Wild horses


journal covid-19 uk outdoors

The sound of the birds near the sea

The restrictions on movement were lifted a bit. We’re allowed to sit down in the parks rather than hurry through them on the purpose of exercise. Almost immediately, tiny groups in sunglasses and with beers in hand have appeared. We are also allowed to drive a little way for our recreation.

Emma drove us down to the cliffs in Sussex. We packed food and water into a rucksack, and rued that we couldn’t stop in for a preparation pint in the last town before the walk. We passed a dozen idyllic pubs in the glorious countryside. On the walker’s trail everything seemed normal again, huffing through meadows of wildflowers and up through tracks in copses — until another group was encountered and we all duly traced the circumference of a two metre circle between one another.

We turned off the main path and disobeyed the walking directions for a little while, and ended up rambling through a grazing pasture set back from the cliffs. Soon, two curious grey ponies ambled up to us and sniffed for food and attention. They were followed by a ragtag collection of horses and ponies of all sizes, all of whom wanted some kind of investigation or affection. We fussed among them for half an hour or so, forgot everything else and felt very grateful.

We saw sheep and their lambs too, some of them still suckling. We looked over a fence and into the curious but cautious eyes of auburn cattle. The calves hid half behind their mothers but looked on.

On the way back up a lane, we saw children had scrawled notes and hearts for the NHS workers on the frontline onto the road with chalk. Chalk here is free; I thought of the huge white cliffs. Later we looked back at them as we lay on our backs in the bracing sea, having picked our way over a populated and pebbled beach. We were among only four people I saw in the cold, shallow water.

We awkwardly dried off and peeled ourselves out of our swimwear and slid sandily into our clothes. We said to each other that to know this was possible would help, as we drove back towards the city. Impossibly quickly we were weaving through the 70s highrises of Croydon on a flyover. Quicker still I was on my way to Brixton market to pick up supplies for dinner, mask over my face.