I was lucky enough as to 'win' two nights' stay in a wonderful Shepherd's Hut near the Somerset borders with Dorset and Devon. (When I say 'win', there was no skill involved - merely being in the right place at the right time.)
At Fordscroft Farm there are yurts, and also the four shepherd's huts, each with its own private garden leading down to the lake. The latter became both locus and focus for me of my time there – I was fascinated by the duckly dynamics and dramas, and very quickly learned the rhythms and habits of the wildfowl there, from which two different-sized ducklings 'belonged' to which hen mallard, and at what times of day each would spend time with her alone and at what time she'd take flight from the lake without them, to the different types of communication calls in the moorhen families.
There is nothing equivalent to being by water (although Dartmoor is a close second), for me. It's something to do with rehydrating the places that get 'dry' in the human psyche when we spend too much time in human environments and daily routines and structures, and in our thinking minds. We were only at the hut from Monday evening to Wednesday morning, but I spent most of that time, when we weren't walking or I wasn't writing, outside mesmerised by the water, the patterns of light, and the lake's inhabitants.
Our hut, 'Shepherd's Keep', was perhaps the most private of the four. It's beautiful. (It's also the newest, and smelled delightfully of wood. There are some good pics on the owners' website; URL below this piece.) The owners have thought of everything: although of course it's small inside, it still has a sense of spaciousness, and is light-filled. It's well-kitted-out, and the little touches of furnishings and adornments, and the bed built-in to have a view of the lake, along with the firepit outside and little shower room whose window opens onto the bluebell-coated slopes of the iconic Castle Hill (which must surely be an Iron Age fort) behind it make it also the perfect writer's retreat.
|Castle Hill from the lane leading back from the pub at Hinton St George|
At the bottom of the little garden the comfrey plants were heavy with bees. Thrusting between them you can see above the lush stems of horsetail, equisetum arvense. These plants, with their strange segmentations reminiscent of lizards' tails, fascinate me. They're the only remaining survivors of a plant line that can be traced back 300,000,000 years – yes, that's right. Originally their ancestors would have been as tall as trees; degraded, this species is responsible for many of the world's coal-seams. Medicinally, although they have a toxic element as well, they have traditionally been used for kidney and bladder problems. Being high in silica they have some application also in relation to arthritis, gout, joint problems generally, and calcium-deficiency-problems (to be used with expert supervision).
A highlight was our daylong walk through the sunny lanes, bluebell woods and footpaths of this part of Somerset. It's less (fewer) than 100 miles away from where we are, but the area around Crewkerne feels different, in a still-Wessex kind of way. The geology has shifted, and with it the psychogeography; where we're slate and granite with sandstone incursions, that part of Somerset is golden limestone, Hamstone, transmuting to the chalk and flint of the Wiltshire Downs a little further east. There's a continuity of unfoldment, though, the one landscape morphing into the next.
The landscape is wooded, but more open than South Devon; our hills are tightly-folded and the views happen only on the high ridges; in Somerset, the hills are larger and longer and there are distance vistas. Where we have tiny deep lush lanes and the fields are bordered with banks and hedges, they have more open space.
Everywhere the land is flowering now, in an exuberance of spring.
One day, when I write that bestseller, I'll book a month here for myself (it's not cheap, but then nothing about it is cheaply-done, from the hardwood worktops to the careful planting of shrubs in the garden to ensure privacy).
If you need a few days away, writing or simply being somewhere romantic with your beloved, see http://www.theshepherdshutretreat.co.uk/
Meantime, here's one of the seven poems that came out of those 36 fertile hours for me:
after Mancombe Wood
the deep rich notes of the blackbird in the ash
call rain but so far cloud and sun
have chased each other into dryness
we have walked and walked from the hut
with its high bed looking out
at the lake mallards moorhens
through woods and deep rides of beech and bluebell
on roads fuzzed with ploughdust this late spring
past Haunted House, toll cottage, Thoreau cabin
by a waterlily pond deep in rhododendron
and the great old golden hamstone manors
and have come to this shady bench
under the tall candles of horse chestnut flowers
gorgeous in their creamy whites and pinks
at the side of the little leat under its crumble of stone
by the Mill House (‘built by Wm Bellingham 1555’)
where we rest eat a late lunch
enjoy each other again
it could be this simple