Day 19: Plod
Glastonbury to Midsomer Norton. 18.1 miles. Miles to date: 278.4.
When you find a place you like, take a break. That’s my thinking on rest days during my trip north, and I knew within ten minutes of walking the winding lanes of Glastonbury, with its colourful street art and more colourful characters, that a day relaxing here would be time well spent.
So it’s been. It’s all the clichés you'd expect. A melting pot of spiritual, creative and outsider cultures - witches, religious types, travellers, hippies, musos and healers - who all rub along pretty much fine.
Throw in a few hundred thousand tourists a year, some gorgeous buildings, a buzzy town centre and the fabulous Tor and you’ve got a unique and winning combination. It won this road-worn sceptic over anyway. Or maybe that was just the indecently large slice of chocolate cake from the Rainbow's End Café.
What’s so remarkable is the dizzying number of spiritualities that converge here - like those famous ley lines. It has long been a place of Christian pilgrimage, the Chalice Well marking the site Joseph of Arimathea may or may not have placed the Holy Grail. That well has importance in Welsh and Irish mythology too. It’s a holy place for Catholics, Methodists, Sufis, Druids, Hare Krishnas, not to mention wickans, crop circle folk, and members of the Bahå’î Faith - a religion I’d not heard of, but who believe in the unity and equality of all people and religions.
This is a town where travellers settle and wanderers create homes. My first host was a poet, juicer and yogi. My second a couple who'd moved from Brighton to practice Reiki and crystal therapy. Both households love the town and won't be moving on.
I wandered the streets, ate the best food since embarking on my trip, listened to buskers, idled away hours in bookshops that would give indie publishers something to smile about, then headed to the Tor with its spectacular view: I've not seen many panoramas like it - even in the high places of Britain. Because the only hills anywhere near are the distant Mendips and Quantocks you can see 360 degrees for hundreds of square miles: the sea, the Levels, Exmoor - where I’ve been, where I’m going.
On top of the Tor was a dreadlocked guy from a Welsh eco-village who was striking up rhythms on a Bodrhån. I lay and listened. An inquisitive little girl sitting with her mum asked him how long he was going to play for.
“Until sunset,” he replied. “Ask me how long I’ve been playing for,” he asked with a smile.
“OK,” said the girl, “How long have you been playing for?”
“Non-stop, seven years.”
"Seven years!” the girl squealed. “But don’t you have to work..?”
At this point the girl’s mother chimed in. “Not everyone works, dear. Some people just... do their thing.”
“Do I have to work?”
Dad came over, impatient to leave - or derail the conversation. “Come on guys, time to go.”
“But daddy, I was learning how to be a hippy!”
That was yesterday.
Today it was back in the boots and onto the trail.
The weather couldn’t make up its mind what to do. It was still and warm, it wanted to rain. When it did it didn’t last. Neither one thing nor the other.
Like the walk. It was OK. But it had neither the highs of the Coast Path or the lows of the Levels. There were a few miles along straight marsh crossings, field-edge paths, meadows, hedgerowed lanes. Distant views of better places: Wells and its Cathedral. Glastonbury Tor on the backward horizon, old stone waymarkers clocking up the miles. Lovely Chilcompton with its obvious community pride: a painted bus shelter depicting local scenes and its twinned Italian town. Posters everywhere for a street party to commemorate the life of Jo Cox.
Crossing the Levels for the second time. Easy this time on straight lanes under wide skies.
Last views of the Tor.
Spring-fed fountain in the hamlet of Dulcote.
Painted bus stop, Chilcompton.
Lily-lined weirs in Chilcompton.
Tea stop to escape a shower in Binegar; pub on a single-street village. Two men at the bar, first probably in his 70s, second barely out of college. Empties showing they’d been in a while. A third man came in. The barmaid poured his pint before he’d sat down.
“How are you, Peter?” she asked.
“Not sleep well?”
Then back to silence as he drank.
The pond. No way round through it, got to go round it...
Lovely old beeches.
Mostly the walking was easy - the only climbing over the gently curvy Mendips and the only frustrations from a waymarked path that disappeared into a pond and some cropped fields into Midsomer Norton.
But even they weren’t irritating enough to raise emotions. It was a walk no-one would put in a walking guide. A walk that’d turn no-one onto walking. A plod.
How to keep engaged as the miles fell? Phonecalls to friends. Guess what colour sweet will be next from the bag. Then, in desperation, photographic eye spy: something beginning with 'C'.
C for.. Castle: The remains of Measbury Castle in the Mendips, an Iron Age Hill fort. The photo shows one of the surrounding ditches.
Crisps (or chips as they market themselves). Very nice they were too.
Um... cigarette butt?
Cow pat. I stopped playing the game at this point.
At mile 15, something special.
What looked on the map like an ordinary path turned out to be a stretch of holloway. It was in the back and beyond; past a farm, through a wood, paths losing their way in brambles. And there it was: dug deep, air thick with wild garlic, beech coppices making a roof arch, bedrock grooves suggesting cart wheels from long ago.
It was enough of a lift to take me through the remaining miles, into Midsomer Norton. Not the chocolate-box rural idyll its name conjures - stone cottages, honeysuckle lanes, twitching net curtains and DI Barnaby investigating the ghoulish killing of another parishioner. Instead a town whose wealth was coal, where the Palladium is shut up and the town hall now sells kebabs.
There is still mystery, though, and maybe murder. A newly erected grave in the churchyard for the '12 men and boys who perished [in the Wellsway Colliery Disaster, November 1859]. All were hooked to the thick hemp rope, which was maliciously cut."
As I read, a local came up. The backpack attracts questions. Where was I going? Why? He had lots to say about his town. A Masonic link. The rolling countryside around. Coal mining. And that mystery. "High points and low points," he said. "Same as everywhere." He wished me well, shook my hand and was off.
Riverside walk into Midsomer Norton.
Midsomer Norton High Street.
Next: Day 20 – Midsomer Norton to Bath.
Previous: Day 17 – North Pellerton to Glastonbury.