« ElőzőTovább »
irresistible advance up the Parrett.
tains, far up in the Dorsetshire hills, clear | then, reaching a certain level, to make its as the Bandusian spring, is lost many miles before it reaches the Channel, and the bosom is stained and freckled with the froth and yeast of a sea-water that has long since degenerated from the blue of ocean. Still the very presence of this outer flood, and the breath of the Channel it brings with it, are the guarantees of history. Its mouth, nearly a mile wide, seems to thunder forth, in the daily conflict of the Channel waters, echoes of some greater fame and rumors of more spacious times.
At the entrance of the river there is never-ending war. Stand by the sides when the floodgates of the sea, let loose from the distant Atlantic, pulsate up the narrow Bristol Channel, and with accumulated power rush swiftly over the barren sands and mud, crowding into the narrow corner of Bridgwater Bay. It is a veritable Campus Martius of contending foes, a Niagara of conflicting sounds. The small island opposite its mouth, made of drift and sediment through countless centuries, grows smaller and smaller as the tide advances up its beach; the narrow passage between it and the mainland, across which, at neap tide, you might easily ford, waxes deeper and deeper; and innumerable eddies turn and twist with inconceivable force round the yellow banks. It is not at the broad mouth of the Parrett that the bore is seen first of all. Naturally the tidal wave collects and concentrates its water higher up, where the banks begin to narrow, and then with a steady, irresistible flow the water rushes up, at the rate of six or eight miles an hour, presenting the spectacle of a level column about three feet in height. Sometimes, although very rarely, two bores occur, one succeeding another, greatly to the surprise of the fishermen and sailors. Once when the tide was running down after the full, two ships got jambed by carelessness, across the stream; and it appeared as if, sinking one upon the other, a wreck of a somewhat curious nature was imminent. A second bore appeared and floated them asunder; which was regarded as a most curious and providential interposition of the river god. But such interpositions in the favor of ships in peril cannot be counted upon, and, as a rule, there is one bore only, each tide appearing with great regularity at about two hours before the time for high tide; for the bore does not begin to form till the tidal wave has had time to rush in and cover the acres of sand and mud extending far out opposite Burnham, and
This phenomenon of the bore was unknown (so the story runs) to the early Danish invaders; and in King Alfred's time the forces were divided by the sudden subsidence of the river, and those on the eastern bank could not use their ships, which were stranded, or wade and swim across themselves in the liquid mud. This gave the Saxons an opportunity of inflicting a defeat upon the isolated body on the west side, and, after the victory, of making good their retreat to the neigh boring fastnesses of the Quantocks, probably the tall ridge of Douse borough or Danesbarrow, separated then by a tract of primeval forest and swamp. Close by Combwich a circular mound is pointed out where (it is said) Ubba, a Danish leader, was buried; and it has been conjectured that the farm, called now Upper Cock Farm, in which this mound is situated, is really a corruption of Ubba-coc, the mound of Ubba. But the mouth of the Parrett is replete with ancient memories of battles fought here between Saxon and Dane. The river itself was the boundary of ancient Damnonia, and, being a border stream, was naturally the scene of many a fierce conflict in those so-called good old days when might was right, and the prizes of victory went to the strongest. Notably the Parrett was famed for the gallant stand made against the inroads of the Danes, and we read in "Leland's Collectanea: Eanulph, with the men of Somerset and Bishop Aelhstan, of Sherborne, and Duke Osric, with the men of Dorset, fighting with the Danish army and making no little slaughter of them, obtained the palm of victory at the mouth of the river Pedridan."
Right opposite the mouth of the Parrett are the two very notable and conspicuous islands of Flat Holmes and Steep Holmes, the word Holm giving a clue to the Scandinavian occupation, forming a rare vantage ground for the hordes of pirates, who could choose their own time to strike a blow where and how they could along either shore of the Bristol Channel, whether in fertile Damnonia or in rocky Wales. It is said that Gildas Badonicus, the ancient British historian, once sojourned on this lonely island. He was a monk of the monastery of Bangor; and in his day the British Church was at its lowest, and poor Christians were driven to hide themselves in out-of-the-way corners of the land. Gildas, being persecuted by Picts, Scots, and Saxons, sought a quiet
place here for his "De Excidio Britanniæ "
Dim coasts and cloudlike Hills and shoreless
and, once in a mood of despondency, when
The Watch Fire Dark reddening from the Channelled Isle; and the genial soul conjures up gloomy pictures of lightnings, storms, and shipwrecks, as the vessel reels against the island rocks. It is only a bit of atrabilious humor. Coleridge becomes himself again, and "fancy more gaily sings."
the Quantocks, have noticed the play of cloudland as a distinctive part of the general scenery of the place. The very conformation of the shores on either side of the Channel would, perhaps, account for the constant variation of the clouds. There are highlands on both sides, both in Wales and in Somerset, and over the intervening space of water, narrowing continually from Lundy Island to the Severn, the forms and shapes of Atlantic mists are shifting in constant and kaleidoscopic motion. They need a Turner to paint, and a Ruskin to describe.
At the mouth of the Parrett, in rough weather, there is an absolute commingling of all the elements at times, and the effect is a blurred, confused, though wholly complete image, such as Turner calls up. Look yonder, as the tide begins to turn, destined in a few hours to rise full forty feet. First, through the mist, over the muddy expanses, mere shadowy fields of drifting foam, white against the dark horizon, rise into being. Long, creamy spaces glance momentarily into view as a bigger wave than usual has covered the broad spaces of mud and sand, leaving behind it a tumultuous vision of brown and speckled water heaving with ponderous wrath. The inevitableness of the advancing flood rushes upon the senses, and you think of those poor martyrs who, in former days, were bound to posts on such a desolate scene, doomed to wait till the lapping and curdling waves beat the life out of them. You seem to see the ocean grow visibly before your eyes. The froth becomes a wavelet, the wavelet a wave, the wave a billow, dark and thunderous; then many billows melt into a confused torrent of waters, whirled in dark chaos and broken in shapeless masses upon the cliff.
In May, when the plover nests, the scene is different. The sea breeze sings among the shrouds, and the tide murmurs and soughs like a zephyr among the pines, or as a host of busy insects over heather There is one expression of the poet wastes. The echoes of the empty beach which is artistically very true. He speaks are hollow; the sounds travel inland even of the "dim coasts and cloudlike hills." to the base of the cliffs; and, far out, when Here in this part of the Channel the atmo- the tide turns, a broad, even line of water sphere is peculiarly tender and delicate, moves gently forward, wrapping space and the distant hills oftentimes seem, after space in smooth and quiet shallows. down in the west, to hang sometimes in The sea birds are loath to quit their feedcloudland, like clouds themselves, appar- ing-grounds in the face of such silent and elled in most gorgeous lights. Turner, subtle waters; but when they do so at the great painter, is said to have gained last, in tumultuous uprising, their shrill many of his remarkable effects from Burn-notes sound far inland to the hay-fields ham, looking westward across the mouth past the cliff. The shrimper, who has of the Parrett towards the open sea. Art-been plying his sweeping net, returns with ists, also, who have spent the summer at full crate; the fisherman comes from his
poles at low water mounted on his strange | his escape. Cock Hill, lying between the mud horse, or mud sleigh; and the great valleys of the Brue and of the Parrett, is conger lying hid in the noontide heat in considered by some the best vantage some congenial hole, leaps forth to roam ground from which to take in the situaagain. tion. It is an historical place, and the village of Edington is supposed by some to have been the site of the battle of Aethandune, when King Alfred, waging war against the whole pagan army, gained the victory with divine assistance. If this is the case, the site of Bratton Hill, in Wiltshire, would have to be abandoned.
But let us wander farther up the Parrett. His curves will take us to Bridgwater, not far from the classic field of Sedgmoor, whence, indeed, he draws the tributary waters. On the west side the spire of Bridgwater is a conspicuous feature in the landscape. It recalls the aphorism of Wordsworth that spires suit a level, champaign country, and square towers a nestling valley. It recalls also memories of Monmouth, and of a well-known rising. For from the parapets of the Tower, it is said, Monmouth looked eastward upon the neighboring field of Sedgmoor. The church itself well repays a visit, for at the east end hangs a well-known picture, said to have been taken from a French or Spanish privateer during the last war with France. It is said by some to be the work of Guido, and £10,000 was once offered for it by the trustees of the National Gallery. In this church, also, Blake, the great Commonwealth admiral, was christened. Strange to say, there is no memorial erected in Bridgwater to the hero who said, for all gallant British sailors in those days of trouble, that "state affairs were not their province; their duty was to keep foreigners from fooling us." Right well Blake kept them from fooling us! The battle-field is within an easy walk of Bridgwater; and Macaulay, Walter Besant, Blackmore, and other writers have made us familiar with the place and scenery. It is a strange, flat country, and the abode still of many rustics whose forefathers have lived in the same parish for generations, rather a rare thing in these days of migration from country to town, and illustrative of the conservative tendency remarked upon by Macaulay as useful for handing down oral traditions from father to son. The country folk still adhere to the "Zummerzet" dialect, and to "Zummerzet zyder," of which the king's troopers drank so heavily before Sedgmoor, but without fuddling their brains or unnerving their arms, as poor Monmouth's followers fondly imagined when they planned their unsuccessful surprise. From the top of Chedzoy church tower the incidents of the fight are easily recalled, although the dikes, or rhines (as they are locally styled), have been somewhat changed since the battle. To the east is Stawell Hill, standing by itself, along which, it is said, Monmouth, when the game was up, effected
On the face of the country there are monuments of the battle of Sedgmoor. Looking from Chedzoy church eastward, you may see, if you are far-sighted enough, a little mound fenced in with care. It is the grave of many of those poor rustics who, with rude weapons, fought like heroes against the king's troops. On the outside walls of the church itself you notice the well-worn places in the blocks of sand-stone where they sharpened their scythes and pikes. From time to time the ground yields up ghastly tokens of this last fight on English soil. On a glebe field, not long ago, when laborers were double-trenching, they found bodies not three feet beneath the surface. Not far off is an oak-tree on which the captured rebels were hanged without ceremony.
The landscape on a May morning is very fair. Between Chedzoy and the distant Tor of Glastonbury stretches many an acre of green and fertile marshland, redeemed step by step from the inroads of the tide. Yet it was wild enough even within recent times. Old men will "mind " how the booming bittern was common in their marshes, and how wild duck, teal, geese, and snipe haunted the pools in scores, and could be shot almost "in sack fulls" (to use their expression). Up to the present day the snipe breeds there occasionally, and many a "walk "of these birds can still be flushed on a winter's day. The whole extent of the moors, especially on the east side of the Polden Hills, is a floating, peaty mass, shaking and trembling as the heavy wains make their way along, and especially agitated when the trains along the branch line from Templecombe to Bridgwater rumble onwards. The engineer of this line found it difficult, here and there, to find a firm and solid foundation for the bridges. At evening the vapors arise and cover the surface with floating white mists, weird and fantastic to look upon, and unhealthy to breathe. Ague prevails here, and the partial drainage of the country seems to have made it more unhealthy than when
it was one wide, unreclaimed waste, with a greater part of its surface covered with water. It is the process of drying-up which causes a marsh locality to be especially unhealthy. Here often some remnant of a primeval forest in the shape of sodden oak is exhumed as the layers of peat are removed, and the dark foundations of the moor appear. Strange wild-flowers grow in the open fields; and along the dikes, close to the thick reeds, the blossom of the hottonia, or water-violet, appear. This is the fumitory, "a name which superstition holds to fame," the smoke caused by which is said to exorcise evil spirits. On Glastonbury and Burtle Moors are found the osmunda regalis fern, the hoary and soft sedge, the corn brome grass, the hare's tail rush, the gale or Dutch myrtle, the marsh fern, the marsh saxifrage, cranberry, and water milfoil, with many others. Down by the coast the sea darnel-grass, the sea rushgrass, the yellow poppy, the sea barley grass, the sea chickweed, the spurrey, and wormwood grow, and on the rocks themselves the sea liverwort can be found.
The names of the places themselves, such as Weston Zoyland, Chedzoy, and Middlexoy, testify to the presence of the sea, and point out the little vantage points where, on eminences a little higher than the surrounding country, the rude folk of this watery wilderness could live. For was not Glastonbury itself an island? In Tennyson's "Holy Grail" the character of the spot is preserved.
From our old books I know That Joseph came of old to Glastonbury, And here the heathen prince, Arviragus, Gave him an Isle of Marsh whereon to build,
And there he built with wattles from the marsh A little lonely church in days of yore.
How entirely Glastonbury was surrounded by water we may gather from the fact that the abbots of Glastonbury, setting out from Glaston's Isle, used to sail by boat on an annual excursion from the abbey down the river Brue and along the Pill row cut towards Brent, to visit their property. Doubtless this annual procession was an important event in those days, when the riches of Glastonbury were great, and the dwellers in the valley of the Parrett obedient to the rule of the spiritual superiors, who often lorded it with a kindly despotism. In those harrying days such an island refuge, sanctified by use and tradition, was a beatific vision, and men idealized it as they idealized the Islands of the Blest, and gave every beautiful attribute to it they could imagine.
Thus it was up the valley of the Parrett that the ancient Island Valley of Avilion was placed. Avilon is a Welsh word derived from Aval, meaning an apple; and the district is still famed for its apples.
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow, Nor even wind blows loudly.
A somewhat ideal picture this if the stranger happens to time his visit in winter, when the east or north-west winds in May, when the apple-trees are resplensweep over the marshes; but true enough dent in blossoms, the plover utters its plaintive note, and the echoes of the distant sea are softened into a pleasant lullaby. Elsewhere, in his Arthurian romances, Tennyson recalls more truly the winter scenery
The rosy mountains ended in a coast Of ever-shifting sand, and far away The phantom circle of a moaning sea.
Yonder is Athelney, and this small knoll recalls other memories. Here was an island said by William of Malmesbury to have been only two acres in extent, with a monastery and dwellings for monks built on it. For here in a dream St. Cuthbert appeared to King Alfred and bade him build a monastery to God. Here, doubtless, King Alfred planned his wise schemes, secure in his island refuge, soon to be a scourge upon the hurrying Danes. The safety of England lay then in her wooden walls, and the beginning of England's fleet was made in these gloomy
In Isle Brewers and Isle Abbots, and in the neighboring forest of Neroche the stately oak, we read, grew well; and at Athelney Bridge, a central point on the moorland wastes, near the junction of the Tone, the tidal Parrett flows up from the sea full thirty miles distant, reaching at high water a breadth of sixty feet, and a depth of eighteen feet, a fair place from which to launch the war galleys or to repair and careen them. On Athelney (or the Island of Nobles), it is not mere fancy to say, the first attempt was made to defend England's shores, just as, doubtless, in times past, the first attempt was made at Glastonbury to plant the first English Church.
No place now is sacred from the profaning hand of the engineer. Across this historic valley an idea has been mooted to dig a ship canal connecting the waters of
the Bristol Channel with those of the and restored these with great skill and English Channel. In 1810 the suggestion care, and when exhibited anywhere, the was made to cut a canal between Bridg-precious specimens of ancient art are inwater and the Combwich reach of the sured for £2,000. Of course, being unique, river Parrett, thereby avoiding some of they are in their way priceless. The the endless windings which make the dis- stranger is surprised to find in this lonely tance to Bridgwater by the channel of the moorland church so much to interest him, river just double what it is in an air line. both of old and new. Yet the manners of Later on, as the tonnage was rapidly in- the moorland folk were, until quite recreasing, a project was set on foot "to cently, rough and uncouth. Not much take a survey of the river Parrett, and to more than a generation ago, cider was give a plan, estimate, and report, showing drunk inside the church on the occasion the practicability of establishing a floating of a wedding, fives were played on Sundock at or near the town, with a ship days against the church tower, and the canal, having eighteen feet of water thence space under the belfry was converted octo such part of the river, near to its mouth, casionally into a ring where the pugilists as would afford a convenient means of of the village could perform. Needless to access from the sea for vessels of a large say that all these customs have long since class, during neap as well as spring tides, disappeared, and survive in almost incredwith a plan for bringing the extension of ible tradition. the Taunton canal into such floating dock, taking care not to interfere with the public sewers of the town."
This was in 1835; but now nothing less than a canal cut across from sea to sea will satisfy the magnificent ideas of modern engineers. Such an_artificial waterway would make ancient Damnonia an island. From many points of view it would be useful. It would save ships bound to and ships bound from Cardiff and the Bristol Channel the long and perilous voyage round Land's End; it would increase the prosperity of the western counties; and from a strategic point of view it would be invaluable in case of a war with France. Some maintain that it would aid greatly in draining the marsh country, and help a problem which has puzzled commissioners and experts for generations. A change would come over these quiet moorland solitudes, and the rustics would gaze in awe at the argosies of the East passing backwards and forwards near King Al fred's ancient haunts and the fastnesses of his followers. Yet, as an engineering feat, the canal would be, nowadays, no great or surprising wonder.
Chedzoy church, from the tower of which such a wide view can be gained over the valley of the Parrett, is a very interesting old moorland church. It is built of Ham Hill stone, and outside, on the north side of the chancel, can boast of beautiful work. Inside the oak bench ends are very good and conspicuous, even for Somersetshire, where the churches are often rich in oak carving. The chief curiosity of the church furniture consists in the well-known altar cloths, discovered quite recently, and the only bit of preReformation work of this kind known to exist. The Wantage Sisters have repaired
The rustic of the valley of the Parrett, however, has many peculiar beliefs and customs of his own, and in the moors superstition has died hard. To be "overlooked is to have a neighbor's evil eye upon you, and it is not thought extraordinary even now to consult the wise man (or wizard). The seventh son of the seventh son is supposed to have the power of healing you of the king's evil by his touch.
To a stranger the provincialism as well as the dialect of this part of the world is somewhat puzzling. A cart will be called a "plough;" a dree-wheeled putt is a three-wheeled conveyance; a rick yard is a mowbarton; a loft a talat; a wether sheep a hog; oxen beasts; or, as it is sometimes pronounced, beastesses; turf is called the spine; "d" is constantly used for th," as droo for through, dree, as above, for three; drash for thrash; drush (drusel) for thrush. Tapping a shoe is putting on a new sole; spitting the gearden is digging the garden. In the Somerset pronunciation of gearden the derivation of the word from yard seems to appear; mines is pronounced as moines, which is exactly the word used by the old chronicler who wrote the account of Frobisher's voyage to the north in search of gold. The letter "r" is treated very curiously, and is often transposed by a metathesis wholly unintelligible to the outsider. For example, Bridgwater becomes Burgwāāter; red becomes hurd; Richard, Hurchard; great, gurt. The word maid is almost invariably used instead of girl; one of their most common adjectives is terrible, or tarble, to qualify anything or everything from a big thunderstorm to a big pig. A "gurt mommut" is a stupid fellow. There are still some living who, on Twelfth Night, sit in the church porch to