Many of You Are Homesick—For a Place You’ve Never Been
We asked which places gave you “fernweh,” and you gave us poetry!
A couple weeks back, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to tell us about the places that make them feel a sense of fernweh, a German word that literally translates as “farsickness.” Put another way, it’s the concept of feeling homesick for a place you’ve never been or could never go. The responses are in, and they are beautiful.
By far the destinations that our readers said invoke that strange sense of foreign homesickness more than any other are the misty green landscapes of Scotland and Ireland, with an overwhelming number of responses invoking those two regions. Icelandic and English locales were also popular places that you miss without having been there. Still others wrote in to tell us about their feeling of connection with fictional places such as The Shire and Narnia.
But the common thread among nearly all the responses is a sense of poetry. Your responses speak of places both real and imagined, in lush, often evocative verse that paints a vivid picture of your own personal fernweh. Since we received hundreds of responses to our question, we couldn’t share them all, but a selection of our favorites can be found below!
What Is This Feeling?
I have always felt that C.S. Lewis described best the experience of fernweh in Mere Christianity. It is a place I long to visit, with no more pain and every tear wiped away. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” — Helen Ernst, Santa Barbara, California
Scotland, Ireland, England, and Iceland
The Scottish Highlands. I think it’s because of all the pictures showing the rocky landscape blanketed in fog, and it gives an almost liminal look to it. It makes me want to walk over and under the hills and get lost in it. It’s a place to disappear to. — Valerie, Quebec City, Canada
Cornwall, U.K. In high school (in the ’70s) I watched Poldark on Masterpiece Theater. Then I read all the books. Ever since, I’ve wanted to go there. — Carol C., Long Beach, California
The Mill House on the River Dee sat on my grandfather’s mantle, and my father’s mantle my entire life. The great house, up the road from a paper mill, with peacocks in the yard, sat framed in front of us as we heard countless stories about it. Almost every year my father and grandfather would travel to Aberdeen and spend time at the mill house. From the cutting of the haggis, to the bagpipes played at dinner, I felt like I had been there with them. I felt like I had seen men weep at the playing of the Scottish national anthem, and shared in whiskey and stories. But I never did. Since then, I’ve grown up and begun to travel myself, even to Aberdeen, but I have never been to the Mill House on the River Dee. Just before I started traveling, it was sold, and my family hasn’t been able to go back since. I feel like I miss it, because of the stories that have been passed on to me, and the experiences that I will never have there. The Mill House on the River Dee makes me homesick, even though I have never been. — Daniel Bellerose, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Both Irish countryside and the Scottish Highlands. I yearned for them (especially Scotland) so much when I was young that I cried, and knew every library picture book on Scotland from cover to cover. For my graduation recital in college I poured my heart into Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, even researching the folk songs upon which his themes were based, which included “I’m a Doun for Lack ‘a Johnny” and “Scot’s Wha Hae.” I also took bagpipe lessons, and my senior paper was on The Great Highland Bagpipe. — Paula Akbar, Frederick, Maryland
Iceland. Landscape of peace. Sounds of Sigur Rós. Smell and flavors of year-old whale meat. Winter of white emptiness. — John
My heart is in Ireland. My great grandfather had the choice of going to jail or going to the USA after killing a man in a fight. The fight was of course not sanctioned, but a rather common occurrence in those days (1865). He was a pugilist (bare-fisted fighter). He buried my first great-grandmother in Ireland. She died giving birth to my grandfather. Once in the U.S., he purchased a tavern, Jimmy’s Irish Tavern, and continued to fight. But this time with his patrons. If they could beat him, they didn’t have to pay their tab. I have to admit we all have Great Grandpa Jimmy’s fight, just not as literal. I want to feel the earth and touch the streets and buildings where I began. I see photos of Ireland and feel a déjà vu. I feel as if I used to walk those streets and live in a little run down cottage on a lane outside of town. And I was happy and very much at peace there. It’s very hard to explain. Long after my mother passed away, I found out that she too was from a family in Ireland. She was an orphan so it was hard to determine her genealogy. Thank you, DNA. Once again I am taken back to Ireland. — Debbie Brown, Jackson, Michigan
I’m a Texan, born and raised, but there is a yearning in the deepest part of me to be where the air is crisp and the water ripples across stones that have been smoothed by centuries of sameness, a green place with rolling hills and structures built of the same centuries old stones. I want to hike through the Scottish Highlands or explore the beautiful architecture of Glasgow. Scotland calls to me. I must go. — Becky Middleton, Austin, Texas
I’ve been longing for the U.K. as long as I remember. I’ve visited London, which is the most beautiful city in the world, Stonehenge and Salisbury, but I always see myself at one point in life enjoying a walk near the lakes or anywhere near the sea/ocean. Sitting outside of some old cottage, reading a book and looking at the ocean that has no end. Any place by the sea from Cornwall and Devon to Cumbria and Northumberland. — Daria Bizacky, Coppell, Texas
I have a feeling of fernweh about the British Isles, but especially Scotland. I know I have a lot of ancestors from all over the British Isles, and I feel inexplicably connected to the islands and long to visit there. It’s almost like a collective memory. Additionally, as a history teacher, I am drawn to the incredibly rich history of the British Isles. I sometimes have a daydream of hiking through misty highlands and stumbling upon ruins of castles and being able to literally touch hundreds of years of history. It feels like home. — Sarah M., Colorado
I’ve been to 60 countries and dozens of states, but never to Massachusetts. In the ’50s I fell in love with Patti Page’s hit single, “Old Cape Cod,” and used to dream of watching sunsets there. In the Kennedy era, my fernweh was heightened, and now I want to visit the John F. Kennedy Library there, and take ferries to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. — Terri Elders, Westminster, California
Cape Cod. I dreamt of it often as a child, and only identified it as an adult. — Dave Hall, Staffordshire, England
I’m often perplexed by my fernweh for visual depictions of Dickensian villages and life. While on one hand I find myself longing for the top hat style and coziness of a cold village lit by flickering candlelight with soft snow falling, I do not know why I would want to likely suffer the poor social conditions that often come with the world. — Steven Hascher, Washington, D.C.
My nonno, Angelo, sailed from Northern Italy to Australia in the 1940s and never returned. I am a second-generation Australian, but I long to be in nonno’s home town in Torino. I have always felt that I carry a ticket inside me that can only be validated when I get there. I have vivid daydreams of plunging my bare hands into the dirt there. If I close my eyes, I can almost feel it between my fingers. I can almost smell rain falling onto dirt and turning my grandfather’s forgotten footprints into mud… — Peta, Western Australia
Tasmania. I’m obsessed. I look at pictures every day. For years I have done this. My great grandmother was from there so maybe that’s why. I never knew her though. I just have an ache for it. — Missi Chenier, Belle River, Ontario
France. I used to spend every Sunday afternoon armchair traveling the French countryside via Google Street View. It was like driving down French country roads and sometimes I felt like I missed it so much, I would even cry! And I have never been to France. Yet some of the countryside seemed so familiar. More home than my real home. It made me happy and sad at the same time. — Eleanor, New Orleans
This question requires the difficult task of sorting through my boundless wanderlust, but if I have to choose a place I believe would feel like home, my answer is San Francisco. As a proud New Englander, I’ve still always been intrigued by the romance and mystery of the West Coast, especially California which spans so many topographical zones. San Francisco in particular seems like more than a city of art, but a work of art itself, with its wealth of independent bookstores and rich musical history and trolleys clanging through the streets. I picture myself strolling through its hills and being reminded of the seven hills of Rome, another city I love. Creative and prone to dreaming as I am, I believe I could be quite comfortable in San Francisco. — Cecilia, Connecticut
Mongolia. I have no idea why, but I want to see the nature, the steppe, the people, the animals. — Annette Trolle, Denmark
New Zealand! A magical treasure with so much beauty, culture and diverse ecosystems. Every Kiwi I have met is warm and genuine. And being from the crowded, East Coast U.S., I can only imagine life on a faraway island with less people than NYC. My heart pangs for New Zealand and my biggest wish is to “reunite” with it. — Joanna Corwin, Maryland
The Farm of Your Dreams
Our pugs love to chew on hooves purchased from the pet store. My husband thinks they stink and hides them. I find a nostalgic and familiar comfort in the scent of the hooves, redolent of cow manure and grass. One day I sniffed a hoof, and said, “The smell reminds me of my days on the farm.” My husband accurately responded, “What farm?” I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis. Baffled, I had no answer, but I know and miss the place. — Paisley Kauffmann, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Obviously I can’t visit The Shire but I first read LOTR in 2000 and I was immediately struck by a weird sense of familiarity when reading. It’s so welcoming and there’s a great sense of community. It almost feels like a childhood neighborhood that I made a lot of memories in. The movies only intensified the feeling. Even now, 18 years later, I feel a weird homesickness for it. — Beth Yoakem, Ashland, Kentucky
The World Through the Wardrobe
Narnia was always my fernweh. When I was little I would wait in my backyard for an entrance to open so I could go there. I was absolutely convinced that my wind chimes would catch the air just right one day, and suddenly I would be walking on the path to the single lamppost in the middle of a beautiful wood. Although Narnia is fictional and I will never go there, whenever I think about it, I feel that when I was a child my heart was there every day. I miss it, and I miss the playful magic there! — Amy Mason, Minnesota
As a child, I read through the Chronicles of Narnia many times, and I never got tired of that journey, even though I knew it so well. Narnia often wasn’t comfortable or nice, but I would have gone there without hesitation! I still remember pretty vividly the way I imagined it. Even when I wasn’t reading about it, I thought about it and wished I were there. — Carol Mangis, Bronx, New York
Queuing Up On Platform 9 3/4
Hogwarts. I am 70 years old, yet am entranced by everything Hogwarts/Harry Potter. Perhaps it’s the “Peter Pan” effect. I never outgrew that one, either. — Cynthia M. Perry, San Angelo, Texas
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I’m still waiting for my letter after all this time. — A. Lee, Malaysia
Not at Home in This World
I find myself longing to live in the English village of Agatha Christie’s creation, St. Mary Mead. With the occasional side trip to Badger’s Drift, the fruit of Caroline Graham’s creative mind. I long to visit the vicarage for tea and listen to the vicar as he wanders down the paths of church history, while his wife offers an insightful quip about a parishioner. I long to read my latest book from the library in my walled garden, whilst my gardener spritzes the roses to keep the green fly at bay, and my cook bakes up some scones for tea. All is well with the world even if the neighbors keep dropping like flies… — Sunny Rose, Canada
Anne McCaffrey’s Pern—an entirely fictional planet with native life-forms similar to mythical dragons, colonized by humans in the far future. I read the Pern novels as a pre-teen and the sheer freedom of an entirely pastoral planet with beautiful dragons, noble dragonriders, unexplored spaces, and endless mysteries to be discovered and solved seemed like heaven to me. McCaffrey painted it so boldly and compellingly through her works that it seemed inconceivable to me that Pern did not truly exist—that this world wasn’t actually waiting just around some corner in the time-space continuum. I was well into young adulthood before I really stopped feeling that odd, lingering wistfulness for this place I knew I would never actually see. - Valerie, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
A fictional sleepy small town called Winhill from Final Fantasy VIII. It’s a remote, mostly abandoned small town with Tudor-looking buildings. From what I can tell, the cities economy revolves on flowers—there are flower fields and the main building in town is the flower shop. And everyone in the town decorates the insides of their homes in fresh flowers, and they seem to do nothing but laze about. A cute remote/abandoned town covered by and surrounded by flowers—I wish it existed! — Ashley Polikoff, Brooklyn, New York
The secret garden and the surrounding countryside from the movie The Secret Garden released in the U.S. in 1993. The solitude and open lands that Colin rides. How lovely to be alone and feel and smell the air. Then in the secret garden to be secluded and cozy surrounded by flowers, and water fountains, and baby animals. To be on the swing and later to rest and picnic in the sun, napping in the shade of the garden wall in the heat of the afternoon. — Tammy Moran, Maine
All in Their Heads
When I was a kid, I must have dreamed of two rooms. They were above a garage, and you had to go on a rickety narrow hallway to get to them. But one was a PERFECT children’s library. Shelves and shelves of books and cozy chairs to read in. And the second room was a playroom. There was a low narrow door connecting them. I can even picture how the rooms felt and smelled. For years I was convinced it was a real place I longed to go back to. But it must have been a dream, because my parents swear I was never any place like what I described to them. — Sarah, Pennsylvania
The mind always wanders, but through its romps and davering adventures, sometimes a new place is discovered, one that is more welcoming than one we were born into. Ever since I was a child, I have experienced that nameless longing one achieves when feeling a homesickness for a place that cannot be found on our world map. Why I have felt this way, I cannot tell you. it might have something to do with my lonely and miserable childhood, or it might have to do with a general feeling of dissociation and unwantedness, and while I have never felt as though I have belonged anywhere really, there is one place I have mysteriously always pined for. In a rather shocking twist of fate, this country is called Frewyn (nothing to do with fernweh), the southeastern-most country on the Two Continents. It is a Regency-style kingdom, with its own culture, its own languages, and its own peoples, and I have visited it every day for the last 16 years. Ireland is probably the country closest to its dress and customs, and when I visited the Emerald Isle herself, to see whether there really was any similarity between the two places, I felt right at home, as though I had already visited countless times. I cannot explain these things, science must do it for me, and if the mind is indeed a quantum machine, then perhaps Frewyn does exist somewhere, swirling in the scintillating morass of time and space. — Michelle Franklin
A giant forest residing next to cliffs, falling to the sea. This landscape has haunted me since I was a child. To me it calls forth freedom, peace, isolation, and a gravitational sense of place. I think fernweh exists to allow a space within ourselves for the things we desire most. An outward longing for our own internal emotional landscape. — Ann Tetreault, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
It exists there in my mind’s eye at all times. The beautiful place I have never been. Perhaps it is a compilation of all the things I think are beautiful in this world, perhaps it is something more. I yearn for that cozy clifftop cottage, where the crashing of the waves against the dark gray rocks below joins the sound of a crisp constant breeze and the gentle welcoming of ancient chimes. The calf-high grass moves like the ocean-pitching and yawing to its own tide. There is an old wooden fence, devoid of paint, protecting the pasture from the perils of the drop off. Mountains wax grand and grey through the photographer’s Gaussian fog that settles just beyond the ridge of pines that line the land. The ivy-covered cottage comes to greet the rough dirt and stone pathway with an air of joviality, as if it has waited a lifetime to revisit the road. There is civilization in the valley below, close enough for modern comforts, but far enough that there is no sound of squealing brakes or pungent tang of exhaust. All the colors are lively and pure, all the experience as Creation intended, in its undiluted form. There is something beyond time about this place. And while I have never known it in more than a dream, it has borne to me homesickness, the depth and breadth of which is deeper than the sea beyond the edge of that enchanting land. — Samantha Puchlerz, Massachusetts
I long for the stars.
I long to see the arms of the Milky Way flung across space through a great glass window, to look out and see swirling stars and faraway points of light and possibility.
I long to traverse the universe, knowing that I’ll never know how large it is, where space works like a soft surface at times and like a blanket always.
I long for exploration and discovery.
The discovery that is remembrance.
I want it to be like Saga, where my vessel is a tree that responds to thought and touch, but also like Dune where every sentence carries a world of meaning and magic.
Theme from Star Trek: TNG on every time we go to warp.
I’d visit the Pillars of Creation, though I know outside that great glass window they would not be as colorful as they are in National Geographic.
And I’d love to navigate through an asteroid field, though it wouldn’t nearly be as dangerous as it is on TV.
I long for the impossibly dark expanse of space, and I would not be afraid. The darkness of space is the same darkness one finds in a deep cave, the darkness of the womb.
It is calling us.
It is home.
— Gerardo Trinidad Galán, Michoacán, México
Holy crap I could never describe it. Something like a peacefully haunted, rocky, hilly, mossy, coastal spruce grove. Where the fireflies dance in the cool night air. Where it is foggy until noon, where water as clear as crystal trickles through the cracks. I hike because I know this mystical place is remote, I search for it in books, in pictures. I have even tasted it, if only just barely. Yet its full location eludes me. My heart strings tear when I see hues of my far away home, goosebumps envelop me when I see those hues. I think a part of my soul is waiting for me there, and I’m on a hike to look for it. I’m going for a long walk home. — Feather, Florida
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Some responses have been edited for clarity and readability.
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