Tak­ing a Walk

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Pa­trick Barkham

Sea­sons are some­times marked by cer­tain walks and the peo­ple we walk them with. Any stroll in spring al­ways takes me back to when I scur­ried along be­side my Granny through the mead­ows of North Curry.

This pretty, quintessen­tially English vil­lage sits on a low penin­sula of high ground, reach­ing into the Som­er­set Lev­els. It’s a lovely piece of coun­try­side which of­fers two land­scapes in one: a gen­tly rolling patch­work of bu­colic farms and the un­com­pro­mis­ingly flat and flood-prone Lev­els.

My first eigh­teen Easter hol­i­days were spent here, vis­it­ing my Granny, mind­ing my man­ners, play­ing cards and head­ing out for walks with her and her ge­nial black Labrador, Ogre. I can still see Granny in her yel­low anorak, shoul­ders slightly hunched from os­teo­poro­sis but a brisk walker, al­ways cheer­fully wav­ing to var­i­ous re­tired com­man­ders who then lived in the row of im­plau­si­bly pretty cot­tages that led to the church. Th­ese walks are not rose-tinted but coloured in the bright yel­low and lime green of April but­ter­cups, vivid wil­low sprouts, newly minted ch­est­nut leaves, and daf­fodils, as sunny as Granny seemed to me.

Shortly be­fore I came into be­ing in the mid-1970s, Dutch elm dis­ease struck the Som­er­set coun­try­side. To older lo­cals, the hedges shorn of grand trees must have looked bereft. To me, how­ever, this in­ti­mate land of tiny dairy farms was still mag­i­cal com­pared with the bleak arable prairies of my Nor­folk home­land.

Be­neath the caw­ing of nest-build­ing rooks and through the swing­ing church gate we went, and round the side of the church of St Peter and St Paul. Be­yond, dry land plunges to meet wet moor, drained by the straight ditches called rhynes. Th­ese were hid­den worlds, full of ex­cite­ment. One bore such a per­fect lawn of duck­weed that our dog mis­took it for grass and dis­ap­peared with a shock into chilly black wa­ter. Granny’s Ogre, how­ever, loved the wa­ter, ram­pag­ing in and out in jolly pur­suit of sticks and the oc­ca­sional mal­lard.

We would walk along the river­bank up­stream then cut through an old or­chard to join a lane that climbed into dry fields again, be­tween pun­gent cows and bustling dairy farms that would seem pre­pos­ter­ously minia­ture in scale today. Then we would fol­low the high ridge back to the church or up to Great Aunt Jen’s cot­tage for tea and Easter egg hunts.

Later on, th­ese strolls be­came think­ing walks while I crammed for my GCSES. North Curry in spring was eter­nally young but Granny stooped more, and walked more slowly now. We still played cards but she didn’t win and she laughed off her for­get­ful­ness. I was be­gin­ning to learn that her cheer­ful­ness hid all kinds of anx­i­eties and emo­tions.

When I was a stu­dent, Granny died, which en­cased my child­hood springs for­ever in a box marked North Curry. I can never es­cape th­ese as­so­ci­a­tions but nor do I want to.

It’s still a beau­ti­ful place, even though some of the small farms have died too. You can see North Curry’s church across the moor just be­fore the Pen­zance train slows for Taun­ton, and I pay my si­lent re­spects when­ever I flash past. From the train win­dow, I find my­self scour­ing the river­bank, half-ex­pect­ing to see a cheer­ful yel­low anorak and jolly black dog bound­ing through the land­scape.

*North Curry, Som­er­set, Lan­dranger 193. Start in North Curry vil­lage cen­tre grid ref­er­ence ST319253. Fol­low foot­path through church­yard, turn­ing left onto foot­path at ST321257 north over Hay Moor. Head west along banks of the River Tone, turn­ing south to leave river at Hay­moor End, through Lower Knapp, tak­ing foot­path at ST304257 through fields back to North Curry.

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