Posts Tagged ‘Quantock Hills’

This morning Nora took a very me on an almost-midsummer walk up Broomfield Hill, our local walking spot. We can walk there straight from the cottage when I have the energy. Other times, if I’ve been gardening all day or when the weather’s foul, we drive.

We hardly ever meet anyone and when we do, Nora growls as if to say: “what are you doing here on my hill?” So different from the town dog she is at other times, who sees probably about 20 dogs and more than 50 people a day. Today she growled at some loud people who had climbed over a decrepit gate into a field they shouldn’t have been in, taking engagement photos (they were very shouty which is why I know). So silly of them when there’s literally acres of open access and National Trust land right here on the hill. People, eh?

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Nora’s favourite thing is finding some fox poo and rolling in it. Today there was a good harvest and she got lots of it under her collar. If it’s still early enough for dew or if it has been raining, I’ll get her to roll over in some long grass so that a little of it comes off her before we get home. Other times, I have to shampoo her with a special potion that more or less works but has its own curious aroma.

We walked past some highland cows and their calves who live on the hill. The calves all came running to their mothers when they heard us. They’re just a bit bigger than Nora. Their mothers are the size of a car and have long, pointy horns. I was glad they were on the other side of the fence because of the young. Sometimes they (and their poo) are all over the path, which can feel a little daunting, but on the whole they’re pretty timid and stay out of your way as you go by. I swear there was a bull one time though.

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highland cow and calves

I got very excited today because I found some wild orchids growing on the hillside amongst the other wild flowers and grasses. Only about 20 centimetres (eight inches) tall, I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t decided to sit down in the sun. I think they were Common Spotted Orchids, not fully in flower here yet.

common spotted orchid

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And here’s Cothelstone Hill with the Seven Sisters group of trees—a local landmark—on its summit, seen from Broomfield Hill. It’s such a lovely day that I’m going to get right out there again into the sunshine now.

Happy midsummer!

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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

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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.

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When I first moved here, my neighbours had opened permissive paths and bridleways across their land as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. We could do a circular walk across their land, over hills and past ponds right from the front door without driving anywhere first. Since then, their old age and the austerity of the last few years have meant that the Council-run scheme ended and the paths fell into disrepair and were closed.

On the positive side, the closure of our most walked local route has meant I’ve been trying to discover new ways across the land nearby. Being a bit more adventurous and going in new directions is always a good thing.

We found a lovely walk the other day through the wood on the brow of the hill that I can see from my kitchen window. I haven’t found a way through the trees to a spot from which I can see the cottage yet, so lots more scope for exploration here.

woodland

labrador retriever

path through woods with dog

woods

winter sunshine through trees

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What’s better than good friends, good weather and good exercise?

The views up at Will’s Neck, the Quantocks’ highest point (about 15 minutes’ drive from Spring Cottage) were fabulous at the weekend. As clear as clear can be. When it’s like this, you can see Exmoor to the south and the Bristol Channel and the Welsh coast to the north.

Apparently Will’s Neck is a Marilyn or a type of ‘relative hill’. I find this hilarious.

I don’t know why more people don’t come up here, although I’m glad that they don’t. Even on such a lovely day we only passed about ten people all morning.

It isn’t always like this at an altitude of 1,261 ft (384 m) – for reference, Spring Cottage itself is at 210 m (I talked a lot of rubbish about this to my friend at the weekend and got my Imperial and metric measurements completely confused). It’s often shrouded in low cloud and drizzle up here, and it can be very windy, like the last time I was up here, when it was possible to believe that you were completely lost. And not everyone was having good weather either, as we could see in the distance below.

I took these pictures with my phone, which is rather unpredictable. I’ve kind of given up taking my DSLR out with me these days, particularly when I go to places I’ve been before. Perhaps it’s time for a smaller camera?

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After such a miserably wet day, yesterday evening turned out quite nice, so when I saw deer up in the field, I grabbed the camera and my keys and dashed out to photograph them.

I’m so glad I did.

The light was gorgeous and it completely made me remember what a glorious place this is.

And why I am here.

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At long last, the weather was fine and springlike this weekend, after about five weeks of grey skies and rain.

Saturday

I dropped by Nether Stowey car boot sale this morning – the first of the season – which was rather lame. A very poor turnout of sellers; about half as many as usual. I should think most people were so delighted to have some good weather for the first time in weeks, that they had other activities on their minds. I must keep going though as I’ve had such good things from there in the past: a huge fireguard, a tin bath, a great set of Hedgerow china for a song, and this Lloyd Loom linen basket/stool.

Entertainingly subtitled: ‘a Lusty product’.

I’ve finally done it up with some oil cloth from Norfolk Textiles (I’m obsessed with oilcloth) and some braid from V.V. Rouleaux and it now looks like this. I scrubbed it thoroughly but didn’t repaint it, as I wanted to keep its slightly worn appearance. But I find I neither like it particularly nor have any use for it, so I’ll probably give it away.

When I got back, I set to strimming the roadside banks, which is the perfect situation to encounter neighbours. (Round here anyone who lives within a half-mile radius is considered a neighbour as there’s no-one immediate.) I met two women passing today for the first time: one who lives in a house called Witches Barn (not sure about apostrophe) and the other, on horseback with two dogs running free (so brave, or perhaps, foolish), who is newer here than I am, which makes me feel better.

Having chatted with them, I thought, it really is a bit like The Archers, with local people being up in arms about a new anaerobic digester and various planning applications. “Where’s it all going to go?” One of them wanted to know. Where indeed? Into a big lagoon of slurry, possibly at the farm down the lane. Oh joy. It smells bad enough from time to time, as it is.

Then I lay about on the grass in the sun, listening to the birds and the tractor in the field next door, and weeded for hours and hours. Now I ache from bending and kneeling, as well as from wielding the strimmer.

Sunday

This morning I went riding: sunshine, swallows flying up high, the ground finally drying out after weeks of rain, sparrow fledglings chattering noisily in the bushes, carpets of bluebells in the woodland for as far as the eye could see, the countryside really starting to brighten as the trees thicken with leaves and rape fields come into flower. And, when we got to Cothelstone Hill, the sheer pleasure of a rare, clear, 360 degree view from the Seven Sisters. Fabulous.

It was all great until Marmalade – a rather inappropriately named black and white mare – got thoroughly fed up with me while we were trying to close a gate (easier said than done on horseback) and suddenly took off at speed straight into a tree branch that caught me on the head, back of the neck and shoulder. You’re taught to bend forward when encountering an overhanging object; if I hadn’t instinctively done that, I would have been thwacked straight in the face. Thank goodness for riding hats too, although the impact rammed mine down so hard that one my eyebrows feels bruised. Anyway, I’ll live.

I find myself thinking that this place is has marvellously healing powers for the weary mind and soul, if not the body.

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