Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
(from the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”)
Following the trail of the Somerset Flatner, we discovered a set of plans to build it had been drawn up by enthusiasts at the Watchet Boat Museum. That was how we ended up in Watchet, looking for the plans, and hoping also to see the real boat. After an interesting journey, getting to know a few more people along the way, we arrived in Watchet – possible birthplace of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. An interesting small town on the coast which that day was blessed with remarkable and irrational weather…
2:00 pm: the museum opens… and we get to enter this fantastic space packed with floating inspiration, independently created and curated by a passionate and inventive local group, Friends of the Flatner. Bruce, a founding member, kindly met us at the museum and we had our first tantalising glimpse into the world of knowledge the group have accumulated over the years. We begun to realise just how complex the project is – the boat we want to build, the “Flatner” is a whole spectrum of plan variations depending on their functionality, context and owner. A couple of hours’ explanation opened windows and even doors, to look at the making of this fascinating project. Finally able to explore its history in depth, and being able to touch and handle the actual boats, we started to see the boat take shape in our minds’ eyes.
Thank you so much to Bruce, on behalf of the Watchet Boat Museum and The Friends of the Flatner. So much passion in one little shed – so much knowledge to learn from!
The River Parrett runs like a vein through this part of the Levels… it channels the flows of the landscape and brings life to it. Touching and listening to the water, we got to understand more in-depth this strong relationship of the land with the water. This river is like a thread linking the themes of the valley – it carries different types of water, different traces of history and therefore different meanings. This river contains the stories of the surroundings, its reflections show another angle on the landscape and how images can merge with its flow. It acts as a lens, and only being suspended, floating on the surface, can offer us this different perspective.
Many stories have been told about the floods and the river. The media, the locals, the experts translate into words what their actual relationship with the river is. However, the watery heritage of Somerset is more than that, and by being immersed in this research, looking at it from different views and different perspectives, already we begin to see the depth and complexity of this relationship between the land and the water, and how people have adjusted themselves to it, and it to them. We both have been looking at Somerset for few years as one of the interests in our research. However, by being in the river I could see all the points of view coming together in one drawing that so far is just a sketch, and will be many more sketches, during this project and future ones.
“Eyes can see widely: They can cross a river in full flood”. (Tswana proverb)
The following text is reproduced from a forthcoming notice in the next edition of the Langport Leveller with thanks to Janet Seaton.
Artists Seila Fernandez Arconada and Jethro Brice are working on a project with community groups in the Langport area, to recreate this iconic local boat – a flat-bottomed craft valued for its stability in a changeable landscape. Please get in touch if you have information, stories or pictures relating to the traditional Somerset Flatner and its smaller cousins, the Turf boat, Withy boat and Flattie. We are interested in collecting local memories to flesh out what we know from museums and archives – and perhaps even finding an original boat in somebody’s barn!
For more information about the project please visit http://www.some-when.co.uk.
Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Mannering, J (2008), The directory of inshore craft: Traditional working vessels of the British Isles, Barnsley, Seaforth Publishing, Pen & Sword Books Ltd