The usual thing, when visiting a friend, is to settle down with a chat and a cup or something or even better, a glass of something.
Visiting my pal Sabina in tropical Zummerzet those things are secondary to going down the back garden.
While her garden is large, well-kept and full of colour and beauty, for me it’s the pond at the end that holds enduring fascination.
For Sabina has established a reputation as a very gifted newt-charmer.
First time I ever visited, when she told me she had loads of newts. I stared down at the pond, which showed no visible signs of life apart from duckweed. Naturally, I challenged her to prove it.
“You don’t really want to see the newts do you?”
She was obviously not used to displaying her amphibia.
She seized a handily-placed net and with the first dip of a net – bear in mind this is a pond which must be 12′ long – she brought up a fist-sized glob of mud and fallen leaves which began moving to reveal three glistening, gently-wriggling newts!
This newt-charming has happened on every occasion I’ve visited, so recently, on one sunny August day when we met to celebrate our birthdays, I inspected the duckweed-covered pond as usual then said “Actually…I won’t ask you to disturb the newts this time.”
I’d seen them and Sabina had nothing more to prove from the newt-charming point of view.
As we stood chatting – Sabina with her back to the pond – I was distracted by a mysterious twitching in the duckweed. As I watched, there seemed to be some sort of struggle as the duckweed bulged and twitched – then a little newt hand emerged, fingers stretched out in greeting!
It was unbelievable.
I just burst out laughing.
“Look behind you! One of your newts is saying ‘hello’!”
She turned to see the small wet newt hand waving. I think an ungainly newty back leg emerged soon afterwards.
“Do you think they are feeling left out?” she laughed.
She fetched the net and with one fell swoop, brought out a bundle of muddy, waving newts – some palmate newts and a Great Crested with a lovely spotted orange underbelly – for me to inspect at close quarters.
It was a brilliantly quirky start to a memorable day. Although Sabina and I we weren’t born in the same year, we share the same birthday so we both thought we should celebrate with a day out – a bit of a jaunt… probably the seaside.
Sure, there was Minehead not far away but a bit closer was a special place I’d always meant to revisit. I was taking a bit of a chance, relying on memory to celebrate our birthdays at a place which seemed rather heavenly on a sunny day with the kids 20 years ago.
East Quantoxhead isn’t on any tourist trails as far as I know. Certainly no-one would bother taking the narrow lane down the side of the pub in the village unless they knew that the sea and geologically-notable beach at Kilve lay at the other end of it.
The lane was narrower than I remembered and the tea garden was still there – dog friendly, which mattered in those days.
There were little groups of people about enjoying the sunny weekend. Most seemed to enjoy the ease of strolling about on the low grassy headland. Not us. We were heading for the rocks and specifically the smooth flat limestone platforms of my memory.
“Oh it’ll be really good,” I’d wittered on… “we might see fossils and the rocks are quite flat so ideal for a picnic and glasses of fizz.”
The reality was somewhat different. The layers of rock were flat but tilted at angles – although we did find a couple of comfortable ‘seats’ and laid out the picnic between us.
We toasted our birthdays, drank prosecco, ate birthday cake and chatted, sitting there on the foreshore on a blue and breezy day.
Beneath us and behind us was a breathtaking display of 200 million year old blue lias Jurassic limestone and shale.
In front of us the Bristol Channel was doing its best impression of melted milk chocolate in the brilliant sunshine.
Nothing was exactly as I remembered, but plenty good enough.
The cliffs and foreshore give good exposures of Lower Jurassic Blue Lias. There are rhythmic sequences of black shales, marls and limestones. Joint patterns and faults point to both normal extensional, and reverse compressional faulting. Ammonites and trace fossils can be seen.