We watched the meadows rolling past through the train window, horses grazing in endless pastures, cows lazily munching their way through the grass, tails swishing at pesky flies. London was fading further away with each passing minute.
We were on our way to stay with friends in Emsworth, described poetically on their website as “a small town at the top of a channel in Chichester Harbour, nestled between the South Downs and the sea.” The town can trace its existence back to the 13th century.
It was late morning when we arrived. By early afternoon, we were out for a walk along the sea. The tide was out. And it was way out. So far so that it was difficult to imagine that, at high tide, the water did actually come all the way up to the pathway where we were walking. Mossy green and sleek brown seaweed covered every inch of pebbly ground between us and the water.
Life revolves around the sea in Emsworth. Kids were on the docks, crabbing. People were tending to their boats. Others were out for a walk along the shore just like we were. There’s a sailing club (most likely, several), and all sorts of water-related sports and activities. About a century ago, the town was famous for its oysters that were transported up to the best seafood restaurants in London. But mostly, there was the unmistakable salty, fishy scent of the sea that permeated the air and the squawk of gulls swooping in the distance.
We did the sort of things you do when you’re not in London: eat a lazy lunch at the pub while the toddlers run around in the garden and play beside an old boat, its bottom filled with a puddle of rain water; lounge around in a massive garden for hours where there was a slide and a swing and all of the fun toys that are too big for a typical London flat; and breathe in the unpolluted air.
On our second and last day, we took another long walk through the small town suburban streets, through fields, following trails and walking around the edges of muddy puddles. We passed creeks and roadkill, plenty of pubs, flower-filled front gardens, and a whole bunch of alpacas that came up to the farm gates to say hello.
Several mills were built to support the British navy beginning in the late 1500s. We walked past a few of them, like the Old Flour Mill on Queen Street (a Grade II Listed building) and Lumley Mill (built in 1760, but mostly burnt down in 1915. Across the street is the round bakehouse).
We also walked through a lovely nature reserve called Brook Meadow, which has been a water meadow since the middle of the 19th century. The sign at entrance has some lovely original artwork from a local wildlife artist. There’s grassland and woodland and two streams, chirping birds and the constant humming buzz of insects. We walked a thin train flanked by tall grasses, butterflies flitting among the wildflowers and an occasional dog rushing past. The scent of the sea was replaced by the earthy scent of nature and the sweetness of summer blooms.
And then, so quickly, before we knew it, the fields and horses and sheep were rushing by the train windows again and then we were waiting for a cab on the grubby streets of Clapham Common to take us the rest of the way, traffic sounds and people everywhere, back to the polluted air and the chaos we’ve come to call home… It’s hard these days, with a toddler in the mix and 12.5 years of London living behind me, not to daydream about how a slower pace of life could look outside of the M25. Anyone else?