Up Fivehead and the Vale of Isles

I have been away traveling through city and country and following a long drive from the rush and grind of North London to the roll and give of Somerset I came to a temporary halt in the parish of Fivehead and Swell. There was time enough for rolling on tarmac and time also for a breath of air in a bright yellow field overlooking the Vale of Isles.

In a rough layby, pocked with ruts and holes I drew up my car and twisted the key to quiet the engine, locking the beast away. It had been an eventful drive. I had been surrounded by roaring Ferrari supercars at Stonehenge on the A303, their noise throaty and bright, designed to excite a response even at thirty miles per hour.

The sun had taken up the entire sky it appeared so bright. My windows had been rolled down and the sunroof peeled back, but the heater was stuck on ‘hot’ the entire way too so the breeze had been most welcome.

At Fivehead the view across the fields to the South were too distracting. I had to stop. Beyond those hills was the ancient Roman town of Ilminster. Where I was standing was the bounds of an ancient drove to a village isolated for centuries by boggy lanes and marshy byways. To the North are the Somerset Levels, which some historians say were claimed by the sea before Roman times.

Just over the hill on the far left is the ancient Roman town of Ilminster

Like all ancient settlements there are tales that float up to the surface from thousand-year-old houses like Cathanger Manor and Swell Court. One legend on the village website makes the claim for a woman called Cristobel Wyndham, who had been nursemaid to King Charles the 2nd. The story goes that the lady took a pot shot with a musket at Cromwell, at the siege of Bridgwater.

That drama seemed far away as I stood at the top of a field of golden rape listening to the call of sparrow hawks and the croak of crows. I imagined the Romans standing on the top of the far hills looking back across the Vale of Isles at a smaller jumble of fields, but hearing the same cries in the air and feeling the same breeze, in from the West.

Looking across to the parish of Swell

I wondered what dragons might lie sleeping at the bottom of the vale, curled upon one of the mysterious marshy islands in the midst of the old river fed by the River Fivehead? I saw at once a many headed creature with blazing eyes and teeth as long as a man’s arm, but Fivehead is sadly simply a corruption of the old Saxon ‘five-hyde’, which referred to parcels of land and not murderous beasts.

But we can dream.

About 14thcenturypoet

Author of The Legend of Zonza, an historical fantasy based on traditional Italian folk tales...
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