Sunday, 24 September 2017

Samuel Palmer at Chew Valley Lake and Compton Martin

The plan was to drop Son the Actor off on set and - given that I'd only picked him up from there six hours earlier - return home for a nap. But the glimpse of the lake from the causeway with reflections like marbled endpapers looked so beautiful ... 

... that somehow I found myself parked up at Herons Green Bay, watching egrets. Which weren't quite as exciting as the badger and two foxes we'd encountered on our home journey during the night, but pleasing all the same. 

And the sun bursting through cloud wouldn't have disgraced a painting by Samuel Palmer. 

I decided to pop to nearby Compton Martin and see if the village Church, called - possibly slightly confusingly - St Michael and All Angels was open. (Apparently, Martin comes from Robert Fitz Martin, who inherited the Manor from his grandfather during the reign of Henry I.)  

Clearly it was  still too early, which was a shame as it's one of only three surviving Norman churches in Somerset. Nevertheless, there was enough of interest on the outside of the building to ensure I'll be back down to see the inside in the by and by ... 

... like the carved corbels on the clerestory that so reminded me of the (rather more spectacular) ones at Kilpeck in Herefordshire. 

Can't quite make them out?

I'll take some better photos next time. 

Friday, 22 September 2017

Around the Harptrees II: Church, Combe and Castle

Number of stone stiles on our rou-  

Nah, I'm bored with that ... and with these 
keyhole squeeze stiles. I mean, they might be OK for pugs, but they are no friend to the older, more statesmanlike dog, and Ted - who has yet to realise he can jump - had to suffer the ignominy of being carried over. 

First, though, the 12th century Church of St Laurence ... 

... which has the distinction of being the only one I've visited with a tomb in its porch. 

Sir John Newton, who died in 1568, was evicted from the spot where the altar stands in 1883. Along the bottom of his tomb are ranged his 20 children, twelve daughters and eight sons.

There's a lovely soft light in St Laurence Church which was evident the moment Ted and I set foot (and paw) in it. 

I think this beautiful, ancient window has something to do with it. 

Next to it is the outstanding Great War Memorial window depicting St George flanked by St Laurence and St Agnes, by Arts and Crafts stained glass artist, Karl Parsons.

The dragon wouldn't disgrace Daenerys Stormborn ... 

... though my favourite detail right at the bottom of the central panel is the illustration of a mother and child waving farewell to a man setting off to fight in France.  

I also loved the bench ends, a few of which date from the 14th century ...  

... especially the honest way in which they've been repaired, with no attempt to dupe or deceive. 

Outside the difference in height between the churchyard and the surrounding field is accounted for by the large number of burials.

Ted and I were off over said field in the direction of Harptree Combe. On the way we glimpsed the ubiquitous Chew Valley Lake with Maes Knoll beyond it. 

My walking book was quite eloquent on the loveliness of the combe ...
... but omitted to mention how muddy it is. Within a few yards, I was wishing I'd worn my stoutest walking boots - or even wellies.  

We pressed on - well, I did; Ted, being a border collie, really didn't care - and before long we encountered the East Harptree aqueduct, a feat of engineering dating from 1851 and still instrumental in providing water to Bristol today. 

However, it couldn't compete with the 11th century motte and bailey castle also in the vicinity. 

Up there somewhere, in fact.

I re-acquainted myself with the few known facts. The original owner was one Azeline de Percheval, who came over with William the Conqueror and whose cruelty earned him the sobriquet 'Lupus' or 'the Wolf'. After passing to his son - unpromisingly called 'the Wolf Cub' - it eventually came into the ownership of the de Harptree family, and was held for the Empress Matilda in 1138 by Sir William against Stephen, who only managed to take it by luring the defenders out.  It was destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII.
For me, however, the most compelling thing about it was that it was described as 'inaccessible'. 

The route up didn't look bad from the bottom - until a few feet from the top where I had to resort to proper hand and foot climbing. 

Once up, however, I had the nasty feeling that I wouldn't be able to get back down - not even by sliding on my bum. 

Rumour has it there is still some masonry to be found under the vegetation, but all I saw was a series of earthworks, some of which pertain to the castle and some to the calamine workings which went on spasmodically until the 19th century.

I felt thankful that when my kids were poxy, I just had to go to the local chemist. 

Considering the steepness of the motte, I decided to leave the rest of the combe until bluebell time next year and consulted my map to see if there was a way down that didn't involve risking my neck. 
It turned out there was a footpath all the short distance back to the village. 'Inaccessible', my arse. 

I'll check the map first next time. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Around the Harptrees I: the Old Cockpit and Smitham Chimney

Number of trees whose branches sound like harps played by the wind? Or whose wood is sought after to make dulcimers for fairies? 

None. Harptree comes from the Old English herepoep and treow, meaning 'the military road by the wood'. 

Number of stone stiles on our route?


Number of former cockpits now masquerading as an enclosure for a wooden house?


The field itself used to be known as cockpits, apparently. 

Number of swallows snaffling the last of the finger buffet before heading off to South Africa.


Number of swallows to be seen when two buzzards pitched up?

None. There were a few very flustered pigeons, however.

Number of very scraggy-looking, perimoulting robins? 


Number of words I've just made up there? 

Also one.

Number of noticeable depressions in the middle of fields?

Many. This naturally-occurring sinkhole in the limestone ... 

... and me every time I realised there was yet another steep, tussocky hill to climb.

Number of overly nosy heifers?

Didn't stop to count but the thundering of hooves coming up behind us suggested many.

Number of bulls, albeit young and scrawny and with as yet rubbish horns?

Isn't one enough?

Number of curious and/or affable horses just wanting to make friends?

Five. And one very un-affable, unfriendly dog. 

Number of Grade II-listed, 70 foot lead smelting chimneys?


Ha, trick photo! There's only one left in the whole of the West Country. 

Number of yellow stagshorn fungi?

Not sure how you count it.

Number of elderberries?

Oh don't be silly.

Number of iron lions?


Number of views on this walk?

One, of Chew Valley Lake.

Number of photos of the one view on the walk?

More than this collage will hold. Clearly, I have a memory worse than a goldfish's. 
Ooh, that's a nice view ... ooh, that's a nice view ... ooh, etc.

Number of Old Mrs Edwardses, a noted laundress, standing white-aproned and white-haired outside her cottage with honeysuckle over the door and two skip beehives among the flowers on either side, looking up at the sweep of Mendip before her and so completing an unforgettable picture?  


Number of wet, smelly, happy border collies?

Just Ted.