The perfect cashier

Porlock I shall forget thee not.
Here by the unwelcome summer rain confined
But often shall hereafter call to mind
How here, a patient prisoner, twas my lot
To wear the lonely, lingering close of day,
Making my sonnet by the alehouse fire
Whilst idleness and solitude inspire
Dull rhymes to pass the duller hours away.

Written by Robert Southey while caught in the Ship Inn, Porlock, during a torrential downpour.

Mirinda took the girls up to the Forge while I did the last minute packing and clearing up. She returned with the news that the Forge is going to be closing in May! I had to quickly find a new kennel that could take the puppies for our Pompeii trip – we are so used to booking at the last minute and have been spoiled. Apparently the owners of the Forge are going to subdivide their land and the big kennel will be a house. In talking to the Frensham kennel, where I thankfully managed to book them in, I discovered that the Forge did the same thing last year but then changed their minds and had to buy back everything they’d sold! Still, no harm done.

We managed to hit the road by 1, wanting to miss any school holiday traffic – if there was any it was well ahead of us as our run was excellent. The traffic was even flowing by Stonehenge, which has to be a first.

Having had no lunch, we stopped at Little Chef (see how quickly we were convinced? Sorry Jack) for a couple of toasted paninis. The services proclaimed they sold ‘freshly baked Upper Crust’. For those not familiar with Upper Crust, these are baguettes with fillings – very nice, very tasteful – usually found at major railway stations. This tempted us in. The services also had a Burger King and a newsagent.

Considering this was a Saturday afternoon it was odd that the BK was shut up tight. I saw a few disgruntled teenagers return to their cars. We wandered round looking for the Upper Crust fare but, apart from a back passage and sets of toilets, there was nothing. Mirinda asked the girl in Little Chef about these delicacies and she said they were not there. Interesting, I thought. So it was either sad packed sandwiches from the newsagent or paninis from Little Chef. Not a tough choice though I have to assume that Jack would have eaten a newspaper, given his last email.

The paninis were fine but I have to observe that the menu declares ‘a selection of beer’ which amounted to any beer you wanted as long as it was Stella. I thought long and hard and settled on…a Stella.

We followed our old favourite (A303) road until we hit the Podimore roundabout then headed off onto pastures new. We were getting a bit desperate for refreshment – actually Mirinda was falling asleep – so pulled off the road at Long Sutton for a cuppa and wander round.

Long Sutton is one of those Somerset villages built entirely from the local blue lias stone. It makes everything look like it’s been transported from Huddersfield but not as cramped. Naturally we wandered over to the impressively towered Holy Trinity church.

In 1993 it was 500 years old so not as old as some we have seen. It is very light and cheerful inside with the most amazing pulpit. It has lots of carved figurines around the outside – either the disciples or some saints – and it is all in colour. The meagre pamphlet at the door claims it is the oldest in England and dates from the 15th century. It reminded me of the European churches we’ve visited as English churches very rarely have a coloured anything, let alone the pulpit. The altar is separated from the congregation by a magnificent reredos (or choir screen, I’m not sure which) also in bright colours.

Holy Trinity Church, Long Sutton

Wandering round I came across a rather odd stone carving of a head by one of the windows.

Strange head

Having no explanation I’m going to venture the theory that it represents a village maiden who was caught meeting her lover in the churchyard. She would wait for him inside the church, peeking out through the window until he signalled from outside. When the church wardens caught them cavorting among the gravestones they set about them. The man managed to escape but the girl fell into an open grave and died. From this time on the maiden haunted the church and her face could be seen through the window as she watched for her lover’s arrival. Eventually the villagers of Long Sutton clubbed together and had a stone carving made of her and placed by the window. Her ghost never returned.

Anyway, all refreshed and wide awake we returned to the road. The rest of the journey was increasingly scenic though something must be said about the pumping station museum at Westonzoyland. Apart from the fantastic name, I wonder how many pumping stations you can squeeze into a museum.

We stopped off at the Morrisons at Bridgwater for supplies. The only reason I mention this is because I have found the perfect cashier. I have been looking all my life for someone who can scan and pass my groceries to me in the order I intended. Well, Kirsty at Bridgwater Morrisons is just that cashier! You see, buying groceries on your own means unpacking the trolley onto the conveyor belt, rushing round to the other side and packing it into bags. Normally the cashier just takes it from where ever and I end up having to store various objects to the side while I work backwards. This means I hold up the next customer and get all flustered – fortunately I’m very used to this! But Kirsty…an absolute genius. She took it all off just the way I put it on. It meant a very quick turnaround and no storage pile! Wish we could do our shopping there all the time.

As we drove closer to Minehead, the sea appeared and the land grew more rural. Dunster saw us enter the edge of Exmoor National Park and it wasn’t long before we arrived at Porlock, our village destination.

Hartshanger is just a little way along the ‘pleasurable’ tollway to Linmouth. There is no tollbooth at this end so I assume you get to the other and suddenly have to fork over the cash.

Toll charges

We met Alanna and Mike Edward, the owners and were shown to Little Hanger, our home for the week. Cute is so inadequate. And quiet! My God, the noisiest thing here is the aquatic sheep down on the plains. Oh and the water on the shingles though that’s about a mile away. So no problems with our accommodation this time. I unpacked the car and we moved in.

Alanna warned us not to buy food from the One Stop in the village as it was a sneaky ploy by Tesco to sell cheap groceries for more profit. Given my Program of Hate towards the supermarket chain, this was easily agreed to.

After settling in we wandered down to the village for…well, a wander then a beer in the Ship Inn. Mirinda had a half of real scrumpy cider while I tried a Tawny and then a Barn Owl, both from the Cotleigh Brewery situated in that famous brewing town of Wiveliscombe – when are we going to holiday there? It’s been brewing since 1979 and produces something like 11,000 pints a DAY! Very nice it is too.

We played dominoes, which Mirinda thrashed me in, and sat while rain lashed at the windows. I thought this might be why it’s called the Ship Inn as it felt like we were being assailed by ferocious North Sea waves. By the time we left, the storm had passed and the stars came out. The moon was bright enough to cast shadows but, on the advice of our landlord, I’d taken the torch with me. It came in very handy when trees blocked the moon from sight.

We had a couple of lamb chops then I watched Match of the Day (Chelsea play tomorrow) while Mirinda went to bed. All in all, not a bad travel day.

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