Being an aspiring wordsmith, I take huge enjoyment from the written word. When we’re out and about on hiking trips I always enjoy reading the local interpretation boards, information leaflets… even the signposts. Most are pretty dull or just plain didactic; have you ever ‘noticed’ how frequently we’re told not to do this or that as if we’re all naughty children who, given half a chance, would be kicking a football across a golf course, parking in front of wide gates or jumping into head first into any expanse of water we happen to be passing.
Every now and then we come across a gem of a notice, sometimes official, other times erected by a business, sometimes typeset but frequently handwritten. I’ve taken to photographing them and posted some of the best in January this year.
Nothing could have prepared me for Somerset though. While researching and hiking England Coast Path: the Severn Estuary and Bridgwater Bay we’ve come across many brilliant signs, some pure comic genius and others demonstrating a mangled misuse of the English language. Whether it’s something in the (excellent and very abundant) cider or just that locals have embraced the ridiculous en masse, Somerset is in a league of its own when it comes to signs.
One of the daftest ones we spotted recently was this impassioned plea from a farmer for people NOT to call the emergency services. I love the lengths they went to to attract people’s attention, writing the message on a large, plastic lid and listing all those telephone numbers! Calling the Fire Brigade (such a lovely old-fashioned phrase) unnecessarily is clearly a big problem in these parts.
Cattle clearly aren’t the only animals who can get themselves into a p(r)ickle in Somerset; it appears the local hedgehog population regularly dices with death if this sign in Watchet is to be believed.
This next one comes from the ladies toilets at Weston-Super-Mare and falls into the category of notices that warn you not to do something you wouldn’t have considered doing in a million years… until someone put the idea in your head!
Coastal erosion is happening at a terrifying speed along some parts of the Somerset coastline. At Blue Anchor the local pub lost a large area of its beer garden when cliffs collapsed into the sea last winter. Perhaps that’s why the powers-that-be are so keen to keep us all away from the water.
Sometimes they are in such a rush to warn visitors of the dangers lurking around every corner, the language gets a little convoluted.
And if it’s not holidaymakers the sign-writers are fretting about, it’s their four-legged companions. I mean… it’s hard to believe that so many mutts have leapt to their death that the National Trust considers it imperative to erect a warning sign. I don’t know what all the fuss is about… we didn’t spot a single goat when we were walking on Brean Down in July.
When they’re not obsessing about cattle, humans, hedgehogs and dogs coming to a sticky end, the shopkeepers and publicans of Somerset seem intent on threatening small children. Though, this sign on an antique shop’s door seemed more likely to attract kitten-loving children than scare them off.
Others were more explicit in their threats.
Harri and I can put up with just about anything on a notice as long as the words are spelt correctly. Unfortunately, when an artist gets to work, the dictionary often seems to fly out of the window; this ice-cream van on Brean Down demonstrates the point perfectly.
Sometimes the number and order of letters is right but someone’s finger seems to get stuck on the space bar.
Most plaques are meant to be read in an instant; however, occasionally several sentences are needed. We spotted this wordy one outside the toilet block on Weston’s promenade. And if you’re curious to know what it’s all about I’ve explained in a previous blog.
As experienced coast path walkers, all we ask for is the occasional way mark with a recognisable logo on it. After all, you can’t usually go far wrong if you follow the coast. In Somerset, however, they’re not taking any chances. At the far end of Minehead promenade was the largest and most detailed coast path sign we’ve ever encountered. Vehicular ramp? Perhaps an example of when a simple arrow would have sufficed.
Some of the signs we saw looked more like a throwback to 1950s America than something a modern sign-writer might produce. These colourful cartoon-like illustrations made me feel nostalgic about my childhood and our annual seaside holidays.
This poster outside Sea Quarium was far too big to photograph properly but I loved the idea of the mouse poking out of a porthole to illustrate the ‘Fantastic Phobias’ zone (though I probably wouldn’t have wanted to go inside… just in case there were any large, hairy spiders!).
Clearly someone at Minehead & West Somerset Golf Club also has a sense of humour as these illustrated instructions demonstrate. Fortunately, there were no flying golf balls to report as we walked past.
There’s no doubt about it, we’ve really loved rediscovering Somerset this spring/summer. The coastline around Weston, Blue Anchor, Dunster and Minehead is incredibly pretty and there are plenty of wide, sandy beaches.
There’s also an abundance of delicious Somerset ciders to choose from so sticking to the cider theme I’ll leave you with the brightly-coloured sign of one of the friendliest pubs we have ever visited… Pebbles Tavern in Watchet which not only opens in the afternoon (take note Welsh publicans) but provided us with table service in May (it might have had something to do with the way I was hobbling… blisters on both feet!).
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