by Hannah McLeod
The Somerset Levels. An area of outstanding natural beauty, like a vast antique oil painting. And like such a painting it’s faded, dull and mainly visited by old people.
For those who have better things to do that go there, here’s a brief overview: it’s flat, it’s damp, it floods whenever it rains (which, let’s face it is most of the time) and unless you particularly like swallows and puddles there’s really not much to see.
To me it’s simply mind boggling that such a dreary place can be visited by so many.
In Stratford, William Shakespeare wrote his world-famous plays; Waterloo is the site of the famous battle between the French and the English; London has Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London, Big Ben; the Levels are home to the best preserved 16th Century toilet in Europe. Enough said.
In the Levels, a constant, faint whiff of manure hangs in the air, intensified whenever one of the nearly countless farmers drags out his muck spreader form its rusty shed. The eerie silence is only broken by birdsong, the whistle of the wind, and the occasional splutter and grunt of a tractor as it squeezes its huge bulk through the impossibly narrow and winding “roads” which often resemble little more than overgrown garden paths in size (driving along them can be a terrifying experience, as when you creep down these treacherous lanes at barely more than a walking pace, you know that if another car appears from around a bend the only way to go is down, into a ditch or a hedge). Similarly, the occasional splutter and grunt of a local farmer can often be heard. It’s as if the local dialect has been modelled on the various sounds emitted by combine harvesters. This way of speaking renders grockels (or tourists) utterly befuddled if they happen to stumble across a local and attempt to make conversation.
Despite this, it has to be said that it is an extremely beautiful area. It’s inspired countless painters and even potters with its wide and often breathtaking landscapes, picturesque cottages and sweeping rivers. On top of that, when the ground is so full of water that the fields fill up, the levels are transformed into a shimmering, watery paradise. Even the slightest trickle of sunlight is dappled all over the vast sheets of water. It is quite simply beautiful.
However, no matter how stunning they are,the floods are far from practical. The Levels are ludicrously far from anywhere as it is, the nearest town being Langport; a sleepy, small, somewhat run-down place which has a bus to other – more substantial towns every two hours. It takes considerably longer to get anywhere when the tracks are metres deep in floodwater. Funnily enough, this never seems to occur to the unsuspecting prospective inhabitants of the Levels.
Perhaps it’s for this reason that so many people decide to settle there. They simply don’t know what they’re getting themselves in to.
Either that, or they’re particularly fond of the smell of manure.