My offering as part of Terminalia February 23rd 2021... marking the ancient Roman festival in honour of the god Terminus, who presides over boundaries to be walked, celebrated and acknowledged once a year.
Apropos this year’s Celebration of Terminalia I have a discussion with my partner Steve, who does history…and is also good at reading maps (I’m not). We hatch a plan to use the 1884 1st edition 6:1 ordinance survey map to go and find a series of nine old stones marked on it and that we can link to make a circular walk. They no longer appear on the modern map, but there are footpaths marked that lead near to them. There is nothing to explain what these stones might have been; they may have marked boundaries, but there are no clear demarcations now, just large expanses of fields. Maybe they indicated the limits of the parish at a time when it was important that villagers and their neighbours should know and respect such borders. Or perhaps ownership and rights over a piece of land. We have no idea when these were erected; on the old map three appear in a line, two together on another site, and then single ones, but taken as a group, a sort of line can be drawn linking them.
As an experiment I take with us my old Polaroid Supercolor 635CL that produces instant photographs as well as using my phone camera. We also have coffee and crisps to sustain us.
Vobster – we climb the hill following the embankment of an old coal mining tramway built in 1858 by the Westbury Iron Company to transport coal from Vobster Breach Colliery to Mells and join the Radstock to Frome railway. At the top we are distracted by a wooden bridge bearing ‘KEEP OUT signs… inviting and challenging! Steve has just been reading the Book of Trespass by Nick Haines – I recommend it – so we are up for anything!
1884 1st edition 6:1 OS map
Our first diversion and encroachment… we step over the boundary between wooded park and open field, once part of the tramway embankment, and enter Lily Batch Woods, making our way through an overgrown path to the edge of an escarpment. We are high above the artificial lake built as part of the landscaped gardens by landowner Thomas Horner in the late 1750’s; an old sign lying discarded on the ground informs us that we are at Tor Rock overlooking a grade II listed landscape, and that they hope we enjoy our visit (not sure the new owners are so keen on this). We prop it back up and lean on the wall a while and gaze out.
It’s a still day, we are on pause, sounds drifts up to us, sun glinting on water, a few ducks swimming in circles. Birds song, dog barking, grouse calling, shooting in the distance reminds up that we are on the Mells Estate, now owned by some company who run shooting weekends for the rich (definitely worth the trespass!).
An old stone archway lures us; it leads to a set of narrow worn and slightly dangerous stone steps winding steeply down the hillside.
(this is one of my polaroid shots - kept warm inside my coat while it develops.. they're such lovely colours and I love the blemishes on them)
We descend to a flattened area to find a grotto, partly concealed by overhanging foliage.
Sitting inside on the stone bench for a while amongst moss-covered stones and brambles
we contemplate the lack of view, imagining what it might once have looked like.
Mells Park is a country estate of 350 acres, which originated as a 17th-century deer park. Completely encircled by a stone wall designed to keep out the commoners, this is a boundary marking ownership and privilege, but now easy to breach as it slowly crumbling.
Time to move on. We retrace our steps, crossing the field to follow the railway embankment, then walk on the road until reaching a footpath, where the Newbury Colliery narrow-gauge railway ran over land that is now a heavily ploughed field. I pause to fight my way through more brambles to peer through the gap in the now bricked up railway bridge, before following the line across the field where it joins what is now a narrow lane and would once have held rail tracks.
More polaroids... with a slightly washed-out look and chemical seepage
Onto another very muddy ploughed field. According to the old map our first stone should be here, but it isn’t.
Polaroid and map of site one
Where it would/should have been is marked by a fairly ancient looking hollow tree and some bent sections of iron railings that must once have encircled it, looking like they have seen better days. Scouting around we discover a bit of stone partially buried in the ground and a spent cartridge case.
We tramp back across the field through the sticky brown mud, my boots growing heavier at every step. Remnants of last year’s crop of corn stick up through the earth. I find a bit of broken pottery and bird tracks.
Onto the next site through a series of industrial ramshackle buildings and lots of old cars, along a quiet section of road with primroses, snowdrops and early celandine growing under the hedge, rooks strutting about in the fields. A few runners and cyclists pass us, and a motorist pauses alongside us to wind his window down and exchange thoughts on the weather.
There seems to be a lot of keep-out signage around here – marking boundaries of where we can and cannot tread. England so needs a ‘freedom to roam’ act - what is it about the English landowner... paranoia?
Our footpath leads us over another heavily ploughed field - the remains of a crop of turnips in this one – and we arrive at our second site where there should be three stones.
Sites 2 and 3 ..... nice colour field.
Nothing. Close by in the same field there should be another stone - our third site - just a little further on close to the hedge. I climb over the electric fence (a little more digressing from the path) and scour the hedge hopefully, finding a metal trough balanced on bits of stone and a pile of large stones dumped in the corner of the field disappearing under moss and wild plants. We decide these must be the remnants.
Retracing our steps and returning to the footpath and over a couple of stiles, we veer off, climbing over a gate into yet another muddy ploughed field in our quest to find our fourth site which should hold the fifth and sixth stones. A telegraph pole now marks where these would once have been. There’s few largish bits of stone pushed into the ground around the base, but that’s it.
Site four ..a chance for my last polaroid shot...
After this we lose heart. Clearly the introduction of mechanised farm machinery has meant that the stones can easily been moved and broken up by farmers keen to use every scrap of the land available to them, and a stone that is not of any value (or bears no protection order) can just be torn out and discarded. The last site we were to visit is also now a ploughed field, so not much chance of anything surviving, so we don't bother.
We push through a hedge and onto Tinkers Lane – once a road between fields and quarry but now blocked and subsiding. Late afternoon, the shadows lengthen.
The road is slowly being reclaimed by nature, tarmac mixing with earth and stone, tangles of roots, brambles, and shoots pushing through. We are walking another border - a boundary between ancient hedgerow and 21st C metal grid fence with warning signs about the dangers of falling into the water-filled quarry (now re-designated as a swimming and diving club).
As we walk back two deer bound across the field in front of us, a blackbird sounding a warning. By chance we come across an old stone at the entrance to a footpath. One that we weren't even looking for.
It’s been an interesting walk – one that we wouldn’t have done without the prompting of Terminalia Day. We have visited the sites and remembered...All hail.