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…..

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'.


  1. I too thought it was Pomparies Bridge. It must be due to the failing eyesight of us over 60s trying to read maps (even though I was 59 last year and am not yet actually 'over' 60 just yet). It was a long and very enjoyable day apart from the shit but, in fact, if we had stuck to the original finish point, it would have been just about right.

  2. Its good to see you on some of the photos for a change, David. Thanks to Francis, I presume.
    I liked Lollover HIll best - buttercups, daisies, clover and cowslips all together, and great views.