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Somerset follies

Even we, who have spent nearly all the last four weeks tearing apart the very house we live in, eventually decided we needed something of a break, or at least a change of scenery. Holidays, of course, are normally only the privilege of the working population; we retireds no longer qualify. But a morning out on our bikes, exploring Somerset lanes barely wide enough for a car and a bike to pass definitely felt like a holiday after all our time spent around the home.

Whilst browsing on the Internet for maps showing things of interest around Yeovil we had spotted a couple of NCNs nearby, numbers 26 and 30, running just to the south of the town. National Cycle Network routes are the motorways of the cycling world. Just as motorways serve to isolate legitimate from prohibited traffic, so the NCN routes seek, whenever possible, to isolate (or protect) the cyclist from motorised traffic. Sometimes a route has no choice but to follow a road and a common solution is to paint a lane for cyclists on the tarmac itself. Rather safer is where a separate pathway is built alongside or away from the road but from a cyclist’s perspective the very best solution is for an NCN route to follow a country lane which carries no significant motorised traffic at all so that a cyclist can use the whole road in safety. And squeezing their way through the Somerset countryside there are some amazing examples of this rarity, some sunken deeply into the bedrock centuries ago and barely wide enough for a horse and cart. The deep and dank sandstone walls flash past us as we ride along carefree and happy. Most car drivers would not venture here for there is no room for a car to pass another and the stone sides are unforgiving. But there is just room for two bikes to pass.

We are heading towards Barwick Park Hall and a local landmark known as ‘Jack-the-Treacle-Eater’.Jack the treacle eater This is a folly, a structure with no purpose other than to please the owner who had it constructed, and one of four built on the estate at each primary compass point back in the 17th century. The statue on top is of the winged messenger, Mercury, and the story goes that the little room beneath it was once the home of the man employed by the lord of the manor, a man whose job it was to run with the mail to London. MercurySo Jack was the postman. And the treacle? Well, this is what he sustained himself with en route, or so the story goes.

Then, as we stare at the arch we realise that we are looking at a familiar shape, one that just a few months ago was all around us. It is the unsupported stone arch, of course. In the Italian village of Torri, and indeed in much of that country, such structures are all around, over doorways, supporting whole ceilings and often tiered one above another in a way that challenges one’s notion of stability. The design, apparently first developed by the Romans, is clearly immensely stable with a key stone right at the centre of the arch locking the whole thing together. Unlike this English folly. in Italy many of the arches are constructed without use of mortar, just stones placed together over a timber former which is then removed to leave the stones hanging suspended on their own.

Back home again and on with the wallpaper stripping. Andy CappAh, but who is this strange fellow hiding beneath the kitchen wallpaper and caught having a quick smoke? All in glorious colour too – well, red and blue crayon. Could there be some connection between this large-nosed man and Deb who was so cruelly libelled in our hallway? Once again we may never know the artist whose work we have revealed and sadly this masterpiece is doomed – the wall upon which he is drawn is soon due to be demolished. Currently it separates our kitchen and living room, an area we want to make into one. We have builders with big sledge hammers lined up and plans prepared by a structural engineer who has specified the strength of the beam needed to support the ceiling and wall above. Any day now they will begin work and this single change will transform our house giving us a large downstairs living space. The house is oriented east-west so that morning sun pours in through the rear windows while at the front we get the best sunsets Somerset can offer. We can’t wait for the day when the dust has settled and the sun can shine right through at last, from dawn till dusk.

Home sweet home

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