Retracing Old Steps to Glastonbury

Well, I didn’t meet Andrew the ghost last night but did hear the sound of children laughing and playing. This is rather strange as it was far too late for it to have been carried from a school or playground. I have experienced this phenomena before at Madron Well in Cornwall – all very strange.

map of Somerset Levels shoing 1996 route in orange and current route in blue
1996 map route

I’m using an old map of the Somerset Levels and alongside my highlighted route (in orange) is a blue line that was the track I walked in 1996 when I walked from Hampshire to Cornwall  to purchase The Museum of Witchcraft. Strangely I was walking the Mary/Michael Pilgrim Way before it was created.

After the 1996 walk I remember thinking ‘I hate the Somerset levels’. This time around they confuse me. The people I have met are all lovely, the fisherman netting baby eels (elvers) and the farmer who caught me trespassing on his track were charming. The women cleaning the churches, and passers-by were all fine but I still feel uncomfortable here. Maybe it is the lack of topographical features or the fact that it is all so low; should we be walking around on ground that is below or close to sea level?

I am missing my lovely Tilley hat and wonder if I left it on a fence post. I found myself on the wrong side of a drain and had to walk a mile or so to find a bridge to rectify the situation; getting hot and bothered I stopped to remove my coat. It’s easy to knock my hat off when removing the backpack so I think, being next to a drain, I placed the hat somewhere safe during the operation and suspect that, being flustered, I forgot to pick it up.

walking poles propped against stile - Glastonbury Tor in the distance ahead
Looks like I’m heading in the right direction

I’ve booked in to The George and Pilgrim pub in Glastonbury tonight as it’s going to rain and I’ve had a chance meeting with some friends – a very pleasant end to a strange day’s walking.

Covered 18.9 miles today.



Tilley Appeal

Graham is devastated that he has lost his Tilley hat!

If anyone is around the area between Barrow Mump and Othery in Somerset please look out for it. It has his phone number and his card with his email and blog address in it. He thinks it may have been knocked off when he was climbing a stile but is not sure. He’s walked a couple of hours already today so is not keen to retrace his steps.

Will I Meet Andrew on the Mump…..?

Graham in shorts with walking poles
trying out my shorts today

I’ve just pitched my tent inside the ruined church at Burrow Mump. This does, at first glance, sound like an irresponsible thing to do but it is not as bad as it seems.  There is plenty of evidence that sheep graze the inside of the roofless nave and the church was always this way – it was never finished, it never did have a roof. I will of course do no damage and take away other people’s rubbish as well as my own.

I also checked with some locals and they all encouraged my overnight stay. The first person even helped me put my tent up as it was rather windy and the second one, April, a local pagan, told me about some of her experiences with the Mump. At the end of the day (and it was the end of the day) I simply couldn’t resist taking this opportunity  to sleep in/on such a special place on the Michael line. April said that once, while walking with friends, she looked up at the Mump and saw flames shooting out of the windows and roof. They all watched this whilst walking and assumed that some kids had lit a big bonfire in the church. On inspection later there was no evidence of any fire at all.

We talked about the incredible ‘energy’ or atmosphere that emanates from the Mump and its long history as a place of worship. April also told me of visions of white robed figures and of a friendly spirit called Andrew that hangs out here. She thinks that he would find me amusing, I do hope he says hello.

I did not cover as much distance today, mainly because I spent quite a lot of time mooching  around churches.  People on the levels seem very easy to talk to. I have had an interesting conversation with a man repairing a church organ; he was a keen walker. Another chap informed me that the path I was on led to the former house of the richest man in Somerset, when he died he left £50,000 to his cook : ‘that got ’em talking’, he said. I also met a group of church ‘recorders’ (nerds) that record and document every last detail of each church, there were about half a dozen of them.  One even offered me a cup of lukewarm coffee from her flask; I politely declined.

I must thank the Westmancott family for looking after me so well last night; bath, food, laundry, bed, drying my damp tent and sleeping bag – and even a beer- what more could a tired walker want.

Time to wait for Andrew………

Along the Great Western Canal

The night before last the rain held off and I slept like a log. As I was preparing to get up, the sky opened again and the tent got soaked. The is becoming a recurring problem. Luckily, the evening before was dry and windy so I erected the tent as soon as I found a reasonable spot and let the wind whistle through it. By bedtime (about 7.30 pm) it was dry enough to put the inflatable mattress and sleeping bag in.

The wild camping was OK but not up to my usual standards. I was on the edge of a field next to a canal but did not have the views – maybe I’m getting too fussy.

I’ve covered more miles today – just over 16.2. I was speaking to my friend Andy on the phone yesterday and we discussed my average daily mileage. Andy pointed out that as soon as I got on a way-marked, flat trail my average would shoot up. Well today I was following the Grand Western Canal towpath and The West Dean Way over flat and mostly dry terrain. Andy was right and I reached Taunton a day earlier than expected.

In the morning I found myself getting agitated by the noise of the busy road and it got me thinking that the sleepy canal was once a very high-tech transport system that now becomes a means of recreation. In a hundred years or two I wonder if our road system will have returned to nature and if people will be able to dowse the magnetic changes imposed on the bedrock by the thousands of cars and trucks that have belted up and down it? And I wonder how people will get themselves from A to B?

When I see an old windmill in the countryside I have similar thoughts – did people object to having a high tech monstrosity built in their back yard? Will future generations view an old wind turbine as quaint?

interior of Greenham church facing altar with ceiling beams and large hanging discs
Greenham Church

Tonight I am spending the night in a friend’s house in Taunton. The tent is drying, the sleeping bag is airing and my clothes have been washed. Oh and I have a bed to sleep in – Luxury!

From Interview with a Dutchman to a Horse-drawn Canal Boat

The tent stayed dry all night. It was warm enough to leave the outer flap open a little so as to improve the ventilation enough to stop any condensation. The forecast was good for today so I got dressed and prepared in a very pleasant mood, mooching around, enjoying the scenery, then, literally out of the blue, down came the rain and soaked the tent. Never trust a weather forecast!

So yet again I am walking with a wet tent in my pack.

I walked away from the wonderful but moody and menacing moors and into the sheep strewn rolling hills of North Devon. The red mud in this area clings to your feet and creates a suction that feels like you’re wearing lead-weighted diving boots; it sucks your energy and coats every item of clothing you are wearing with a gloopy red muck.

I walked hard today as I had an interview arranged with Wilmar Taal, a Dutch journalist interested in some aspects of The Museum of Witchcraft. It was nice to meet up with him, his wife, and the girls from the excellent Troy books who drove him out to meet me.

The Exe Valley Way must be a treat when the path is dry but it was so wet that it was almost impassable and difficult to hurry.

I am always being asked ‘when will you be at ……..?’ It is so difficult to predict how long it will take to get somewhere unless you know the path. Obviously you can look at the map distance and contours but they won’t tell you about the footpath diversion, the fallen tree or the energy-eating mud.

Have camped next to the Grand Western Canal. The forecast is for a wet night so with any luck it will stay dry!

Witch Museum Fans Everywhere

Sitting in the pub last night I planned today’s route and ear-wigged the conversation on the table next to me.  Should they have a Eurovision evening in the pub? Anyone want cheap tickets to the Labour party conference? How wonderful the Museum of Witchcraft was!  Yes, really, the landlord was planning a visit today. I am gobsmacked at how often this happens to me – the museum is talked about all around the world.

yellow primroses along a pathway
Devon Primroses

I announced my interest in the said museum and everybody had nothing but praise for it – I was very proud and pleased. I hope you enjoyed your visit to the museum Gary as much as I enjoyed your pub.

Some miles down the road from Drewsteignton I got chatting to a couple of bee-keepers, it turned out they knew and loved Boscastle too. The chap was telling me how awkward he felt when he was first given  his bee hives; how he had to stand in front of each hive and tell the bees that he was their new owner  and that he would look after them. I talk about this tradition in my book (The British Book of Spells and Charms);  how you must inform bees of any changes in the affairs of their keepers and their families.

Kipling wrote:

Marriage, birth or buryin’,

News across the seas,

All you’re sad or merry in,

You must tell the Bees.

Tell ’em coming in an’ out,

Where the Fanners fan,

‘Cause the Bees are just about

As curious as a man!

I arrived in Crediton thinking it would be easy enough to get a B&B as it has been raining and drizzling all day but no rooms were available. The latest forecast said that there would be one more downpour at around 6 pm then it would be a dry night. So I walked on looking for a good camping spot. Eventually I spotted some bright green grass up a track off the path, as I turned a deer ran out in front of me; ‘a sign’, I thought. I set up camp after the huge storm cloud had passed over and watched a beautiful sunset.

I laid still in my sleeping bag until the birds stopped their alarm calls and resumed their normal song – I have been accepted into their environment….


A Stroll by the Teign

Walking alongside the river Teign this afternoon in the mizzle, I remembered setting up a wild camp site with Anthony on this spot. We asked a local it would be OK to camp there and he told us that the owner of the field was abroad but that she would say yes if she were here – that was good enough for us! It was after we’d set up that we noticed the strange sculpture installed on the island -like a large stone boulder that had been split in two to reveal a brain like inner.

egg-like sculpture on island in middle of river
Art Installation by Peter Randall-Page

There are several of these ‘egg’ stones in the area; they are the work of local sculptor Peter Randall-Page. I also remembered the long climb up to the pub in Drewsteignton where I’m staying in their walker’s bunkhouse. They also do ‘posh’ B&B rooms but I’m happier in a bunkhouse, especially as I’m probably rather smelly : I am sure Kerriann who edits this will confirm this. (He’s not that bad really KG)

I’ve not covered much distance in the last couple of days but have had a couple of lovely long lunch breaks with Kerriann and Hugo. Kerriann did bring the correct maps the second time so I’m planning ahead over a pint tonight.

This is a proper pub, good real ales, good service, no bull shit, interesting customers and a bunk house for £15 – what more could you want?  The Drew Arms in Drewsteignton.

A Sunday Song Line

mary michael pilgrim route waymark
On the right path

It was nice to walk some of the Two Moors Way today – familiar stretches of paths and fond memories.  I trekked this route with my friend Anthony last summer and it is one of my favourite walks. We did have some rainy nights but the weather was generally much better than it is now.

It rained last night so I have had to pack away a wet tent so I am looking to find a hostel for tonight. Currently I am in The Chagford Inn in Chagford, waiting for Kerriann who is delivering the maps that she forgot yesterday!

Last night, camped besides the beautiful Shirley pool, I again noticed the ‘human’ voices in the sound of the running water – words, calls and songs. Australian aboriginals talk of the ‘Song Lines’ they follow when they are on walkabout. Maybe one can literally hear the earth singing in special places like Shirley Pool?

thorn tree by a cottage
Grown from the Glastonbury Thorn

The thorn tree above was grown from a cutting of the Glastonbury thorn . It’s in the lovely church yard of St Mary’s in Throwleigh.