Back where we belong
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Kit Chapman, author and proprietor of The Castle at Taunton, is our new columnist at Somerset Life. He will be taking up residence in our Last Word spot for a few months and will be imparting his wisdom - and opinions - about Somerset on us.
Kit is a well-known figure in our county and has his finger on the pulse when it comes to matters important to us all. Enjoy his column.
For over half a century, my weary heart has nursed a persistent ache about the sorry lot of our beautiful county. Somerset, for no reason other than one of geographical proximity, does not share the seductive force that continues to draw millions of visitors into Devon and Cornwall.
Come April and through the summer months, Somerset is reduced to a grey ribbon of tarmac - a convenient corridor for motor caravans, Range Rovers and Volvo Estates where harassed drivers suffer 40 minutes of tribulation on the M5 as they pour into the outer reaches of England’s south western peninsula. Meanwhile, Somerset is cast as Cinderella.
I am not alone in my frustration. The romantic poet Robert Southey got it right when, in 1807, he wrote:
Cornwall’s as ugly as can be:
Devonshire’s better certainly;
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But Somersetshire is the best of the
And Somersetshire is the country for me.
Southey’s love of Somerset was shared by his contemporaries, Wordsworth and Coleridge, who were inspired by the county’s Quantock hills. To this day, the magic of Somerset lies within its fabulously romantic landscapes.
Childhood memories are powerful triggers that linger forever in our imaginations. I still cherish vivid images of my late father taking me trekking over the Quantocks from Lydeard Hill to St Audrie’s Bay. Of picnicking on the banks of the River Barle near Tarr Steps in the heart of Exmoor. Of the ancient beechwoods on the Blackdowns. Of our ecclesiastical foundations at Glastonbury and Wells, which shaped this county. There’s so much more.
You can sense my passion! It’s infectious. And it’s spreading.
Last year a group of us, like-minded souls all, gathered together to debate the conundrum that is our county’s unsung charms. What binds our far-flung communities? How do we raise our profile? Why do we remain this great but undiscovered English county?
So it was that A Passion for Somerset was born (passionforsomerset.co.uk). Then, out of the blue, a post on Twitter from a complete stranger made us all sit up. Her name was Kathy and her tweet suggested that our county deserved an annual day of celebration to mark the wonder and beauty of Somerset with all its unique qualities and achievements. Here was our eureka moment!
We all agreed that the people of Somerset should be directly engaged with Somerset Day by offering three possible dates from which they would be able to choose a favourite and then vote in an online poll.
The proposed dates were: 11 May - relating to Alfred the Great’s mustering of ‘all the people of Somerset’ in his stand against the Danes in 878, 19 May – the Feast of St Dunstan who was born in Somerset in around 910, became Abbot of Glastonbury and was eventually made Archbishop of Canterbury. And finally, 6 July – marking the anniversary of the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685, the defeat of the Duke of Monmouth, pretender to the throne, and the last battle fought on English soil.
As I write these words, I do not know the outcome of the poll. But my vote’s for 11 May and King Alfred, Somerset’s great and heroic son. A moment, also, to forgive him for burning those cakes at Athelney!