I remember taking some Australian friends to Devon a few years ago. We were driving to our holiday accommodation along byways near Newton Abbey and they had to get out of the car to take a photograph of the width of the road. They could not believe anyone would drive along a bendy single-track road with high hedges on either side. I hadn’t realised that Somerset has these lanes in spades. It got me thinking about how old they were. They have obviously existed as cart tracks in years, if not centuries, gone by and now they must cost a fortune in tarmacking and hedge-cutting or scything the grasses. Not too far from Dorset, it was the land of Hardy, of hiring fairs and a rural way of life I thought departed.
But it’s not just ancient paths, it’s also tiny villages connected by these paths and the small fields and wildflower meadows which abound in this part of the world. I felt like I was stepping back in time. I’m used to big fields, all the land to the roadside used for cultivation. Why are there so many areas uncultivated here? And isn’t the scenery so much better for it? Amongst the gorgeous rambling roses, perfuming the walls of beautifully kept thatched cottages, were lanes full of meadowsweet, daisies, buttercups and ragged robin with no sign of pesticide. Happy days.
Tinkling brooks and ponds to sit by and dream of past times, add to the magic and serenity. And lastly hills and dales. The country undulates constantly with new vistas around every corner. My problem would be wanting to get out and explore rather than sitting down to write. Or perhaps my next book could be set in such a landscape. Now there’s a thought.
Of course the truth is much harsher. The coal and weaving industries of Somerset have lone gone leaving rural poverty. Tourism must be a lifesaver, but I guess many people pass by on the road to the Devon beaches or the delights of Bath. How many stop in Chard or Crewkerne for more than a petrol stop?