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Mellow

For the Travel Snaps Challenge

By Hannah MoorePublished about a month ago 6 min read

I have been incredibly fortunate to travel widely and often. Fortunate as opposed to lucky because this has, of course, been very much by design. While my peers have bought more reliable cars or moved into bigger homes, I continue to choose to travel. I have been to over 50 countries – over 60 if you include territories and administrative regions and the like – and to half of the United States. I have been to cities on 6 of the 7 continents and have walked, paddled, sailed, swum, climbed, glided, skied, ridden, biked and ballooned, before you even bring an engine onto the scene, through landscapes of every earthly variety.

But I have never neglected my homeland. I cut my teeth, quite literally, under rain sodden canvas in Welsh fields. I learnt to toddle in England’s gardens, and to raise my eyes high amongst Scotland’s mountains. This land, of ancient lanes and thundering motorways, this land of undulating fields, tamed for thousands of years but never flattened into obsequience, this land of chalk and limestone, slate and granite, sandstone and basalt, of mountains and rivers and mile upon jagged mile of salted shore, has always held me rapt, and I holiday here more often than anywhere else.

It is against the backdrop of the majesty of this beautiful, wide world, against its thousand and one tales woven in a hundred different threads, that I want to bring a small story, a story of the unremarkable.

In the summer of 2017, my children were 6 and 8. This is not so long ago that my arms can’t remember the smallness of their nestling bodies, nor so recent that I can still remember the squabbles. It was a wonderful summer, that took us the length of the British mainland, but it began with good deep breath.

On our first afternoon we arrived at the little cottage, with its thatched roof and stone walls, front door framed by the rose covered arch. We were invited in and shown the facilities – the bathroom with its cheeky framed prints, the tap that needed a little trick to turn. We drank a cup of tea at the old oak table, chatted with the owner about our plans, and stroked her Labrador behind his silky ears. Then, as the sun began its languid midsummer shallow dive, we were ejected into the back garden, where we were bid a good night.

We bedded down, parents on the four foot “double”, children on the single foam mattress wedged in the gap between camp stove and cupboard, and slept until sun up, breakfasting at the picnic bench outside. It wasn’t camping, per se, but it wasn’t quite caravanning either. We had hired, for three nights, a traditional gypsy caravan, and we were about to meet our silver haired guide.

Ned was five foot tall, built like a brick outhouse, and hungry. He was a handsome chap. Despite his muscled shoulders and thighs, his high, proud behind and his deep, barrel chest, he had the mane and tail of a unicorn, rippling white in the morning sun. Enormous feet were feathered with matching fetlocks flowing in opulent cascades from his knees downwards. You got the sense, with Ned, that if a thing was worth doing, it was worthy doing slowly, and as he lumbered towards us that first morning, I realised why the route we had mapped the previous evening was so short.

We were shown how to groom him, how to clean his mighty hooves, how to hitch him to the caravan, and how to make ourselves feel that our opinions had any influence on where he chose to take us. And then we were away, out the garden gate, past Ned’s field-bound friends, and into the network of winding single track lanes that criss-cross the English countryside.

We were accompanied by a human with striking similarities to her equine charge. Pops joined us while we were on the move for an hour or two in the morning and again after lunch, and in between, she was whisked back to the yard by car, underscoring just how little distance we were covering. Mostly, she let us “drive” and sat near, ready to take the reins, quite literally, should disaster ensue, or she walked at Ned’s flank, a position we took it in turns to occupy as it was easier for him to pull the caravan if there were not three adults aboard at the time. When she spoke, it was to point out the plants of the hedgerow and their uses - which were good for cuts or burns, which could be put in a tea or made into a poultice. Which must not be touched. She told us about the thatching traditions of the area – how to recognise a field grown for thatching straw, and how the straw finials, foxes, hairs and cats patrolling many apexes, would mark the work of different thatchers, deter nesting birds, and ward off witches. And when Ned DID bolt, a surprise even to Pops, she brought him back to his calm walk before we had even processed the problem. But in the evenings, she vanished, leaving us alone, four humans, a horse, and the night creatures of the English countryside.

The first night out, we unhitched the beast, groomed and fed him, before settling to our own meal preparations over the stone ringed fire. I don’t recall what we ate, but I do recall that we followed it with marshmallows, toasted on forks over orange flames. Ned hung around the caravan, cropping the grass with his soft muzzle, socialising in the quiet way horses do, and we relaxed into the evening. We had been warned that he would wander off, and assured that he was safely contained and that this was perfectly ok, so we felt a little blessed that he chose to stay close by. We humans often feel we have been personally affirmed when those of another species choose to spend time with us. But Ned, I am sorry to say, had an ulterior motive. Ned knew this drill, he was no green yearling in the tourism trade.

Ned’s first attempt at marshmallow theft was an unanticipated stealth manoeuvre no one expected from a horse with feet the size of dinner plates. His muzzle, it transpired, had less finesse than his feet, and instead of making off with the little puff of scorched sugar, he propelled it with his prehensile lips into the fire, where it was unceremoniously incinerated. Fortunately we had been forewarned of Ned’s penchant for marshmallows, and though his tactics had taken us by surprise, we did not need to wonder if he was allowed such inorganic fodder. Laughing, we toasted him another, allowing it to cool before offering it up to him without the need for subterfuge. The five of us sat beneath the stars, encased in our little circle of light, and sucked burnt sugar from our lips as the embers dimmed. When the fire went out, Ned vanished into the night, and us into the van and to our dreams.

The next morning, Ned was gone. We roamed the tracks between summer ferns, calling his name with increasing alarm, but he was nowhere to be found. Concerned, we embarked on breakfast and awaited the arrival of Pops, who would surely know what to do in almost any circumstance life might present. We need not have worried. Toast, as we all know, carries on the air like a clarion call to the peckish, and Ned arrived fireside as the first piece was buttered. In the end, we toasted the remaining marshmallows for breakfast pudding, which is of course a real thing, to the delight of children, adults and horse alike.

For three days, we beat a slow path along the lanes, a walking pace, with nothing to do but look, and listen, talk and laugh, suck buttermints and daydream. The landscape unfurled at the pace of our ancestors, one slow mile upon another, with time between to ponder hedgerows high with wildflowers and fields ripening towards harvest, no blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dazzle, no fast-as-you-can roadside stops, the only beat the steady clop of a horse’s feet. One moment followed another, just as they were, with no pressure to be more.

And that, my friends, is that. No searing insights, no life lessons. Sometimes we just are, and just being is enough. Ned foreshadowed our arrival home when he pricked his ears and quickened his pace, and, accepting, we began to gather our thoughts. The next morning, we got back in the car and took the short ferry to the Isle of Wight, where we marvelled at Queen Victoria’s private refuge and revelled in the Poo Museum’s hands-on approach. The moment passed, as they do. But from time to time, the children still remember Ned, and toast him with a marshmallow and a chuckle, and I, who can’t sit still, remember moving slowly.

family travel

About the Creator

Hannah Moore

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Comments (8)

  • Joe O’Connorabout a month ago

    Beautiful pictures, and I definitely relate to your point about being "fortunate, rather than lucky." People often don't see the opportunity cost!

  • D.K. Shepardabout a month ago

    Loved your storytelling, the pictures, and Ned! Delightful!

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    Awww, Ned is sooooo adorableeeeee and he loves marshmallows!! Gosh I wish I could meet him and give him a hug!

  • JBazabout a month ago

    Now that is my kind of holiday, I think htis has ot be life time memory of a unique holiday.

  • John Coxabout a month ago

    Although you made no effort to share any deep insights in your narrative, the manner in which you have LIVED and raised your children to LIVE speaks wisdom in volumes. Based on your lived experience, given sufficient time, I’m guessing you could enter dozens of these pieces. And I hope you do for the sake of a little vicarious life of my own. What on earth will the judges do when they realize that the top 12 stories were all written by the same person?

  • Cathy holmesabout a month ago

    This is wonderful. Sounds like a truly relaxing vacation. right up my alley.

  • Rachel Deemingabout a month ago

    Ah, lovely. Good old Ned.

  • Mark Gagnonabout a month ago

    Your travel resume is impressive. I'm sure your kids will look back on this trip and smile for years to come.

Hannah MooreWritten by Hannah Moore

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