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Palimpsest

albion_triscombe_stone_420w.jpg

Dimly visible in the gloaming, Triscombe Stone in the Quantock Hills, Somerset
Image: Beautiful Britain

One of the things we love about Britain is seeing a palimpsest of vanished events and people in the landscape. The earth keeps traces of the past like a page which has been written on, partly erased, and written on again so the original lines show through.

Last year we wrote that the Triscombe Stone in the Quantock Hills is thought to date back to the Bronze Age and was an ancient meeting place. Celts gave the stone their name for meeting which is tris.

In this same landscape we can see lines ‘written' by King Alfred. He had the wide track or herepath made on the ridge of the Quantock Hills so men could watch for Viking ships from lookouts, and alert Wessex of danger.

Centuries later Coleridge wandered through these hills, which take their name from the Celtic word cantuc meaning a circle of hills (the hills curve from the Vale of Taunton Deane to the Bristol Channel). The 36-mile-long Coleridge Way established in the poet’s memory begins at Nether Stowey, where he lived, and crosses the Quantocks before finishing at Porlock. Coleridge wrote of walking through those hills -

Now, my friends emerge

Beneath the wide wide Heaven - and view again

The many-steepled tract magnificent

Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,

With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up

The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles

Of purple shadow!

. . .Ah! slowly sink

Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun!

Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,

Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds!

Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!

And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend

Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,

Silent with swimming sense ; yea, gazing round

On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem

Less gross than bodily; and of such hues

As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes

Spirits perceive his presence. . .

Because the Quantocks are protected, lines written two thousand years ago can still emerge.

Note: The lines are taken from "This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison"

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