Tag Archives: Somerset

Mike Smylie’s book The Boats of The Somerset Levels is out now

This is one of the best pieces of news I’ve received today. Kipperman Mike Smylie’s book The Boats of the Somerset Levels is now out and available from Amazon (click on the title).

I’ve long had an interest in the dory-like Watchet flatners and have followed the progress of the museum there, so I will read this with great interest! Thanks for letting me know Mike, and good luck with sales.

Here’s the cover blurb:

‘Flat-bottom craft have always been fascinating, largely because they appear so simple in their construction at first glance, made by the farmers and fishermen who used them. Beneath this facade, however, they are examples of boatbuilding at its most complex. In Britain, the best examples can be found in the boats of the Somerset Levels and Moors, rivers and coastal waters. The Somerset Levels and Moors is an area shrouded in both mystery and mythology: a world of water with traditions reaching back into prehistory and a place of legends, such as its associations with Avalon. In this area criss-crossed with shallow rivers and man-made waterways, flat-bottomed boats were until relatively recently the ideal way of getting around and Mike Smylie, with the help of John Nash of the Watchet Boat Museum, takes us through six of them, as well as providing a tribute to the people who built and used them, and those who preserve them now they have fallen out of every-day use.’

The Ancient Mariner at Watchet

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Rime of the Ancient Mariner monument at Watchet

The Ancient Mariner statue at Watchet harbour, photographed last weekend

The little harbour town of Watchet is hugely proud of its connection with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who, so Wordsworth said, wrote his epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner following a walk through the Quantock Hills with his sister and Wordsworth in the spring of 1798. There’s some argument on the issue, however, for some say he was inspired to write the poem after visiting Watchet, and others that the Ancient Mariner set sail from Watchet’s harbour.

Which ever way it happened, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner is linked with the town, and in 2003 the town erected a sculpture Ancient Mariner with the famous albatross hung round his neck by the harbour wall.

Written in a powerful, arresting style, the poem begins in this way:

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three
`By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin ;
The guests are met, the feast is set :
May’st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
`There was a ship,’ quoth he.
`Hold off ! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

However, the quotation that seems to have found favour with the locals calls to mind the sense of a ship or boat sailing at her best speed. The couplet appears in various places around the town, and it’s one that would resonate with any sailor.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;

The next few lines, however, are unexpected and sinister:

We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

The ship hath been suddenly becalmed.

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea !

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

And the Albatross begins to be avenged.

It seems Coleridge knew something about the intense, uncertain feeling of being becalmed at sea. I find it can be a little like looking into the night sky – I can feel suddenly very aware of how powerless and small we are.

But enough of my talk. Please read the poem and use the comment link below to tell use what you find in it.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner