This afternoon I was fortunate to spend some time with prolific author Stephen Moss and fellow AFON committee member Matt Williams, exploring an area of Somerset I had not previously thought of visiting: immediately south of Burnham on Sea.
”What’s different?” Stephen asked Matt and I as we set out along the grassy wall. His question was in reference to a comment regarding how similar this Somerset wetland landscape seemed to the coastal fringe flatlands of East Anglia and my home county of Essex. There were big skies, mudflats with waders running about and the calls of curlew in the background. We wondered for a while. Then, Matt got it. The answer was, of course, the smell. There was no scent of saltiness. The views, stretching out towards Stert Point and beyond, were deceptive in that they suggested an air of marine, a sense of coastal fringe, and yet this was not a saline environment at all. Our walk was situated at the crossroads of the small River Brue and the larger River Parrett, where they intersect, combine and then empty into the Bristol Channel.
This was one of Stephen’s regular haunts. It took a little while to make out my bearings, with the Holm islands in view to the north and Hinkley Point to the west. The beauty and complexity of this landscape lies in its sense of place as a land of liminality. There are sea walls, and defined boundaries within the landscape, but its flatness and the sounds and smells that are apparent give it an air whereby you are never quite sure where to look.
As we crossed the bridge to access the sea wall (or should that be river/estuary wall) a kingfisher darted south eastwards along the Brue, before disappearing into the edgeland of this linear waterway. Two Little Egrets flew in the opposite direction. Curious Guernsey calves, and a few of their mothers, stared at us as we walked at a pace along the wall. Stephen and Matt trekked on as I briefly surveyed these wonderful beasts with their mottled light brown and white distinctive markings.
The three of us fixed binoculars to eyes and observed Dunlin, Curlew and dozens upon dozens of Grey Plover. The tide was out as far as it could reach early on in the walk, although we knew it would be coming up soon, and quickly. Although the wind chill factor picked up as we walked further towards the Parrett, we briefly discussed the mild day. You had to pinch yourself as a reminder that it is November.
As we returned, a kestrel appeared, flying eastwards towards the fields directly adjacent to the Brue. Stephen mentioned how he recognised her as an individual, due to her distinctive darker colouring.
It has been a glorious Sunday afternoon, spent discussing literature and wildlife, as well as reflecting on our troubled world and the need to remain positive. The wind, light and avian calls were a welcome reminder of the joys of the natural world, in the context of a human political world that looks increasingly troubled.