Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Nineteen

Tuesday, 4 April, 1989
Holford (the Quantocks) to Wells to Bristol to Holford
Day Nineteen

This morning, after I’d mailed some cards at the post box in the wall of the shop across the road, I made good on my intentions to explore more of the
immediate area.

Passed several cottages with picturesque names till I got to the church. Went through the
lychgate and up to the church itself. Not stunningly memorable,† and I came out and tried the path that ran alongside the churchyard. It gave out into a broad, flat field of no particular interest. So I returned and, once more out of the precincts of the church, continued south till I came to a footpath giving the distance to Alfoxton. This is where I would have stayed if they hadn’t been full.

Before mounting that path I passed a
thatched cottage I liked very much. But it was clumsily obscured by a road works machine. Can’t imagine why they use those monstrous great contraptions on little roads like this.

The drive to Alfoxton turned out to be private, so I took the footpath to the left, past what seemed to be an outbuilding for the community
dog pound, donated by the Alfoxton family. This led through more deciduous wood, though to my left I could see a valley, dotted with all sizes of sheep, some of which came up to the fence bounding the wood to investigate my passage. There were quite a few little settlements in this dale, some of which were unfortunately composed of trailers. Cheap, convenient-- and ugly.

The wind was still pretty stiff today and I admit that after I got above the trees I rather wondered if I’d not taken all this a bit lightly, going out as I had with only my cameras and my car keys. Well, too late to think of that now.

More sheep grazing in the moor growth by the roadside and in among a clump of solemn, ceremonial-looking pines on the side of the eminence I was mounting. Turns out the ceremonial aspect was intentional. The pines were planted in the '40s in honor of the men and women of the surrounding villages who’d fought and/or died in the Second World War.

I came to what looked like the top but saw that no, the path led to the southwest to a higher stand. I pushed on, wind and all, to that. The weather was determined not to reward me with
the view I suppose would’ve been mine had it been clear. But I still could see the saltwater channel to the north.

However, the way the clouds were moving in didn’t look too reassuring. Another drenching like those of Iona I could forego. I made good time back down into the trees, where the wind was not so punishing. Soon I came upon a party ahead of me, two women and a number of children and dogs, all apparently foraging casually for kindling wood. This spread-out and leisurely group occupied the path, which I myself was taking none too hastily, and kept ahead of me till not far above the dog pound, where I passed them.

Took a different way back to the B&B cottage, once I was back to the paved roads. I was happy to see the construction machine was gone from in front of the cottage I’d admired, so I was able to get a shot of it. And I was able to examine the flowers, still mostly nameless to me, that grow along the roadside. There was a stream running alongside and many little paths over and beside it which I had no time now to explore. Maybe someday.

Shortly after noon I took out the car and drove east along the A39 to

I’m glad I stopped to admire the
cathedral's west front on Sunday, as the sun, if it was out at all today, was only making the most coy and fleeting of appearances. Still, I was able to study the cathedral’s interior sculpture sufficiently. Those stiff leaf nave capitals are simply amazing. They’re so wonderful you could eat them. I made sure to look for the story capitals and was lucky enough to come upon a cathedral guide who was describing them for the benefit of whomever cared to listen. They’re in the south transept, west side, as it happens.

And I had the chance to watch the
indoor clock, with its jousting knights, strike the hour of 4:00.

Which reminds me, I was there that late because before heading to the cathedral I stopped at a tea shop in the High Street and lunched on a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and treated myself to a
cream tea. And made an indulgent pig of myself and made sure I eked out the scones to justify eating every bit of the clotted cream and every bit of the strawberry preserve and felt no remorse about it, either.

Anyway, at the cathedral. I was able to see the fantastic
chapterhouse stairs, and not in entirely bad light. The ensemble looks smaller than it does in the photographs but also not as gloomy. It’s all in golden stone and beautifully patina’d and worn by all those clerics-- and tourists. I had to admit that today we would’ve put in an extra storage closet to take up the excess space left after we’d supplied the canons with a regulation-width stair. And I immediately decided to hell with modern spatial efficiency. It’s delightful as it is, from dozens of different angles.

The chapterhouse, off the stair to the right, is the classic circular kind with a column in the middle and the canons’ seats all round the walls, with their prebends named over them. Though I suppose the existing brass plates are recent replacements. They say they give concerts in there, though not just now as the ceiling is being restored.

The stair goes on up to a corridor leading to the canons’ refectory, still in use these days. In the passage they’ve set up an exhibition of the archaeological history of Wells, including photographs of the bones of bishops they dug up after they’d been buried below the cathedral floor for centuries. This had mostly been done in the last century, by those literal-minded Victorians who couldn’t leave anything to stay put.

Made my pilgrimage to the cathedral shop just before it closed at 5:15. As well as the usual postcards and information booklets I purchased a little devotional book on the Psalms. Something like that might do me good.

Having purchased still more Somerset postcards and a shocking pink highlighter (to mark my actual, as opposed to my proposed, route in my road atlas) at the W. H. Smith’s, I took off northwest along the A371 towards Cheddar.

It was too late in the day to sample any real Cheddar cheese but I could still enjoy the
Cheddar Gorge, outside of the town. Leaving aside more spectacular formations that occur in other countries, the Gorge is in itself a spectacular natural feature. You’re tootling along in this nice, innocuous rolling English countryside and then, wham! high rock walls on either side, stretching up to heaven, their fissured sides doing an offbeat undulating dance with the road that goes through between. Not the best weather for seeing the place but at least there weren’t any more tourists around at this time of day. Only locals who can now take it for granted and were probably wondering why they had to get stuck behind the only rubbernecking tourist (me) who was around.

If they do take it for granted they shouldn’t. Somerset is an amazing county.

Crossed the A368 at Barrington and noted the turnoff for Blagdon. That’s where we [our Oxford group of year-abroad students] went to enjoy a cream tea after visiting Bath in March. Picked up the A38 at that crossroads and continued on to Bristol, for the sole purpose of again seeing the
Clifton Suspension Bridge. It’s a perfectly wonderful thing, up there over the Avon Gorge.

When I got there I left the car and walked back to the river Avon where I could attempt some pictures, despite the fog.

Then I took the car and tried to get closer, but had a deal of a time finding my way onto the Hotwell Road (that runs by the river) in the first place. I finally did but could find nowhere to stop for quite awhile. Got way north of it, turned around, and finally located a coach stop on the way back. Walked up along the side of the road till the bridge was in sight, now
all lit up outlined with white lights in the foggy dusk. The photos are purely experimental, as I doubt my hand-holding was steady enough. And I was trying for some streaky headlight effects at very low shutter speeds.

Maybe I’ll have time to come back tomorrow, and it’ll be nicer.

Meant to catch the M5 at Portishead but instead got on the road to meet it at this side of
Weston-super-Mare. One of my wrong turns that came out all right, for a change.

By the time I got the A39 at Bridgwater it was snowing. Not a bad thing in itself but impossible to see the curves without the brights.

As a reward for a long day and not having any stupid accidents on the way, after reaching Holford I took myself to
the pub and treated me to a glass of cider. Took it and Uncle Walter to a table in the dining area and drank and read, between listening casually to the conversation filtering over from the bar proper.

One of the men in the group started to sing and another shushed him. Whereupon the singer said, "Dammit, this is a local pub and there’s nobody but us locals here and we can sing if we want to!"

Cannily, Mrs. Ayshford, who was on duty, kept silent about my presence, and several of the jolly company took up some song. Alas, modern culture intervened-- some idiot in the snooker room geared up the juke box-- and Real Music retreated from the field. It was really too bad.

Packed and planned my route for tomorrow before retiring. Tried not to read too late.
†Neither my memory nor my trip journal tells me whether I entered the church itself. If it was unlocked and I didn't bother, I am a retrospective idiot. Photos available online show that the Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Holford has some wonderful carving in wood and stone, a delightful little organ, and some lovely work in embroidery and stained glass. Did I think if it didn't sport flying buttresses, it wasn't worth seeing?

1 comment:

Sandy said...

You paint so beautifully with your words.