Tuesday 20 August North Petherton to Long Sutton

Miles walked: today 17.9 cumulative 318.6

Another long day, crossing the Somerset Levels. You have probably heard of the levels in the News as they have been the site of severe flooding twice this decade.

The area was underwater until 4500 BC when peat deposits were laid down. This has produced land that is extremely fertile and prehistoric people built wooden trackways across the bog. Some believe that because animals could only graze here in the summer the people were known as “Sumersata” from which “Somerset” was derived. Otters are meant to thrive here. Needless to say, I didn’t see any.

King Alfred lived in the levels when he fled from the Vikings (Aledgedly, he burnt the cakes here). The 9th century Alfred Jewel was discovered in North Pemberton. It now resides in the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. Incidentally, it was the inspiration for the Wolvercote tongue in the Inspector Morse novel. I thought there was a facsimile in The church in North Petherton but I was unable to find it. The church is rather grand though

I crossed the M5 and the Birmingham to Cornwall railway. I don’t know where the geographical boundary of the South West peninsula is, but psychologically I felt I was now in central England. I descended to the levels, walking through a 200 acre cider apple farm. Apart from climbing Barrow Mump and the hills into Langport and Long Sutton the walk was absolutely flat, my altimeter recording 0 feet of ascent. The whole day was spent about 20metres above sea level, which is why the area is so prone to flooding.

I followed the river Parrett for most of the day. This has high flood defence banks which have clearly been raised recently. The landscape reminded me of the Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire fens with raised river banks and deep ditches between fields and at the roadsides.

There are a lot of man made drains and rhynes (the local name for ditches) to try to prevent flooding. Pumps were introduced in the 19th century and I passed an old one on the Parrett.

About six miles from North Petherton there is a natural hill, Burrow Mump. This was a Saxon look out post and then a Norman motte castle. There were then churches on the top of the hill. The current ruin is of an unfinished church datingfrom the 18th Century.

The views from the top are extensive. The above image looks north over Sedgemoor where the eponymous battle was fought in 1685. This was the last pitched battle on English soil. The Duke of Monmouth tried to seize the crown from James II. Monmouth’s army was poorly trained and were routed by the better equipped Royalists and over 1600 rebels were killed.

The walk continued between the Parrett and the man- made Sowey river, completed in 1972. On the horizon I could see the Pynsent monument built by Pitt the Elder. Pynsent was a local landowner who left Pitt his estate in thanks to the Prime Minister opposition to a cider tax. Boris, if you abolish the tax on wine I will leave you my house.

I then entered Langport. In medieval times the Parrett was navigable to here and it was an important market town and a centre for cloth making. In 1645 the battle of Langport was fought and Parliamentary victory was all but assured (the Royalists claimed offside but there was no VAR).

Then a navigation disaster (one of many I hear you say) I couldn’t find the path on the North side of the river. “Never mind” I said ” I will cross the river at Pibsbury.” The bridge was blocked by a large gate with spikes on top. This meant a 2 mile detour to the next bridge.

However,as I was walking along, a kingfisher swooped along the river for a short distance. I have never seen one before and it was spectacular.

I was very tired when I arrived at the Devonshire Arms at Long Sutton so no log writing but delicious food (guinea fowl in a cep sauce, no slumming it on this trip) and an early night