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Five ways you know you are in Somerset

THERE are several clichés associated with Somerset, some truer than others. As a relatively recent addition to this part of the country, I feel I can offer an outsider’s perspective on what really sets the county apart.

So here is my list of the five things which really stand out to me as being very, very Somerset.

Tractors

Somerset County Gazette: Competitors take part in the tractor handling event at the Ryedale rally

If you are on the road for more than five or ten minutes, you are guaranteed to come across a tractor either as it passes you on a narrow road or slowing you down up ahead.

Now, there was a time I would have been angry about getting held up in this way every single day, but here, I like to think these tractors are one of the ways this county forces you to slow down for a bit and just take a breather.

Most people could benefit from a less frantic pace of life and that is one of the many wonderful things Somerset has to offer. The city folk don’t know what they are missing.

And honestly, what’s the point of living surrounded by all this beautiful countryside if we’re speeding through it so quickly, we don’t have time to really appreciate it?

The landscape

Somerset County Gazette: SOMERSET CAMERA CLUB CALENDAR 2018: Picture 5 - View across Porlock Bay, by Pauline Watling

Talking of beautiful countryside, the next item on my list is the jaw dropping landscape largely taken for granted.

Offering variety as well as beauty, one minute you might be nipping through the rolling hills of the Quantocks, a place many people visit as a holiday destination, when a few miles down the road you are surrounded by one of the flattest and most breathtaking areas in the country, the Somerset Levels.

As well as the natural landscape, there are innumerable pretty towns and villages which are a pleasure to behold, such as Porlock, Somerton, Selworthy and Castle Cary to name just a few.

Honesty boxes

Somerset County Gazette: Customers were asked to leave money in the honesty box for produce taken

This is something I’m not sure I ever saw until I came this far south-west – people offering their wares outside their homes with an honesty box placed beside for payment.

Popular front garden offerings include eggs, fruit and veg, and plants.

To see this kind of local trade still going strong in the area is one of the most heart-warming sights and tells you much about the people of Somerset.

Cider farms

Somerset County Gazette: Cider festival at East Coker

Carrying on in a similar vein, we come to cider farms. I’m not talking about the big professional set ups, I mean the smaller operations happening in people’s back gardens. They are absolutely everywhere.

If you’re looking for a rustic rendering of one of Somerset’s most famous exports, you won’t have to travel far before you stumble upon a handwritten sign on a piece of cardboard declaring CIDER accompanied by an arrow pointing you in the right direction.

The roads

Somerset County Gazette:

Finally I come to the roads.

I confess when I first moved here, I couldn’t understand why Google Maps kept sending me the back way to everywhere. Through country lanes and, at times, up and down what were little more than dirt tracks. I honestly thought the sat nav had a glitch which meant it was avoiding main roads.

Having spent several years here I have come to realise, dual carriageways are few and far between and if a road can comfortably fit a passing lorry and tractor, and has a white line painted down the centre, then that almost certainly is the “main road”.

It took some getting used to but as the years have passed, it no longer seems strange to be turning up roads which look like a scene from Postman Pat. In fact, I love those roads just as I love the views surrounding them, along with the slower pace life of life, and the array of goods I can purchase from picturesque doorsteps along the way.

I’d love to find out what you find very, very Somerset so let me know in the comments below.

Also, as an adopted resident, share with me your favourite picturesque towns and villages to visit so I can make sure I’m not missing out.

How endless HGV traffic is ruining the best place to live in Wales

If you’re looking for a town to enjoy a splendid walk and a locally-sourced latte then you’ll struggle to find a better spot than Usk.

In fact if you go by the Sunday Times’ Best Place to Live[1] guide you won’t find a better spot in the whole of Wales than the quaint Monmouthshire town.

There is a farmers’ market and plenty of independent shops and galleries as well as cafes vying to produce the best fare using local produce. And there’s nothing like enjoying all that goodness in the glorious afternoon sunshine while a 34-tonne articulated lorry chugs down the pavement towards you. Right?

Sometimes you might even get a clout around the ear while you’re walking down the town’s Bridge Street or while taking in the view from the bridge over the river.

“I have been hit multiple times,” said Kathryn Challenger, who has lived in the area all her life – moving from house to house in the same street. “But it gets worse – they come straight over the bridge here and crash into the walls,” she explains from her home directly opposite the bridge. “It’s dangerous and can be quite scary.”

Kathryn Challenger, who has lived in Usk all her life, said she has often been hit by lorries while walking over the bridge
Kathryn Challenger, who has lived in Usk all her life, said she has often been hit by lorries while walking over the bridge (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
Bridge Street in Usk, where lorries are cramming through the town again as pandemic restrictions have eased
Bridge Street in Usk, where lorries are cramming through the town again as pandemic restrictions have eased (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

We wait for what feels like five minutes to cross the road at the end of the bridge while two 30-tonne lorries carrying chickens pass by as well as three other equally large vehicles. As they pass the traffic comes to a standstill while the lorries try not to hit each other, the sides of the bridge, and even people’s homes.

Kathryn points: “Look at this one. There are chickens in there. Just a couple of weeks ago one like that went straight into the wall. Sometimes they don’t even realise they’ve done it. But imagine if someone had been walking there.”

The town actually has a ban on lorries coming through that weigh more than 7.5 tonnes – brought in more than 40 years ago after protests over environmental concerns, but issues remain – and residents believe it is due to poor enforcement. Difficulties pinpointing banned vehicles arise because some lorries that are over the weight limit are allowed through Usk to deliver goods.

“Some of them that do come over are ridiculous,” Kathryn added. “I think half of them aren’t allowed to be here – but what can we do?”

There are alternative routes. Lorry drivers could get off at the A449 at Raglan and travel via the A40 or head to the Coldra roundabout.

Residents pointed out that earlier in the pandemic when temporary traffic lights were used at the town’s main Bridge Street road to help social distancing on the narrow pavements – causing traffic pile-ups – considerably fewer lorries used the town as a “rat run”.

The bridge over the Usk in the town centre
The bridge over the Usk in the town centre (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

Liam Ellis, who drives a 34-tonne truck from Raglan transporting straw to farmers, said he is allowed to travel through Usk, but regularly receives abuse when he reaches Bridge Street – with some motorists refusing to move out of his way in protest.

“It’s not pleasant at all,” he said. “Sometimes I find myself waiting to be shouted at. There is clearly a problem because we’re allowed to drive through there but Usk is an absolute nightmare to drive through. But for me it’s the only logical route to get to my customers.

“A solution could be a separate foot bridge adjacent to the existing bridge so the road at the bridge can be widened for vehicles and people aren’t walking across there. I know it can’t carry on like this. Something needs to be done but I don’t know what the best solution is.”

What are the biggest issues in your area? Check out what people are flagging up and report your own using this handy tool:

There are regular instances of lorries meeting at particularly narrow points in the road before incidents of road rage inevitably ensue. Lorries have also been entangled in scaffolding while resident Angela Colclough said she has seen vehicles “destroy hanging baskets” from the front of people’s homes.

“It’s ridiculous really and it can get you down at times,” she said. “Slowing the vehicles down might discourage them. Perhaps we could do with some speed bumps. The clear answer is another road around the town but I don’t think that will happen now. Why don’t they fine them heavily? If there is no punishment for banned lorries it’ll keep happening.”

Angela Colclough
Angela Colclough (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
Lorries meeting at Bridge Street, which residents and traders say is very common and is dangerous
Lorries meeting at Bridge Street, which residents and traders say is very common and is dangerous (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
Bridge Street in Usk, where lorries above the 7.5-tonne weight limit are actually banned unless they're delivering to businesses
Bridge Street in Usk, where lorries above the 7.5-tonne weight limit are actually banned unless they’re delivering to businesses (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

Gwent Police said they would only be able to issue fines if they caught a vehicle going across a limit-restricted bridge and then took the vehicle to a weighbridge to find out how much it was over the restriction.

A group of residents and councillors set up a ‘lorry watch’ scheme intended to report banned vehicles to Monmouthshire County Council’s trading standards team but they said they’ve had minimal success in getting banned vehicles punished and have turned attention to “discouraging rather than preventing”.

Councillor Alec Leathwood, who helps run the scheme and was one of the first to get the weight limit introduced in the town more than 40 years ago, said: “I remember lying in the road in protest all those years ago. We’ve been battling for a long time but we’re still stuck with it.

“We had quite a few volunteers but people got fed up because vehicles were being reported and then not much was getting done. We’ve now accepted that there seems to be no way to keep heavy-goods vehicles out but we can discourage them.

“We try to do that by being visible while identifying vehicles that have no right to be here and by campaigning for changes to the road to make drivers aware they’re coming into a very different area. We could also do with better signage so lorry drivers know what the restrictions are well before they get to Usk – not when it’s too late.

“We just hope there isn’t a major incident. Fortunately, so far, we’ve got away with it.”

There is signage around the town warning lorry drivers about the weight limit but councillor Alec Leathwood said there needs to be better signage on the way into Usk
There is signage around the town warning lorry drivers about the weight limit but councillor Alec Leathwood said there needs to be better signage on the way into Usk (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
It's a common sight in Usk
It’s a common sight in Usk (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
There are also weight limit signs at the car parks in the town
There are also weight limit signs at the car parks in the town (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

A spokesman for Monmouthshire council said: “There is advanced warning of the weight restriction on the A466 and A4042 so we would anticipate the majority of HGVs travelling through the town would have a requirement to do so – or are contravening the restriction in the full knowledge of their actions.”

Martin Sholl, the joint owner of Number 49 tea room in Bridge Street, said he’s noticed HGV traffic increasing significantly in recent weeks as lockdown restrictions eased. Authorised lorries that are above the weight limit deliver to the business but he said a balance needs to be struck.

“[Bridge Street] is back to being full again and the challenge we have is when two meet and the wing mirrors are well over the pavement either side,” he said. “It doesn’t just cause traffic issues – we’ve had people hit by them. The issue is this road is used as a thoroughfare and that is unlikely to change until there is better enforcement.”

Martin Sholl
Martin Sholl (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
Lorry drivers have called for the bridge to be widened by removing the pavement and having a separate foot bridge
Lorry drivers have called for the bridge to be widened by removing the pavement and having a separate foot bridge (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

He said he “isn’t convinced” the majority of lorries that pass through are authorised. “Many vehicles that come through from Blackwood don’t stop in Usk – they use it as a shortcut to the M50,” he added. “I’ve taken photos of some lorries and you just think to yourself: ‘My goodness, you should not be here’.”

Lynne Morgan at Bunnings of Usk builders’ merchants said: “I don’t think there was any point in the [weight limit] ban in the first place. We need the deliveries and I can’t see a solution that pleases everyone.”

References

  1. ^ Best Place to Live (www.walesonline.co.uk)

Police find lorry driver fast asleep on the hard shoulder of the M67

A lorry driver was found fast asleep on the hard shoulder of the M67[1].

Traffic police spotted the Scania lorry parked up on the hard shoulder of the five-mile motorway which runs through Tameside[2] to Mottram.

They found the driver ‘having 40 winks’ at the roadside.

The driver was issued with a traffic offence report and moved along.

GMP Traffic posted a picture of the lorry on Twitter on Friday evening.

Alongside the picture, an officer wrote: “Traffic Officer #ME44 was travelling along the #M67 when they saw this HGV parked up on the hard shoulder.

“Turns out the driver was having 40 winks and was fast asleep.

“The driver was swiftly woken, issued a TOR and moved on! #planyourroute @NWmwaypolice.”

References

  1. ^ M67 (www.manchestereveningnews.couk)
  2. ^ Tameside (www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk)

Exposed, the brazen Turkish people-traffickers selling tickets to Britain for £10,000

In a brightly lit travel agent’s office off a busy Istanbul street, the people-smuggler told his lies with a winning smile. It would only take 20 minutes to cross the Channel in a small boat, he said. Once in England, it would be easy to find well-paid work and for relatives to follow. Scared of drowning? Don’t be, he said: hundreds of thousands of people had already made the same journey and only a couple of them had lost their lives. The rest were living happily in the UK. All this, he said, for a very reasonable price of about £10,000.

It was lies like these, told by a chain of traffickers stretching from the Middle East to the UK, that led Rasoul Iran-Nejad and

Why Ford’s Electric F-150 Lightning Is Bullish

Some auto investors were initially unimpressed by Ford Motor Company’s (NYSE: F)[1] reveal of its battery-electric F-150 Lightning last month. After all, if Ford is simply defending its pickup-truck turf from new entrants as the world transitions to el…

Kestrel chick rescued after lorry knocks it out of nest

This adorable kestrel chick was rescued in West Yorkshire after being knocked out of its nest.

The chick, which has been taken to Meltham[1] Wildlife Rescue, was found grounded and unable to fly after being knocked out of its nest by a lorry.

With no sign of mum or dad nearby, rescuers made the decision to take the little chick to wildlife rehabbers who will look after it until it is ready to be re-released into the wild.

PC Caroline Newsome from West Yorkshire Police[2]‘s wildlife crime unit, who took the chick to Metlham Wildlife Rescue, told Yorkshire Live: “The kestrel’s nest had been disturbed/damaged when a wagon has caught a power cable, attached to an old building, exactly where the nest was situated.

To get the latest email updates from Yorkshire Live, click here[3].

“The kestrel chick will stay at Meltham for a week, monitoring its health and feeding – he/she gulped down half a chick last night, so has a good appetite! – before heading up to Knoxwood wildlife rescue, where they have bigger aviary facilities.”

PC Newsome said that the plan will be to keep the kestrel ‘wild’ in captivity until it is ready to be released, which will probably be in the autumn.

With the bird nesting season upon us, PC Newsome has urged anyone who finds a chick in this situation to consult with a rescue centre before intervening – unless there is an obvious danger.

There is also more information about what to do if you find an injured bird on the RSPB website[4].

Download the YorkshireLive app[5] to customise the news that matters to you and get the latest updates first.

When will the heatwave end? The exact date temperatures will start to drop – and thunderstorms arrive[6]

Sheffield dad Marcus Ramsay stabbed to death at house party by cowardly teenager who left him to die[7]

References

  1. ^ Meltham (www.examinerlive.co.uk)
  2. ^ West Yorkshire Police (www.examinerlive.co.uk)
  3. ^ click here (www.examinerlive.co.uk)
  4. ^ RSPB website (www.rspb.org.uk)
  5. ^ YorkshireLive app (www.examinerlive.co.uk)
  6. ^ When will the heatwave end? The exact date temperatures will start to drop – and thunderstorms arrive (www.examinerlive.co.uk)
  7. ^ Sheffield dad Marcus Ramsay stabbed to death at house party by cowardly teenager who left him to die (www.examinerlive.co.uk)

Lorry driver praised for parking under motorway bridge to stop man jumping off it

A lorry driver has been praised after parking beneath a motorway bridge[1] which it was feared a man would jump off.

A photograph shared on social media show a man sat on the edge of a bridge flanked by what appears to be two police officers.

Cheshire Police said it was called to a bridge over the M62[2] by Warrington[3] on Tuesday afternoon due to safety concerns.

Vulnerable Citizen Support Leeds, a community interest company providing welfare services for those in need, shared a photograph of the incident on their Facebook page to raise awareness of mental health issues.

The non-profit organisation said it was sharing the image to show “it’s okay not be ok”.

The group, who also deliver food to the homeless, praised the lorry driver for taking action.

“What a trucker,” the post said. “Stopping on the hard shoulder and leaving his truck there – to ensure when he did jump it wasn’t a longer distance to the floor.”

It added: “What people don’t understand is that to jump on the other side of any bridge – indicates something drastically wrong with [their] mental health. But whats next?”

Social media users were united in praise for the lorry driver, with one user commenting: “Trucker is a good human and deserves the utmost respect.”

Another wrote: “God bless the trucker and I hope and pray the man who was suicidal gets the help he needs and deserves.”

Highways England confirmed to The Independent that the M62 was closed at Junction 9 by Warrington on Tuesday due to a police incident.

A Cheshire Police spokesperson told Sky News reports of safety concerns for a man on an M62 bridge by Warrington came through on Tuesday afternoon.

She said: “A full closure was put in place while officers and specialist negotiators attended to the scene to engage with the man who was brought to safety and handed into the care of paramedics.”

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email [email protected], or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

References

  1. ^ motorway bridge (www.independent.co.uk)
  2. ^ M62 (www.independent.co.uk)
  3. ^ Warrington (www.independent.co.uk)