It’s become all to easy just to sit here and not venture out once I’ve arrived. It’s a longish drive and if I pick up some essentials on the way, then I can just stay here for days without going much further afield than our local walking spots. Not that it isn’t lovely here with the start of the spring flowers in the back garden but it’s still nice to get out and actually do something. So, I checked the tide times at Blue Anchor Bay and decided to take Nora for a walk on the beach.

Spring garden primroses

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We dawdled along a bit because low tide wasn’t until after lunch. First we stopped off in Crowcombe on the A358. (Sometime, I’d like to make a point of taking every turning off this road between Bishops Lydeard, near here, and Minehead and visit all the villages in turn.) Anyway, Crowcombe. I drove through the village slowly admiring the cottages, the war memorial, the village store, the Carew Arms pub, the church, and Exmoor looking unusually clear in the distance. I wondered why I had settled in a funny, spread-out little hamlet rather than a place with such an obvious community.

Side door, church of the Holy Ghost, Crowcombe, Somerset

Hopping quickly out of the car, I did a quick turn around the church before driving on. And, as they often are hereabouts, it was rather fine. Small and dark, it smelled wonderfully of polishes for brass and wood. The floor is part ancient paving worn concave by generations of feet, part restored, and in part laid with the tombs of local gentryfolk.

tombstone dated 1743

The sixteenth century bench (pew) ends were particularly good. One is dated 1534, although the Roman numerals aren’t what we would expect now (MDXXXIV). But this was made at a time when little that was written was standard. To put this woodcarving into context, it was made in the year in which Martin Luther’s German translation of the bible was first printed, the year the Parliament of England passed the Act recognising the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the year the newly created Church of England with Henry at its head separated from the Church of Rome, and the year that parts of the east coast of Canada were being discovered.

Bench end dated 1534

Then I drove on to Watchet. I’ve visited several times before and didn’t take any photographs. But I made a mental note to leave Nora in the car next time so that I can visit the Contains Art exhibition space properly. The town seems to be thriving. Five or six years ago a few of the little high street shops had closed down and there was a slightly tawdry feel about the place. Not so now, I was happy to see.

Then we finally got to Blue Anchor where Nora stayed in the car while I had lunch and then we had a good walk on the beach. I’ve written about Blue Anchor before so I won’t go into any detail here. It hasn’t changed. The beach is still as huge as always (Bondi eat your heart out), the Driftwood Cafe is still serving delicious fish and chips and great big pieces of cake. And there are still happy dogs running along the sand.

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misty background, tree and gate

The morning dawns grey and misty. On our walk my gaze, drawn away from the vanished horizon, falls on what is closer to hand: catkins blowing back and forth, the little green tips of bluebell shoots pushing up through their slowly-rotting leafy bed, the dark red foliage of some brambles that have got caught up in the skeletal remains of last summer’s ferns. Glistening water droplets hang from wet branches like jewels. Yellow gorse flowers, almost gone over now, brighten the dull bushes alongside the heathland track. And dead cow parsley as tall as I am is silhouetted against the sky like an exploding firework.

I wonder, yet again, about Reg, who once passed this way leaving his mark on the trunk of a beech. Who was he and where is he now?

rose and fern leaves

dried cow parsley

hazel catkinshazel catkins

flowering gorse bush

water drops on a branch

tree carved graffiti reading Reg

sheep

I’ve always been fond of sheep. So much so that in my early twenties every birthday gift I received was sheep-related: keyrings, knick-knacks, erasers, posters, earrings, tea towels – you name it, I got it. It eventually got a bit much and I started losing interest.

sheep in evening sunlight

But I still enjoy the silly things when I see them, so I’m delighted that the field behind the cottage is full of sheep at the moment.

Three sheep

The three above look like they’re about to go out for the evening. The pale faced one on the right looks all dolled up. She’s clearly posing and enjoying having her photo taken. The one on the left is her husband. He looks rather like television presenter Jeremy Paxman, I think. And the one in the middle is her weary mother-in-law, who’s seen it all before.

They are all very curious about us.

staring sheep

Unfortunately, Nora managed to make her way through the hedge into the field, only to run straight into the newly erected electric fence. She got a shock and yelped, tried to get back again and got another one. Then she panicked, ran back and forth along the edge of the field like a mad thing, howling her head off, before she managed to find her way back again via the compost heap. Very bad doggy behaviour indeed but not entirely our fault. I had put in some chicken wire to stop up all the gaps but the hedge has been cut back so far on the farm side that there are lots of new places she can wriggle her way through.

sheep in a field

Luckily, there are no lambs over there and the sheep don’t look pregnant, so I hope no harm has been done. I don’t suppose she’ll do it again but I’m going to go round with some more wire tomorrow to make sure it can’t happen again.

black labrador

Stuck

We’ve been stuck in London for a few weeks. My mother-in-law (or ex-mother-in-law, to be precise but it makes no odds) and two friends from the older generation died within a couple of weeks of each other, so it’s been impossible to get away with one thing and another. Then the Girl finally moved out and I’ve been feeling a bit low as a result of all this.

I do miss the Quantocks very much: our long solitary walks and the ponies on the hills.

Exmoor ponies grazing

And the sense of freedom that comes from the fine, long, uninterrupted views across the countryside.

view across field

To compensate, we have been going to Wimbledon Common in south London a lot and it’s lovely walking there too. It’s enormous and feels quite country-like. There are ponds and lakes and Nora has learned to swim. It’s getting quite hard to keep her out of the water…

dog swimming in pond

Here she is in Richmond Park, another favourite walking spot, on another day.

dog by a lake

We love the woods at Wimbledon.

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There are different kind of woods there. Some mixed deciduous on the hillier ground and one, in a very flat area, is just birch. It has a rather beautiful stillness about it on a cold winter’s day.

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The blackbirds have started singing, and magpies and great tits are collecting nesting materials in the garden. Quince is flowering here and there, and this morning I noticed a little bit of cherry blossom where yesterday there was none.

Dog amongst crocuses

It’s a good thing that Spring is just around the corner.   

Yesterday, I had too much of this trying to get here.

motorway traffic jam

I make no apologies for taking a picture at the wheel. We weren’t going anywhere. We were stationary on the M4 motorway that runs from east to west across southern England. Or west to east, depending on where you’re heading.

The traffic cleared after a while but the two-and-a-half-hour journey had been so extended by then that the dog needed a walk. Realising roughly where we were, I decided to see if I could also fit in a glimpse of a starling murmuration on Shapwick Heath on the way home as it was almost dusk. So I turned off the motorway and promptly got lost. With a satnav. They’re only as good as the information they are fed, which, if I’m the user, can be sorely wanting.

Nyland Hil

Anyhow, I eventually found myself on a road running along a kind of narrow, raised causeway with a water-filled ditch on either side and decided to stop to let Nora out of her misery. All she did was go mad with sniffing and then squat down and arooooo at another dog because she was spooked.

These ditches are called rhynes (rhymes with ‘seen’ not ‘rhyme’, annoyingly). They make up part of the ancient drainage system that criss-crosses the low-lying Somerset Levels to keep the area useable and productive. This is the area that was so badly flooded last winter and you can see why.

sunset over a rhyne

It’s a complex patchwork of fields and waterways, dotted with windblown trees and little basic bridges to let livestock and tractors in and out of fields. There are no hedges – you don’t need them – just gates standing alone at the roadside.

drainage ditch at sundown

You can see for miles. Here’s Glastonbury Tor on the horizon.

Across the levels to Glastonbury Tor

The hills are the first slopes of the Mendips.

lichen-covered gatepost

The Levels have a peculiar beauty, very different to the surroundings with which I’m familiar up here in the Quantock Hills. There’s something quite elemental about an area that only exists because of the constant monitoring of water levels and small adjustments to outflows and inflows. Not sure I’d like to live here with the risk of flooding but there are some really pretty old villages in the area.

lichen and barbed wire

I did see a medium-sized murmuration but I wasn’t in the right spot, so I’m going to go back and have another try soon. I think I’ll take a look at a proper map first.

For Jenny

advent

I went back through my photographs today and realised that I’ve got very lazy about taking pictures, which I used to do with a passion when I first came to Somerset.

Weather vane

With the arrival of Nora the dog, now eighteen months old, the big camera’s excursions dwindled to only a few times a year. Then I bought a compact camera so that I didn’t have to lug the DSLR about and that kept me happy for a while, although I only really liked its ability to take pictures in low light. The rest of the images could be disappointing with the focus often not quite right. Being a bit longsighted doesn’t help and I’ve missed having a viewfinder. When I got a newer iPhone the photographic equipment’s outings stopped almost completely. It takes pretty good pictures and I can use Photoshop to improve the original, but I don’t enjoy it as much. So, although I haven’t made any resolutions this year — I hate the idea — I intend to go about a lot more with the big camera in 2015.

Here are some ‘proper’ photographs, then, that a recent photo request reminded me I had taken in 2010 in Montacute, a village centred around a late Elizabethan mansion, that I’ve blogged about before. They are not fantastic pictures. I don’t claim to be any kind of photographer but they remind me of a good day in a beautiful place.

Montacute House, Somerset

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Tudor window with leaded lights

tudor window exterior

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Chinese screen

Row of shaped trees

Signpost in MontacuteHouse in Montacute

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