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After my Easter week’s excitement I was glad that we ambled home gently and I was promised a couple of weeks’ rest. All would have been well if the sun had remained hidden by dense cloud and the wind had continued to rip out the new tender shoots of Spring, but suddenly the sun put its hat on and came out to play and lo and behold, that was the end of this snail’s flipping holiday...they wanted to be off gallivanting again.
The Sap has decided we are going to explore some of the northern parts of Somerset he seldom visited when he lived in the county. He says we are heading for Bath! I fearfully think of my last bath up in Yorkshire when I nearly drowned fording a winter-rain swollen river. Filled with trepidation, I feel soothed as we take a leisurely cross-country route and the nightmare of drowning recedes. We stop for the night just short of their destination, which allows us to be in the city shortly after 9am. The Sap drives round and round determined to park in a supermarket car park that was once a railway station...just think, I am owned and driven by a train-spotter! It’s a good job he doesn’t wear an anorak as well.
He is keen to park me in a particular spot where I can be photographed against the still-standing background of Bath Green Park railway station that he says he came to by train donkey’s years ago. As it turns out, he is more than delighted because by chance one of that railway line’s preserved steam engines has been brought in by low loader for a display...all he had to do was add some steam and there I am where the rails used to be in what is now a Sainsburys car park.
After putting me in a proper space they make some coffee before heading off into the city to explore, leaving me to doze and dream in the sunshine. Fortunately, now that I know that Bath is the name of a city, I had no dreams of being immersed in water but I did have one of being scalded by steam.
My reveries are disturbed when they return for lunch and tea. Apparently, they went into the supermarket opposite and bought a crusty cottage loaf and a pack of vintage cheese, but The Sap is not impressed with the waxy cheese and announces that we are now going to Cheddar where he can buy and gorge himself on Somerset’s hand-made finest. I am confused...I thought cheddar was a tasty hard cheese so how can we go there? I’m half listening and part dozing in a pleasant bit of sun that makes my body creak with joy and I have an image of my portly owner gorging himself with cheese. He announces that we are going to go down Cheddar Gorge...now it’s getting silly, I know cheddar is cheese and I have seen it being eaten rapidly by The Sap so it’s obvious that ‘to gorge’ is eating food rapidly...but cheddar gorge, is this some sort of competition?
While he’s setting Phillippa for the best route out of Bath, he says he plans to go via the village of Priddy which will take us to the top of the gorge and give a stunning view of Axbridge Lake before we start the descent. As we weave our way through the narrow lanes of the Mendips, we pass a village called Torhole Bottom, which I reckon beats the names of any of those places in Yorkshire I mentioned in Sammy VII.
As we get closer, The Sap is telling The Chief that cheddar cheese was first made in the village it’s named after but was so liked by Somerset folk that it was later made throughout the county and is now produced in all four corners of the world. She asks how the foreign versions can still be called cheddar when, for instance, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Stilton cheese must come from a specific area in Leicestershire. The Sap takes a laid back view, saying that the locals should have registered it long ago but were likely diverted from their task by Somerset’s other well-known product, scrumpy cider and under its influence registering essential trade-name paperwork was probably overlooked.
Suddenly I am dreaming again and I picture the road descending through endless rows of cheddar cheese on which the locals can gorge themselves freely...it’s a good job I go where I’m told because soon we’re about to fall off the edge of the Mendips and he points out the huge lake shimmering in the distance. I am a bit disappointed because the gorge turns out to be nothing like my dream as we twist and turn our way through limestone cliffs to the village of Cheddar and an interesting district called Velvet Bottom.
They are lucky enough to find a parking spot near Gough’s cave. He cracks a joke about Gough being unwashed and malodorous and that his cave was known as Fug Gough. A few seconds pass before she starts laughing and throws back what sounds like the same two words...it went right over my head. Thank goodness they’ve gone for a stroll and left me in peace to ponder things humans eat that have funny names...cottage loaf...I ask you.
Before long they are back and he is nursing a wodge of cheddar like a doorstop and a tub of local butter. He breaks out the crusty loaf, cuts two girt slabs (that’s what he said, honest!) lays on some butter like he’s using a trowel and hacks two lumps off the cheese and they soon sit surrounded by crumbs and contentment. Sometimes I’m quite jealous because I just get fed heavy oil and it tastes worse than the deposit on a zookeeper’s boot...see, I am beginning to assimilate and use their stupid sayings.
Anyway, he tells her that proper cheddar isn’t naturally a yellow coloured squidgy rectangular block pre-packed in suffocating plastic film, but whitish and shaped more like a football that has been flattened top and bottom. He says there is nothing finer than gorging on what is called a truckle of cheddar. He says he and his Somerset mates used to go camping with a couple of gallons of cider, two or three crusty cottage loaves and a truckle of cheese. He reckons a proper truckle is quite rare these days and is shaped like a miniature beer barrel. Nowadays, round blocks of cheese are usually only half the height.
We stop for the night a few miles south of Cheddar, a perfect place for a peaceful night in a small road leading into a cemetery and I dream again of that cheese-lined gorge, which goes to show that even a great dobake of a campervan can have his slumbers disturbed by nocturnal cheese.
The next day we eventually head for home along the A303 when The Sap announces that he’s pulling in for dinner and we lurch down a side road which turns out to be scoured by a series of deep water-filled tyre tracks. “Damn and blast it,” says The Sap, (he didn’t really, but children could be reading) “this track used to be a simple unpaved by-way but the blasted off-road fraternity have taken it over.” He manages to keep me going on a swerving course until a wide patch with a tawdry caravan looms into view and we shudder to a stop. “Look,” he says, pointing, “you can do some food then we’ll sit and enjoy the view of Stonehenge. ”
The Sap’s hopes of getting out are soon shattered when a convoy of 4x4’s streams by chucking mud and water all over me...I reckon I must look like a half demolished chocolate cake now. “That’s put the kybosh on getting home tonight,” groans The Sap, “so we had just as well stay the night and worry about getting out of here tomorrow. It will be too dark soon so why not have the added advantage of seeing the sun rise over Stonehenge?”
In the morning, I can see lots of people milling like ants around what looks like a huge partly eaten truckle of grey cheese. The Sap says it’s a temple built by people thousands of years ago who worshipped the sun. Apparently, many of the huge rocks were transported hundreds of miles from south Wales somehow.
Now, I’ve seen a few sun worshippers in my time while parked on the sea front at Swanage, but they only ever shifted a few odd pebbles from under their towels and I can’t imagine any of their ancestors heaving huge rocks around. I reckon people must have been bigger and stronger back then. I am still struggling to picture those prehistoric sun worshippers. Perhaps ancient Stonehenge looked something like this...but I’m dreaming again.
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