Posts Tagged ‘Somerset’

A couple of months ago I saw a letter from the English writer Evelyn Waugh on headed notepaper that gave his address as Combe Florey House. As Combe Florey is a village quite near Spring Cottage in Somerset of course I had to go and have a look.

Combe Florey lane

Waugh lived here for 10 years from 1956 until his death. Well hidden from the road, the house is quite close to the main entrance to the village on the main road. It is at the end of a winding uphill track that leads away from a quaint and less than forbidding, inhabited gatehouse on the lane. The gatehouse looks like it would be fun to live in.

Combe Florey House gatehouse

Combe Florey House gatehouse detail

Not really being able to more than catch a glimpse of the house from the lane, we went into the church as I’d heard that Waugh and his son Auberon were buried in the village.

Combe Florey church

In a peaceful uphill spot, slightly separate from the main graveyard, Waugh lies, with his wife and one of his daughters, under a plain stone on which his name is now only just decipherable.

Graves of Evelyn and Mary Waugh and their daughter Margaret

Beneath his name it says simply ‘writer’.


His burial here in an Anglican graveyard was by special dispensation as he was, of course, famously a Catholic convert at the time of his death, having converted some 30 years earlier. No sign of Auberon’s grave here but we found it later when we walked over to the cemetery extension over the road.

Combe Florey House

From Evelyn’s grave, a path leads to an iron gate opening into the garden of Combe Florey House itself. This is probably the private path that frequently exists between a country house and the village church, which the inhabitants used in order to avoid hoi polloi. It also, of course, underlines the link between the church and the upper classes of the past, when the church’s ‘living’ would have been in the gift of the local manor.

Combe Florey church entrance

The house, seen from this oblique angle, looked closed up and there was possibly some building work in progress. The electoral roll posted in the church’s vestibule does not record any residents.

We were short of time as my companions needed to get home but I’d very much like to go back and look at the rest of the village. One day, I’d like to make a project of travelling up the A358 from Bishops Lydeard and visit and record all the villages, although this would take some time… and some better weather than we have at the moment.

* By Special Request is the title of the final episode in A Flat in London, the serialised version of Evelyn Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust, which appeared in American Harper’s Bazaar in October 1934.

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Driving through the village the other day I was a bit taken aback by a brightly coloured figure lurking in the corner opposite the old pump. I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t going to step out in front of the car as it turned out to be a scarecrow, part of one of the many competitions taking place for the Flower Show on Saturday. marquee

A really proper, old fashioned marquee had been put up on the playing field for the flower and produce displays and the village hall was serving steaming cups of tea and homemade cakes. With rainclouds being driven across the sky by a brisk breeze, we were lucky to escape a soaking and the sun even came out from time to time.

old ladies drinking tea

There were two lady llamas on display. They make odd high-pitched mooing noises and tried to turn away from the camera shyly whenever I came near waving my phone. Apparently they are very good at guarding livestock as they can be quite aggressive if anyone unknown comes along.


As expected, there were lots of traditional activities, such as ‘hook-a-duck’ and stalls selling cakes (the Women’s Institute now rebranded as County Something). We pottered around admiring a couple of girls selling professional-looking preserves and a gluten-free range (very Zeitgeisty) and watched the adults’ running-backwards race, just starting below.

start of the adults running backwards race

dreadlocked woman and child

girl sitting in a toy cot

Everyone seemed in a good mood and, while the bric-a-brac at the car boot tables was a bit half-hearted by the time we turned up two hours into the afternoon, we all came away with something that suited us. In my case, a bulb vase for 50p, my friend with some sheet music for her daughter and her husband, popping back to the WI, with a cake for tea.

sheet music

I was tempted to buy a verbena plant at the plant stall, thinking maybe third time lucky, but I didn’t. I just don’t think I can grow them here. Not that this is a verbena in the pushchair before anyone points this out. That much I do know!

plant in a pushchair

My ‘best bit’ – which was something I always made sure to ask my children about whenever they went to any events when they were small – was the produce on show in the marquee.

table full of competition cups

There were competitions for the most scary vegetable creation, the best vegetable person and the best plant jewellery, which is a brilliant way of getting children to engage with vegetables. Growing them can frankly be a little boring and disappointing if you’re small. Children are so creative and it must have been a lot of fun making the entries. I hope not too many of the mums ended up making them at half past midnight on the night before!

most scary vegetable creation

There were also the traditional fruit and vegetable displays. Comfortingly, there was nothing outstandingly vast, other than a huge cabbage and a giant lettuce. I remember being quite put off by some enormously long parsnips one year.


huge lettuce

best potato competition

red onions

competition beetroot

I do love the conventions around how things like beetroot and onions are displayed. It’s so very decorative.

best vegetable basket

It looks like the entrants must do it for the love of taking part or the kudos of winning a trophy. They certainly can’t be in it for the prize money, which is very modest indeed.


Mmm, anyway time to go home for tea and cake…

cake competition

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Blissfully quiet it’s been for weeks. Hardly any passing traffic, no huge machinery going from farmyard to field. Only an occasional whirrzzz as a bicycle flies down the hill, a bit of banging from the convertors of Winter’s Barn into New Holiday Let over the road, and the rustle of leaves in the hedge as the twice-daily milk tanker hauls itself between parlour and dairy.

Glancing out of the window in the early morning, though, I saw not grass waving in the breeze but grass cut and lying in the sun to be gathered in. Now, late in the day, every other field round about lies combed into rows, neat and green, pale and dark. And vast machines dance a well-rehearsed display of shoo, vacuum and spray into the evening.

Days of noise and dust are due, then, as all this must pass our door before the silage clamps are full.

At least the forecast must be dry.



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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?


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.


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


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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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.

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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

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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


Tudor window with leaded lights

tudor window exterior


Chinese screen

Row of shaped trees

Signpost in MontacuteHouse in Montacute

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