Walking in the woods on Saturday, it seemed to be getting lighter and lighter as we pressed on into the trees, mesmerised by the carpet of bluebells through which we were walking. I realised that we were coming to a large clearing and knew we must have reached a tree felling zone I’ve only seen from the road until now.

We had decided to turn left when we set out from the car park instead of right as most people do. It’s a popular walking spot and I wanted to avoid other people on this busy, sunny morning and hear some birdsong in amongst the trees.

There were no signs to tell us to keep out so I decided to walk along the edge of the felled area before taking up our intended walk again in amongst the broadleaved trees. This was a pine plantation that I’d heard had been compulsorily felled to prevent the spread of Phytophthora ramorum (Sudden Oak Death), a tree disease that, it is feared, may cause as much damage to the English landscape as Dutch Elm Disease did in the 1970s.

Having read up about it since, I’ve worried whether we should have entered the felling zone at all, as the disease can be spread by foot, but as the pines were felled to create a barrier and, in any event, our footwear wasn’t leaving the area and we only walked along the rutted track left by the logging trucks, so I hope no harm has been done.
a broadleafed woodIMG_6805IMG_6806IMG_6807IMG_6811 IMG_6820IMG_6818

The bluebells which are everywhere at this time of year, although not yet fully in bloom, are suddenly exposed on the bare ground in the sunshine. Blooming away as though nothing had happened, they look forlorn among the tree stumps and the deep scars left in the earth by heavy lorry tyres.

Fortunately, there are many, many other woods in this part of Somerset for the squirrels, birds, rabbits and other wildlife who have lost their habitat to move to, as it will take another half a century at least until this place returns to how it was just a year ago. We can only hope this ugly piece of destruction succeeds in preventing something very much worse.

Glastonbury

I always think of Glastonbury as being quite near but it isn’t really. It’s the other side of the M5 motorway from the Quantocks for a start and that’s quite a divider, although it’s not hard to cross. It’s also the other side of the Somerset Levels, the very flat part of North Somerset which was badly flooded in 2013-14. The countryside is really different from here: quite flat but with big hills that seem to suddenly loom up at random. Of course it’s random, it’s geology, not planning but you know what I mean.

Somerset’s like that. Big and with a very varied landscape, ranging from tidal mudflats of the northern coast to sharply delineated hills and valleys, or combes (pronounced ‘cooms’) as they’re called locally. Densely wooded hillsides fill your ears with birdsong and windswept beaches that give you the best blowdry should you get drenched in a shower of rain.

Georgian house with tulips

Somerset includes beautiful cities like Bath and tiny farming hamlets down long, winding lanes without even a sign to tell you you’re there, like ours. People often say: “Oh, I know someone in Somerset,” and it turns out they mean in Frome or thereabouts. I’ve never even been to Frome (rhymes with combe, in other words, ‘Froom’), although I must go one day. It’s south of here and apparently quite hip but for now I’m pleased that I managed to make it to visit Glastonbury, finally, after six years. I have been there before but that was in the days of fitting out the cottage and searching for bits and pieces at reclamation yards, which isn’t the same as pottering around the place, dog in tow.

People sitting around monument

Glastonbury High Street

Glastonbury is pretty dog friendly with lots of shops quite happy for you to take your four-legged companion inside. There are water bowls outside lots of shops and many cafes have outdoor tables, so that you and your pooch can eat al fresco.

Glastonbury Tor

Labrador dog on Glastonbury Tor

dog on hill with view

There were also lots of dogs on Glastonbury Tor, which is a steep climb right in the middle of the town. Don’t wear stiff old wellies as I did because getting up the hill with no ankle flexion is rather hard work. It was also blustery and drizzly, and hence there wasn’t a very good view which was a pity as it’s obviously fabulous on a good day. The trade off – not that many people around, although up at the top there we found lots of people sheltering from the squally showers inside the small base of the tower.

Mural with girl in floaty dress

macabre graffiti of skeletons

Fireman's witch

Quirky and lively, Glastonbury’s a great size to walk around and the contrast between the grassy hill of the Tor and the town makes for a good combination of activities. The atmosphere of old hippy tat reminds me of the Kensington Market of my teenage years but Glastonbury clearly is still a place of serious pilgrimage for many. It attracts young and old: grizzled guys with long beards, middle-aged women in flowing robes, young women with flowers in their hair and colourful leggings, guys sporting long black coats and top hats leading dogs along on floral garlands. And lots of tourists of all nationalities.

New Age shop in Glastonbury

Today it is grey, with hill fog and drizzle but last time I was here the garden had gone into full Spring mode. The sun shone, the insects and butterflies found nectar everywhere. The flowers were almost all yellow (this week the garden’s theme is predominantly blue and I just love the way this happens, although I probably ought not to allow the bluebells to proliferate further). And there was a forest of fritillaries. Simply glorious.

Although the cottage is named after the spring which flows underground just on the other side of the boundary, it’s definitely at its best in springtime.

Garden on sunny day Wasp on a dandelion Butterfly feeding on yellow primroses Garden with bench and stone building Spring flowers in the grass

Labrador lying in the grass

Frayed around the edges and over-sensitive for no good reason. Always the paradox of wanting to leave one place and be in another, and then the fret about doing it and what I might find when I arrive.

Work over the road going on apace. Winters Barn, sold at the end of last year together with the field it stands in, has been completely pulled down. The field is full of heavy machinery and the radio goes all day. A flock of sheep is grazing and they appear to be charmingly right in amongst all this but they aren’t. Closer inspection reveals an electric fence.

They’ve renamed the place and I disapprove. The old name was good and the new one inappropriate. Like the doubling in size of the cowsheds down the road, these changes make me feel sad. I liked what I’d found here – the remoteness and the dark skies. Now there is orange light on all night in one direction (why, do cows crave streetlight?) and soon there will be people over the road plus the additional traffic all this creates. It’s already a local rat run. You NIMBY incomer, I chastise myself. What makes you the arbiter of how things should be?

Nice things: Sunshine, birdsong, lambs bleating in the distance. Leaf buds bursting everywhere: hazel, beech, hawthorn and rowan. Blackthorn blossom, tiny flowers nestling among brutal thorns. Gorse now fully out and wafting coconut after months of being only half in bloom. Delicate little short-lived wildflowers crouching close to the ground, easily missed. A new fern stalk standing proud of the crushed fronds of last year’s dry remains, unfurling slowly as if stretching after winter’s long sleep.

And lazy, bad-tempered me, who didn’t bother to take a proper camera because it’s only a walk.

a wood tree branches against a blue sky and clouds wild flowers

Inside

Sometimes people say they want to see what the inside of Spring Cottage looks like. The truth is I don’t take many photos inside these days but here are a couple of details from upstairs and downstairs.

I move things around quite a bit so nothing looks the same here for very long. These were taken a while ago when I was playing with a new camera. I must have been obsessed with lamps or something.

domestic interior shot

domestic interior bedside table

Most of the things in the cottage are old: mine and my parents’, or secondhand bits and pieces picked up here and there for not very much. They go well with the aged feel of the place. Perhaps if I tell you that the first thing that you notice when you go into the house is its smell – a mixture of wood smoke and old church – you’ll get the gist.

An exception is the painting in the top photo, which I bought as soon as it was finished from a French artist called Perrine Rabouin. She was using a spare room in a friend’s house in Provence as a studio one summer seven or eight years ago and I fell in love with her work. Perhaps not surprisingly, the whole living room colour scheme ended up being based on it.

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

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