SOMERSET LEVELS AT 400 – TIME FOR A LITTLE LOOKING BACK …

 

400 POSTS

Well, my 400th post about the Somerset Levels.  This feels like something of a milestone.  Questions arise.  What are the Levels?  What are they to me?  And why do I continue to visit and photograph them?

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And rather than post a new image, here are some pictures from my earliest Somerset Levels posts, eight years or so ago – I hope you like them.  Click onto them to open larger versions in separate windows.  LOL! >>> and two of them concern food >>> well, this is FATman Photos ……

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1 – The view eastwards along the North Drain from the Jack’s Drove bridge on Tealham Moor; 17 Sept 2010.  Early morning mists are starting to be dissolved by the rising sun, just after 7am.  I walked on up Jack’s Drove to the low bridge, which is a favourite place of mine – and this scene was unfolding to the east.  Canon G11 Powershot; 140mm; Silver Efex Pro.

WHAT ARE THE SOMERSET LEVELS?

In summary: the Levels are fens and wet lowlands that cover around 650 sq. km. of the county of Somerset.  In the UK, they are second in extent only to the fens of East Anglia.  They have only relatively recently been reclaimed from the lakes and marshes that formerly covered the area, and they have a rich history going back to Neolithic, Roman and Anglo-Saxon times.

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There is a good general source of reference here .

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And the link to my first Levels post – on 21 May 2011 – is here .   It also has much background information.

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2 – The Chapter House Steps in Wells Cathedral, Somerset; 7 Jan 2005.   Near the top right of this photo, the steps can be seen turning right into the Chapter House.  Straight ahead, through the illuminated doorway, is the bridge that allowed the clergy to come directly into the cathedral from their lodgings, rather than having to be exposed to worldly temptations by mixing with the townspeople.  Olympus OM-4; 21mm; Agfa Scala monochrome slide film, rated at 400 ISO.

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THOUGHTS

I was brought up on the edge of the Levels and cycled on their welcoming flatnesses as a kid – and then left my native Somerset for a long time, much of which was spent abroad.  And it was 25 years ago, in 1994, after my return to England, that I started visiting the Levels regularly once more – mostly for birdwatching but, increasingly, for photography.  I’m something of a loner, and this trait is increasing as I approach my 70th year – my psychological friend thinks I’m happy with my own company and, for me, photography is something mostly done toute seule – wandering with a camera, not straining things or anything, but just looking at anything and everything.

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And the Levels, at least the parts that I visit – between the Mendip Hills to the north and the Polden Hills to the south –  are wonderful for this.  There are never that many people around and, quite often, there are only quite muted, natural sounds – running water, the wind, birds, cows.  The Levels have a great simplicity, they have nothing to prove; in an age increasingly dominated by the relentless onslaught of hype, image, buzzwords and the mass media, I see the Levels as a great antidote to all of this rush and increasing complexity, a great antidote to the pace of modern life.

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You might say that I’m getting back to Nature and I suppose I am, but it must be stressed that the Levels are not a natural landscape, they are an artificial, drained and farmed landscape. They certainly contain natural creatures – willows, skylarks, roe deer and (xxxxx!!!) horseflies to name a few, but that is not the same as being totally natural places – but then, in the Anthropocene (google it!), very few places remain actually “untouched”.

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3 – Meadow at Allermoor Farm, on Aller Moor, south of Wedmore; 24 May 2009.  The meadow itself is a pale, yellow-green haze – a friend said that she could almost smell the air scented by the thousands of blossoms.  The sunlit branches of the tree, just starting to come into leaf, seem to be reaching out over all of this late spring colour.  Nikon D700; 300mm; 400 ISO.

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4 – A busy morning in the kitchen at Sweets Tea Rooms, on the Blakeway between Bleak Farm and Turnpike House, on Westhay Moor; 25 July 2009.   Note the still warm rock cakes on the tray-  absolutely delicious!  There are three tearooms in this area and this is the one I know best – friendly owners, excellent, simple food and drink, toilets, parking – and an intriguing Peat & Science Museum in the adjoining building.  Nikon D700; 24mm; 1600 ISO.

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5 – Irate bull, Westhay Moor Drove, northwest of Lower Godney, in the Brue Valley; 28 Oct 2009.  This bull was in a field along Westhay Moor Drove and, as I walked along the drove towards it, I could see at once that he resented my presence.  As a first show of strength, he did what I’ve seen large animals like Eland and Buffalo do many times in Kenya – he turned sideways on to show me just how big he was.  He didn’t have any trouble impressing me.  His hind quarters were lean and strong, in the peak of physical condition and,  if he had his way, I knew that those powerful hind quarters would soon be driving his front end ferociously towards me – and his front end was an enormous, bludgeoning battering ram of bone and muscle, that would be guided on its course by two, very irate eyes.  However, feeling halfway secure – mainly because he and I were separated by a fence, a gate and a water-filled ditch (albeit the gate was only secured by a single rope), I continued along the drove and drew up level with him, whereupon he advanced right up to the gate, giving me the most malevolent of glares.  Not being able to resist the photo – and also being not a little out of my head – I knelt down in front of him and focused on his right eye to get this shot.  He kept pushing the gate but the rope held firm – and I’m still here to tell the story.  I like this picture.  His whole mien radiates malevolent bad temper, right on the edge of unstoppable violence.  His right eye is sharp, as is all the wonderfully tangled hair on his face, and I have rarely seen a glare of such malevolence.  Nikon D700; 400mm; 800 ISO.

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6 – A Cottage Special served up in the Cottage Café, Burnham-On-Sea, Somerset; 29 Apr 2010. Though I’m prone to slightly high cholesterol, I’m a complete sucker for a full English breakfast, as long as its not too greasy. I don’t eat many of them but they are amongst my favourite meals, with the taste combination of bacon, eggs and grilled tomatoes often being more than I can possibly put into words. This particular breakfast was a slight disappointment because the beans had been poured over the fried bread, demolishing much of the latter’s superb taste and, especially, texture. But just look at the locally made sausages, the slightly blackened tomatoes …. the black pudding …two eggs …. the lean rashers ….…. DO I EAT IT OR GET DOWN AND MAKE LOVE TO IT!!!???  The Cottage Café’s breakfasts are in general superb, possibly due to all of the ingredients being fried together in same large frying pan, which makes everything extremely flavoursome. Since we first started going there over a year ago, this eatery has moved up market – so what used to be the Belly Buster has now re-invented itself as the Cottage Special!  And, quite apart from all that gastronomic gush, I like this as a picture.  Canon PowerShot G11; 400 ISO.

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7 – Pollarded Willow in the mist, Tadham-Tealham Moor; 8 Aug 2003.  Originally in colour, I’ve reduced this image to low contrast and misty monochrome, so that it more resembles a pencil drawing than a photograph.  Olympus OM-4; Fuji Velvia 50 colour slide; Silver Efex Pro.
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About Adrian Lewis
Photographer - using mono, colour and combinations of the two - many types of subject, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous, trying new ideas, working in multiple genres. And I've a weakness for Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.

28 Responses to SOMERSET LEVELS AT 400 – TIME FOR A LITTLE LOOKING BACK …

  1. bluebrightly says:

    This was a great idea, Adrian. I like the variety of shots, showing that it’s so much more than “just” a landscape, with the human-built parts an integral part. I like reading about it since it’s been such an important part of your experience. Here’s a question – what about the word, “Levels?” Not so much why is it called that, but I wonder about the feeling of the word to you, and what other connotations it has. What made me think of it was the way you contrasted the region with the hype, complexity & pace of modern life – maybe it’s a kind of leveling? Or maybe it feels like something is leveled off when you’re there.

    Like

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      I grew up beside the Levels and now, after a long break, I have returned, if only as a visitor, and they are a fundamental part of my (increasingly localised) world; like cats, they have always been there.

      Also I am (increasingly) aiming at a simple life, and the Levels both feed and exemplify that. Although your mentions of levelling and levelled are interesting, I do not feel those connotations >>> I would most probably feel the same about any stretch of unprettyfied country whether flat or not, although I am certainly a person of flat, open lands (incl Arabian deserts, African savannahs).

      Funnily enough, I had lunch yesterday with one of the two school friends who got me started on birding in 1967, and who went on to become an eminent biochemist. And he has these “simple life feelings” too – he’s retired now, in California, but still very much in biochemistry’s academia. A

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A lovely collection, and I enjoyed your stories, Adrian. Congratulations on Number 400.

    Like

  3. krikitarts says:

    Well done, Adrian, and congratulations! I just posted my first new one in quite a while and, in the process, realized that my previous one was my 700th. Of course, it’s NOT a contest!

    Like

  4. Jane Lurie says:

    Congrats on 400, Adrian. A book, perhaps? Love your commentary on these images. The breakfast… 😄

    Like

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Yes, the breakfast >>> RESIST!!! >>> for awhile anyway … 😉 … But you have to be careful with breakfasts – I had one in central Bristol yesterday, lunching with an old school friend, and – despite being considerably more expensive – the meal was simply not up to the standards of the one pictured here and, worst of all, it was presented on a stone cold plate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      A book? Nice of you to say so, but I don’t know. I have been making photobooks of my better blog images on Blurb, but this seems to have lapsed recently, in favour of photo processing and blogging. A

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Congratulations on 400. These comprise a wonderful photo and written essay. All are wonderful, but as art, the first and last ones knocked me out.

    Like

  6. oneowner says:

    WOW! A nice post and a Smörgåsbord of information about yourself and a traditional English breakfast. I would join you anytime but you can have my beans.

    Like

  7. paula graham says:

    Need to visit that black pig again sometime soon!? Lovely shots too.

    Like

  8. Meanderer says:

    Congrats on your 400th Levels post!! I don’t recall seeing images 3 and 7 before; love them both – particularly the Willow which really does look like a pencil drawing.

    Like

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Oh these are pictures from long ago, not long after I started blogging, and maybe we weren’t following each other then. Thanks for your good thoughts, M – 400 is a lot, but can’t think of a nicer place to blog about! A 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Kathy of London says:

    I enjoy your blog, Adrian– you have some real gems 🙂

    Like

  10. Congratz with nr. 400! Can’t think of anything else than drink a Triple Hop on this 😀 Cheers my friend!

    Like

  11. Sherry Felix says:

    Love the full Monty breakfast. I would add on a kipper. Your photography is tops.

    Like

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