. In June its allure is breathtaking and I feel it to the core. I’ve been so lucky to know it, and the people in it. But we don’t lose people, nor places – not even lovers for that matter – by moving away from them. That particular wealth never diminishes, it only grows. You meet old boat friends in new places. You can’t lose a landscape, as Elizabeth Bishop pretends to in One Art; you only gain new ones. The old ones stay with you – and you can always come back.

Boating is not like mountaineering or charting new territory. Our adventures are small, domestic, slow. It’s not Everest. But you still have to do it – because it’s there. Because it’s not here. Because it’s always somewhere else.

9 comments on “New word required

  1. Dru
    June 20, 2013


    I’ve got places like that in my life too, where I knew at the same time the felicity of the moment as well as its imminent end. Like Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’, still nourishing me after the passage of many years…

    • Jo Bell
      June 20, 2013

      Suzanne suggests ‘verlassungsweg’ or something of that ilk – ‘the ache of leaving’. It certainly needs to be a non-English word, for that feeling of something not-quite-graspable.

  2. Wendy French
    June 20, 2013

    I found this strangely moving and it left me with a lump in my throat for all things past but you don’t live on a boat to stand still however painful moving on is. There’ll be another sunrise and sun set to manage as well as all the others. good luck my friend.

  3. carneyconsulting
    June 20, 2013

    Lovely post … my suggestion is a Swedish word (would you not guess!) “Lagom” no real clear English translation but the closest is “Just right” or Just enough”! Happy travels!! 🙂

  4. anna-may
    June 20, 2013

    Might the word be ‘heart-hook’? Something that snags you; it hurts to un-hitch and free yourself…

  5. Suzanne MacLeod
    June 20, 2013

    Best I can come up with after a little thought: Abschiedsliebeskrise – the crisis of love upon leavetaking 🙂

    • Jo Bell
      June 21, 2013

      Perfect. A beautiful portmanteau word!

  6. A good friend of mine once explained hiraeth as ‘a powerful longing for home’ but like a lot of Welsh words it doesn’t translate into English well. My word might be ‘fodlonrwydd’ which might translate as contentedness.

    June 21, 2013

    I think I was very near where you are on Tuesday; as you say, a lovely spot, with friendly dogs and three characterful pigs….

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on June 20, 2013 by in Writing exercises.
%d bloggers like this: