Yesterday, I had too much of this trying to get here.
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.
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.
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.
You can see for miles. Here’s Glastonbury Tor on the horizon.
The hills are the first slopes of the Mendips.
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.
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.