Newly divorced, Andrew Stratton lives in his head and not with his heart. He teaches architectural theory but has never built a building. He writes about “The Anatomy of Livable Places”– communities where form and material are in harmony–but has no sense of where he belongs. He is capable of deep, tender emotions but is unable to express them. When his wife leaves him for another man and excoriates his cautious nature in the process, Andrew is like a house shaken off a faulty foundation. Sifting through the rubble, he must figure out what should be salvaged and what should be scrapped.
Escaping from the predictable routine of his university life in Philadelphia, Andrew travels to England and channels his pain into a weeklong course on building stone walls. In the village of Boscastle, he discovers a magical landscape of dizzying cliffs, jagged coastline, lush valleys, and hills lined with stone hedges that have stood the test of time. At the Stone Academy, Andrew immerses himself in the grueling task of piecing together rock into intricate walls. Under the tutelage of his weathered instructor, he learns there is more to laying stone than hard labor. And he soon falls under the spell of Boscastle’s rhythms and quirks, which include a weekly sing-along, a museum devoted to witchcraft, and a colorful group of residents ranging from a precocious nine-year-old girl who communes with nature to an offbeat reverend who has been known to give referrals to the town witch.
Moved by the warmth and connectedness of the village, Andrew begins to shed his sheltered self. But his willingness to open his heart is tested when he falls for Nicola Rhys-Jones, an American expatriate seeking to escape a history of abuse. Thorny, sarcastic, and sexy, Nicola is an artist who paints tranquility panels for hospitals. But her life before Boscastle has been anything but peaceful. As their verbal sparring veers into darker territory, Andrew grapples with his status in Boscastle. Is he just a tourist on holiday or does he now have a stake in the village that has welcomed him?
Readers new to Will North’s work as well as fans of The Long Walk Home will be swept away by this bittersweet novel about love, loss, and the power of nature to alter our lives.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Will North is the pen name of an international award-winningauthor and ghostwriter of more than a dozen nonfiction books as well assix recent novels. He has ghosted books for Bill Clinton, Al Gore,several famous Everest mountaineers, a team of dinosaur hunters, arenowned physician, and others. Two of his books have been the subjectof PBS and A&E documentaries. As a fiction author, Will has pennedtwo romantic suspense novels, a family saga, and is currently working on the fourth book in his Davies & West British murder mystery series. Will lives on an island in Washington's Puget Sound. You can find himat willnorthnovelist.com and on Facebook at Will North, Author.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"You all right down there?"
Andrew Stratton looked up toward the cliff top, ten feet above his head, but the afternoon sun was in his eyes and all he could make out was the silhouette of a woman's head and shoulders, etched against a Wedgwood-blue sky. Stratton was standing on a narrow grassy ledge above the sea, which he shared with a loudly bleating, black-faced sheep. The shape of a dog appeared beside the woman. The shape barked.
"Um, yes," he called back. "I was just walking along and saw this sheep stranded down here."
"And you decided to join it?"
"Yes . . . well, no . . . I mean, I thought I'd try to help it back up to the top. But whenever I get near it, it looks as if it's going to jump."
"Do you always have that effect?"
From the slender shelf he and the sheep occupied, it was, he guessed, at least two hundred feet straight down to the Atlantic breakers crashing far below--so far, in fact, that he could barely hear the thudding combers above the whistle of the wind. He'd been walking along the cliff path just north of the Cornish village of Boscastle and had paused to watch the waves roll in and dash themselves to foam and mist on the jagged rocks at the base of the cliff when he'd heard the sheep. There was a scar of loose rock and torn vegetation where the sheep had descended to the ledge, on the theory, Andrew imagined, that the grass there was greener.
"That's Darwin's sheep, that is," said the voice above.
"You know the farmer?" Andrew was suddenly more hopeful.
He heard the woman laugh. "No, I mean that what you have there is the dimmest sheep in the flock, the one that has to die to protect the gene pool and assure the survival of the species."
There was something in her tone that implied she thought he and the sheep had more in common than just the thin sill of grass they shared.
"Any suggestions?" he called.
"Not a one. The general idea is to let nature take its course."
He let this sink in.
"Right, then," she said. "As long as you're okay, I'll leave you to it." And with that the head pulled back from the cliff edge and disappeared. He could hear her whistling as she crunched off along the path.
Andrew Stratton--professor, from Philadelphia--did not know a great deal about sheep. He hadn't a clue, now that he was down here, how he would get the sheep back up. Come to think of it, he wasn't at all sure how he'd get himself back up, either. He approached the skittish animal once more and it backed away again, its rheumy red eyes wild with fear, until it was perched at the very lip of the precipice.
He gave up. He turned toward the cliff face and started climbing, only to slip back almost immediately when a chunk of rock came off in his hand. He could almost hear his wife Katerina's voice--ex-wife, to be accurate: "Never climb shale or slate if you can help it. It flakes off and you fall." She had taken up rock climbing more than a year earlier--taken up with a rock climber, too, and left Andrew for him shortly thereafter. Now he remembered some of her safety rules: Plan your ascent several moves in advance; maintain three reliable points of contact with the rock before you reach for the next hold; test each hold before you use it to bear weight. He'd often wished, in the weeks following her departure, that there had been similar rules for protecting oneself in the case of domestic landslides.
In a few moments of more-careful climbing, he regained the rim and hoisted himself up to the footpath. In the far distance, he could see a figure, a woman, striding along the cliffs, a large brown and white dog running circles around her. For reasons he could not fathom, she was waving her arms, as if in urgent communication with the dog.
He looked down. The sheep had returned to munching, utterly oblivious to the fact that it would soon be out of grass and luck. The woman had been right: This was a very dim sheep--although in his experience, limited though it was to the few days since his arrival in Cornwall, in the stupidity sweepstakes all sheep seemed equally qualified. He resolved to tell the manager at the Visitor Centre in the village about the stranded sheep and let someone who knew what he was doing rescue it.
The day had begun pleasantly enough: He'd taken a guided tour of the Valency river valley. His tour guide was an expert who knew every twist and turn of the tumbling stream, every nook and cranny in the valley: the places deer came to drink early in the morning; the springs and bogs that were the best spots to find frogs; the pool of deep water where, if you kept very still, you could sometimes see fish hanging motionless below the mirrored surface. Her name was Lilly Trelissick, and the Valency valley was her favorite place in the whole world. Lilly was nine. She hated her name and preferred to be called Lee. Naturally, she called Andrew Drew.
Lilly--or, rather, Lee--was the only child of Roger and Anne Trelissick, who lived at Bottreaux Farm on a hill above Boscastle, a small village in a steep-sided, V-shaped valley on Cornwall's stormy Atlantic coast. On the lush pastures above the valley, Roger raised Devon Ruby Red cattle, a breed much prized for its flavorful meat, and Anne worked part-time as a freelance illustrator of children's books. Andrew was renting a seventeenth-century stone cottage off in one corner of the farm, which the couple had renovated. Roger and Anne's house was newer--Georgian, Andrew thought, given its tall windows and pleasing proportions. He suspected his cottage, which seemed to have grown out of the ground rather than having been built upon it, was the original farmhouse.
Lee Trelissick charged a small fee for her tours, payable in the form of an ice cream bar--specifically a Chunky Choc Ice--readily purchased from the newsagent's shop just up the main road from the harbor and conveniently situated near the beginning of the footpath up the Valency valley. A few steps downhill from the shop, just above the narrow stone bridge that carried the only road through the village, the Valency met the Jordan, a smaller river that tumbled down the lesser arm of the valley toward the sea. In truth, both were little more than streams. Normally, at this time of year--for it was high summer--water levels in both streams would be low. But August had begun with unusually muggy, sunny days punctuated by sudden, short rain squalls, so the ground was saturated and both streams were flowing picturesquely fast and full.
Below the bridge, the conjoined streams followed an arrow-straight channel neatly bounded by ancient, hand-laid stone embankments. The little river clattered over rock shelves, ducked under another, even smaller stone bridge, and then lost itself in the harbor. Eons of water relentlessly seeking sea level had exploited fault lines in the towering slate cliffs of Penally Point and carved a narrow dogleg gap that formed the harbor mouth. Tiny and tidal, protected by two massive stone jetties, Boscastle harbor was the only protected cove along twenty miles of wild, shipwrecking Atlantic coast. The harbor had once been a bustling little cargo-shipping port, supported a modest coastal fishing fleet, and, in the old days, trafficked in no small amount of smuggled tea, tobacco, and brandy.
Standing on the cliff above the harbor entrance on the day he arrived, Andrew had thought about exhausted fishermen returning home, pitching through the tide rips and coastal swells after a long day out on the heaving ocean, only to face the daunting prospect of negotiating the diabolical harbor mouth. The first hazard to avoid was Meachard Rock, a massive outcrop of ragged, knife-sharp slate several stories high and situated squarely in front of the narrow entrance. Then the passage turned ninety degrees to port and ran a good hundred yards north between beetling crags before turning another ninety degrees to starboard and around the tip of one of the jetties, finally reaching a tiny area of protected water. It would be difficult and perilous enough to navigate this approach with today's sturdy, snub-nosed, diesel-powered fishing boats; he couldn't imagine how they'd done it during the age of sail.
What was hell for mariners, though, was heaven for tourists. The tortured sedimentary cliffs, the crashing sea spray, and the scenic harbor netted the quaint old fishing village great shoals of visitors every summer. These days, Boscastle's economic survival depended on the tourist trade. August, with schools closed and many Europeans on holiday, was high season, the make-or-break month for the gift shops and cafes that lined the narrow street, the month that would measure how some of the residents would fare the rest of the year.
Lee, however, was having none of it.
"I can't wait till all these people leave!" she hissed between licks along the exposed vanilla core of her chocolate-coated ice cream bar. She and Andrew were standing outside the newsagent's, just uphill from the big car park that had been built along the north bank of the Valency to accommodate the tourists.
"And anyway, just look at them," she sputtered as another tour bus stopped to disgorge a stream of travelers who then waddled off downhill like so many overnourished ducks, "Bet you none of them makes it to the top of Penally; they're all too fat!"
"I dunno, Lee; keep eating those ice creams and you could end up the same way," Andrew said calmly.
The girl lifted an eyebrow. "You want the tour or not, Drew?"
Andrew laughed. "Okay, okay; you're the boss. Lead on."
Stratton had only been in Boscastle for a few days, but he'd already developed a fondness for the wiry little girl. There was nothing fussy about this kid. She seemed to live every day in the same worn khaki shorts, a T-shirt from someplace called the Eden Project, and olive-green rubber wellies--the better to wander through the woods ...
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