On Tenerife, we’d step from our front door and walk through banana plantations to a trio of the best black sand beaches on the island, passing a guachinche (a makeshift restaurant unique to the north of Tenerife) on the way. In Portugal, we stepped straight into a cork forest which bordered a pasture populated by sheep with nervy egrets cadging rides on their backs. Our route followed a line of stone pines to end at dilapidated farm buildings colonised by storks. After those, I didn’t really have high expectations of the sort of paths we’d be able to access from our front door when we moved back to Britain.
After four months of living here, we’ve explored most of the public rights of way around us. If we turn left from the house, we pass the last house in the village in under 100m. After that it’s open countryside. If we turn right, it’s about 140m to the end of the eastern side of the village. Basically, there’s not far to walk in any direction before the green, pleasant, and gently rolling Sommerset hills fill the canvas before us.
What’s been a revelation is that whichever direction we head in, we enjoy a different waking experience.
Head east, and we pass a dappled duckpond to cross fields consisting of neat rows of blackcurrants. In the distance, the Quantock Hills provide a slightly wilder backdrop as we meander to the next village, Halse, with its friendly, community-owned pub.
Turn south, and grassy tracks between bushy hedgerows full of cow parsley descend to an old farm with a mill pond that would have Constable setting up his easel. From there, we climb through a small forest of silver birch and negotiate a rapeseed field that goes on forever before we veer west through a bluebell and wild garlic wood (in April/May) where the birdsong is enchanting – literally; the sweet chorus held us spellbound for 10 minutes the other day. We hear birdsong around us all the time – a vociferous dawn chorus of it at 5am – but this is extra special, almost tropical.
To the west is the church and the village’s medieval barn, beyond which farmland and woods eventually lead to the base of an Iron Age hill fort and the town of Wiveliscombe, a town we liked so much when we were renting in nearby Clayhanger it convinced us this area was where we wanted to be long term.
If we take a path north, we meet a herd of deer (belonging to a venison farm) before dropping steeply into a sheltered valley which follows the course of a gurgling stream, passing attractive agricultural buildings made from local red sandstone and grand, elegant houses while buzzards circling lazily above make their presence known with their short, sharp calls.
We can weave these paths together to make any number of circular routes. Most of them coincidentally come in at around 5km, which is short enough to fit in at the end of the working day two or three times a week. They also have enough undulations for us to get decently ‘match fit’ before we head off somewhere to do some proper hiking in places with more challenging ascents and descents, like La Palma.
As far as wildlife goes, we’ve notched up deer, foxes, birds of prey, and one weasel. Because they’re bred for ‘shoots,’ pheasants are as common as pigeons. More so, come to think of it as the only pigeons we tend to see are woodies. Despite a neighbour’s garden being ripped to shreds by marauding badgers, we’ve yet to see one … alive. There are plenty of dead ones at the side of the road. This doesn’t quite match the mongooses, storks, spoonbills, snakes, scorpions, killer centipedes, and flamingos we could see on walks from the door in Portugal. But it compares well with Tenerife where variety of wildlife isn’t one of its strongest attributes.
We met a neighbour today who was fascinated when she heard we’d lived abroad. She’s lived in the village for sixty years and thought it must be a disappointment to swap the Canaries and Portugal for here.
If anything, living abroad for nearly 20 years and creating walking routes in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe has made me appreciate the beauty of this small island far more than when I lived here previously. I find myself marvelling at the sight of an ancient lone oak in the middle of a field, just how many shades of green there are, and the beauty of birds I once considered common as muck.
So no, I’m not disappointed at all. Quite the contrary, I am elated at what lies outside my front door.