If we could be guaranteed good – that is to say hot and sunny – weather, no one would ever go abroad. How many times have you heard that? God alone knows how many times I’ve said it. But is it true?
Imagine Britain with a Spanish climate. Warm-ish winters and hot dry summers. We’d all end up in Cornwall, except there would be nowhere left to stay. And even if we did find something, the roads would be permanently gridlocked, the pubs would be rammed. It would be like Cornwall every summer, but with more caravans, campsites and hotels.
Trust me, there is not much I love more than flying somewhere hot and sunny. After all, I’ve been doing it since the early 1980s and, Covid allowing, I still do it today. But these days, I appreciate the seasons so much more.
Yesterday, I drove to a special place, for me, high up in the Mendip Hills of Somerset. Waldegrave Pool at Priddy.
The Priddy Pools aren’t actually in Priddy but that’s of zero significance to me. For this was the place my paternal grandparents took me on a Sunday afternoon.
Alfred and Nellie Johansen sometimes had a ‘drive’ on Sundays and it was almost always to Keynsham Park, Chew Valley Lake or the Waldegrave Pool at Priddy. What happened was basically this. On a Priddy day, Alfred and Nellie would pick up my mum and me up in his Wolseley, later a Triumph Herald, we would drive exactly the same way, along West Town Lane, along and up Sturminster Road, right until we reached desperately narrow Sleep Lane, onto the Wells Road, through Chew Stoke, possibly stopping at Chew Valley Lake for an ice cream and finally up to Priddy. Then the fun would start.
Alfred would go to the boot of his car, where Nellie and my mum Elly stayed, and fetch a bucket and a fishing net. I would then spend an inordinate amount of time ‘catching’ small fish. Later, we would take them home, with the bucket swishing around in the passenger footwell until we arrived home. I would then transfer the fish into an old washing up bowl where, within days, they would all die. A few weeks later, we would repeat the exact same process with exactly the same results. No one, certainly not me, thought there might be certain flaws with our fishing expedition. I suppose I hoped that one fine day the fish wouldn’t all die and they’d live happily ever in their washing up bowl. It never came.
Alfred’s Wolseley was like this
Yesterday, when the fog lifted, I returned to the Waldegrave Pool and everything was exactly the same, except that I couldn’t see any small fish. Perhaps it was the time of the season, I don’t know, or maybe my efforts in the late 1960s were in fact over-fishing and I had killed them all off? I doubt that this was the case. One day, I might ask an expert.
It turns out that the Priddy Pools are a geological site of special scientific interest, something that had never occurred to me before. But on this perfect winter’s day, with not a single cloud in the sky, there was – and you probably think, with good reason, I am completely unhinged – there was nowhere on Earth I’d rather have been. Across the road are the Priddy Mineries and just down the road is the gorgeous Stockhill Woods, a perfect winter walk. Yet Alfred never once took us across or down the road. Yesterday, I drove down to the surprisingly busy car park and wondered why he never did? Both are high on my list of places to see.
Growing up, I learned nothing about the history of the area, but now I am interested. I want to visit the places we walked and drove past. The whole area on top of the Mendips is stunning, quote unspoiled. Not far from Waldegrave is the incredible Hunters Lodge pub where beer is still served straight from the barrel and the food, from faggots and peas to doorstop bread and mature cheese, is simply simple food heaven. I didn’t go in because I don’t see the point of visiting a pub unless you have a beer but I wrote down the opening times and soon I will getting out the begging bowl to someone, perhaps someone I live with, who can drive me there and I can wallow in nostalgia.
The Hunters Lodge, Priddy
When we went to Priddy, it always rained. But then, wherever I went in my childhood it seemed to rain. That’s because this is England and the price we pay for the stunning countryside of the Mendips and everywhere else is rain and lots of it.
And, after having spent much of a lifetime moaning about the weather, I’m beginning to embrace it. I can’t lie on a sun bed at Priddy, at least not in January, and the Hunters Lodge will never sell fancy cocktails or encourage its customers to sing ‘Agadoo’, but in a small way, I remembered why, despite everything, I still love this country and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.