Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

What We Did Last Week: 1

First place we stayed was Bridgwater. Notice that it doesn't have an "e" in the middle- which can trip you up if you're looking for it online. It's one of those towns from which the tide has gone out. It used to be an important port, it used to have a castle- and it still has some of the grand buildings that went with its former status- including a street of merchants' houses from the 17th century. I'm not sure what goes on there now.  We met my mother, sister and brother-in-law on the second night- and Ian took us all out to dinner. The restaurant had taken over a very splendid classical building in the centre of town- fomerly the Corn Exchange- and has glassed in the portico. This doesn't deter the town youth from hanging out on the steps. So there we were on one side of the plate glass eating our italian treats and there were they, just feet away, flirting, larking and kicking a ball about. It was very odd. We pretended we couldn't see them and they pretended they couldn't see us, and every once in a while the ball would cannon off the glass.

From Bridgwater Ailz and I drove out to Burrow Mump and from Burrow Mump to Othery and from Othery to Glastonbury. These are three places on the great ley-line that bisects the country at a angle, running from St. Michael's Mount in the West to  Bury St. Edmunds in the East. It's called the Michael line- after St. Michael the archangel and dragon slayer-  and has a sister called the Mary line which runs alongside it and intertwines with it. Michael and mary are Christianized versions of the Sun God and the Earth Mother. Or so it says in the New Age  classic The  Sun and the Serpent by Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst (which I'm glad to see is still in print). I'm not sure how much I believe in ley lines, but i love the poetry of them and that's enough. It's certainly interesting/suggestive/strange that Burrowbridge, Othery and Glastonbury- and so many of the other places along the line-   have churches in them dedicated to Michael.

Burrow Mump is a miniature of Glastonbury Tor- an odd little hill with a ruined church on top. Setting ley lines aside, it's very likely that it supported a post-Roman look-out station and beacon- one in a lne with Glastonbury to the East and and Brent Knoll to the West. There should be legends attached to it, but I'm not aware of any- except for the tradition that it was an outpost of King Alfred's command centre in Athelney.  The ruined church is now a memorial to the men and women of Somerset who died in the two World wars.

Burrow Mump

Somerset is full of fine churches- in the middle ages wherever there was wool there was brass- and Othery is one of them. Broadhurst and Miller notice the fine modern carving of St. Michael over the south door (which now supports a bird's nest) but seem to have missed the much finer one (late medieval I think) high up on the east face of the tower.

I grew up believing that the Reformers- from Henry VIII to Cromwell- had smashed all the mediaeval religious art in England. That's not true. They smashed what they could find and/or reach. There's still a great deal left, often high up- and therefore  neglected and weathering away.  It's hard to tell now, but Othery's St. Michael looks like a masterpiece to me. I wish they'd take it down, put it indoors somewhere and hoist a replica in its place.


The south face of the tower has a female saint who, from the napkin over her arm, I'm ready to guess is Mary Magdalen. i think she's a masterpiece too.


So, on to Glastonbury.  Glastonbury Tor is one of my two favourite places on the planet. The other is Avebury (which we visited later). Avebury is also on the Michael and Mary lines; make of that what you will.

I've just read an essay on the history of Glastonbury by Ronald Hutton. He concludes that all the woo-woo stuff- the Zodiac, Joseph of Arimathea, St Patrick, King Arthur, the Holy Grail- is unsupported and bogus. Some of it was concocted by medieval monks with an eye to making money- and some of it by the modern day, cockney romantics who have been flocking to the town since the second half of the 19th century. He also thinks it doesn't really matter- and neither do I. It's like the leylines. There's a level at which it's all true and speaks to the soul and I'm not going to try to explain it. 

We didn't go into town; the town is essentially the New Age Lourdes and I can take it or leave it; but I did climb the Tor. I climb the Tor on every visit. It's as close as I get these days to performing a structured spiritual exercise.

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