Halfway House is three miles or so from High Ham. Lying on the Langport to Somerton road, it is the pub for the village of Pitney. It is a pub that is packed on summer’s evenings.
Much of Halfway’s custom is due to the excellence of the chef, who is probably a distant relation, Hugh, her father, and my mother coming from the same hamlet of Pibsbury, between Langport and Long Sutton. Hugh’s photograph is among a collection of black and white prints that hang on the walls of the bar: his face is a face filled with character and interest, the lines tell of countless hours of farmwork in all elements. Hugh’s face brings memories of farm life in our community and stories of my mother’s schooldays. Hugh’s name was frequent in recollections of life in the neighbourhood in the 1940s and 1950s.
Halfway House is the “local” for various among my cousins so when a meal to mark the birthday of one of my uncles was planned, Halfway House seemed the logical choice.
It being a fine evening, warm with a gentle breeze, I thought I would walk. In former times, three miles would have been a forty-five minute stroll. The advantage of walking in former times was that there was no digital technology to suggest a route other than the obvious one.
Opening Google maps to check the likely time at which I would arrive at the pub, I discovered it was suggesting a shorter route than that by road. Counter-intuitively, instead of turning right at the bottom of the hill and following the road along the valley that wound its way to Pitney, it suggested a left-turn and a walk through Pitney Woods via “Stowey Road.” The route turned rightwards off the road, up a short “No Through Road” which came to an end at a fork. The wooden fingerpost to the right said “Public Footpath,” the one to the left, “Stowey Road – Restricted Byway.” Never before in my life had I heard the term “restricted byway,” it sounded something more substantial than a footpath.
The byway was a mud and stone track through the trees, then a mud track, and then a scramble up a steep path that is probably a stream bed in winter time. The ruts were deep and the only sign of human presence was that of horseshoe prints in the mud and the marks left by the knobbly tyres of a trials motorbike. Huffing and puffing, it was a relief to struggle to the top and gasp for air. A well-surfaced tarmac road bordered by neatly-cut verges lay ahead, a wooden bench in memory of a local walker stood at the roadside. It seemed almost as though someone had planned the completion of a road through the woods and had never seen it through to completion.
It took fifty-four minutes to reach the pub. “Did you walk?” asked one of my cousins.
“Through Pitney Woods,” I said.
“You didn’t come over Stowey?”
She shook her head, “Roads are easier, you know.”