The bus I took to Taunton last Friday was a single-decker one. On the way home the 29 was a double-decker, and I was fortunate to get an upstairs front seat.
Allowing plenty of time at the bus stop, as it was only a two-hourly service, I had seen the Market House, a Grade II listed building now housing a variety of bodies,
and that the Dragon would be visiting Taunton this weekend.
Once we had left the outskirts of the town, I couldn’t resist taking a few photos with my phone. The majority of the route was across the moors, along a road that had been closed because of floods – a not unusual occurrence – a couple of weeks ago. Traffic has to go a longer way round by motorway when that happens. But now it was a pretty, if mostly dull weather-wise, journey across the Somerset Moors, through countryside and villages.
Given the grubby state of the windows, and the fact that the bus was moving, I am amazed that the photos are this clear.
The Somerset Moors (the correct name for most of what are commonly called the Somerset Levels) abound in ditches, rhynes and canals, not to mention remote-controlled sluices, all part of the water management system. The initial drainage was by the Romans, much extended by mediaeval monks, and continues to this day. It’s when nature wins that roads are closed.
The Polden Hills, the lowest range in Somerset, coming into view.
The bus passed nearby starling roosting grounds, and this is just a part of the flock which flew across the window at 16.20, on its way to join millions of other birds converging for the night.
Not too far from home now, the pimple of Glastonbury Tor coming into sight.
Thanks to the British Pilgrimage Trust, I have now been able to include a plan of the Glastonbury Way, and not just provide a link to the Way’s Facebook page to see one. (Sadly it does not include the Board numbers, being concerned rather with spiritual points of interest.)
In September, Zoe and I had walked Part 1, nearly all of the western half of the Way, cutting out just a little from each end for the sake of convenience. Likewise in November we cut the very beginning of the second part, joining it as it turns east off the central ‘square’ portion.
I took fewer photos this time. The scenery was very attractive, but there was not a great deal of variety. The overall length of the walk was about the same, as can be seen.
The views to the north across an outpost of the Somerset (Levels and) Moors, all along the west-east ridge that is Paradise Lane, are lovely, and it was difficult not to overshoot – photos that is.
According to the weather forecast, we should have lost the sun by now, but we didn’t for another hour or so.
‘Gog and Magog [I quote from the app] are the only surviving exemples of the Avalon Oaks. These were a group of oaks that were mostly felled in 1906. One of these great oaks possessed a diameter of 10 feet 9 inches, (3.35 m) and a circumference of 34 feet 4 inches (10.5m). This suggests an age of at least one thousand years. Gog is now expired having been damaged by fire in 2017. Magog survives and provides a living link with our mediaeval past.’
It was a hard slog up the long Stone Down Lane, parallel with Paradise Lane, and this is the only photo I took on the way.
Once arrived at the Tor, we decided not to go up, but to take the alternative route round it.
Once round the other side, we came to the Chalice Well area. One of the houses had a most beautiful fuchsia at the side of the road. I took lots of photos of the bush, and chose this one.
This is not in fact the Chalice Well, which is accessible only behind a pay wall (as it were!) This is the White Spring and Temple. Whenever I have passed it before it has had many ‘alternative’ people there, and I have not ventured close.
The description of the formal Way ends here, but those who parked their car near Glastonbury Information Centre, where the Way starts, would have ten minutes further to walk. It was eight minutes or so in the opposite direction to my house. We noted this panel on the side of a house on the main road we had to cross.
We headed away from Glastonbury for our ‘pub’ lunch, and found that our destination in Butleigh no longer served food at lunchtimes. That led to the serendipitous discovery of a very nice coffee shop there, which served much more than its description suggested.
Yesterday was the second of my resumed monthly walks with my friend Zoe, though sadly the pub lunch at the end will not resume until next month – hopefully. We started from my house, and followed a route I had done once before, many years ago, but which I had not felt able to do more recently as I didn’t want to venture alone along that part of the route which lines the River Brue. It is now populated with somewhat scruffy residential caravans, past which I would not wish to go alone. There were many more caravans than shown here.
The walk was a little longer than planned, as what we did for a time clearly did not fit with what was on the OS map. I had had no problem with this when I had previously done the walk. Perhaps we were just chatting too much. I think I know now what went wrong, and am tempted to go and check it out sometime, but…
The walk was on a very local patch of the Somerset Moors, a.k.a. the Somerset Levels, though technically those are off to the west, bounded roughly by the M5 motorway. Over the centuries from Roman times they have been progressively drained, turning from marshes into pastureland. (The Draining of the Somerset Levels, by Michael Williams is fascinating on the subject.) They abound in ditches and rhynes (pronounced ‘reens’) and if you can help it you don’t set off across a field unless you know for sure that you will not be cut off at the other side by a water course too wide to leap across. (Moors, levels, rhynes explained here.)
A much enlarged clip from the above picture will show how the local authority is meeting the obligation placed on it by the government to provide sanitation for the caravan dwellers during the pandemic, as part of its campaign to get the homeless off the streets. This is to end after 17th May.
Glastonbury Tor accompanied us throughout.
Having passed this caravan I turned round to take a photo of the mattress lying among the branches of the tree, and the solar panel.
No wonder the road patches had seemed fresh!
Difficult not to stop and watch little lambkins. West Pennard Hill in the background.
When we caught sight of this swan it was way off, but when it caught sight of us it swam purposefully in our direction.
And swam purposefully away from us once it saw we had nothing to give it.
It was around here that we started to suspect we weren’t quite sure that we were where we thought we were. Still, it’s a nice bridge, of sorts.
We stood looking at this flock for quite a long time. After all, we had to make sure that each of the four lambs dispersing from playing together managed to find its right mother.
It this point I thought we were on Ponters Ball, a local earthwork of unknown age and purpose. Glastonbury is, in effect a peninsula, surround by Moors, formerly marshes. This earthwork marks the fourth, non watery, side of the peninsula. The earthwork did not particularly impress Zoe, who had not heard of it before I drew it to her attention as we made our arrangements.
In any case, I was wrong. This was Ponters Ball, reached ten minutes later. Looking southwards,
and here northwards. Zoe was a little more impressed. And from here on we knew exactly where we were.
Some furry creature has come to a sad end, at the hands – or more probably claws of a feathery creature
We were well and truly on the homeward stretch now, here entering the grounds of Millfield Preparatory School.
Tennis practice. And we also saw equestrian practice, but were too close for comfortable photography … and the battery of my phone – I had not bothered with my camera as I didn’t expect to take any photos – was running out.
Just enough juice to take one last picture of the Tor.
The day before storm Ciara was beautiful, just right for joining a group privileged to visit an RSPB hide not normally open to the public, (for complicated reasons). West Sedgemoor is just about the southernmost extent of the Somerset Moors and Levels, and much of it is an RSPB reserve, acquisition of which has been built up over the decades. This means the RSPB is now able to control the water levels, to the advantage of wildlife of course, by the management of sluices, these days remotely.
We were given this information en route to the hide, having stopped here to overlook part of the moor.
And before we reached the hide we saw, looking right,
Also seen en route, looking left:
We stayed for about 90 minutes. Here are some of the dozens and dozens of photos I took. It should be said that nearly all of them were taken with my camera on its maximum zoom. The other caveat I would make is that there were too many people to make it easy to ask our expert leader for identifications, so some of them given here are tentative. I hope a knowledgeable reader may offer suggestions and corrections.
I’ve tried to find a female equivalent of ‘avuncular’, but, although there are suggestions on line, there is no such word authenticated by common, or even rare, usage. Anyway, I had an auntly visit for the two nights either side of Christmas Day, and we fully exploited the lovely day that was to be outdoors.
A short, sunny, very local morning walk, with Glastonbury Tor to our left (on the outward leg) went unrecorded as far as images are concerned, but it made a good start to the day. After a light lunch, conscious that daylight would not last long, we drove across the moors (formerly known as the Somerset Levels, now renamed the Avalon Marshes) to Burrowbridge, where the King Alfred Inn was the headquarters of the unofficial relief operations during the terrible flooding in 2014. We parked at the National Trust car park, and I offered young-in-heart B. the chance to climb up Barrow Mump, a sort of mini Glastonbury Tor.
She was game. (She always is.) I really should have thought ahead and suggested she put on trousers.
It was VERY muddy and even more slippery.
It was not for lack of energy that we decided to abandon our target, but because it just became so difficult and dangerous underfoot. We thought that discretion was the better part of valour. Indeed, we were pretty pleased with our achievement.
The low sun was getting lower , and I was very aware that these were ideal conditions to see the starlings coming in to roost, since it is only in clear skies that they do their amazing murmurations, their swirling and whirling to avoid attacks by birds of prey. (I presume the latter do not hunt in cloudy conditions.) Otherwise they just arrive where they have decided to settle for the night and go straight down to bed.
I had rung the starling hotline, which tells you where our local starlings have settled the previous night. (They come in numbers to feed in my garden during the day!) It is not guaranteed, but likely that they will choose the same place, out of three possibilities, the following night. By a series of questions during the ten-minute drive to what I made a mystery destination, B. managed to work out where, or at any rate why, we were going. We found many people already gathered at RSPB Ham Wall. Ten minutes later the starlings started to arrive. And to murmurate, possibly the best I have ever seen there.
We stayed for about half an hour, and could have stayed for the same time again to see all the stragglers in. The light was going fast and the birds were still streaming in as we left.
I was, as they say, right chuffed, that nature had laid on this spectacle. B. had not visited Somerset for eight years, so this was real treat for both of us.
A few photos and a couple of videos I took this morning at the RSPB’s Ham Wall reserve on the Avalon Marshes (Somerset Levels) before and at sunrise. I had been to see the starlings’ murmuration yesterday evening, and was inspired to return to see them get up for the day. A couple of hours later 30 of them were squabbling over the bird seed I put out in my garden.
My camera made some light conditions appear brighter than in fact they were, and I’m not clever enough to undo that effect in Photoshop.
I must get to the reserve more frequently. It’s so near where I live …
A few days ago, when the weather wasn’t as bitterly cold as it is now, a London friend came to visit me, and among other things we had a lovely walk on Shapwick Heath, part of the Avalon Marshes, also known as the Somerset Levels. The whole area has been restored for wildlife after a century and more of being worked for peat. Natural England, the RSPB, and the Somerset Wildlife Trust each manages part of the Marshes. The visitor is rarely aware of who owns and manages what, and the bodies work together as part of the Avalon Marshes Partnership.
Another feature of the place is the existence of the Sweet Track, built by people living in the area in 3807 BC or 3806 BC. How so precisely dated? By the science of dendrochronology, reading the tree rings of this wood beautifully preserved by the acidic bogs.
We walked for about two miles each way along the River Brue, straightened and canalised as part of the draining of the Levels centuries ago. To our left was the river, to the right marshland.
We walked as far as, and examined as best we could, a new hide being built,
opposite this view beyond the Brue
before turning back and along a track
to an old one, called Noah’s Hide. We stayed there for quite a while, enjoying big landscape views and smaller more intimate sights, bordering on voyeurism once or twice.
We were disappointed that no pair was formed from the three Great crested grebes we saw. Their courtship dance is wonderful to see, as they bow and weave in perfect mirrored harmony on the water.
When it was time to return to the car and home, we congratulated ourselves on the weather which had certainly been better than forecast, and felt that the exercise we had done amply justified eating the Eccles cakes we had bought from Burns the Bread earlier on in the day.
The weather forecast yesterday afternoon indicated that there should be two hours when I could get out for a walk without getting drenched, so I grasped the opportunity with both legs – while covering the rest of me with a waterproof just in case. To the bottom of my road first, where I was not surprised to find that the nearest bit of the Somerset Levels (technically Somerset Moors here) due south was waterlogged, as it frequently is at this season.Up Cinnamon Lane to the very busy National Freight Route A 361, east-west at this point, crossing which involves taking your life in your hands. But there is no alternative if one wants to walk up or – as I did yesterday – around Glastonbury Tor.In essence my walk was to be a clockwise circumnavigation of the Tor, which is 158 metres at its highest (plus tower), and Stone Down Hill. The waterlogged fields were at about 5 metres above sea level, and my walk took me to about 50 metres maximum. Higher ground was to my right and lower to the left.
In Wellhouse Lane this is to be seen on the side of one of the few houses there.Off left onto Lypyatt Lane, with a right and backward glance to the Tor and its tower, the only remaining part of the 14th century St Michael’s Church, of which the rest was demolished at the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. (An earlier, wooden, church was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1275.) Read more here.
From which you can see that there is an easy and a hard way up the Tor
A glimpse to my left of the tower of St John’s Church
and more of the town of Glastonbury
On the bank to my right
Occasionally the low-lying sun came out, giving splendid effects, straight ahead of me this time
But mainly the weather was gloomy
No doubt a badger track up the bank
To my left is now pretty well due north, towards Wells
Rain coming in from the Mendip Hills? Fortunately it turned out just to be hanging cloud.
My walk next took me through Paddington Farm which is a working organic farm providing free educational facilities, especially for disadvantaged children.
Once past the buildings, I left farm tracks for very soggy fields.
The last stile
Kissing gates from now on – thank you Mendip District Council
… and Magog
The two small cottages are called Gog and Magog too.
Norwood Park Farm is now a dairy farm. The house is Grade II listed, and was built in 1457 for the privacy and sport of the Abbots of Glastonbury. They had it alright, abbots, in those days.
The top of the Tor peers over Stone Down Hill
West Pennard over to my left
I’m drawing nearer to the Tor again
Unfortunately, 6 minutes of this circuit involve walking back along the aforementioned noisy and busy A361, at the point at which it goes alongside Millfield’s Preparatory School. Needless to say, traffic does not respect the 40 and 50 mph speed limits.
The children have a bridge they can use to cross the road, but this is not accessible to the general public as far as I know, and once more I took my life in my hands.Once over I was able to look back to my right for a further view of the Tor, and then I noticed, not for the first time, that spring seems to be well advanced. (Or winter never really came, though there’s plenty of time yet.)Over to my left, to the south, as I embarked on the last few minutes of my walk, I could see the Polden Hills, the lowest range in Somerset. And of course, the Tor was still to my right.Those last few minutes of my walk were pleasantly prolonged as coming in the other direction was my friend Neill, custodian of the Glastonbury Antiquarian Society’s website. He entertained me with an account of the earliest local excavations of the Tor, by one John Skinner, in the early 19th century. Extracts from Skinner’s Journal here.While we chatted it started, and stopped, fine drizzling.When I set off again, a yellow helicopter circled for a minute or two,I passed a huge bonfire,
Two men were standing by…
and I took a final look at the Tor between two of my neighbours’ houses. It started raining shortly afterwards as night fell.