March 2015

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Burton Bradstock

With the infamous Ides of March fast approaching, the past week has proved far from any ominous omens, quite the reverse. The last few days have regularly alternated between wet and welcome warm days as Winter starts to give way to Spring. The warm days are almost like the tendrils of a yet unborn Summer stretching backwards in time to act as an advance messenger of leisurely outdoor days that lie ahead.

Our daffodils have now started to appear and grass that has been lying dormant for months has begun to stir. It is almost like a slumbering giant has awoken as the emergent Spring shakes off the remnants of Winter.

We took the opportunity last week on the first really sunny day to go to Burton Bradstock in Dorset. This is part of the Jurassic Coast which provides a good vista of that huge bight of the South Coast known as Lyme Bay. From Burton Bradstock it is possible on a clear day to see all the way from Portland Bill to Exmouth and even Torquay. This view always conjures up in my mind that just a few miles beyond that distant coast likes both the mysteries and beauty of Dartmoor.

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A distant Golden Cap

Nor far beyond nearby Bridport lies Golden Cap, the flat topped hill that dominates this part of the coast. Golden Cap like much of this coast belongs to the National Trust which should help preserve the beauty of this area for future generations.

 

 

 

 

 

Lou Lou digging holes in the sand

Lou Lou digging holes in the sand

It was also the opportunity for our new puppy Lou Lou now some five months old to see the sea for the first time. One never quite knows how a dog will react to this new environment for the first time. As it turned out, Lou Lou appeared quite indifferent apart from when an incoming wave suddenly took her by surprise as it swirled around her paws. Finding she could rapidly dig holes in the wet sand appeared to be more enjoyable to her.

I also took the opportunity to drive to West Bay on the way home as I had not seen it for some time. West Bay might be better known as the location of the TV series “Harbour Lights” that was screened some years ago. It is a location I have always liked for its unspoilt  non-commercialised appearance but I found a new monolithic block of residential apartments built directly alongside the harbour does little for myself in enhancing the ambience of this small seaside town.

March 2014

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Burrowbridge 1960’s

With daffodils and snowdrops erupting into a carpet of flower everywhere, It is as if a distant  trumpet call is arousing nature from its winter slumber in preparation for the forthcoming Spring. It’s a trumpet call with refrains of joy and promise of the great outdoors beginning to stir once more like a giant shrugging off the effects of a deep sleep. This distant clarion call has but one verse repeated over and over again like a mantra, “March has arrived, Spring is coming”.

March the month that is fabled in the UK for coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb. March the transitional month that day by day leaves behind the clinging tendrils of winter and beckons the ever warming embraces of the forthcoming Spring with its lengthening evenings.

As winters go in the UK, apart from a few nights of frost the winter has been exceptionally mild. Unfortunately it has also been the wettest winter on record accompanied by a continuous barrage of storms from the Atlantic causing serious damage and flooding issues across the country. The first of the real heavy rain started on Christmas Eve and many residents, particularly in Somerset, forced to leave their homes are only just starting to regain access to their property as flood levels slowly recede . Alas regaining access to property does not mean being able to live there due to extensive damage caused by floodwaters. Floors have to scrapped and replaced as well as furnishings. Walls have to be dried and stripped back to bare brick for treatment. It is estimate that the repair process to individual homes will take an average 7-9 months.

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Burrowbridge 2013

The big question is could this damage been avoided? The Somerset Levels flooding in winter is not in itself news, it frequently happens usually without significant damage to property or farmers crops. But the depth and duration of the flood not only during the last winter but also the one before has given vent to the anger of residents who have been saying for years this was going to happen unless preventative measures were taken. Alas there are no ears more deaf at times that the ones sheltered behind the impermeable walls of Whitehall. More concerned about saving derisory amounts of money on internal budgets than having the foresight to see the vast costs incurred by flood damage, repairs and loss of business.

It is only after the proverbial floodgates have opened are politicians to be prised from their cosseted surroundings into action. Give his due, but then it is his job, the Prime Minister did visit the Somerset Levels. This was however only after what were perceived as disastrous PR visits by the Environment Secretary Owen (I have forgotten my wellies) Patterson and a separate visit by the Chairman of the Environment Agency Chris Smith upon whom vexed residents unleashed their wrath.

Whether driven by a politicians sense of self-preservation or not, the Prime Minister made it clear that money was not an object in resolving the crisis. A battery of huge pumps from Holland have since been brought in to help lower the water levels and a 20 year plan has been devised to help alleviate the problem of a more permanent basis. Part of the relief plan is to start dredging the rivers this month as soon as the river banks become firm enough to allow heavy equipment to be safely used. Some estimates have placed to cost of the 20 year plan as high as £100 million and it will remain to be seen if the enthusiasm for money not being an object statement, drains away with time like the floodwaters itself.

In the days following the Prime Minister’s visit, leaders of other political parties not wanting to be left out, or seen to be left out of the picture descended on the area like a flood of their own. Each one making most of the sudden photo-opportunity. Many families at the time struggling like King Canute to hold back the ever rising flood waters from their own homes found this procession of opportunistic politicians somewhat nauseating.Perhaps for some this might also be their first and last visit.

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Burrowbridge during 2014 floods

Although not entirely the cause of the problem, the lack of dredging over the years due to what some would say were penny-pinching savings, were clearly a major contributory factor in the levels of flood water rising as high as they did. As regular dredging stopped, so the rivers became narrower and shallower as silt built upon silt.

A series of startling photographs have emerged in the public domain which clearly show the effect of the lack of dredging. The first picture taken in the 1960’s at Burrowbridge in Somerset show the River Parrett to be wide and deep flowing. The second picture taken at the same spot last year shows by stark contrast the river has become narrow and shallow. In final picture showing the effects of the flooding, it is hardly surprising the arches of the bridge have completely disappeared under flood water as the now significantly reduced capacity of the river struggles to contain the watery deluge placed upon it.

Politics being what it is, primarily the art of survival, it is unlikely that any proverbial heads will roll. More likely a blame game will ensue with each political party blaming their rivals of neglect during their terms of office. The best that can be expected would be the appropriate Minister standing up in Parliament and simply saying “Sorry” on behalf of the Government before sitting down again.

May 2013

Spring has Sprung and the grass has riz.

What a difference a few days of gentle warmth makes to the English countryside. In the past 24 hours, leaves on a multitude of trees, particularly Horse Chestnuts have burst into life laying a bright green mantle of freshness across the skyline, with other varieties of tree looking as if they will follow suit during the next week. Soon the Somerset countryside will have returned to the full lush green canopy of trees and fields so loved by visitors and holiday makers to this part of the world.

The winter hopefully now past, rates amongst the more bitterest and prolonged winters I can recall. Constant icy eastern winds cutting both man and beast to the quick as the insidious tendrils of cold crept into every outdoor nook and cranny.

I for one have never been a winter lover although it does have its moments.Seasonal springtime flowers like daffodils and tulips and even the grass lay dormant for weeks on end. Mother Nature does however have ways of catching up on lost time often at the cost of brow ridden sweat to gardeners trying to keep up with natures sudden spurt of growth. I still think the extra effort is rewarded by an enhanced feeling of well being which we all find so satisfying.

So far this year I have not had the opportunity to go mackerel fishing off Chesil Beach on the Dorset coast. Mackerel normally start to run along this part of the coast about Easter and no live bait is required, just imitation feathers on the end of the line. On a good day it can be difficult to carry the weight of mackerel that are caught and when this happens, we normally distribute our catch amongst friends in our village.

The cliffs of the entire stretch of Dorset’s Jurassic  coast have been subject to sudden collapse in recent weeks due to abnormally high rainfall last year allowing vast amounts of water to penetrate the rocks. Constant warnings by the Coastguard are in place and believe me, if the Coastguard issue a warning, they mean it. Nature asks no questions of right or wrong when sections of a cliff face collapse, it just happens carrying and burying all or anyone before it.

Recently my wife and I with a group of friends went for a pub lunch at the Lime Kiln Inn which is located on A372 about halfway between the A303 junction and the small town of Langport. This popular inn enjoys a high vantage point with an extensive vista across the beautiful Somerset countryside. Although it is not possible to book tables in advance except for parties of about 10 or more, we have never been disappointed at finding a table even on busy days. The Lime Kiln is only about 10 minutes drive from my home and enjoys a well deserved local reputation for good reasonably priced food. The Lime Kiln has always managed to produce quite a large and varied menu catering for all tastes and over the years I have never come away with my appetite unsatisfied. Like most patrons I have always left with a feeling of “That was a damn good meal”. If anyone is in the area, I can certainly recommend a visit.

http://www.thelimekilninn.co.uk/

March 2012


Spring has Sprung – A new life has begun

The lambing season is now in full swing and the field next to my garden is used for lambing at this time of the year. The weather this weekend is very warm making mowing one of my laws a pleasant task. By perchance I noticed a sudden movement in the adjoining field close to my fence as a ewe gave birth to a lamb. I ceased my mowing, grabbed my camera and took a the pictures below. The lamb in the photographs is only a few minutes old. With that I went back to my mowing with the strangely pleasant feeling that a new life had just come into the world.

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DSCF0250This year March has arrived not in keeping with the traditional saying of coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, but with rather a very unseasonal, yet still very welcome burst of warm sunshine. This unseasonal warmth has caused the daffodils to burst into flower earlier than normal and the profusion of bright yellow everywhere is a feast for the eyes as the drab winter draws to a close. The warmth has brought forward traditional chores like mowing the grass earlier than anticipated. I have three lawns at my home plus an additional grass strip, all far larger than the more traditional lawns found in many suburban homes. While this sea of green has a comforting restfulness on the eye, there is still a price to pay in the additional workload of keeping it under control. In the West Country where my home is located, grass grows far more profusely than Eastern England mainly due to warmth and plentiful moisture than abounds in this region. It is one of the reasons that the dairy industry flourished in this part of the country.

A few new-born lambs can already be seen in the fields but in the next few weeks as the lambing season is in full swing, great flocks of lambs and their mother ewes will be seen everywhere. This great seasonal explosion of new life is also a noisy time with the bleating cries of thousands of hungry lambs calling out to their mothers. As the years have passed, I have become accustomed to watching the habits of newly born lambs in the fields around me. For about the first two weeks they will not venture from their mothers side. Every footstep the mother takes is immediately replicated by her offspring ensuring they remain in close physical contact. After these initial two weeks, the lambs tend to take notice their fellow lambs in the flock and as their strength and confidence grows, gangs of lambs can be seen chasing around the fields. Frequently a lamb will attempt to suckle from a strange ewe but they are always brushed aside. Ewes know which lamb is their offspring by scent alone and will let none other feed from them.

Kingsdon Inn 2

In the village where I live, a number of our friends have formed a birthday luncheon club. As our birthdays tend to be spread throughout the year we usually go out once a month for a pub lunch with the celebrant choosing the venue. The celebrant also pays for the drinks while everyone pays for their own meals. Last month we went to a local pub called the Kingsdon Inn. This is a 300 year old thatched pub located in the village of Kingsdon which I can see on a distant hill from my home. I had not been to the Kingsdon Inn for some time due to a fire destroying not only the thatched roof but much of the upper floor too. Fortunately their were no injuries and extensive refurbishment is now complete. We have many similar pubs in this part of the country where very goods meals are served at modest rates. Most of these local pubs are family businesses with a superb welcoming atmosphere. Service is usually friendly, personal and swift in contrast to the atmospheres I have sometimes experienced in some of the more commercially owned chains of public houses.

I will be making a trip back to the “Big Smoke” of London in the forthcoming week for the funeral of my last aunt. Every time I return to London it seems to have changed once again and it is not a place I now particularly enjoy visiting. All my life until a few weeks ago there has always been an older generation in my family. Now with the passing of my aunt that older generation is no more.  It is a strange feeling that I am now the older generation. It is also a strange feeling that overnight I became the patriarch of my greater family.

Although born and bred in London, the greatest enjoyment I now get from the place is when I leave it. My journey home normally takes me south along the M3 motorway before joining the start of the A303 to the West Country which then takes me all the way home. Once pass the outer ring of the M25 motorway, buildings rapidly melt away giving ground to the open countryside that I now find so reassuring. As the journey continues, the volume of traffic also rapidly decreases as motorway turn-offs to the various towns are reached. I normally find that as I approach and then pass Andover, traffic volume is whittled down to almost nothing. It is as if the various turn-offs that line the road around Andover act as a great sponge, mopping up most traffic that has journeyed that far from London. Beyond Andover the scenery gives way to the great rolling countryside of Salisbury Plain. As we climb the hills of this plateau, we near Beacon Hill which was a designated spot for a great fiery beacon to give warning of the approach of the Spanish Armada. Beacon Hill sticks out like a sentinel guarding the approach to the West Country before we soon pass Stonehenge with its many visitors, providing there is still light to view this monolithic structure. To me apart from its fascinating and controversially debated history, Stonehenge is also a milepost signalling that Somerset and home is only another 40 miles away.

April 2011


April heralded the arrival of a much welcome Spring, however it also feels like Summer prematurely is here as well with temperatures reaching the 70’s F (22 C) The old saying goes, cast not a clout until May is out, which is generally interpreted to mean do not wear less clothing until the beginning of June. This old adage appears to have little meaning this year. There is also some debate as to whether this refers to the month of May or the flower of the Hawthorne which is also known as May. If it is the latter, then the flower has already been and gone. One thing is for certain, the unseasonable heat wave as brought everything into bloom at once. Leaves on all trees came out overnight leaving the countryside a dazzling lush bright green.

Yesterday we took one of our occasional trips to Dorchester in Dorset which has an ancient weekly market that we quite like. There is something quite soothing about mooching around the stalls or the flea market section. This was followed by a short journey south to Weymouth where we purchased some fresh crabs and oysters from a quayside fish shop. The new road to Weymouth is now open but alas the old road which contained a steep but scenic hairpin bend has now been torn up. The long beach at Weymouth was heavily packed with early holiday makers all enjoying themselves but as usual, parking remains extremely difficult. We are normally lucky in finding a free short parking spot on the quayside.

At the moment the town of Weymouth appears to be a sea of road works as preparations for the sailing events of the 2012 Olympics are well underway. I could still see no evidence of additional parking and I cannot help but wonder if the thousands of extra visitors coinciding with the additional Summer holiday makers are going to create one huge parking problem. I hope not but I have my doubts. It will certainly be too late to do anything about it once the Olympics have started.

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