Monday, 27 February 2017

News from the hill

There have been dramatic happenings up on the hill over the last couple of weeks. Yellow plastic signs appeare warning of forestry operations, and these were followed by enormous tractors with shovels and suchlike on the front. Every few years, men and machines come and clear away the brambles and bracken which constantly seek to smother the whole hill - but in thirty years I've never seen them do as thorough a job as they have done this time. They've pretty much rearranged the landscape. In the picture above, the golden-brown areas are where just one small area of scrub has been destroyed.

It was all a bit worrying - where were they going to stop? How much was going to be destroyed? Well, a good deal. But I think it was necessary. They've opened up new clearings and vistas and created shapely little copses. I guess it's like gardening, only on a much bigger scale; you prune a bush, and it feels like a massacre, but then it goes back better and healthier. It's not natural, but then very little of the British landscape is - it's all managed, and has been for thousands for years.

I have just two quibbles. There was a lovely little clearing with limestone outcrops which were perfect to sit on and gaze across the valley towards Nyland and Glastonbury. It's on quite a steep slope, and I think the tractor must have got stuck so that the wheels spun round and gouged out great clods of earth and stone - it's a mess. I don't know what it was doing there; there was nothing that needed clearing and the path was nowhere near wide or level enough for any kind of vehicle. Every time I walk through there up with Ness, I spend a bit of time tidying it up, making it better, clod by clod, stone by stone - I feel like Tom Bombadil, only without the songs.

The other worry is an area on the edge of a copse where there used to be a very large and very old badger sett. That's flattened now. But the other day when I went past, I spotted two holes that I hadn't noticed since the work was done - and so I'm hoping that the badgers survived and are reclaiming their home. We'll see.

This curved remnant of stone is all that's left of the Roundhouse, which is also what local people call the hill, whose official name is, I think, the Perch. An old-timer once told me that in his younger days he used to be a beater for the local hunt, and the Roundhouse was where the hunters used to gather to have their picnic. They chose a good spot - there are marvellous views across the valley from here. Now, it's another good place to sit and contemplate the rather sorry state of the world, or its beauty, depending how you're feeling. Its crannies host lots of small ferns, mosses and other plants. The brambles were creeping closer and closer to the Roundhouse - I'm glad they've been cut back.

The gorse is out and bright at the moment. Another old-timer, long gone now, once told me there was a saying: "When gorse is out of season, kissing's out of fashion."

Once before when they cleared the brambles and bracken, a few months later a gorgeous patch of pale blue harebells appeared. They grow freely on most hills - in the Peak District, in North Wales - but you rarely see them on the Mendips round here: I don't know why. They only appeared the once. So I'm hoping that will be another bonus from the clearance.


  1. What a lovely post to read! Thanks for the brightness on the hill, Sue.

  2. Good to have a glimpse of the countryside emerging from the(worldwide) gloom Jan