Off to the Mendips to walk a route devised by the stalwart A, loosely based on walks enjoyed by her late father who knew the landscape very well.
We began at Priddy, a picture book village set around a large village green, right on the top of the Mendip ridge. There are farmhouses, there is the cricket ground, the pub, the post office and so on and it all looks exactly as I envisage the fictional Ambridge. Only the pub is closed for conversion into residential units and the post office has long been a private house. And in the absence of Linda Snell et al, a biting wind was tearing through the deserted place.
As we set out we battened down the hatches, hats, gloves, and zips-wise, but still the wind found chinks in our fleecy armour until we had left the village behind and dropped down a little, onto the southerly side of the Mendip ridge. The plan was to sketch out a rectangular route, along the ridge, down to the start of the flatlands, back along and up again. A had in mind to follow the West Mendip Way for the beginning, an excellent idea for these long distance paths are always well signposted.
Well, up to a point…
We managed to skirt the muddy edge of one field before missing the turning for the Way. I’d like to think that it was particularly well hidden. Indeed there was a gap in the wall at the end of that field encouraging the unwary walker through to the next one and at the far end of which – by which time it was clear that we had gone astray – the farmer had kindly left free of barbed wire a few metres of walling to throw ourselves over. Can you see how I’m building a case for this having been an understandable, and not infrequently made, mistake?
Except when we got to the other end of the missed path – the place at which we should have joined the bridleway we’d vaulted onto somewhat prematurely – we found that it was fairly bristling with signs and indicators. So maybe we had just been yakking too much to spot them back in the first field.
Anyway, after a mile or so of ridge top walking along an old drove road, thankfully out of the worst of the wind, we passed through a farmstead found ourselves approaching the top of the scarp. The views of the Somerset levels began to open up with vistas stretching away into the distance, all islands of high ground rising up out of the wetlands.
Closer at foot – and talking of wet – there was mud. Lots of it, deep, damp, and simultaneously both sticky and slippery.
A viewing point above Ebbor Gorge got short shrift from us because of the slidey stuff, (if I’d got any closer, you’d have seen what a long way down it was), but full marks to Natural England for their thoughtful installation of rough wooden steps to ease the way down the slope to the foot of the gorge.
And the wild wicker boar was another happy surprise too.
Reaching the road at the mouth of the gorge, a refreshment opportunity presented itself – of which more later – so there was a break for a reviving cup of tea, a spot of lunch, and (in my case) an examination of just how much Mendip mud I had managed to cover myself in when I fell over. Thoughts turned to the return route – back up the scarp across the fields or a gentler climb along a lane? Unanimous vote for the lane.
Despite the warning.
The lane up to Deer Leap offered lots of yet more splendid views of the Somersest levels. A had read that the panorama extends as far at the Quantocks and South Wales on good days and, even though the day was cloudy, we could indeed see all that way. It was all very lovely.
But what are those stones doing in that field? And yes, that is Glastonbury Tor in the distance in between them.
Standing stones lined up with Glastonbury Tor? Must be a ley line, mustn’t it? I paused to see if I could feel any special vibes. Has to be a bit of a mystical spot surely?
I must admit that I don’t know a lot about ley lines, but my book buying eye has recently been caught by a re-issue of Alfred Watkins’ 1925 work The Old Straight Track. Here, according to the blurb, the writer expounds upon his original concept of such lines as being a network of prehistoric pathways of aligned stone circles, mounds, and standing stones criss-crossing the countryside. All rather intriguing, I thought.
I must confess that when it comes to ploughing through Watkins’ thesis I am finding it about as heavy going as Mendip mud and just as clear. Bogged down half way through, I turned to Robert Macfarlane’s introduction to the 2015 edition. (Am I the only person to read subsequent introductions after I have read the main work? They seem to make more sense that way.) Although the excellent Macfarlane does conclude that Watkins’ ley vision re-enchanted the English landscape, investing it with fresh depth and detail, prompting new ways of looking and new reasons to walk, when it comes to his opinion on Watkins’ work (fabulous gallimaufries of quotation), he doesn’t mince his words.
So, with hindsight, there probably wasn’t much that was mysterious about that alignment of stones and Tor after all. But to return to our lunch stop that place was one giant mystery after another.
Why does anyone think that a skeletal figure indicates that this café is a good place to eat? And does that rictus smile and that weaponry add a welcoming touch?
Why is an old paper mill turned caves visitor attraction peopled with vicious looking one armed pirates?
Plus aggressive Father Christmases?
And although the people in the café could not have been more helpful, friendly or welcoming to muddy walkers, I am still wondering what this scale model of a circus visiting a make believe Swiss town is doing in their midst.
There’s an awful lot of it too. It says that it was built by a Major Aubrey Jackman in his home in Bath. For twenty years, he, Lieutenant Commander Francis Gilbert and Liesel Barker toiled over this masterpiece before, presumably, Mrs Jackman blew a gasket and told the three of them that either it went or she did.
And so it washed up here.
But what’s that behind the scale model of the car park?
Why, it’s a whole big display about clowns…
I really never understood before why some people find clowns unsettling and troubling. But now I do.
And finally, tucked away in a corner of an old stable there was this.