A distant hilltop

“A great view here.”

“Yes,” my father would say, “If you look out at the middle of the most distant ridge, you can see a hill beyond it more faintly – that’s Pilsdon Pen. It’s above Lyme Regis. It’s twenty-seven miles from here.”

I loved and still love Lyme Regis. I could spend a lot of time standing, staring out of the window, glimpsing the distant point and imagining that if I were there I could look down to the coast.

I don’t know if it was twenty-seven miles as a crow flew or twenty-seven by road. It was probably the bird flight distance, I am not sure that Pilsdon Pen is accessible by road.

Our village is not on particularly high ground, three hundred and twenty feet above sea level lingers in the memory. However, that might be a mistaken altitude, I also remember the population of High Ham as being three hundred and twenty-eight. Whatever the exact height, being three hundred feet above sea level would not ordinarily be regarded as being on high ground, it was just that we were surrounded by the lowlands of the Somerset Levels (the elevation has not changed, the population of the village has grown considerably).

In all that time spent looking out a Pilsdon Pen, I do not recall giving much thought to the countryside that lay between the window and the hilltop.

Staring straight at the hill, there must have been a couple of hundred square miles of Somerset and Dorset that lay between. Certainly there were no big towns or cities, but there would have been small towns and dozens and dozens of villages, villages with the sort of names you might find in novels. Why in the imagining of the view from Pilsdon Pen was there never an imagining of all the places from where you might have seen it?

Perhaps it was a tunnel vision, or being above ground, corridor vision. All that mattered was that distant point and what lay beyond it, the foreground and middle ground did not exist.

Looking back, there is almost a sense of regret. How much delight might there have been for a child who looked at a map and then tried to imagine all of the places he could see beyond?

Looking back, there is also an awareness of how much that distant hilltop meant to my father, its significance being not that it stood higher than the hills in between us, but that it stood above Lyme Regis, his single most favourite place on Earth.

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2 Responses to A distant hilltop

  1. djc says:

    Google maps gives a shortest by road distance High Ham to Pilsdon Pen as 26.7 miles! (Or you could cycle there— 23.8m)

    • Ian says:

      Ah. 26.7 miles by road in Somerset could mean the other side of the ditch as a crow flies!

      I just worked out that I could use Google maps to measure the distance from my bedroom window on Windmill Road to Pilsdon Pen and I got 18.76 miles.

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