Tuesday, 23 August 2016

On the Sweet Track

A day very long in the planning came to pass: a walk along the Sweet Track with fellow-poet, Rachael Clyne.

What is the Sweet Track?  Well, it's an ancient timber causeway which was built in 3806 or 3807 BC, when the Somerset Levels looked like this every winter, rather than fields bordered by rhynes. 

Consisting of oak planks laid end to end on crossed wooden poles driven into the waterlogged peat, it linked the settlement of Westhay, then an island, with Shapwick, situated on a ridge of high land close to the River Brue.  

This is a stretch of replica track ... 

... and this is me walking along it, trying to balance by clutching at reeds. 'Deb doing neolithic walking,' Rachael observed. 'More like Bridge on the River Kwai,' reckoned the Northerner when he saw the photo. 

It's believed that the track was only used for about 10 years before it was abandoned, probably due to rising water levels. It was uncovered around 5766 years later, in 1970, during peat excavations led by a man named Ray Sweet. The acidic and anaerobic conditions in the bog had prevented the wood from rotting. 

We followed the approximate route of the original track through the woods. Although the land on both sides was swampy, the path itself was dry, being built of wood and chippings. It was cool beneath the trees on what was a hot and humid day.   

We eventually emerged by a lake, one of several caused by the flooding of peatworks.
From the nearby hide, there was a perfect view of Glastonbury Tor. 

Rachael says we stayed in the hide for an hour, watching birds and contemplating the weight of history in this tranquil spot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn't seem that long. 

She also says these mesmerising birds shadowing each other are marsh harriers, and I bow to her identification skills.

We walked back to the car around the lake, passing this magnificent oak in its absolute prime.  I was making a mental note to come back on a frosty winter's aternoon to watch the starling murmurations.

Back at Rachael's home in Glastonbury, there was time for tea in her back garden with its wonderful view over to Wells and the Mendip Hills before I thrashed my way along the causeways to Watchfield, dashing into Rich's Cider five minutes before it closed to get a few litres of scrumpy. The perfect end to an excellent jaunt. 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Clevedon Sojourn

The trouble with living within a relatively short drive of so many beautiful places is that everyone wants to travel there, particularly on weekends, particularly during the summer holidays. So yesterday we went to Clevedon instead.

The trouble with Clevedon is that it would very much like to be Eastbourne, but despite its best efforts, it just can't counteract the Channel's huge tidal rise and fall ... 

... the rockiness of the beach - at least until it gives way to quickmud ... 

... and a prevailing wind, the effects of which that no bandstand or flower beds can disguise.

I think it should revel in its bleakness. 

We walked up to the pier but decided not to go on as it was a bit too crowded for our Accompanying Border Collie.  Then we realised that the people thronging its decking were going on a boat trip. 

Not just any old boat either - it was the MV Balmoral stopping off on its way from Penarth to Bristol. 

After a drink at the Salthouse we walked around the cliff path to the churchyard of St Andrew's Church, passing the Look Out on the way. This is thought to have belonged to a local family, the Finzels, who were sugar-importers. It's said that they used the Look Out to spot their incoming trade ships.  Though I don't suppose they'd have been looking upriver too much. 

This path forms part of Poet's Walk, so named for the town's connections with Coleridge, who stayed in a cottage in the town in 1795 while writing The Aeolian Harp, and some 40 years later Tennyson, whose friend Arthur Hallam, the subject of In Memoriam, is commemorated in the church, along with other members of his family.   
Still no guide books in the Church, despite a sign saying they cost £2. Maybe I just happen to go on the few occasions they've sold out of them.  You'd have thought they'd have made more out of such an illustrious literary connection, however.

Although St Andrew's clifftop churchyard is rather less atmospheric than St Mary's in Whitby or St Materiana's in Tintagel, it still has great views ...

... even if a woodpigeon perched on headstones is a bit less fitting than a corvid ... 

... no, wait, there's a magpie there on that cross, that'll do. 

There's some good 18th century skull and cherub action in the oldest part of the churchyard ...

Come hither mortal cast a eye
Then go thy way prepare to di
Read here thy doom for know thou muft
One day like me be turnd to dust

... including this one her- hang on a minute ... 

Well, I'm blowed - a Tutton. Which is ironic because when I was last in Clevedon and out of sorts, I drove all the way to Othery churchyard, looking (in vain) for the graves of my ancestral Tuttons. But just over the cliff there was one here all the time. I see you, John Tutton. 

I don't know if he is a relative, of course. He was born the same year as my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, George Tutton, although much shorter lived.  And there's evidence to suggest that my ancestors stayed in Othery for a generation or two after George, as his grandson, another George, seems to have been baptised in St Michael's in 1803. Yet by the end of that century, in 1895, my great grandmother, Fanny (nee Tutton) marries yeoman Tom Hill in Clevedon (although they are shortly to decamp to Bristol). Another of her many sisters is married to Joe Rich, landlord of the Royal Oak as well as running a number of pleasure boats for holiday-makers. At some point our Tuttons made the move from Othery to Clevedon. Was it to join relatives already living there?  

Back over Church Hill to Salthouse Park and it was sunny and Clevedon was suddenly beautiful after all.  

In fact, I loved it.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Jeremy for Labour, Bristol

There was a Jeremy for Labour rally in Bristol tonight. 

The Northerner was interviewed by someone from the BBC who seemed to want him to slag the PLP off rather than talk about Jeremy Corbyn's policy for the arts. 
Speakers included Leila Ward, a 14 year old activist, a couple of Bristol councillors and one, a former refugee, from Islington, Geoff Shears from Union Solidarity International, Steve Preddy from Unite, and Dianne Abbott MP.  

It's hard to judge how many people there are in a crowd when you are in the middle of it. Local BBC news put the number at 1,000. On Twitter I've seen estimates ranging from 3,000 to 5,000. I suspect it was somewhere near 3,000. 

The seagulls were there to hear the main man ... 

... as were the unicorns ... 

... and the weather vane ... 

... Jeremy Corbyn. 

And a fine speech it was too. 

The times, they are a-changing.