May 2012

Traditionally the first of May is considered the first day of early summer. It is also considered the ‘”workers day” when many trade unions and other labour organisations around the world hold rallies and the like. Although a beautiful sunny day at the moment, my own particular world has drastically shrunken on a temporary basis due to lashing rain and howling winds lasting for two days. The consequence of this wet and windy display of natures tempest is the roads to my village are now under water from the adjacent River Yeo overflowing, thereby effectively cutting us off from civilisation. If I followed the same stance of a now famous and arrogant newspaper headline in the 1950’s which reported thick fog closed of cross channel ferries, leaving Europe cut off from Britain. I should have perhaps said the world is cut off from my village.

The local river overflowing is not however an unusual occurrence, it is something that frequently happens after prolonged rainfall causes the river to swell. The lane leading to my village is narrow with several sharp and blind bends. There is also a long dip in the lane on one of the bends where the flooding occurs. The local council once erected a depth gauge on the grass verge to assist motorists in judging the depth of the water, unfortunately the depth indicator is barely visible due to overgrown foliage and due to the bend in the lane, motorist needs to be in the deepest part of the flooded roadway before they can see it. It always reminds me of the cartoon of the sign saying danger quicksand that cannot be read until a person is already sinking in a quicksand pit.

A friend of mine long since gone told me when she was a small girl many years ago, her father who lived in a different unnamed village, would allegedly send one of her small brothers with a wooden box to a similar flooded roadway, who would then stand on the submerged box at the roadside waiting for an uninformed driver to come along. The driver on trying to decide the depth of the water would see a small boy in wellington boots with water lapping round his ankles. Having made a judgement it was safe to proceed the driver would soon find themself stranded at which time the boy would run home to inform his father of the stranded vehicle. His father would then tow the car out of the flood using his tractor for a five pound fee. I have no idea if this was a tall yarn or not but I did find it amusing at the time.

Since Roman times, local farmers relied on the river flooding as a method of fertilising their fields from deposited silt enriching their fields. Somerset is well known for the Somerset Levels, an area of land that flooded in the winter months leaving locations like Glastonbury magically arising from the waters. Hence the name “Isle” in the Isle of Avalon where Glastonbury stands. Somerset also takes its name from the lands governed from Somerton, the local ancient town which lays claim to be the one time capitol of Wessex. Somerton in turn takes it name from the Summer Lands which is how Somerset was once described.

February 2012

St Michael’s, Somerton

We paid a visit to Somerton today, sadly it was to pay our last respects a dear friend who passed away on the same evening as his daughters funeral less than two weeks ago. The service was held at  the 13th century church of St Michael’s and All Angels. Apart from its age, the church is built with both local  Lias and Ham stone . It also contains one of the finest ornately carved vaulted roofs in the country. It is a pity the circumstances of our visit did not allow for a greater exploration of this obvious historical treasure of a building.

Somerton itself is a pleasant small rural town built on top of a hilltop. It was once the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex first mentioned in documentary records in the year 733. The name of the town was extended to the people in the area it controlled and this area eventually became known as Somersetshire or Somerset as it is known today.

Butter Cross, Somerton

Apart from the church, other prominent surviving historical features in the town are the Market Hall and adjacent Butter Cross. This is a small covered market that has stood in the market square since at least 1390, well before the New World was discovered.

As the march of time has brought mighty nations into being in the New World, somehow time has kindly passed Somerton by to leave it to its relatively undisturbed peace. I do hope that the future passage of time allows this to continue.

03 Feb 2012

Following a so far relatively mild winter, February has arrived greeting us with our real first cold snap of the season with overnight temperatures falling to -10° F. This cold spell also brings to the landscape something of a quiet, almost haunting stillness with little stirring as far as the eye can see. Sometimes I find myself visualising when looking across this frozen vista of the more lush green appearance that will emerge in the spring, as if I was laying a painted transparency across an existing picture.

All Saints, Martock

Sadly it has also been the time to say goodbye to an old friend who recently passed away, made even sadder by another close friend in the same family passing away two weeks later. I attended a funeral service at All Saints Church, Martock, somewhere I had not entered before. All Saints is a large church in a small rural community dating back at least until the year 1227 and for such a large vaulted roof, the building was surprisingly warm and filled to capacity, as indeed I know the forthcoming funeral service of my other friend in this family will be. Such is the warmth and esteem this family is held in locally.

Following the service, I was looking at the interior architecture of the church which included a number of niches containing statues of saints in the upper walls. I noticed several of the niches were empty except for painted pictures depicting relevant saints which natural curiosity caused me to research later if there was a reason for this. It appears the church was used as a billet for the troops of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War. Following the Battle of Bridgewater in 1645, parts of the church were damaged by troops and some of the statues of saints removed. I find it truly amazing that even minor aspects of history are still abundant around us for any that care to look and see.

Market House, Martock

Martock itself is a large ancient village mentioned in the Domesday Book its name being derived from ‘mart’ the old English word for market and ‘ac’ meaning oak from a oak tree that grew where the present day Market House stands. The Market House is itself an impressive structure dating from 1753 and is built of local Ham stone on the same lines as many such ancient market buildings with arched walls providing a covered market area below elevated rooms above.

Most of Somerset is richly steeped in history including much myth which I find deeply embellishes the knowledge of our past in such fascinating ways. Visitors to this part of the country are always warmly welcome and there is always the renowned local Somerset cider to quench the thirst of weary travellers.


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