It’s that time of year, time to test out the routes, see the various sites and work out where the loos and car parks are. In some respects, it’s one of the best times to travel around the UK. This week I am looking at a host of ancient buildings. Some in fine fettle, lovingly and painstakingly preserved, others not so loved or that show the signs of their degradation following conflict.
Before I begin, I ought to just cater to those who are reading this seeking background etymology on the origins of the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty.” In short, no one knows. The egg shape character first appears as an egg in the early illustrations of Alice in Wonderland. Humpty Dumpty has been slang for a person of ample bearing for several centuries but we find the British Civil War (Scotland was also included in the conflict). It is during this period that a number of weapons lay claim to being the said, “Humpty Dumpty.” The first printed reference appears in 1797 but hats off to Colchester for the claim that a cannon fired from the city walls during the civil war is the original source without any historical backing whatsoever. It appears to be nothing but a nice story about a cannon which inflicted damage on parliamentarian troops before falling to the ground and the Royalists (the King’s men), were unable to restore it to its position and the ton was lost. The money falls on Humpty Dumpty being a riddle for children. Question: Why could no one reassemble Humpty Dumpty? Answer: Because he’s an egg.
I have been using Humpty Dumpty as a key to my recent blogs. We have looked at various aspects of the Guard Change and this week an exploration of castles and ruins in the area we know as “the West Country.”
My weekend exploration began at Glastonbury, not an area in fine fettle but definitely worth a visit. Some will know it as the home as the Glastonbury Festival. However, the allure to me is the Tor. Not dissimilar to the peak crafted by those who had seen the aliens swopping the US mid west in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Glastonbury Tor is an incongruous hill in Somerset. It rises rather spookily to 158m or 518 feet, if you prefer and at its pick can be found the tower of an old chapel. Why do I say spooky?
I just find it odd that this place which is bursting with mystery and legend, has with it a numerical anagram (if that’s the term?). What I mean is, whichever measurement you prefer, the same numbers feature. 1,5 and 8. The area surrounding Glastonbury is on or below sea level and so known as the Somerset Levels. Legend has it that Glastonbury was the Isle of Avalon and to add intrigue was the place where King Arthur was buried. For myth and legend need you go further?
From Glastonbury to Wells, passing circuitously and not direct through the Mendip Hills. Wells Cathedral seems to have taken over from Glastonbury as one of the most important religious centres in West England. Its Cathedral boasts the opulence of a powerful bishop and statesman. It is also a triumph of the art of the stone mason. Lovingly maintained and clearly still an important religious centre. I stopped off at the Wells and Mendip Museum and was told that the cathedral grounds regularly featured as a film location. An impressive list of period dramas were reeled off and only the day before the latest series of Poldark had been filming there. The one film missing from the list became obvious on my wanders into Wells marketplace. On Fridays, Hot Fuzz Tours take place around the town. Hot Fuzz, wow, now you’re talking.
My sojourn of the West Country ended with a fleeting visit to Farleigh Hungerford Castle, a testament to the longevity of those who build fine buildings as a monument to themselves. You’ve not heard of the first Lord Hungerford? Let that be a lesson to someone (Look on my works ye mighty…..).
Continuing on the theme of spooky monuments, like a magnetic pull, I felt the need to return to Avebury, its stones and the nearby Silbury Hill. Where Glastonbury Tor was carved by nature, Silbury Hill was built by man. Around the same period as the Pyramids of Giza, 40m or 131ft high a pile of clay and chalk dominates the surrounding landscape. And no one knows why it was built. On a whim, while in the area I followed the sign along a footpath to West Kennet Long Barrow. As the light faded, I found myself drawn to the top of a hill where some 5000 years ago a structure was built with its entrance facing East toward the rising sun. I was thankful that mobile phones now come with flashlights (torches) as standard, so was able to wander alone into the darkness where I just had to marvel at the chambers that had been built within the barrow. On a whim, while in the area I followed the sign along a footpath to West Kennet Long Barrow. As the light faded, I found myself drawn to the top of a hill where some 5000 years ago a structure was built with its entrance facing East toward the rising sun. I was thankful that mobile phones now come with flashlights (torches) as standard, so was able to wander alone into the darkness where I just had to marvel at the chambers that had been built within the barrow.
I came away from the weekend full of inspiration and looking forward to sharing the adventure with someone.