There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Monday, 5 May 2014

Into the Quantocks: Day 21 of the South West Odyssey (English Branch)

The South West Odyssey is a long distance walk.

Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year have now (April 2018) reached Ringmore on the South Devon Coast (almost).
 [With updated text and photographs 21/09/14]

It is always pleasing when the B and B is the finish of a day’s walk and you start the next day by simply walking out the door. So it was today – but not for me.

Leaving home on Thursday I picked up my boots and felt a hard piece of the casing protruding inwards. An attempted repair was, at best, ineffective, at worst counter-productive and by mid morning on the first day a blister had already formed and burst.

Blister pads kept me going, but once the damage is done they can only slow the deterioration. By the end of the second day the inside of my right heel was an angry mass of raw, red meat. Despite medication (Ibuprofen, red wine & Famous Grouse) the pain woke me around four o’clock and I made my decision: I could not possibly manage another day.

I was unhappy watching the others set off without me, but there was nothing I could do. [In September I returned in the company of Francis and did the day's walk. We could not have picked a better day; bright sunshine, warm but not too hot for walking] Also galling was that after seven years of the Odyssey, this was the first day I could not blog from first-hand experience. However, others rallied round, and with their assistance Day 21 is not going unrecorded.

Leaving me behind at West Monkton
 Francis wrote. ‘Today we actually started from the B and B, Springfield House, something I always like, and walked up the lane towards Walford House stopping to admire its well-used dovecote.

Dove Cote, Walford House (Pic: Francis)
The lane took us round a U-curve and into West Monkton village…past the main door and through the garden of the pub where we had dined the night before….

[Francis and I dined there again and this time I ate the zebra. Before ordering I asked another diner about his  zebra experience and he said 'Well it's just a big slab of horse, really.' I disagree, Zebra has its own distinctive flavour and it was also gamey in taste and texture - I suspect it requires long hanging to make it tender enough to eat (unless you are a lion). Having walked to the pub on Saturday evening, we felt justified in starting from there on Sunday. When paying for our meal we had asked the landlord if we could borrow a space in his car park for the day. He agreed immediately and thanked us for having the courtesy to ask. Apparently a lot of people don't. They should.]

Francis strides past The Monkton
Shortly we met two alpacas in a field. The owners of the West Monkton Inn clearly must be unaware of their existence or else they would have them on the menu! (on the specials board with the zebra, ostrich and crocodile.) [The alpaca had gone, whether it had starred on the menu or just moved off we do not know]

Not our first  example of the rare Somerset Alpaca
(Pic: Francis)
Along with the alpacas, Alison noted a glamping site with 4 yurts, and Francis photographed a fine horse chestnut which looks more at home in this environment.

Horse Chestnut, West Monkton (Pic: Francis)
The route followed the West Deane Way (we had encountered the East Deane Way yesterday) to Hestercombe House. Alison noted …A few ploughed fields, but the soil was much more friable than the clay of the Somerset levels, and it was only muddy in parts, with ways round possible. There are over a quarter of a million words in this blog, but this is the first time ‘friable’ has made an appearance. I am delighted to welcome it. I had to look the word up, and for those as ignorant as I am, it means ‘apt to crumble.’

A field full of remarkably friable soil (Pic: Alison)
Hestercombe House is a sixteenth century country house with a chequered history including being the headquarters of the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service until 2012. The Gertrude Jekyll designed gardens are open to the public.

Francis writes enthusiastically We climbed through fields and bluebell woods enjoying our return to more hilly country after two days on the Levels, Alison is a little more laconic A noticeably hillier day than the previous days.

The Vale of Taunton from Hestercombe (Pic: Alison)

After descending into and out of Gadd’s Bottom.....
Down into Gadd's Bottom (pic. Alison)

Francis admitted they arrived a little late in Kingston St. Mary for a coffee break. We found a bench in the churchyard which served our purpose only to discover, after leaving, a nicer one in a better, more sheltered location in the village.
Coffee break, Kingston St Mary (Pic: Alison)
 [The descent to Kingston St Mary's involves glimpses of the village through trees and gaps in hedges. It is a delightful place and I could not help comparing the soft lushness of southern England with the desolate moors and windswept hills we had crossed on our approach to Hadrian's Wall ten years ago. If humankind could not organise a comfortable and prosperous life for itself here then it had no hope anywhere. And this area did grow rich, mainly on the wool trade which is why a small village could afford such a fine church.

St Mary's, Kingston St Mary
Mostly 13th century, though the tower is 16th century
Benefitting from experience we went on to the second bench in the village. The oak tree was planted to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1896, the bench was added to commemorate the Millennium. We drank our coffee leaning back on wrought-ironwork depicting the village past, present and future.

Millennium Seat, Kingston St Mary

And then the route…took us up through the extensive grounds of Tetton House from where Alison observed we could see the main climb of the day, Cothelstone Hill, ahead. [I looked at Cothelstone Hill and said 'that's not much.' 'Wait til you get to Ball Lane,' Francis said ominously]

Cothelstone Hill looking less than imposing from Tetton House
Tetton House was built in 1790 but largely remodelled between 1924 and 1926 by H S Goodhart-Rendel, architect, writer, musician and all round clever clogs – though I am sorry to say I had never heard of him before.

Leaving the grounds over a stream, way finding, in the words of Francis, became a little confused.. but it was Alison who saved the day with some clever map deduction and good observation skills spotting a gate with a sign on a high fence that we had all missed. Or as Alison put it I brought us back to the route from which we had strayed. I feel pleased at my improved map reading since leaving Stafford, due to a combination of varifocal glasses, having a map, and practising. Well, having a map does help. Mike saw the incident as Alison frantically pointing out the path across the stream and the gate into the wood which was easy to see by all except Francis who was determined in the direction he was taking (60 degrees to the east of it) and that we were to follow! He goes on, with commendable honesty to admit, I was no use … as I had left day 3 map in my 'van!

The site of the navigation difficulties.
That does look the obvious place to cross the stream and the stile into the woods that only Alison
could see is on the left hand edge of the picture two thirds of the way up.
Francis and Brian had strayed into a field over to the right
Once on the right route it did not take long to reach Ball Lane and to start slogging up its 1.5km ….
[Francis warned me, and he was right. Ball Lane is always just steep enough to feel like hard work, but never quite steep enough to get the climb over and done with swiftly. It is a slog, more precisely, a long slog.]

Ball Lane

Resting after the climb up Ball Lane (Pic: Francis)
…and then a bit more to reach Cothelstone Hill, a dizzying height of 332m, part of the Quantock Hills. Cothelstone maybe considerably lower than Dunkery Beacon, assuming we reach Exmoor next year [we did], but it is the highest point on the walk since the Herefordshire Beacon (338m) on the Malvern Ridge.
View west from Cothelstone Hill (Pic: Francis)

Having reached the top, Francis continued we didn’t hang around up there long as the wind was strong and quite cold and we were running late. He did pause on the way down to photograph the bluebells in Twenty Acre Plantation. I am delighted to say they appear to be the native British bluebell - and looking as good as they get. [It was warm and sunny on top of the hill this time. The view west was the same but the weather conditions gave us an even better view north. Ignorng the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, we could see the whole sweep of the Somerset coast to Weston Super Mare and beyond, and across the Bristol Channel to Barry and Penarth. What we had no chance of seeing in September were the bluebells in Twenty Acre Plantation.]

Bluebells, Twenty Acre Plantation (Pic: Francis)
Alison observed that we were beginning to realise that it would be another long morning.There was even another climb up from the bottom of Cothelstone hill before descending to the pub at West Bagborough along the road, as a last minute short cut.

[I understand the need for a shortcut on the third day of three, but we were only there for the day so we carried on, taking a fine path that does not quite cross the summit of Lydeard Hill, though at 350m the path set a new high point for the day. They are proud of their colony of Dartford Warblers here, but Francis did not see one. I might have done, but I have no idea what a Dartford Warbler looks like]

Francis looks for Dartford Warblers on Lydeard Hill
We descended to West Blagborough on a path that was rougher and steeper than Ball Lane. It was redeemed by a) being downhill and b) being shorter.
The descent to West Blagborough
This was intended to be a short day’s walk before the long drive home. The previous evening we had chopped the finishing point from the hamlet of Triscombe to West Bagborough, and now a short-cut was necessary to make West Bagborough in a reasonable time. This year’s instalment of the South West Odyssey (English Branch) ended in the Rising Sun at West Blagborough. Well done! to those who made it. I am sorry I was not there.

[Well I got there, - four months late. We had a very welcome (and, I think, deserved) pint of shandy sitting in the sun outside the Rising Sun]

Wild ponies, Cothelstone Hill (Pic: Francis)
Perhaps we are walking a little slower than we used to, it does not feel like it, but we were all in our forties for 'Go West', we are in our sixties, now. I think these walks were slightly longer than the last couple of years, but then Cothelstone Hill apart it was as flat a three day walk as can be arranged without going round and round a running track. Something to think about before next year perhaps – but there will be a next year, and I will find time, hopefully during this summer, to get down to Somerset and fill in my missing section. Thanks to those who offered to accompany me. I hope to take at least one of you up on it. [Big thanks to Francis who was willing and available on the date I picked]

Thanks to Francis, Alison and Mike for the contributions and to Brian for doing two shuttle runs in the afternoon so that I could go home in the morning.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Along the Parrett and over the Tone: Day 20 of the South West Odyssey (English Branch)

The South West Odyssey is a long distance walk.
Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year have now (April 2018) reached Ringmore on the South Devon Coast (almost).

Mike and Alison T spent the night in their motorhome, the rest of us stayed at the Unicorn Inn, Somerton. Re-gathering at our chosen parking place at the eastern extremity of Langport, Mike looked sprightly but Brian, Francis, Alison C and I were weighed down by an enormous full-English - hopefully we would feel the benefit later.
Ready to leave Langport

Our first task was to find the route from the High Street to the bank of the River Parrett. After a false start walking down a dead end, our second attempt was more successful and we soon passed under the railway line on the path beside the wide but scarcely moving river (the Parrett drops 20cm/km between Langport and Bridgwater). We would follow the dry and well-made path along the levee for four kilometres or more. As the Parrett wandered to our left, the smaller River Sowy charted a much straighter course to our right. Beyond, Aller Moor stretched away to the low ridge where the village of Aller stood.

Beside the River Parrett
The River Sowy and the moor were much lower than the Parrett which lay between two metre high levees. Several times we crossed areas of hard-standing; presumably for the pumping equipment used during the floods to heave the water from low-lying moor over the levee and into the Parrett. Cattle grazed on Aller Moor, the grassland looking to have recovered remarkably well from the winter's inundation.

Looking across Aller Moor to the village of Aller

We passed the interestingly named Oath Farm on the far side of the river, swiftly followed by Oath Lock, below which the Parrett is tidal.

Opposite a house in the village of Stathe with a fine stand of willows and a magnificent cedar, we rested on a bench donated in memory of Stan and Doris Gadsby. I have no idea who they were, but I am grateful to them.
Stathe and a magnificent cedar
Crossing the river we followed the East Dene Way along the southern side of a ridge with West Sedge Moor to our left.

Re-crossing the railway line we took Railtrack’s wise advice to ‘Stop, look and listen.’ I appreciate the occasional statement of the bleeding obvious.

Mike crosses the main London to Penzance railway line

Mostly the going was fairly easy, though ploughed fields are hard on the legs. We also encountered a local speciality, v-shaped stiles with some of the vees rather narrow for bulky people to squeeze through.

Although we were on a recognised long distance pathway (the East Dene Way is a 70km circular walk through the levels starting and finishing in Taunton) there was one small section, perhaps no more than 30m long, that had obviously not been walked this year. Waist high nettles posed a considerable threat to those in shorts, which was everyone except Alison. Fortunately Alison was carrying a walking pole – not much use for its normal purpose in this flat land, but handy for slashing down nettles.
V-shaped stiles leading into the nettle patch

While crossing a grassy field a strange honking sound made us all look skywards to see five large, ungainly birds with stubby rectangular wings, long almost dangling legs and gawky necks. Swiftly and confidently identified by Brian and Francis as common cranes, they circled above us for some time. A rare site in this country, though a breeding group is well established in Norfolk, they caused immoderate excitement among the birders, but if I am going to look at birds I would rather observe something with a touch more elegance.

The village of Woodhill retains a functioning pub. We were briefly tempted, but there was far to go and it was early yet, so we nobly carried on.

Through Woodhill
After rounding Stoke St Gregory we were making our way to the highest part of the ridge when we encountered another (or maybe the same) mystery crop, this batch harvested and set on palates to dry. The sticks were surprisingly sturdy, maybe these were hazel for making hurdles. In the absence of anybody to ask we could only speculate.

Hazel? Maybe, maybe not
We followed the ridge towards Moredon.....

The ridge to Moredon with Curry Moor on the right
...where a farm breeds pheasants by the thousand. Most were the Common Pheasant, which I can see at home any day, but several enclosures contained species I had not seen before and have been unable to securely identify.

White Eared Pheasants from China? A bit of a guess.

From Moredon we descended the end of the ridge into North Curry.....

Descending to North Curry

...a smart and prosperous looking village with a church that boasts an octagonal tower with a peal of eight bells. The Bird in Hand was open, offered free roast potatoes on the bar and Otter Bitter in the pumps. We still had a long way to go so we limited ourselves to a single pint.

The Church of St Peter and St Paul, North Curry
Despite our moderate drinking we all set off in the wrong direction, but sanity reasserted itself and we located the correct road to Knapp. We had not thought we were walking particularly slowly, but we were behind schedule so we took the direct minor road rather than the more circuitous field paths. If we had not walked the extra three kilometres yesterday, we would have missed our lunchtime drink and still been a long way from the finish.

Brian leaves the Bird in Hand, North Curry
Roads are hard on the feet, but you get from A to B with reasonable speed and sometimes see things you would not see on field paths. In our youths the horse and cart was a sign of poverty, but over the years they have turned into rich mens' toys.

Horse and trap on the road to Knapp
From Knapp we made our way to Bird's farm from where the line of descent to the River Tone was obvious and at the bottom we turned right along the minor road to the village of Ham and a footbridge over the river. I was convinced we should turn left, but found myself in a minority of one. After a slow and careful explanation I was finally convinced that everybody else was right, but my sense of direction, which is normally fairly reliable, continued to demand a left turn.

The descent to the River Tone
The Tone rises in the Brendon Hills and flows away from the coast through Taunton (Tone town) and eastwards across Curry Moor. It then reaches the Parrett and discovers that, like me, its sense of direction was sending it the wrong way

The bridge over the River Tone at Ham
(Picture credit Francis)
After the Tone, field paths took us to the railway line which we crossed for the third time that day and the second time by walking directly across the rails. Then we crossed the Bridgewater and Taunton canal, though we used a bridge as not even Francis can walk on water.
Over the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal
A gently rising path took us up to Creechwood Terrace, at the north end of Creech St Michael, through another mystery crop. We were able to get a close look at this one and found it soft-stemmed with bamboo-like rings. Although superficially like yesterday’s osiers this was on well drained land and I suspect it was elephant grass destined for a bio-mass power station but, like the osiers, it might be something else.

Mike and Alison approach Creechwood Terrace through what might be elephant grass
A minor road took us across the M5 which we had crossed in the opposite direction in 2010 (Upton-on-Severn to Andoversford) on Day 7. The footpath after the motorway was labelled ' cul-de-sac', which gave us a moment’s pause. Technically the sign was right, the path angled back towards the motorway and came to a full stop at the fence, but on the way it crossed a minor road through the hamlet of Langaller. We were able to pick up that road, and find our way to a field path which would take us the last kilometre to our B & B in West Monkton.
Over the M5, again

That should have provided a simple finish to the day but half way up we were distracted by a commotion in the hedge. A magpie was hanging upside down, one claw ensnared in bailer twine tangled round a strand of barbed wire. Every so often it would flap frantically in an effort to break away, then dangle for a while as it built up the energy for another futile bid for freedom.

You never know what sort of dangling bird is going to be just round the corner.
Taking a clasp knife from his pack, Mike leaned into the hedge and grabbed the struggling bird. To me it looked like an excellent way to get pecked, but once he had a firm grip it went still. He picked patiently away at the bailer twine and eventually managed to free it from the wire. It had lost some blood, but appeared largely undamaged by the ordeal. Mike held the bird with two hands while Brian took the knife and removed the bailer twine wrapped round its claw.

That done Mike threw the magpie into the air. Momentarily it seemed confused by its sudden freedom, then flapped up into a tree and, just to prove its feet were undamaged, hopped from branch to branch.

'Last time I used that knife I was cutting a peach,' Mike remarked. Alison suggested it would probably be wise to sterilize it before his next peach.

That was almost the end of the day's excitement, but the path finished at the dual carriageway A38. We had to cross it, which was life-threatening, and then walk along it, though fortunately only for 50m before turning up a side track to our B & B and the end of a long day's walk - which would have been over-long if we had not done the first three kilometres yesterday.

We dined a short drive away at the Monkton Inn where the South African landlord had a menu which included zebra, ostrich and crocodile. Mike had pork, I had a duck breast and everyone else had fish and chips. Ah well, maybe next time.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Glastonbury to Langport: Day 19 of the South West Odyssey (English Branch)

The South West Odyssey is a long distance walk.
Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year have now (April 2018) reached Ringmore on the South Devon Coast (almost).

The same dauntless Odysseants gathered at the point where we finished last year for the seventh annual instalment of the South West Odyssey (English Branch). We were joined by Alison and Francis' daughter Heather (as we were on Day 9 into Andoversford,  Day 12 from Perrots Brook, Day 15 to Swineford  , and Day 18 from Wells) and by Vicky, a friend of Heather.

With a faintly bemused air Alison T and Hilary watch the Odysseants boot up and wonder
'Why are they doing this?'
Just west of Glastonbury we hauled on our boots and headed south over the River Brue crossing what I thought last year was the Pomparies Bridge. The sign clearly says ‘Pomparles’ but it is not always easy to distinguish ‘i’ from ‘l’ in the small print of a map. Some claim Pomparles is derived from 'Pont-Perles' (bridge perilous) which has a distinctly Arthurian ring. Before the marshes were drained Glastonbury and Street were islands joined by the Pomparles Bridge which crossed the eastern end of the lake into which Sir Bedevere threw Excalibur after the death of Arthur. Whether the Lady of the Lake appreciates her new drier quarters is not recorded.

Definitely Pomparles Bridge
We turned left over the water meadows north of Street, pausing only when Vicky volunteered to take a team photo with Glastonbury Tor as a backdrop. It was a cool and overcast morning, but it would soon warm up and the gentle sunshine – ideal for walking - would see us all shed our outer clothing within the next hour.

Alison C, Brian, Francis, Mike and Me
with Glastonbury Tor over Alison's right shoulder

For over a kilometre we followed a ditch known as the Old Rhyne over remarkably ordinary field paths considering we were on the edge of the Somerset Levels. Then we followed it down a minor road and across more fields, before turning south-west through wooded country to the village of Butleigh.

Following the Old Rhyne

From a distance we mistook Butleigh Court for the church. Built in 1845, it was the home of the Neville-Grenvilles, a family with an unpronounceable name and a home which boasts umpteen chimneys, all of them different. After the unpronouncables, the house fell on hard times but has recently been restored and divided into apartments. There was an unwelcoming fence and the church, which was part of the estate, did not look the sort of place to provide a bench for dissolute wanderers.

Butleigh Court

We walked into the village and found a pleasant bench on the village green, where we took a short coffee break.

From Butleigh a steady but gentle climb first across fields and then up Bolster Lane brought us to a minor road which we crossed to start the wooded descent of Combe Hollow. Despite the winter’s well-publicised inundation we had yet to meet much mud. Combe Hollow changed that. A greasy, slippery, sometimes ankle deep descent allowed me to bespatter my trousers to well above knee level.  I have a particular talent for covering myself in mud, but no one escaped unscathed.

Descending Combe Hollow

Two thirds of the way down was a swing where Francis unexpectedly encountered his inner child.
Francis encounters his inner child

Emerging from the forest we followed a drier lane into Compton Dundon where we planned to drink a glass of lunch at the Castlebrook Inn. We were seven weeks too late, as in March the Castlebrook had joined the ever lengthening list of closed pubs. It is owned by Punch Taverns and some believe that this particular company buys up pubs with the intention of closing them and selling on the site for other uses. I have no idea if this is true, but there is anecdotal evidence.

The late Castlebrook Inn, Compton Dundon 

The loss of our lunchtime drink was no great tragedy for Brian and me as we had consumed a full English at the Unicorn Inn in Somerton, but the others had enjoyed less calorie-packed breakfasts and would have welcomed a bite to eat.
A house in Compton Dundon

We thought of stopping in the Post Office to purchase some refreshment, but discovered that was only open from 9 to 12. Once the Post Office was a service and would be open at hours convenient to the public. Now, of course, it is a business.

We perched on some stones for a short break before walking round Dundon Hill to the village of Dundon (no Compton and no pub in recent times - so at least it has not closed). We emerged opposite the church by this rather splendid bank of bluebells. While I am in grumpy old man mode, I might as well point out that these are not traditional British Bluebells but the intrusive Spanish Bluebell.
Bluebell bank, Dundon

Crossing the road, we slogged up Lollover Hill. At 90m it is not much of a hill, but it required some effort and I was reduced to a weary plod well before I reached the top - or at least the top of the path which does not quite cross the summit.

I plod wearily to the top of Lollover Hill
(picture credit: Francis)
'I thought these were supposed to be the Somerset Levels,' Mike observed half way up. He seemed to have a point, but then we came over the shoulder of the hill and emerged from the wood.

The Somerset Levels from Lollover Hill

These are the Somerset Levels, and the word is plural. There are more than one of them and they are separated by ridges and dotted with what were once islands - and during this winter's prolonged floods, became islands again. 'Somerset' means 'summer meadows', the inference being you could not expect to use them in the winter.

Mke and Alison descend Lollover Hill
We did not descend straight to the levels but looped round the end of the hill and through a farm yard. Some farms are arable, some have animals, others are mixed, but occasionally you encounter one which specialises in farming shit*.

There were two big slurry ponds, both of them empty, their contents liberally and pungently spread over the surrounding area. At the point photographed we were sinking into what appeared to be a ploughed area and started to wonder if we might be walking over the crust off something deeply unpleasant. A swift dash for the sanctuary of a grassy bank seemed appropriate.

Mike might be about to sink into something unpleasant

Eventually we reached the Levels and walked down a farm lane beside an unfamiliar crop. Somerset produces reeds for thatching and osiers for basket making, which remains a craft industry in these parts. I think these are osiers but I am far from certain.
Willow osiers?

On the other side of the road a small bird was singing its heart out. Francis opined that it was either a reed or a sedge warbler, it was definitely warbling and perhaps the 'osiers' were 'sedge' - though I think not. Although it was less than a metre away it remained frustratingly invisible in the nettle covered bank.

The field of osiers, if such they were, ended at Somerton Door Bridge over the River Cary. The bridge is relatively modern and leads onto a minor road. Turning west we walked for a kilometre and a half along the bank of the Cary, pausing for a breather at the older and more picturesque Park Bridge.

Heather on Park Bridge over the River Cary
We crossed the River at Pitney Steart Bridge and headed south to Leazemoor Lane and the site of a Roman villa. This was not the first site of a villa we have passed on the Odyssey, but we have yet to actually sight a villa.

Crossing Leazemoor Lane we followed a lengthy track aptly called Underwood Lane. Pitney Wood was above us to our left while a large apple orchard lay on our right. We had walked through an orchard last year, but the cold winter had meant the trees were merely considering the possibility of blossom, after this year's milder, if wetter, weather they were close to full bloom.

Apples orchard by Underhill Lane

We followed the lane round the end of the wood and then over field paths up Culver Hill before following a minor road into the village of Pict's Hill to what had originally been the finishing point for the day. The previous evening, over beer and curry, we had decided to move the finish some three kilometres further down the route to provide better parking for Mike's motorhome. Beer fuelled bravado does not always lead to good decisions, but although I was quite ready to stop at Pict's Hill, it turned out to be a wise move in the light of the next day's walk (and for Mike's parking).

We followed Union Drove across the railway and arrived at Huish Episcopi, where the Rose and Crown was open. Hilary and Alison T were already waiting at the end of the walk, so stopping was, sadly, out of the question.

Huish derives from the old English for household and Episcopi refers to the manor once being owned by the bishop of Bath and Wells. Why it could not be called simple Bishops Huish like anywhere else I do not know. The church is large with a classic 30m high Somerset Tower.

St Mary's, Huish Episcopi

We made our way down to the River Parrett and followed it round the southern edge of Langport which likes to style itself ‘Heart of the Levels’. Langport’s church has another Somerset Tower, but less finely decorated. The two churches are only 500m apart but being on higher ground the town church seems to look down on its village neighbour. It was St Mary’s, Huish Episcopi, though, that was featured by the Royal Mail in their 1972 stamps of village churches.
Beside the River Parrett, with the tower of Langport Church right of centre

We met Hilary and Alison T at the western end of Langport, at the finale of a lengthy but very pleasant first day.

*At this point I discovered that my new Kindle Fire not only has a rather limited dictionary - I frequently have to add words - but it is also rather prim. Yesterday it did not recognise 'hell' and now I have just had to teach it 'shit'.