Seven miles to the north of Yeovil, lies the unusually-named village of Queen Camel. While it sits on the main A359 road, this thoroughfare dog-legs through the village, so it avoids the speeding traffic of which Othery is a victim.
The name derives from the old English word cam, meaning ‘bare rim of hills’, a word shared by the river that runs through the village. The manor of Camel was given to the crown in the late 13th century, and the name was changed to Camel Regis (“King’s Camel”). Edward I gave the area to his wife, Eleanor, and so the name Queen Camel was born.
One of the highlights of the village is Church Path, a cobbled road that leads from the centre of Queen Camel to St Barnabas’ Church.
The church itself dates from the 1300s, and, despite the main road, is surrounded by a quiet churchyard and allotments. Additional architectural elements – including an imposing porch on the south side – were added in the 19th century, as part of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.
The churchyard includes a gravestone to Seaman Donald Burgess, who died in the Great War, aged just 17 years old.
Details of his life can be found on the CKPonderingsCWG site, which is dedicated to those who lost their lives as a result of that conflict.
The houses in the village are all local stone, and while some are from the early 2000s, they fit in almost seamlessly with the old structures around them.
The Mildmay Arms is the village pub; again, it is reminiscent of a coaching inn, and was likely used as such at some point in its history.
Queen Camel has an undoubted village feel; with a population of less than 1000 people, there is a definite sense of community here.
A former bus stop – standing outside the Memorial Hall – now houses a mural dedicated to the village’s history, as well as a book swap station.
There is a lane in Queen Camel that is dedicated to a Grace Martin; I have not been able to find out much about her. There is someone by that name – the daughter of John and Judith Martin – baptised in St Barnabas’ Church in July 1744. Beyond that she remains a mystery.
Despite its location, Queen Camel is a peaceful place to visit; a lovely addition to the Somerset A to Z.
Continue up the A361 for 16 miles from Othery and you reach the surprising village of Pilton. I have driven through the village countless times over the years, and there is so much more to it than what is visible from the main road.
Situated on the top of a hill to the east on Glastonbury, the village once overlooked an inland sea that stretched to the present day Bristol Channel. This lead to the village’s original name, Pooltown, because ships were able to navigate this far inland.
The houses in the village are old, from local stone, and really fit in with the country feel. Despite the main road, laden with juggernauts, being close by, the majority of the village is in a sheltered valley, and within a matter of metres away from the A361, it can barely be heard.
The local church is St John the Baptist, which is on the north side of the valley, has a commanding view across all Pilton. Once again, the Church’s dominance is in plain sight, and it can be seen on the skyline from most of the houses.
In the churchyard is a memorial, a grave to Sapper Percy Wright Rodgers, who fell in the First World War. More information on this young man’s life can be found on the CKPonderingsCWG blog, along with more stories of the fallen of the Great War.
To the south of the village, a tithe barn stands alone and proud. Once belonging to Glastonbury Abbey, the barn once stored local farmers’ produce, of which they gave the Abbey – the landowner – one tenth.
The barn is now a Grade 1 listed building.
In the barn’s grounds is a monument to the Land Armies of both world wars; a bench in a quiet corner of an already quiet corner of the village is perfect for contemplation.
When I first made my intention of moving to Somerset known to friend, family and colleagues, the general first reaction was usually related to the annual music festival. My stock response to this was ‘no’, and, if the mood was right, this was usually followed up by the fact that the Glastonbury Festival does not actually take place in the town of the same name.
Worthy Farm, the location of the festival, is situated just to the south of Pilton, six miles from Glastonbury. It was only called Glastonbury Festival because that was the nearest town people had heard of.
If you get the chance to make a quick pitstop from your journey to the south west, Pilton is definitely worth a visit. A genuine gem of a village, hidden in plain sight, it is also a good start and end point for a wander across the Levels or over the hilltops to Shepton Mallet.
As history moves on, it seems there were two main routes for villages to take. As we have seen, the first is to thrive, then to settle quietly into the background and become a quintessential English village, as with Haselbury Plucknett and Milverton (see previous posts).
The second option is not as positive, and this has been the route taken by the next village on our Somerset journey, Othery.
Sitting on the crossroads of the main roads between Bridgewater and Langport, Glastonbury/Street and Taunton, Othery once thrived as a stopping off point on the long journeys across sometimes threatening terrain.
The Other Island sits 82ft (20m) above the surrounding moorland of the River Parrett, and so proved a good resting point for horses, carriages and passengers alike. For a population of around 500 people, this was once a bustling place, boasting three pubs, a post office, village store and bakery.
Sadly, the village has not thrived, and is nowadays more of a cut through, one of those places you see the road sign for, before slowing to 30mph and impatiently waiting for the national speed limit sign to come into view.
The buildings on the main road seem a little tired, once white frontages sullied by the dirt and grime of passing juggernauts. The signs outside the one remaining public house – the London Inn – almost beg you to stop, whether for a Sunday carvery or to watch weekend football matches on the huge TV screens.
(I admit the scaffolding does little to show the pub in its best light.)
But the fact of the matter is that, where once it would have had regular bookings, you can’t help feeling that this is very much a locals’ pub, whose inhabitants have set places at the bar and engraved tankards.
One glimmer of hope is that the the bakery seems to attract a lot of support. Again, it was closed when I stopped off here late one afternoon, but whenever I have driven through Othery before, there has tended to be a queue of people outside, and this gives a hint at a sense of community that the commuter doesn’t get to see.
The community sense continues with the school sign too; a typical redbrick Victorian building enticing children in. Another sign of things changing is that, where this was once Othery Village School, it has now merged with neighbouring Middlezoy; families move out of the smaller villages, school numbers drop, changes take place to help support struggling services.
Move away from the main road, though, and you can see tantalising hints of what Othery once was, and probably still would be, had its position on the crossroads not been the main function of its existence.
North Lane is a much quieter affair than the main road. In between the mid-20th Century houses sit more stately structures, hidden behind high walls to shelter them from passing traffic.
St Michael’s Church stands proud above the village, helping direct the wayward and lost to a better life. You get the feeling, however, that locals stay behind their high walls more than they used to, something sadly echoed across rural Britain more than one might care to admit.
I am painting a pretty bleak picture, I know, but, while not deliberately doing the village down, this is the sense you get when exploring a place like Othery.
Where villages like North Curry once had glory, they were fortunate in their locale. Those villages that lie too short a distance from neighbouring towns have struggled in recent years, and Othery is not an exception.
Using the same stretch of road between Street and Taunton as an example, places like Walton, Greinton, Greylake, East Lyng, West Lyng and Durston have also struggled over the years.
Villages with a distinct pull, a unique selling point, like Burrowbridge on the same stretch of road, do survive, but for others it has been a struggle.
Additional housing projects have tried to rejuvenate them, but without the infrastructure to support them, the villages still die or get swallowed up by those neighbouring towns.
The unusual Somerset names continue as we head to the village of North Curry. Nothing to do with spicy food, the name is thought to derive from the Saxon or Celtic word for ‘stream’. There are a number of similarly named villages along this ridge to the east of Taunton – Curry Rivel, Curry Mallet and East Curry – but it is the North Curry that I found myself visiting.
Like Milverton, North Curry is a place that seems to have pretentions above its station. With a population of more than 1600 people, it is almost a town, but most of its wealth derives from its historic location – a dry ridge above water-logged marshes proved an ideal location for settlement from Roman times onwards.
The wealth is reflected in the number of large houses, particularly around the central green – Queen Square – and North Curry appears gentrified by Georgians and Victorians alike.
This sense of self importance is continued towards the north of the village, where the church – St Peter and St Paul’s – appears far larger than a place of North Curry’s size should accommodate. This is particularly the case, given that it is built on a ridge overlooking Haymoor and the River Tone – this is a building that was meant to be seen from afar and admired.
The central square is where the hub of life was focused. Sadly, the village’s post office/store and pub are all that remain of the old hustle and bustle. North Curry’s former wealth still remains on show, however, with a large memorial to Queen Victoria, an ornate War Memorial and a walled village garden being the focal points for today’s visitors.
While the wealth brought by through travellers may have long since departed, this is by no means a washed-up place. North Curry may be slightly off the beaten track, but it is still worth a wander around and there is plenty of opportunity to admire views and contemplate the wonder of the architecture.
Five miles to the west of Taunton lies the pretty village of Milverton. With a population of nearly 1500 people, it feels like more of a town, and the size and architecture of the houses hint at this being a bustling and rich place.
As with much of Somerset, the key trade was cloth, and a silk throwing factory was set up in the village at the beginning of the 19th century, eventually employing more than 300 people.
One of Milverton’s notable residents was Thomas Young (1773–1829). He is a man who had fingers in many pies, counting a scientific understanding of vision, light, solid mechanics, energy, physiology amongst his specialisms. He is probable more notable for his interest in Egyptology, and helped translate the Rosetta Stone.
The parish church is the Church of St Michael and All Angels, set in a quite location, and raised above the surrounding houses. It is a peaceful and tranquil location, perfect for reflection and contemplation.
A number of Commonwealth War Graves lie in the graveyard, which I’ll expand on in coming posts.
For a town of its size, Milverton has the amenities you would expect; there is another church – a Wesleyan Chapel built in 1850 – a school and a lone remaining public house, The Globe. Shops are minimal, as is transport – the village’s station was another of those that feel during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.
One surprise, however, is the village’s High Street. Doing away with what we nowadays expect, there are no shops or conveniences on it; it is literally a high street, leading up a hill away from the church.
One thing I have found, as I reach the halfway point of my alphabetical journey around Somerset is that, while generally the same, all of the places I have visited have their distinct personalities.
Milverton has just that. It is a large village, the result of its previous industrial heritage, but has slipped back to become a sleepy locale, and is all the better for it.
In the depths of western Somerset, along country roads your SatNav smirks at taking you down, lies the pretty village of Lydeard St Lawrence.
The origins of the name is shrouded in a bit of mystery, but Lydeard may translate as “grey ridge”, while St Lawrence is the saint to whom the local church is dedicated. (It is likely that St Lawrence was added to the villae name, to distinguish it from the village of Bishop’s Lydeard, just four miles down the road.)
The village has a population of 500 people, and it is very easy to find yourself in open countryside within minutes of walking from the village centre.
The Church of St Lawrence is at the top end of the village and, as with may similar religious locations, is a calm and peaceful place to stop and rest.
A plaque on the gate into the churchyard pays tribute to Lance Corporal Alan Kennington, who was serving in Northern Ireland in 1973 when he was shot and killed while on foot patrol on the Crumlin Road, Belfast. He was just 20 years old.
The church also forms the last resting place for a number of other local men who passed away in the Great War – I’ll expand on these in later posts.
Lydeard St Lawrence, is certainly a peaceful village – on its own in the depths of the Somerset countryside and sheltered by the hills it is named after, it is somewhere to get away from it all. There are no immediate amenities – the post office has been closed long enough for the building to be converted into a house – but a village hall and school are there to support the community in all things secular.
Note: What could be more random than eight inflatable unicorns sat in someone’s front garden? I walk down this road regularly and they certainly weren’t there on previous occasions — that’s the kind of thing I’d notice!
Name: Droning Speck
Note: In the end, are we not all going round in circles? The blue of the sign against the blue of the sky really caught my eye, but something wasn’t quite right. It all seemed a little random…
Location: Shapwick Heath, Somerset
Note: The bug had caught my eye, glistening brightly against the yellow irises. One of the things I love about mt photography technique (trigger-happy, drive-by snapping) is that I don’t always know what the result is going to be. It was only when I looked at the image on the computer that I appreciated it was two bugs, rather than one! (Yes, they’re cuddling to keep warm… It was a misty morning…)
Name: Doctor Ken, Gin Sop
Note: The random thing for this photo is that I have been called upon to do the ironing!
Name: Cap Does Craft
Location: Gallery Floor – South Yorkshire
Note: Random was called for and and random this is! The speckled tiles, straight lines, wavy shadows, reflections and rainbow were taken pre-pandemic but work with the theme. The rainbow was created by sunlight refracting through the edge of a glass door (and the handles to the door can just be seen in the reflection next to the rainbow). Whether the different aspects of this image come together to make a pleasing whole is perhaps for you to decide?
Location: South West Sheffield (Taken during lockdown while on daily exercise)
Note: This photograph is of hay bales wrapped in plastic to produce silage, ready to be used as winter feed for livestock. Most often we see these bales on farms dressed in black plastic and I liked that these are pink and green, which in itself seemed unusual. I also liked the random nature the various components in the composition. Brambles with their incredible daily growth are gradually attempting to reclaim the area for themselves and the bales arranged seemingly without too much order. In a different setting this might be considered a work of art!
Name: Cooking-Post Nerd
Note: It’ funny what you can find wandering the local streets during your daily exercise. I mean, what could be more random than Bear’s Curious Quest?!