Barn 2: Steam powered Quantocks

It was a gorgeous morning. Sheep were calling in the field next door and there was a low mist in the dip in the field. The sun had just risen, and while the Barn was sheltered by the farmhouse, the fields opposite were golden with the early sunshine.

Rufus and I decided to make our way up to the hills above Crowcombe. The Quantocks run in a line roughly north-south towards the sea. On top, it reminded me a bit of Rhossili Down, with heather and low gorse separated by rough tracks where sheep have wandered over the years.

We reached Hurley Beacon, the site of one of many Bronze Age burial cairns built on the western edge of the hills. From here there was a fantastic view through almost 360 degrees. To the north was Aberthaw power station on the Welsh coast and almost opposite it, nearer me, Hinkley ‘C’ nuclear power station. In between were Flathom and Steepholm islands. To the west was the valley that leads down to Watchet.

Back at the Barn, we paused briefly before heading off to Crowcombe Heathfield railway station, just down the road. There we caught the 10.40am steam train to Minehead. I saw this train several years ago when I was at Blue Anchor chasing pill boxes. Today we steamed along the West Somerset Railway through Stogumber, Williton and all stations to Blue Anchor. There I saw a couple of pill boxes close up and several more well concealed inland of the beach. Blue Anchor beach was considered a threat for invasion during the war and a significant defensive system was built based on the railway line and inland.

Minehead was the final stop and we walked along the platform, past the temporary CAMRA bar and its customers and across the road to the beach. It was closed to dogs, which meant that we couldn’t have our planned picnic as we couldn’t find the parts of the beach we thought might be open. Instead, we walked along the promenade towards the breakwater and sat there for sausage and chips. Oscar and I went off to explore the breakwater and we ended up by three large ships cannons.

Heading back to the station, we were treated to a jazz band playing upbeat songs to entertain the CAMRA customers, supping their real ale. We watched the crew stoking the boiler to get steam up for  the journey back. It seemed quicker on the way home and we were back in the Barn in no time.

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Flora’s Barn 1

Travelling on a Saturday is always to be feared, Shoppers, holiday makers, caravans, people who don’t normally drive on motorways. But for some reason, the roads were clear today.

In what seemed like no time (maybe it wasn’t, maybe time travel is possible) we reached the bridge and after that, apart from a few minutes joining the  M5, the roads were relatively clear. Caravans miraculously stayed in the inside lane, as did the lorries. Everyone else seemed sensible. Continuing the tine travel theme, we arrived at Flora’s Barn before we left home. (Paradox – discuss).

Rufus is with us and it his his mission in life to escape from any confines we impose. The garden of the barn was his latest challenge and he rose to the occasion admirably. Despite seeking and finding his escape route, I was unable to block it sufficiently well to prevent him from getting out – the last time by crawling on his belly under a low wooden beam before leaping from the top of a wall to almost bump his chin on landing.

It’s later now and I’ve just finished a pizza. It’s about time to enjoy the scones and cream that our landlord left us. The sky is dark outside, and the milky way is clear to see even with the naked eye. I think some photography is in order later.

The Milky Way

The Milky Way


I trawled the dark streets, looking for my fix. I was getting desperate. How would I get through tomorrow if I didn’t get it today?

Diesel, of course. I spent an hour on Wednesday trying to find a garage without a huge queue  and then panic bought a tank full of diesel. But since we were travelling up to York the following morning, I think I was justified.

We were fortunate that the traffic was very light on the motorways. The only slight delay was due to a wide load on the M5. We managed to reach the hotel, just north of York, despite my wrong turns, in a little under 6 hours.

After a quick freshen up, we headed in to York and the Minster. Its the 2nd largest gothic minster in Europe and in the afternoon sun the yellow stone almost glowed. We decided to climb to the top of the Central Tower despite the warnings of the 275 steep and narrow steps. It was hard going but the view at the top was worth it. It reminded me a bit of the view from the Hallgrimkirkja in Iceland, but York was much more compact, with the buildings of the old town crammed within the city walls. Only when you looked beyond the walls did you see buildingd with more space, larger gardens and wider streets.

The minster itself was huge and impressive but it seemed to have less character that Bath and Wells, probably because there were no old memorials or inscribed flagstones. The stained glass windows were more intricate and impressive, though.

We went in search of The Shambles, a street almost as old as York itself. It was once a street of butchers and slaughter houses and the shambles was the waste product of this business, which used to run down the lane. Today, the buildings are old and have suffered through time. Wooden frames sag, foundations sink and straight lines are non existant. The shops there today were modern, but their ceilings were low and each of the three storeys leaned in and overhung the lane, giving it a claustrophobic feel.

From the Shambles, we went in search of food and decided to eat at the Guy Fawkes pub. The claim was that Guy himself was born here. The place was very atmospheric and had bucket loads of character. The restaurant had dark wood panelling and candles on every table. The food was absolutely delicious and we both ate too much as a result.

Then it was time to find the ghost walk. We had seen several on our walk through the streets but the one that caught our attention was The Ghost Hunt of York, starting at the bottom of The Shambles.

From the moment our host, Mr Richard Rigor Mortis, appeared we knew it wa going to be good. He was dressed like a Victorian gentleman in top hat, bow tie and long coat. He gathered us all together with had gestures and then led us back up The Shambles at a slow, deliberate pace, all the time ringing a solemn bell. We met a second group at the tope of the lane and then we were off.

For the next hour or so we were enteretained, teased and scared by our host as we went from haunting to haunting. We learnt of the little girl who fell down the stairwell at her house, the child plague victime who waslocked in her bedroom and abandoned by her parents, the headmaster who murdered all his pupils and the ghost Roman legion. At one point, in front of an Italian restaurant, we pretended to be listening to a story until the diners were watching, at which point we stared at them, waved and approached the window before making faces at them. It was hilarious.

By the end of the hunt, we were both geting tired and so it was a short wak back to the car and a short drive back to the hotel, and bed.

The next blog is about Friday in Whitby.

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