Taking a Walk
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.