Yesterday was the second of my resumed monthly walks with my friend Zoe, though sadly the pub lunch at the end will not resume until next month – hopefully. We started from my house, and followed a route I had done once before, many years ago, but which I had not felt able to do more recently as I didn’t want to venture alone along that part of the route which lines the River Brue. It is now populated with somewhat scruffy residential caravans, past which I would not wish to go alone. There were many more caravans than shown here.
The walk was a little longer than planned, as what we did for a time clearly did not fit with what was on the OS map. I had had no problem with this when I had previously done the walk. Perhaps we were just chatting too much. I think I know now what went wrong, and am tempted to go and check it out sometime, but…
The walk was on a very local patch of the Somerset Moors, a.k.a. the Somerset Levels, though technically those are off to the west, bounded roughly by the M5 motorway. Over the centuries from Roman times they have been progressively drained, turning from marshes into pastureland. (The Draining of the Somerset Levels, by Michael Williams is fascinating on the subject.) They abound in ditches and rhynes (pronounced ‘reens’) and if you can help it you don’t set off across a field unless you know for sure that you will not be cut off at the other side by a water course too wide to leap across. (Moors, levels, rhynes explained here.)
A much enlarged clip from the above picture will show how the local authority is meeting the obligation placed on it by the government to provide sanitation for the caravan dwellers during the pandemic, as part of its campaign to get the homeless off the streets. This is to end after 17th May.
Glastonbury Tor accompanied us throughout.
Having passed this caravan I turned round to take a photo of the mattress lying among the branches of the tree, and the solar panel.
No wonder the road patches had seemed fresh!
Difficult not to stop and watch little lambkins. West Pennard Hill in the background.
When we caught sight of this swan it was way off, but when it caught sight of us it swam purposefully in our direction.
And swam purposefully away from us once it saw we had nothing to give it.
It was around here that we started to suspect we weren’t quite sure that we were where we thought we were. Still, it’s a nice bridge, of sorts.
We stood looking at this flock for quite a long time. After all, we had to make sure that each of the four lambs dispersing from playing together managed to find its right mother.
It this point I thought we were on Ponters Ball, a local earthwork of unknown age and purpose. Glastonbury is, in effect a peninsula, surround by Moors, formerly marshes. This earthwork marks the fourth, non watery, side of the peninsula. The earthwork did not particularly impress Zoe, who had not heard of it before I drew it to her attention as we made our arrangements.
In any case, I was wrong. This was Ponters Ball, reached ten minutes later. Looking southwards,
and here northwards. Zoe was a little more impressed. And from here on we knew exactly where we were.
Some furry creature has come to a sad end, at the hands – or more probably claws of a feathery creature
We were well and truly on the homeward stretch now, here entering the grounds of Millfield Preparatory School.
Tennis practice. And we also saw equestrian practice, but were too close for comfortable photography … and the battery of my phone – I had not bothered with my camera as I didn’t expect to take any photos – was running out.
Just enough juice to take one last picture of the Tor.
Unlike most of my friends, I do not feel impelled to get out into the fresh air every day. It needs the promise of a pretty garden or some such, or really nice weather, (or need for essential purchases) to get me further than my garden. Possibly it’s because from my front window I have a big sky, at times with hundreds of starlings streaming past, and the Polden Hills in the middle distance, to feast my eyes on. Possibly.
But last Sunday, the conditions were almost fulfilled. It was chilly but bright. And I told myself I ‘ought’ to get out, at least for a short walk, so I did. A few weeks ago a friend had shown me a footpath near my house, which in principle I knew existed but access to which I had never sought out, and I decided to take it, this time with camera.
At the end of my road. My goodness. Bristol Water are going at it! This is a good half mile from the works I had seen the other day, and in the other direction from my house. They’ve been working around here for months.
I’m always sad walking up this lane. It’s exactly two years since my lovely little cat, Luciole aka Lulu, was found on its verge, the victim no doubt of a speeding motorist.
Permit me a rant. I think I just about understand, though I don’t necessarily sympathise with them, why house owners don’t like cars turning in the wide space aligned with the pavement outside their houses. But one at the entrance to a field?!
I’m now up on a very busy road, which on weekdays is crammed with large speeding lorries and other vehicles. There is a local campaign to get this downgraded from being an approved freight route. Just a few yards behind me they go dangerously near actual house walls. I now have the choice of taking my life in my hands – cars come speeding round that corner, even though it’s a 20 mph zone, crossing the road to a wider pavement, and then having to cross back a couple of hundred yards further on, or staying on this side and getting squashed by a passing lorry. It’s Sunday, so I’ll take my chance and stay on this side.
That choice means I notice this intriguing gateway on the other side. I’ve driven along this stretch of road hundreds of times, but never once walked it.
Hieroglyphs on a telephone post
This is why I considered crossing the road. I think I need to send this photo to the authorities to get it cleaned up. It’s only 18 inches (45 cm) wide at the best of times .
And here is the entrance to the footpath I’ve never tried. In all those hundreds of times driving along this road, I’d never noticed it tucked away.
And once through, this:
Or this, sweeping though 270 degrees:
Aaah. (Baah?) But you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet.
Walking down the hill, it’s easy to avoid the boggy bit, nicely delineated by sedge.
For this oak, it’s very definitely still winter.
From the bottom of the field, looking back…
… and forward. Now there’s meant to be a stile somewhere here…
… and here it is, tucked around the corner.
The next one looks most unwelcoming.
But fortunately there is an alternative.
The next one is almost pristine.
Here’s why. I do like it when stiles have a good upright post to hold on to.
And the next stile is a double one, over a ditch.
The trodden (and very muddy) track ahead matches the right of way marked on the map.
And I come out onto a familiar road. Theoretically I should be home shortly.
But I am delayed.
‘Oh, give it a rest kids!’
After ten minutes I reluctantly move on. I was getting a little chilled. I look back over my left shoulder.
And I look over towards my right.
And shortly pass my local park where I see humanlets gambolling. Back to school the next day after three months, save a false one-day start in January.
Yes, that way round. Yesterday morning I had to take my car to the garage for its MoT. I was not looking forward to the walk back. Only 15 minutes, but at 8.15 it was cold and damp, with that chill that gets into your bones, as they say. So I took my camera with me, which made the walk pass more pleasantly, even though it also made it last 5 minutes longer.
They called me at lunchtime to say the car was ready, and I decided to take my camera with me again as I walked back to the garage, in case I regretted not doing so. I would have done.
The garage has a very small showroom for second-hand cars. This MG reminded me of the Midget I used to drive in the mid-1970s.
I looked up towards St Benedict’s.
But didn’t go that way, turning off right into a cul-de sac. ‘That reminds me – I must put my recycling out when I get home.’ The houses in the distance are on Wearyall Hill.
The panel says ‘Keep out. This area is liable to flood’. The squirrel was unconcerned.
Across Morrisons’ car park next.
From the car park I could see the top of the RC St Mary’s church, and its hall, which I know now has a lift and, it appears, perhaps a new roof as well.
Faced with the first of many inclines where I live. That feature was something I considered hard when deciding whether or not to move here ten years ago.
Many businesses round here use the word ‘Avalon’ or ‘Tor’ in their trade names.
A pretty corner on a very busy and noisy road.
The next incline, and the Globe Inn next to the park on the right.
I haven’t walked alongside the park for a very long time. I’m sure this wasn’t here before. But perhaps the whole tree was.
When I drove to the garage at 8.15, I noticed how little traffic there was. 20 minutes later certainly not the case. A misty Chalice Hill in the background.
At the top of these steps is…
… a small green space.
But I’m walking downhill now.
Fortunately I don’t need to turn left.
Instead I’m going to walk up a path between the houses.
Another reminder that it’s recycling day.
A once-in-two-hours chance to see the little bus which goes along the principal road through the estate.
As I walk through it, I have had various glimpses of the very misty moors, the Polden Hills beyond having totally disappeared.
Chalice Hill can be made out.
But much of Glastonbury Tor, including its tower at the top, cannot.
Because I have my camera in my hand, I take three photos in my garden.
The frog spawn is nicely turning from dots into commas.
And these ridiculous primroses have been flowering, though not this floriferously, since October.
As I set off to collect the car in the early afternoon, I was pleased to find that the chill damp had gone, (though it was still very cold), and that the tower had returned to the top of the Tor.
The Bristol Water people were still hard at work. I should try to join a gang like this to find out why it is that ‘work’ so often consists of just standing around.
What goes up must go down if you’re walking in the opposite direction.
The swings in the park were in use.
And the bird had not budged as I took a closer look. Ah, so it’s made of wood, not metal.
I took a more interesting route for the last part back to the garage, and had glimpses of the Abbey.
Seeing this mural on the side of the Globe Inn …
… and its signature, gave me an idea for a possible future blog or two. I found later that there are 26 murals on the trail.
I believe this water flows from Chalice Hill.
And that it used to be the source for the Pump Room on the other side of the road in its short life as such.
Now I could see the Abbey’s octagonal kitchen.
The citation on this plaque – the lost adult glove gives an idea of its size – says: “PRESENTED TO THE PUBLIC BY J HRY BURGESS ESQ RESIDENT SURGEON IN THIS TOWN 50 YEARS AND DURING HIS SIXTH MAYORALTY 1864…1865” And what is it decorating? Very appropriate for a surgeon – public conveniences, still, in ‘normal’ times, in use.
From a car park, an even better view of part of the Abbey. And another idea for a future blog.
I knew there was a Glastonbury community ‘fridge’ (not limited to chilled foodstuff) but not where it was, next to the Town Hall. (I am going out very, very little these days!)
This time I go past St Benedict’s church and the Mitre Inn.
And, very close by, The King Arthur.
Finally, a pretty row of houses opposite the entrance to the garage.
My car had passed its MoT with flying colours – but then it had only done 2000 miles in the last 12 months, and much of that was done in the two weeks before lockdown, as I drove to and from Gatwick Airport for my trip to Morocco, of blessed memory.
It was Stressful Wednesday, and I had been obsessing with the rolling news half the night (less than four hours’ sleep) and all day until lunchtime. It was gorgeous outside, and I hadn’t done my little there-and-back walk from my house for a very long time. I wondered if it was possible to distract myself for an hour or so.
It was. I can honestly say that I did not give the US presidential election a single thought all the time I was out.
Down to the end of my road,
through a small passageway to my left, up the lane to the main road where the prep school is situated, and back again. Views and details.
I spent a few minutes trying to capture hedge reflections in the puddles at the side of the road. This is the only vaguely successful image.
So I raised my eyes to the lane ahead, and thought that they’d soon be flailing the hedges.
Time to turn round.
From now on, I was facing the low autumn sun.
I was intrigued by this very new fencing on either side of this track, which on first glance appeared to be creating two paths. A closer look made me realise that in fact it was protecting new hedging. I waited for the sheep to be ushered into the right-hand field, and for the ‘shepherd’ to come back to his van, to my left. From him I learned that in fact this was his project. Living in town, he owned nine acres, and was putting native hedging around the three fields, for the benefit of wildlife. 600 metres so far. Brilliant!
I started this post early on Saturday afternoon. I broke off about three pictures ago to watch CNN, and caught the moment the result was announced. Stressful Wednesday was worth it!
Shamefully, I hadn’t been out for a walk for 18 days. Well, there’s just so much to do at home. Not ‘got-to-do’, that is, though there’s some of that, but ‘want-to-do’, with so much on offer, sadly nearly always via a screen of some sort. Bridge lessons. Chances to sing. Keeping up with the news on a rolling basis, (news junkie that I am) – it’s all so fascinating, especially the science of it all. Cooking, something I don’t usually do! In order to use stuff up at the end of my fortnightly cycle of shopping, finding what I might make with given ingredients – there’s always a recipe online to cover any combination. And knitting – I’ve nearly finished my second garment since lockdown started. Given that I only knit – and that in 4-ply, for those who understand these things – when I’m watching television or listening to something (podcasts, radio), I must be doing more of that these days. So much to divert oneself, without going out. (Just this morning, I’ve been recording myself for the BBC! Singing with the BBC Lockdown Orchestra, no doubt with hundreds, maybe thousands, of others, for a video to go out on TV and radio on 14th. A steep learning curve as to the pop song, which I didn’t know, and the technical side of it – great fun.)
With no reason to go out beyond my garden, I realised that I was becoming almost afeared to go out, so just forced myself to make the effort the other day. Only that little walk up to the prep school and back. I hadn’t seen the lane for a month to the day. And what a change that month had made. So lush!
But firstly, I was pleased to see that the local park had been reopened.
My route was lined with cow parsley for most of the way. And with bird song! I was nearly deafened – it was wonderful.
Just enjoy the walk with me.
And – nothing to do with my walk – I had to take a photo of this diddy, apparently one-person, recycling van which ‘did’ my house shortly afterwards. Most of our waste services have been kept going these last weeks, and those that haven’t are shortly being restored. Well done and thank you Somerset Waste Partnership.
The next walk was something completely different …
First thing, the Microsoft system reminded me of a photo I had taken 15 years previously, to the day. I posted it on Facebook, with the following text.
“The Kennet and Avon Canal about a mile from Hungerford, where I had left my car. Living in France at the time, I was there to visit a bench I had sponsored in memory of my parents who had loved the canal, and had, little by little, walked it end to end. What I didn’t know as I took this photo was that the couple in the left hand boat were Timothy West and Prunella Scales, and that the former had just jiggered his ankle slipping down a damp grassy bank. Five minutes later I was steering the right hand boat, the owners of which were helping the Wests run their own boat.
“Once we had all arrived at Hungerford, the couple, Prunella having secured the boat, transferred to my car, and I drove them to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. They were much more interested in talking about me than themselves, and it emerged that the night before they had dined with the Norringtons. Roger had been a major influence on me musically decades earlier.” And here’s the photo:
I went out for a much longer walk than previously in the afternoon. I had realised that a busy road near me, which could get me to the River Brue, should not be so busy in the present circumstances. I often forget to put a watch on, but didn’t this time – and found that it was still showing Greenwich Mean Time, three weeks on from the clocks going forward.
I live on a modern estate on the edge of the Somerset Levels. Looking right as I walked out of it, along a cul-de-sac Wearyall Hill is to be seen. Traditionally Joseph of Arimathea planted his staff here.
The River Brue used to run where the road serving the estate now runs. But over the centuries, the watercourse has been much modified, through drainage of marshy ground and pragmatic straightening. Near me, the river is almost entirely canalised, work done in the thirteenth century by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey. Here I have crossed the road, and into a field, and looking back I don’t think I had ever previously noticed just how splendid some of the trees now lining the road are.
I’m shortly at the ‘busy’ road which will take me down to the Brue, and yet again I’m envious of those living in houses up on Wearyall Hill for the lovely view they have across the Moors.
I turn left, and see what they can see, the Polden Hills in the distance.
The busy road dips to begin with, and sometimes in winter it is flooded, so closed. It is only at about 7 metres above sea level here, although some 20 miles or so inland, and if rainwater cannot drain towards the sea, because the land is so waterlogged and the many water courses too full, it just stays here. (By the way, while I had thought the road would be empty of traffic, and indeed it is empty in his photo, it was in fact quite busy, though not to the extent that I felt unsafe.)
These, to my left, on a field which is frequently flooded, reminded me of the 17th century (or earlier) song, ‘The Three Ravens’, though these are crows.
Ahead, the embankment which contains the canalised Brue,
and the road has to rise steeply at Cow Bridge.
I go over Cow Bridge and turn right, off the road. Others had had the same idea, but it was just about possible to keep the appropriate distances.
To my left a rhyne (pronounced ‘reen’), with the which the landscape is riddled for miles around. Landowners are obliged to keep them maintained so that water may flow freely.
Cows to my right,
and sheep to my left.
I arrive at Clyce Hole measuring station,
or is it Clyse Hole? The Environment Agency doesn’t seem to know, though the OS map and the EA flood warning website seem to favour the latter. The water level is low, so the weir is impressive.
It is a popular wild swimming spot, and there were several families there, swimming, paddling, sunbathing…
After this point, I met no-one else on this side of the river, though there were people – and dogs! – out for their walks on the other side, (though not in this picture).
Ah. I hadn’t thought about stiles, and touching them. Hm. Should have brought my surgical spirit spray, (I have no hand gel) especially as I keep lifting my camera to my face. Oh well, next time. But it’s nice to have such easy stiles! There were several of them from now on. And from now on the river seems to be following its original contours.
A most unprepossessing bridge, apart for its name, Pomparles (pronounced PompArlez) Bridge. Until pretty recently it was called Pons Perilis, the dangerous bridge. It carries the main road, causeway, from Glastonbury to Street, and indeed the bridge and the river mark the boundary between the two.
And frankly, that road seemed to me to be almost as busy as ever. Fortunately, I was able to remain down in the field instead of walking along its wide pavement,
until I came to a rhyne.
There was escape to my right, and I had to walk along that pavement for 100 metres or so.
From there, on the outskirts of the urban part of Street, I saw its parish church across the field.
Having turned left,
it would have been very unsociable of me not to call a bridge friend on the phone and invite him to come to the window and wave. But I found I hadn’t got his number on me, so I did something I had never done before in my life – I rang a doorbell and ran away! But only ten yards. B. emerged from his back garden and we chatted for a few minutes. I left with his permission to publish his photo and a request to pass on to other bridge contacts to keep safe.
I diverted from the logical route for a couple of minutes to take photos of the 14th century church,
and the much missed Strode Theatre. It is a fully equipped theatre, (I went on a back-stage tour last year and was very impressed) which must be unique. With the Clark (shoes) family behind it, it was constructed in 1963 to serve not only as a theatre, but as as the local school hall and a not-for-profit cinema. It has been much developed since. (I say ‘much missed’ only because I had three ticket for films for 26th March to 30th April which have fallen the way of all gatherings in recent weeks. Like everyone, I look forward enormously to such places re-opening.)
I could have crossed another field and returned back along the Brue, but I chose to take a road which, in normal times I drive along, there and back, about three times a week, but which I had never walked. This for two reasons: to enjoy the avenue of trees, which remind me of similar in France, and on the outside chance I might see a pair of swans.
The road had been nicely empty, with just the occasional cyclist or two, but I was beginning to think that I was not going to see any swans, when:
Left again on to Cow Bridge Road, and the sight of Glastonbury Tor accompanies me home. My house is somewhere in there.
I found it striking that there there had been so much foliage on the trees compared with those in my first picture 15 years ago, taken at the same latitude, on the same day of the year.
When I got in, I baked a cake. What’s so strange about that? It’s just that I never bake, the flour was ‘best before’ June 2017, the bicarbonate of soda ‘best before’ 1998 (I bought in it the UK before I moved to France in 1995, and brought it back from there in 2011), and the vanilla essence didn’t even have a B B date on it, as it was older than that system! The cake was/is delicious.
I’m fortunate to have a country lane at the end of my road, and it makes a nice 40-minute walk there and back to a main road. Outward yesterday I only took one picture, but on the way back I decided to capture a variety of views of Glastonbury Tor.
The one photo I took going out was of these ponies. The previous time I had been by they had been well-spaced in the field. This time they looked so sad, and I imagined that they were feeling deprived of human company, though I was sure that they were being well fed and watered. I stood and talked to them for five minutes.
On my way back though, a young lady was leading two more ponies back into the field. I told her – at a distance – of my romantic notion. She said that the three had indeed been eagerly waiting at the gate – but for their two companions to be returned. And indeed, I could see the joy of the three as all five gambolled (is that a good word for ponies?) off around the field together. Apparently, their lives haven’t changed a jot since lockdown, and their carers are working just as before. So what do I know about equine behaviour?
My first view of the Tor was taken from the deserted main road at the far point of my walk.
Now having turned round, these views are all to my right:
But my next picture was not of the Tor. I was entranced by this scene and stood and watched for a short while.
Zooming a little led me to think there were figures at he top of the Tor, which is on National Trust land.
Yup. It was probably quite blowy up there.
I wouldn’t be tempted to go up the Tor because the way up is, sadly, all concreted and lots of steps now, and passing people would bring one too close to those going in the other direction. (Quite apart from the fact that I puff a lot when I make the effort!)
I also admired the sky – which is often covered in contrails.
I did want a picture of the JCB, and if I wanted the Tor as well I had to put up with the building.
Where my road joins the lane there is a public park.
It remained just to take the Tor from the one corner of my garden where I can see it – when there aren’t too many leaves on the trees.
What are those white blobs?
It’s difficult to imagine what else there remains to write about right now…
I had a choice at this point, to walk along a very busy road, or to enter a wood, where three years ago I had found carpets of bluebells.
There were no bluebells where I expected to find them. Either my memory was faulty or they had been stripped out. Or they had been suppressed by the acres of sedge that seemed to be everywhere. After a long while I did find some, but not in the swathes that I expected.
But happily they were English bluebells, with not a Spanish bluebell in sight, then or for the rest of my walk.
Impossible not to be aware of a great low-flying bird across my path. It settled in a tree to my left.
Then it flew off, to a much higher and much further tree, not yet covered in foliage.
A very pleasant afternoon. And other than on the first road, I didn’t meet a soul.
I live just a five-minute walk from the Somerset Rural Life Museum, which has been closed for refurbishment for the last three years. Its unofficial official reopening was yesterday, and a friend, Liz, and I went to it. What a fantastic job they’ve done! The Museum comprises a farmhouse, the Abbey Barn (that’s Glastonbury Abbey) and a small amount of land. Until Henry VIII’s 16th century Dissolution of all the abbeys, all the land round here belonged to the Abbey. Since then it has passed through many hands, and in 1917 George Mapstone took over the tenancy. Mr and Mrs H R Mapstone bought the farm in 1940. Mrs Mapstone sold most of the land for housing (including where I live) in 1974, but gave the farmhouse and the Abbey Barn to Somerset County Council which used it for the museum. (For the history of the landholding – and much more about Glastonbury – see here.)
The unofficial official opening took place on the north side of the Barn. Because it was an unofficial official opening there was no ribbon to be cut (the official official opening will be by the Duke of Gloucester in a week or so’s time), so instead the last surviving Mapstone daughter and the Chairman of the Trustees of the museum together unveiled the flag of Somerset.Given the numbers present, we were invited not all to go in via the front door (of the farmhouse), so Liz and I made straight for the courtyard,
(Glastonbury Tor in the background)
where there was music,but most importantly the horse, Captain, made entirely of scrap metal. Liz’s partner, Ray, had been in charge of the machinery which had lifted him into place, and had apparently come home that day raving about the sculpture. Liz and Ray know a thing or two professionally about horses, and Liz was exclaiming how completely anatomically correct this creation was. Moreover, she had learned that the sculptor, Harriet Mead, had made no preliminary drawing, but had just started welding pieces of scrap metal together. (Her work has been featured on the BBC’s ‘Countryfile’.)
There is no risk that the sculpture will be pushed over. It is installed on a solid plinth buried in a large hole in the ground.
We moved into the Abbey Barn, the south side of which completes the courtyard. It has a splendid new packed earth – I think it’s that – floor (the hardness of which, incidentally will make it much more satisfying for any concerts held there from now on).From there, we went into the farmyard galleries, which, although still housed in the courtyard buildings, have been utterly transformed. Here is just a small selection of the photos I took, (sadly on my phone – I hadn’t thought to take my camera).It was time for a coffee, bought from the café which was undoubtedly having its busiest ever day – entry to the museum was free today – in a kitchen which was totally new to the staff!
I’d love to know what was being indicated!
We talked to the artist, James Lynch, of this amazing landscape, painted in egg tempera on plaster, for a while. Then it was time to go, as we had met and stopped to chat with many interesting people that Liz knew, and as we went we reflected on some of the many quotations appearing around the place.
(I used to sing this at my school in London. I had no idea it was a Somerset folksong!)
With a backward look at the farmhouse, and its porch, the proper entrance to the Museum, I decided to return today, Sunday, to finish looking around.
Which I did, with camera this time, around lunchtime. The time of day, the threatening showers, (the dark and cloudy morning had not turned out to be sunshiny) and of course the fact that it was not longer the opening day, meant than attendance was much thinner on the ground, though I imagine that the staff and volunteers would be pleased enough to see this many people in due course.
I looked around the farmhouse this time, though there remain two more rooms to be fitted out, and was able to admire how well a modern extension to the museum has been blended with the old house.The rooms house many exhibits which have been in storage for so long.
The farmhouse kitchen
1940s fairground targets with the faces of Hitler and Mussolini on them
A variety of drinking mugs
And a very modern exhibit – a waste bin from a recent ‘Glastonbury’ Festival (held in fact at Pilton 7 miles to the east)
I went out into the yard again, where Captain was still being admired, and I even saw a woman stroking his nose. I wonder will that part of his anatomy become shiny in due course?
The black shed is a grain store
The orchard, with its varieties of apples and its sheep, is once more accessible to the public, and has acquired a coconut shy – which I refrained from playing on.
Unlike many museums, this one does not oblige you to leave via the shop, but I did so. It is good to know that just five minutes away I may buy gifts of Somerset produce and manufacture.
Congratulations to the South West Heritage Trust for this magnificent restoration, come to fruition so soon after they reopened the beautiful Museum of Somerset at Taunton.
I hadn’t been to see the local starling murmuration this winter, so yesterday mid-afternoon I decided to rectify that. It’s always chancy, and for a good display the ideal weather is clear skies. Yesterday there was mainly thin cloud, but I knew that the birds would soon be migrating back to their north European breeding grounds, and I might not have many more chances. The Avalon Marshes starling hotline informed me that the previous night the starlings had roosted at both Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath, each accessible from the same RSPB car park at Ashcott, (recently created, to the great relief of those using the nearby country road from which the reserves are accessible.)
Once there, I decided, I’m not sure why, to go east along the rhyne (pronounced ‘reen’) or drainage ditch, making for Ham Wall, rather than westwards to Shapwick Heath. I made my way slowly to the main viewing platform, 400 metres down the path, enjoying what other birds were to be seen on the reserve, as night started to fall.
Glastonbury Tor in the distance
The water levels are carefully managed with sluices
En route I observed Stephen Moss, naturalist, author and TV producer, and President of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, with a small group of people, and I reckoned I must have made the right decision as to direction. Once I was at the platform, the Avalon Marshes representative advised going on another 600 metres, as a thousand starlings had already made their way in that direction. “There’s another half million due, and earlier on in the season there were a million here, but they’ve started leaving. We have had as many as five million in years gone by.”
On maximum zoom, in the far distance from the viewing platform, a great white egret, a species that has just begun to breed in the UK.
I walked on the extra distance, taking more photos.
When I’d gone the 600 metres, I was not alone – this was about a third of the people gathered there.
I moved slightly away and lower, to the bank of the rhyne, where there were fewer people. It wasn’t long before I became aware of birds streaming way up high over my left shoulder. They were all making their over to the north and doing a bit of their murmuring there, but at a low level and not very photographable. But I got a few pictures over the next 20 minutes or so.
Then they were gone, into the reeds, for the night. The moon was up, behind the cloud,
and it was time to wander back to the car park, along the rhyne.
Tardy small groups of starlings continued to fly over my head for a little while to join their roosting companions. How do they know where to go? What more pleasant way to spend a late afternoon? Why don’t I visit one of the UK’s most famous nature reserves, just 20 minutes from where I live, more often?
I’ve just rung the starling hotline again. Yesterday the starlings only roosted at Ham Wall. Good call.