When we were younger, my best friend and I used to walk my dog to what we called ‘The Narnia Rock.’ It stood lonely in the centre of a rolling green field, the banks running down into a small peaceful lake. We caught glimpses of the Owner; mowing the lawn, stood at the end of his garden, face and body in the shadow of a tall hedge.
Walking to the Rock took around fifteen minutes, through a footpath that ran between two fields, hedged on both sides by an area of woodland just thick enough across to feel imposing.
The lake itself was home to swans, ducks, and dragonflies in the heady days of summer. In the winter, although I’m sure the swans and ducks were still around somewhere, the water was coated instead with a trailing mist; it crept through the reeds and up the bank until it encircled the Rock.
Amelia and I would creep to the Narnia Rock in rain, sun, snow or mist. There was something miraculous about it. We felt as if we were to touch it at the right time, when the sun was in the right stage of its climb through the sky, or the stars correlated above it in the perfect pattern, we could be transported to the fantasy worlds in which we had yearned to live.
This tradition continued, long after Amelia and I had grown out of really believing The Rock could transport us anywhere. We would still both touch it, hesitantly, wanting to believe.
That was, at least, until one day the gate into the field was chained shut with a padlock. The length of the field away stood a caravan, a new addition to the green swathe, from which four fence posts encircled a large area. In this closed off space stood a rarity in our rural Surrey lives: two llamas, or alpacas (we never were quite sure of the difference). They stood proudly, holding possession over our Rock, like strangely furry sentries guarding off our ability to reach that other realm.
Evidently, someone lived, or owned, the caravan, the field, and the strange jutting rock within it. The owner was almost definitely the same person or people who owned the house that sat adjacent to the lake, separated from it only by the public footpath and a tall hedge. I always imagined the owner to be a man, a grubby groundskeeper type with a greying beard stained with years of smoking, and unruly, wiry hair squashed beneath a flat hat.
The house itself was an enigma, too. It was huge, with rusting, overgrown tennis courts to the right of it atop a small escarpment. As children, that seemed the height of wealth, opulence even; a tennis court that you didn’t care to use. The footpath wound around the back entryway, which itself was guarded by a huge, metal gate, painted green. What one could glimpse of the house showed white walls, black slate roof, and an expansive garden which was for years guarded by an exceptionally angry terrier.
Of course, a family probably lived there. The large property was evidently designed for that, but in all my years walking by the back garden in the height of summer, I never heard a peep of child’s voices, never the loud laughter of a family gathering, nor smelled the smoky trails of a barbecue. In winter there were tyre tracks carved into the snow leading from the back entrance to the tiny, pebbled road which twisted up a steep hill to tarmac, but never sled marks; imprints of large boots, but never the small footsteps of children.
Once, while walking alone, having been cruelly abandoned by Amelia (she did not share my enjoyment of walking in the rain, especially on the frigid autumn day this was), my dog, Megan, began to pull at her lead, barking at something she could smell but I could not see.
Suddenly, on the black slate roof there appeared a splash of colour, and a cawing creature flapping its large wings at Megan’s rude intrusion. Feathers coloured with shades of vibrant green and blue fluffed in indignation, its opulent plumage undimmed by the darkening sky or the driving rain. The peacock stood tall and proud, a small collar looped around its slim neck, ensuring it could not fly off and, I assume, pick a fight with the territorial swans living in the lake.
With this discovery, compounded by the continued presence of the llamas, transformed whoever owned the house. Instead of the gruff groundskeeper, possessive over the secrets to another realm, The Owner became an enigmatic man of mystery, hoarder of exotic animals. The type who seems to be simply eccentric for a living, characterised by jubilant clothes, a beard borne for decoration rather than laziness, a twinkle in the eye and a certain magic in his step.
As the years went, life, as it has a tendency to do, changed. Amelia and I grew older, eventually leaving home for university, Megan died at the ripe old age of sixteen, and the llamas disappeared while the caravan remained.
I have still yet to meet the mysterious Owner of the mill pond house. The Narnia Rock remains in place; the lake continues to house grumpy swans (I think the aforementioned exceptionally angry terrier’s soul passed on into the swan); I have several times caught flashes of bright colour that I suspect to be another peacock. Amelia and I remember with fondness the times before the gate was barred, when the mist would gather around our ankles as we searched for something more than our ordinary lives that lacked, we felt rather unfairly, a talking lion with the voice of Liam Neeson.
There is something comforting in how unchanged it remains. The calm lake, the Narnia Rock standing tall, the unseen but felt owner, whose eccentricities or grumpiness had barred us from finding our way to that other place. The Rock, the lake, my idea of the owner remains in stasis, like the calm in the eye of the storm.