The Quantock Hills in Somerset are both beautiful and accessible: a few short walks were enough for these pictures. The changeable British weather ensured we went from freezing cold and hail to bright, warm sunshine in less than a day!
Dusk is a good time to see deer and other wildlife (we spotted a herd, but not when my camera was to hand...). By daylight, the views look very different and more domesticated animals appear.
The hills were the first area in Britain to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in 1956. However, they had long had their admirers: poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived for several years in Nether Stowey, on the edge of the Quantocks. While there, he wrote the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the famously-incomplete Kubla Khan: by his own account, he dreamed the poem and
On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!
On the hills today, an interruption from a greedy Quantock pony is more likely. These horses are owned by the Quantock Pony Commoners, and about 50 of them graze the hills. They have been living there since the 1950s, and are mixed-breed of mainly native pony descent. However, the habits of some have changed recently - visitors feeding them sugary treats have encouraged the wild ponies to come to the car parks seeking food. Since they see cars as mobile treat-dispensers, there have been some unfortunate incidents when their demands have become rather aggressive!
The sheep, thankfully, seem more docile (they are more likely to be the victims of visitors' dogs). The Quantocks have been used for sheep-grazing since the middle ages or earlier, and landowners had large herds here by the fifteenth century when the wool trade was flourishing.