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  • David Mathews

One foot in front of another


A walk, a photograph and a sestude (62 words exactly). Have a look at 26 tiny postcards here.

Mine is U to V, Urgashay to Vagg Copse on the edge of the Somerset Levels (see my cartographic masterpiece in the postcard), passing the Royal Naval Air Station that has - no roundabout way to say this - no planes.

The 62 words sum up my day from mid April this year. The detail? Here's my phone log:

1140 Approaching from West Camel, not much by way of hills, even in the distance. Sounds of shrill birds alongside the little River Cam. Helicopters and light aircraft … and shots – somebody’s lunch or supper. For the pot.

1149 Urgashay. The name; to say it does not sound like Somerset would be misleading, place names here being eclectic. Better for departure than arrival this collection of buildings with its tractor dealer.

1203 road - a lane with high hedges.

Because the land is flat and even the surrounding hills are no more than a couple of hundred feet, you see the whole pattern of the clouds as it forms and breaks. Broad skies, big white clouds, con trails dispersing in the winds high up, but only a breeze down here.

1208 Towards RNAS. Sheep and lambs along the River Cam. They completely ignore a helicopter and a single engine training aircraft coming in to land, but move aside when I get close. I try to disturb these new families as little as possible, and find myself apologising to one of the ewes. They consent to be photographed.

They are grazing next to Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, and making free use of a two arch stone bridge over the River Cam on its way from Urgashay to join the River Yeo. Ewes with twins and one with triplets. Their brand is 174. I’d love to know why.

I am for a while walking on an old runway or taxiway. Why was this particular chunk of land released?

1226 (sound of wind on audio) Now I’ve got wind in the grasses just about competing with the noise of helicopters as I finish going round Yeovilton. It’s only helicopters and light aircraft – initial training aircraft I imagine – because at the moment the navy has no fast jets. Not one. (The trainers are Grobs, apparently. It should be a crossword clue/answer.)

1232 Confluence of the Cam and the Yeo (Ivel)

Rape(seed) is just in flower, and winter wheat is up, but both planted across footpaths meant to cross the fields diagonally, according to my OS map. So where I am anticipating a more or less direct route, I have to trail around the edges of fields. This pisses me off somewhat. The only consolation is that I see more of the R Yeo than I might have otherwise on my way to Chilton Cantelo.

1244 Following the Yeo almost to Chilton Cantelo

Nearing the village I found some rust at last. I like rust, the colour, the eating into paintwork, the evocation of time. Remarkably little rust for a walk in farming country, and almost nothing to please a connoisseur. Not much by way of wildlife, not bees nor many flowers in verges and at the edge of fields. It is as if someone had laid out the fields and knocked off before they put in the interesting bits.

1304 Rust and a funny old building at approach to Chilton Cantelo

Chilton Cantelo 1315. (sound of children’s/young people’s voices on audio) Streets as deserted as the fields had been. Organised churchyard with some newish graves as well as the old ones, some of which have been moved and lined up, I would say. There’s a game of football or rugby going on because there’s a school here. Voices coming over the high walls of the school speak of enclosed life. Accompaniment to my lunch.

1318 Lunch in Chilton Cantelo churchyard

Here in the churchyard no sound of helicopters from Yeovilton. Birds of course; it’s spring. And a rumble, maybe air conditioning or extractors from the kitchens of the school. A couple of people who by their dress work there came in for a smoke and a chat. The ravenous hordes been fed? The seat I have nabbed for my lunch is probably where they usually sit, but they give no hint of being proprietorial about it.

Chilton means the young nobleman’s settlement, but the small village with the private school at its heart does not seem to me to reek of the privilege of nobility. Discretion would be more the word.

1357. Off again at a couple of minutes to 2. Classy rusty latch on the churchyard gate

A pretty, chestnut-coloured dog shows no discretion at all as I make my way south towards the Yeo again. He greets me like a long lost chum, and he and I make a great fuss of each other, but he can not tell me his breed any more than he can his name.

1411 Ashington Bridge (FB) over the Yeo. Ashington Bridge does not disappoint. How will you cross the River Yeo? a friend had asked me, assuming rightly that I would avoid metalled roads wherever I could. There seemed only one place – marked fb on the map – and I hoped it would be interesting. Better than that, it pleases me, the iron arch and level footway a shrunken Victorian(?) masterpiece. A wooden gate at each end – for the restraint of beasts I know – gives the crossing an air of privacy. No trolls preventing passage, but I feel I should be paying a small toll. A penny for the convenience?

1430. On Ashington Lane having bypassed Ashington itself by a shortcut, except it wasn’t because they had planted the whole damn field right across my path and I had to go round. Anyway, going south on Ashington Lane. Very quiet. Only spoken to 3, 4 people and all I said is hullo.

It’s all road from here – country lanes, the infrastructure of farming.

1500. Mudford Sock at 3 o’clock. I can’t see what it is. Just a bit of a holloway leading to some fields and I don’t have any idea what it is and there’s no-one here to ask.

At last a villager. She tells me that Mudford is a contraction of muddy ford, but the Sock she did not know. I guess soak. (Later found soc is an old word for soak or quagmire.) Is this the wettest place name in England?

1536 Yeovil Marsh. No marsh apparent now, but a pretty thatched cottage and a string of houses for Westland helicopter execs and the retired. I imagine.

1558. Vagg Copse, the given end of my walk. Perhaps I should have arranged to be airlifted out from here, though the choppers at Yeovilton were now so distant as to be lost among the birdsong.

When we were lads a farmer had intimated that a clump of trees with a pond was ours to do with as we pleased. We made dens and devised bombs with lead pipe, readily available in those days before terrorists cornered the market. It was our wood.

Something dark leaps from my path and runs through a barbed wire fence into the trees. Not a rabbit, too dark for a fox. A cat I bet, but from the size of it not one that you would call Tiddles or Fluffy. Killer, perhaps, or Claws.

Vagg is a proper copse, a few acres of coppiced trees rising to around 300ft. Lovely light through the trees. A fine view at last too, over the landscape I had walked through below that sky I had enjoyed all day.

I preferred Vagg to Urgashay.

Then the ground gave way under my feet, and I fell backwards into a stream crossing the path. No harm done.

1615. Leaving Vagg Copse

1627 By the Carpenter’s Arms, Chilthorne Domer (not open until 1900). Waiting for Jane.


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