My son and I went for a walk yesterday evening. It had been a hot and humid day and a thunderstorm had rolled close by without actually hitting us. It had however cleared the air a little and the evening was glorious with blue sky, golden sunshine and light friendly clouds. We walked through a field where two horses, a piebald and a chestnut, spend their days grazing, bickering slightly and trying to second guess what the people who walk the public footpath offer them. We offered gentle affection, stroking, patting and soft whispering praise. I don’t feed them. The owners no doubt know what they want the pair to eat and while the odd carrot or apple probably wouldn’t be an issue, if everyone does it, you can seriously upset a horse or pony receiving a balanced diet from its owner.

This pair is in great shape and while I, and my family who walk with me to see them, would undoubtedly get fun and satisfaction from feeding them, we have to think of the horses’ welfare. So affection, pats, attention, fine, but extra food, no. I wish I were so disciplined with my own diet!

The field this pair is in is great for giving them balanced natural grazing. When you walk through the field from the lane you drop down a short bank and walk to a brook that marks the field boundary. The low lying ground is something you rarely get any more; it’s a water meadow. It floods with heavy rainfall during late autumn winter and early spring and the area supports an abundant array of plants and herbs in addition to grasses.

As we walked on after saying hello to the horses, we crossed the brook, climbed the bank of the flood plain on the far side and looked inland up the valley. We started talking about how the growth and plants on the flood plain were different from where we stood on the shoulder of the valley. He told me all about how this land had been an inlet of the Severn estuary and ships had rowed up to the Roman capital of the Silures at Caerwent.  We talked about how the medieval castle, now landlocked, would have been on the banks of a quite significant marsh and river in medieval times. He knew the water flowing down the brook had produced a large intermittent lake even after the drainage of the Gwent levels. We discussed how the digging of the Severn railway tunnel had hit the aquifer that supported the lake and the pumping that kept the tunnel dry had drained the water more or less permanently, meaning the lake only reappears infrequently now.

We took a long time for a walk of a couple of miles but it was great to hear him so knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm about so much local and regional geography, history and economics. If we’d sat him down in a classroom and tried to stick all this in his head he would have been very resistant and learned virtually nothing. Letting him experience the geography first hand, look stuff up online, discuss it, read pamphlets from Cadw, connect it with one of his great interests, trains and then put it all together in the field has done wonders for his interest and is confidence in his own abilities.

What a great way to spend an evening.

Plus we got to talk to some horses!

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