The bus I took to Taunton last Friday was a single-decker one. On the way home the 29 was a double-decker, and I was fortunate to get an upstairs front seat.
Allowing plenty of time at the bus stop, as it was only a two-hourly service, I had seen the Market House, a Grade II listed building now housing a variety of bodies,
and that the Dragon would be visiting Taunton this weekend.
Once we had left the outskirts of the town, I couldn’t resist taking a few photos with my phone. The majority of the route was across the moors, along a road that had been closed because of floods – a not unusual occurrence – a couple of weeks ago. Traffic has to go a longer way round by motorway when that happens. But now it was a pretty, if mostly dull weather-wise, journey across the Somerset Moors, through countryside and villages.
Given the grubby state of the windows, and the fact that the bus was moving, I am amazed that the photos are this clear.
The Somerset Moors (the correct name for most of what are commonly called the Somerset Levels) abound in ditches, rhynes and canals, not to mention remote-controlled sluices, all part of the water management system. The initial drainage was by the Romans, much extended by mediaeval monks, and continues to this day. It’s when nature wins that roads are closed.
The Polden Hills, the lowest range in Somerset, coming into view.
The bus passed nearby starling roosting grounds, and this is just a part of the flock which flew across the window at 16.20, on its way to join millions of other birds converging for the night.
Not too far from home now, the pimple of Glastonbury Tor coming into sight.
Last Friday, 3rd February, having spent a couple of hours, and taken lunch, at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton Castle, about which I blogged yesterday, and with a couple more hours before my bus back home, I decided to visit the beautiful church of which I had caught just a glance in the morning.
I paused to look at what I imagined to be the four Evangelists – they were not accompanied by their normal symbols – at the west door, and was struck by the humanity written on the face of whom I took to be St Luke.
I stepped inside. Susan!
Susan. Susanpoozan, loyal reader and commenter on my blogs, sister to two other loyal readers and to two other siblings, died just two weeks ago. I had seen her in November on my last trip to London. My next visit will be to attend her thanksgiving service later this month.
Susan herself wrote a weekly blog, She loved travel and she loved churches, especially their ceilings. One of her last posts was of her trip to Exeter, when its cathedral figured largely in what she wrote about the city. In the early months of 2021, when we were all unable to get out and about, she wrote up 21 ‘Tales from a mid-life gap year‘ about her travels in Europe in a van, in 1984/5.
I felt Susan was with me all the time as I explored this beautiful church.
The minster was founded by the Saxon king, Ina, when he founded the town of Taunton early in the 8th century. It became a parish church in 1308, and once more became a minster in 2022, ‘to reflect its ‘widening work engaging with civic life, as a hub in the west of the diocese…; as a major heritage attraction; and in serving the community and business life of Taunton’. The present church was completed in 1508.
It was time to look more closely at those angels. These were gilded in in 1968, and are among more than 200 of the beings to be seen somewhere in the church.
And here’s her angel, facing the west door.
These were commissioned in 2008, designed and engraved by Tracy Sheppard.
I walked round the outside of the minster, clockwise.
With the permission of the two of her siblings I know best, I am dedicating this blog post to Susan Hutton, 1934-2023. I have in mind also RK, 1945-2023, with whom I sang in a London choir in the 1970s. He was very closely involved with Salisbury Cathedral. I lost touch with him when I left the great wen. He made contact again in 2016 and I have learned of his death just this morning. Also Brian, 1923-2023, a dear friend from Reading and in recent years Yorkshire, whose thanksgiving meeting for worship I was able to attend virtually last week. May they all rest in peace.
It was chilly but bright last Saturday, so I took myself to Hestercombe Gardens, near Taunton. I hadn’t been for several years, and believed the actual house to be the property of Somerset County Council, but see from this history that, having been the headquarters of the Somerset Fire Brigade for over 60 years, it was sold in 2013 to the Hestercombe Gardens Trust, (itself created in 1986), for £1. Here is a 54-second aerial video of the entire estate, courtesy of the Trust.
I started with lunch in the café. I had to ask what an allegedly vegan dish, a seitan steak was, and was told it was made of pulses. I have to say, I nearly called the waitress after the first mouthful, to check I had been given the right meal, so like meat it was in taste, colour and texture. Too much indeed for comfort! Anyway, once home I looked up and found there are several different recipes, so seitan is not a trade name. Here is a whole article on the subject.
The formal gardens were designed by those celebrated collaborators Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll. On past visits I have started with these, but this time I left them to last, bypassing the Victorian Shrubbery, and wandering through the landscaped areas first.
Beyond this point access was forbidden temporarily, because of damage done by Storm Eunice.
From here I had a choice of turning left and returning the other side of the ponds, parallel to the path I had taken, or turning right and climbing up and a bit away from the water features. I chose the latter, not least because it was the sunny side.
At this point I failed to turn sufficiently rightwards and to take a diagonal path towards the lakes again. I blame a couple with a dog coming up a path worn in the grass, parallel to the fence. I assumed that was the correct way – I had not been up here before.
As the terrain I was on diverged increasingly from what the plan told me, I at last concluded that I was far too far over, so climbed a gate on the right to correct my route, and went past this pile of logs – which may or may not have been a feature of the recent storms. I had seen many sawn-off trunks in my wanderings, both where I should have been and where I shouldn’t.
I had also seen masses of daffodils, and took many, many more photos of them than this one.
Moving towards the orchard and the Garden of Remembrance.
I wondered why someone had left this flowerpot around. Looking more closely, I saw written on it, ‘WOBBLY STONE’.
Also not at its best at this time of year, ‘The Great Plat’ nevertheless was a mass of pink, the parterres filled with Bergenia Cordifolia, more commonly known as Elephant Ears, beginning to go over.
Finally, I walked around the Victorian Terrace.
And I was ambushed in the plant sale on the way out, where I fell in love with this purple Euphorbia, and just had to have it. I’ve no idea where to plant it, but I shall find it a good home.
I left the car park at 4 o’clock, just as ‘Weekend Woman’s Hour’ came on the radio. It started with the very same story, broadcast the day before, of the little boy who wanted Mr Putin to become a good man…
Snowdrop garden. For two days, Friday and Saturday, the owners of Higher Yarde Farm, Staplegrove, near Taunton, are opening their wonderful early spring garden to visitors, in support of the Somerset Wildlife Trust. Last weekend they did the same for the NSPCC.
There had been many visitors before me, despite a typical temperature of around 2°C, but as the last to arrive I had the large garden to myself, and almost missed the tea and cake on offer at the end. I wondered whether the delightful building I had seen in the grounds was a holiday let, and learned that it was. If I lived further away, I would be very tempted to use this as a base to explore the Quantock Hills and the Blackdown Hills, not to mention the wonderful Edwardian Hestercombe Gardens by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll just a few miles away.
I’d never seen so many snowdrops in one place before, but just as enjoyable were all the other signs of spring on its way, in this garden clearly designed not only to please the human eye, but to be as friendly as possible to wildlife.AA little bridge soon tempts you off to the right……towards a pond.Onward to some glades and woodland.
The sun came out for a few minutes
I think this may be a hedgehog shelter
Then another bridge leads you on towards the house, and tea and cake (so much choice).This is the converted barn holiday let.
And back down the snowdrop-lined drive.
I have a third outdoor visit for this week tomorrow…