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Bristol , United Kingdom
I'm co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Tales from the Grassy Knoll

Because my job with Bristol City Council is part-time and I don't usually work on a Friday, I had a lieu day last week for the Royal Wedding (Gawd bless ’em!) , and in the absence of a commemorative DVD to watch, I chose to go on a jaunt with Ted.  

My original plan had been to take my elderly parents to Porlock, as my father has a hankering to go there, but his sciatica and the weather were dodgy, so they cried off.  Faced with a last-minute change of plans, I vacillated between the Cotswolds, Bath and the Quantocks.  Then the thought of Berrow Beach with its vast stretches of sand and year-round welcome to dogs sent up a flare, and its shipwreck sealed the deal.  It was off to the Levels again.

We parked in Lympsham (which I always confuse with Lympstone and therefore expect to be in East Devon).  A quick pop into the church and we were off through the village and out into the countryside via a long causeway. Almost straight away it started to rain, but not heavily and the smell of petrichor (my latest word), mingled with the almost spent but still pungent hawthorn blossom, was delicious. 

Then came the point of the walk, the climb up Brent Knoll.  If you’ve ever driven up or down the M5, you’ll have seen this hill, part of the Mendips but in grand isolation and distinguished by its flat top.  It was a very prominent waymark during those interminable childhood trips to Devon down a very congested A38, and as a family we climbed it the weekend before my sister got married in 1980.

For the benefit of any Americans who might stumble across this, this is what a grassy knoll should look like.  Fairly challenging for a person of a certain age to climb, but with buttercups and compensatory views on the way up (here over to a rainy Glastonbury). 

No assassin on top of ours; instead, the remains of an Iron Age hill fort and a Roman temple and fortifications.  (The Romans called it Frog Hill, apparently.)  There are also connections to King Arthur, and the Saxons fought a battle on its eastern slopes in 875AD, successfully driving away the Vikings.  More recently it was used in the Second World War as a look-out post with gun emplacements, and there are pillars commemorating the jubilees of Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II.  

And a fab view even in the rain. Couldn’t see much of the Welsh coast, but the more local landmarks looked very moody and magnificent.  This is looking across the mouth of the River Parrett to the Quantocks.

For the most part, the descent was along invisible paths through fields of long wet grass, and I soon realised that my walking shoes aren’t as waterproof as they purport to be.  It was like having twin foot spas strapped to my feet.  Ted was in clover, though.

As I paused to photograph a rhyne lined with reeds and rushes, I heard a crescendo of drumming behind me.  It was a fieldful of black heifers galloping towards us.  I hurried Ted through the gate.  Fumbling on the other side with stiff latch, chain AND knotted blue twine, I dropped the lead and Ted skedaddled from the still approaching cattle.  Well, at least we were in a field empty of cows … but full of horses!  And then – oh rejoice, all ye angels! – Ted heeded my command to sit and stay until I reached him.  Next, having squeezed under a padlocked gate (unfortunately, this was a persistent feature of the day’s footpaths), he waited obediently in the lane while I inched along a slippery wet plank over a stagnant rhyne.  Needless to say, he got lots of gravy bones as a reward.

Then it was off to Berrow Beach, which is tucked away between the metropolises of Brean and Burnham.  It has a stumpy little church squatting in a hollow which I would have loved to have explored, but having waited until the tide was ebbing to start our walk (so as to be able to explore the wreck), it was evening by the time we got there and closed.  Never mind, the waning day as seen from the dunes was beautiful in its silveriness …

The tide was so far out as to be invisible – what looks like sea in the picture is, as everyone who is familiar with Severn beaches knows, glistening mud flats – but it was very present in its roaring.  There were a few dog walkers about and a couple of horses and riders, but the beach is so vast that to all intents and purposes, we had it to ourselves. 

The wreck is of the Norwegian barque SS Nornen, which in March 1897 fell prey to a howling south westerly gale sweeping up the Bristol Channel.  She tried out to ride out the storm in the lee of the Lundy Roads but was driven towards Berrow mud flats, her sails in tatters. The Burnham lifeboat went to her aid, and safely took off the ship's crew of ten, together with their dog.  I was reminded of the wreck of the Helvetia, another Norwegian barque, at Rhossili, which foundered in 1887.  Both are equally atmospheric.   

The Nornen now lies more or less on the boundary between firm sand and this part of the coastline’s notorious mud.  It wasn’t difficult to reach it but care was needed not to lose a shoe in the process.  And of course, as the tide races in, the danger increases, so Ted and I trod very circumspectly indeed.

 Was well worth the effort, though …

 … and Ted didn’t disagree.

Dead animal of the day:

Dead scary animal of the day:


  1. Fantastic account Deb...glad you and Ted lived to tell the tale! Sheesh! XO, M.

  2. There was a bull on the next jaunt also, at Dundry, but Dru doesn't mention him!