“I’m looking for a fort. Does it look like there’s one on that hill?” We’ve come across two women in the middle of the road pouring over a map. One we conclude is the owner of the map (she’s testing a route for a local walking group). The other must be the owner of the van (entire life included) parked up in the dip, and the woman with the quest to find a fort. The map has fort marked in Gothic text on – possibly – the hill we find ourselves looking at. But Gothic means long gone, and he hill just seems to be grass and trees.
Our arrival and talking just seems to irritate the fort hunter because we’re talking walks, not forts and she can’t hear us anyway because she’s deaf. She stomps off to her van muttering something and reminds me of an eccentric country equivalent of a bag lady. An interesting past and a story-filled life, reduced to everything in a battered blue van. Her demeanor contrasted with the walker who was impeccably attired and in full make up. The only time I’ve ever worn make up when out walking was on a trip to Wales, the first outing with a mountaineering club, and I’d forgotten lip salve. I’d gone away straight from work and an event had meant I’d worn lipstick. Thus L’Oreal had to stop my lips chapping while stomping up the Welsh hillsides. It worked but I was acutely embarrassed at my faux pas. We leave them to stare at the map.
This is just part of the life experienced in our time staying in a campsite that’s as hard to find as a Roman hillfort. There doesn’t seem to be much to Batcombe Vale other than a campsite and yet there was little to say you’d arrived other than a small sign by a fence. Our satnav instructed us to ‘turn off road’, and that was it. Trusting it, we found ourselves facing a field of cows at the top of a bank with a single strip of tarmac running down its edge. The view was spectacular. You hear many tales of people blindly following digital instructions and ending up in ditches and I’ve always been scornful, and here I was, staring at a cow field and a tree filled hollow. We drive down the track.
Batcombe Vale Campsite, Somerset, is in cool camping (www.coolcamping.co.uk) and rightly so. As we got to the track’s end (and a rather tight bend) we discovered a gathering of tents huddled in the midst of the trees. The owners have created impressive spaces that are both private but have a view that isn’t someone else’s guy ropes. There’s a large area reserved running around (there was a lot of football the weekend we were there) and two lakes, one for fishing and one with rowing boats (life jackets compulsory). If you hadn’t fallen out of a tree, capsized in the lake or lost more games of football than England there was always the surrounding cowpat filled fields to explore. You could punt the kids out after breakfast and they’d be truly entertained until bedtime.
As the sun set (and this proved to be a great place to watch the sun go down) the football games ended and the campfires were lit. Gentle wafts of smoke worked through the branches and the sound of laughter and quiet conversation was the only thing to break the peace. The tranquility that descended was almost palpable.
We spent the days we were there exploring the area and villages around Batcombe: though beautiful meadows, along streams and across fields that warned us to beware of the rabbits(!). Really: what do they feed the rabbits in Somerset?
Small villages of solid stone, hardly a church and hardly a pub, in fact The Three Horseshoes’ seemed to be the only pub in the area. Many a sign pointed you in its direction and it was only a mile from the site – i.e. a ‘staggerable’ distance. And the food and drink is worth it. The treacle pudding became one of M’s highlights to the stay.
Four days felt like a week and we left sun covered and relaxed, swearing we’d be back soon. The next time we go I hope the new boiler has settled in and is heating the water for the morning showers, but a cold wash wasn’t a problem.
As we started the drive home we pass a blue van by the roadside. The fort hunter, still on her quest.