Drive, not walk, to the coastal grasslands and mudflats of Northam Burrows. I am restless and frustrated: generally disconnected, and in a turbulent mood, like the weather. Need to get there quick.
At the gateway, is a group of horses and ponies standing quietly, sheltering from the wind against a little wooden shed. They are standing against the shed, against fences, signposts, each other… anything they can find that offers them some protection. I feel their stillness even through the car windows, and my bad mood vanishes. I park a short distance away – cold wind catches my breath. It is a cold, roaring wind coming straight off the Atlantic – occasional sun creeping through dense grey layers of cloud.
I approach the horses, watching them all the time, struck by their patience and stillness in this fierce weather. Everywhere is mud, grass, water and cold, blasting wind. Coming nearer, I feel what I can only describe as a group warmth coming off these animals. Crouch to take photos. Hands frozen. Through my trousers and thermal underwear, my knee feels cold and wet. I am kneeling in a pile of manure.
Standing close to the horses, I become aware of their breathing – a slight movement of life within their stillness. Their manes and tails blow straight out in the wind. I become aware also, that there are sounds within their silences. A couple of them are chewing the fence, grunting gently. And each horse, without moving a muscle, is highly aware of me, too.
Several horses approach me, allow me to stroke their muzzles, and then pointedly turn their backs. Not sure whether this is an insult, or an invitation to hop on for a ride. I suspect the former.
It is so cold. I hear the cry of a curlew. A flight of lapwing rise from the mudflats. Their Black and White cuts through the sky. Cold wind freezes the back of my neck. In the warmth of the car, I fish out my binoculars, come back to the company of horses, and discern the distant lifeboat at Appledore; disintegrating concrete structures out in the estuary; water close by, and worn bricks amongst the pebbles at my feet. A multitude of gulls are hunched down behind rocks on the beach, and more lapwing…
Whilst I am looking, a family drive up, with two noisy children who take delight in chasing the horses and getting them to run about. I try, with difficulty, not to disapprove. Continue looking through binoculars. Next, I hear a loud whinny, and turn to see a line of horses making a rapid, but dignified retreat across the marshes towards the sea.