Posts Tagged ‘Somerset’

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

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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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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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Snow was forecast overnight. Drawing the curtains in darkness this morning, the electric outside light revealed a couple of centimetres of snow in the garden. Further afield, particularly uphill, there is a little more, so after a bone-warming bath and breakfast we head up the nearest hill for the dog to experience her first snowfall.

reflected chandelier

Before we can even get there, she goes a bit crazy in the garden but not at the snow, which she takes in her stride. It’s the frozen pond that freaks her out as she desperately tries to eat the incomplete sheet of ice covering it. “What’s this? Why can’t I pull it out? It’s so heavy. And COLD. I’ll zoom around like a lunatic because this is blowing my mind!”

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The snow reveals all kinds of things I don’t normally see: footprints of birds and deer that have passed only a short while before, branches that arch above my head pointing at vaulted structures of deadwood and ivy. A new beauty. It also hides uneven ground, deep mud, drifts of leaves that trip me up, cowpats that squelch over my boots as they get sucked into the ground beneath. I forgive them all.

snowy gate

dog in snowy wood

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snow covered old tractor

thawing snow

view from hills

Back home now. Holed up, hunkered down, behind battened hatches, I listen to the wind whooming down the chimney. That is the noise that it makes. The fire finally decides to stop smoking and I relax and curl up on the sofa with a book, a cup of tea, thick socks, a blanket and a sleeping dog. Bliss.

cottage in the snow

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If I want to impress visitors with just how special our little country can be, then Kilve, only 20 minutes away from the cottage, is always a good place to start. My kind-of-niece Z is staying, so I decide it’s about time we made another visit.

It’s a gentle walk to the beach from the A39 where we park in the free village car park opposite the pub. There’s another car park much nearer but it’s pay and display and it’s a shame to miss the walk which gives us a good snoop at the bungalows, Victorian houses and farmhouses that line the road.

Nora in Kilve graveyard

We briefly visit the lovely old church and graveyard overlooking a farmyard where a JCB is doing something that looks quite dangerous for the collie dancing by its side. “What’s a JCB?” Asks Z, who’s Canadian. “A digger,” I explain. “Why do we call them diggers?” asks my girl graduate… Hm.

Graves at Kilve

Door handle at Kilve church

Opposite the pay and display car park by the old retort, there’s a cricket match going on – that quintessential of all English pastimes. Kilve are playing Castle Cary and there’s blackboard inviting visitors to stop in and watch. We don’t – cricket is beyond me – I don’t mind watching it and love listening to it on the radio, but am incapable of explaining anything about it to anyone else. At any rate, the girls don’t look that keen.

Kilve v Castle Cary

So we set off on our walk along the path leading to the cliffs. Luckily the tide’s out so we go down and have a great scramble on one of the most remarkable beaches in the country.

Kilve from the cliffs

cliff top at Kilve

Kilve beach looking towards Minehead

Kilve is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). I have written about it here and here so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say it is a place well worth a visit, even if you’re not interested in fossils. I’m not particularly, but am so happy when we stumble across some pretty big ammonites. I’ve never seen such good specimens before.

Nora and the ammonite

The girl and Z make a good duo of red-haired mountain goats climbing up the cliff and we shout to each other across a little natural amphitheatre in the rock strata, our voices sounding strangely close by.

girls and rock strata

girls walking on Kilve beach

Nora chases her tennis ball through tide pools full of seaweed, sea urchins and barnacles. She loses it and I replace it with a second one which I am wisely carrying. Then she loses that as well.

Dog in a rock pool

Earlier she proved herself trepidatious where water is concerned; unwilling to plunge into the pool formed by the stream that flows alongside the road into the sea. Not even the ball can encourage her to do more than dip in her toes.

Pool made by the stream

The light is theatrical: bright in one direction and gloomy in the other, emphasising the rock strata. We are lucky to completely avoid a huge storm that builds up in the uncharacteristic heat of the day.

Kilve beach looking into the sun

Then we go home and eat freshly-baked scones in the garden with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Pretty perfect, I’d say.

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Small things

passionflower

Sometimes it’s the little things that make my day. Like the passionflower which I bought from Morrison’s for £3 flourishing on the side of the woodshed. I thought it would die during the winter, so buffeted did it get on our exposed hillside.

Like our wasps’ nest. They’re squatting in the bird box on the side of the garage. The hole you can see in this rather fuzzy picture (I was holding the phone above my head with rather shaky hands – see previous post) is where I poked the crepe bandage-like structure inside with the end of the shears because I was wondering what it was. I’d never seen one before.

I soon knew. They all came flying out to have a look at what was attacking them but they didn’t seem very aggressive. I left them to calm down and go back inside, which they did quite quickly. When I went back later to check, the hole I made seemed to have been mended or to have mended itself. I will have to do some research into wasps’ nests now to find out how.

wasps

Like my ‘exciting’ 15 minutes in the garden one night. While I was standing there waiting for the motion-activated outside light to go off so that I could well and truly lurk in the dusk, an owl turned up and sat on the telegraph wires. I could only see its outline but it was obviously an owl with its massive round head and silent, swooping flight. It’s my first owl sighting, although I hear them quite a lot from the woods nearby. From the calls I’d say it was a tawny.

rainbow over country scenery

And like the rainbow that was so complete and huge that I couldn’t fit both ends of it into the picture. There was a rainbow on the day I moved into the cottage and I’ve always thought of them as a good omen, although they usually signify an impending shower.

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