“Oh no, not again, Mum, mum there’s something wrong with me,”
”What’s wrong Billy,” said his mother with a smile, “and why do you keep on going to that little tree and standing in front of it?”
”Well you remember when I was three, you stood me up to it and made that mark where my head was?”
”Yeeess, why, did it bother you?”
”Well you told me that that would be half my height I’d be when I grow up.”
”That’s right dear, that’s what they say. Why do you keep on checking it?”
”Well, mum, I’m getting smaller and smaller. I was a lot taller then, I’m never going to reach twice the height that mark is now.
This day was summer when the sun shone, and biting winter when clouds overtook the sky, a tumultuous mix of seasons in the span of an afternoon. An apt description of Exmoor, an unforgiving place. In one day you can walk through a whole year of weather, warm, wet, cold the whole shebang. It is all part of it’s magic and sometimes mystery.
A young family were staying in Porlock weir, the husband a warehouseman, his wife a part-time classroom assistant. She had returned to work after a two and a half year break after the birth of their first child, Millie. It was Easter half term and they had managed to rent a small cottage.
With Millie tiring of rock-pooling and net-dipping every day they decided to visit Culbone church, reputed to be the smallest church in England. Although a long walk, the path was suitable to take a buggy through the woods along the gently sloping cliff edge.
It was a glorious Spring morning when they set off, Millie well wrapped up but her parents dressed as if for a Summer stroll. A cloudless sky when they set out but while in the church it began to darken. On the way back the rain started to fall. At first just a few large drops but gradually increasing to a downpour. They had just passed what appeared to be a cave entrance. He took Millie by the hand and ran back to the cave while his wife dragged the buggy. A leaflet in the church had stated that charcoal burners used to live in the woods during medieval times, part of a leper colony so they assumed that this had once been a dwelling. In fact it was the entrance to an ancient, disused lead-mine. This was an industry that was not mentioned as it could be bad publicity for the countryside.
The rain was incessant and after a while where it had been seeping from above their heads it became a constant stream. They were amused when without prompting, Millie made a cup of her hands and started to drink the water and splashing it on her face. After about fifteen minutes the rain stopped and once more the sun came out. They hurried back to their holiday cottage as fast as possible ready to change and relax before the journey back to their home the next day.
In the car Millie started to complain of stomach ache and seemed in so much pain that they called into accident and emergency at their local hospital. After many anxious hours they were told how lucky they had been. Millie was suffering from arsenic poisoning from the water that had seeped through the mine roof. She had been very close to death. They would be prepared for any weather without sheltering next time.