Day 50, Midsommer Norton to Glastonbury, 23 miles. 'Betrayed by the countryside'.
Updated: Nov 28, 2019
Well, this day turned out to be a bit of a disaster, and it's probably at least partially my fault for not planning more carefully. See there's been very few days so far on this entire journey where I've been unsure of my route for the day, or I've been unable to find a suitable footpath to take me at least most of the way, but today was definitely one of them. With no discernible way to get from Midsommer Norton to Glastonbury without using a heady cocktail of A and B roads I decided to try my best to find a route that took in as little road walking as possible - but this proved far more challenging in practice than in theory. I could have made for the Mendips to the west and walked down from there, but this would have added an entire extra day to my hike and I had another friend joining me for a short leg in Glastonbury so I had a schedule to keep. Fortunately, one of the old end-to-end blogs I had practically memorised by this point had taken the Glastonbury to Midsommer Norton route, although he had for some reason missed out the city of Wells which boasts England's best cathedral (it really does), so I would have to find some kind of compromise between the two.
The start of the day was fairly monotonous as I had no option but to use the roads from Midsommer Norton and so I made my way slowly but surely through the towns of Binegar, Gurney Slade and Chilcompton (great name for a place that). Grey clouds overlooked most of the morning's walk and an occasional drizzly shower reminded me that the weather, which had been unusually compliant in recent weeks, could still throw a spanner in the works. Gurney Slade boasted a working quarry which was cool, but I soon became bored of road walking and took almost every possible green looking footpath possible from there onward. A pub at the edge of Binegar had a back garden that opened out into farmer's fields you weren't technically forbidden from walking on (if you ignored the signs), there were some errant and overgrown patches of greenery just outside of Gurney Slade that were probably footpaths at some point which I happily joined for a brief time, and there was a long section of field walking through farmland just east of Wells. Or rather, there used to be. The stiles over every hedge were completely overgrown and I was forced to break my way through the overgrown vegetation in order to use the path. Eventually this all became too much, as the fields were soon completely overgrown, with impassible nettle patches blocking the stiles.
Thwarted in my attempt to enjoy the countryside I retraced my steps and instead joined the B Road to Wells to see the cathedral and have a spot of lunch. Rain threatened occasionally but never really broke out and the famous Tor of Glastonbury was soon visible off in the distance. Wells was a gorgeous little town, clearly medieval in origin as the cobbled lanes scurried off at strange angles from the main square. Now I had never heard of Wells, nor its famous cathedral before starting this trip, but Bill had advised me to visit when I had seen him in Bristol and I'm pleased he did. The cathedral was absolutely stunning - it completely dwarfed everything else in the town (well, city technically) and was, to be frank, unnecessarily large for a settlement of this size.
As I ate my lunch under the impressively oppressive building I noticed a man in the middle of the square with a falcon, he was sending it out to fly amongst the Cathedral before calling it back, over and over again. As it turned out, he was the Cathedral's pigeon deterrent, which I thought was a fantastic way to get rid of the winged pests without resorting to spikes or glue. I wandered through Wells for a time and took in the sights before noticing a large monument to Harry Patch who, at the time of his death in 2009 had been the last remaining soldier to have fought in World War I, as well as being the oldest man in Europe. Harry had been a resident of Wells for nearly 100 years and I had always remembered watching a BBC1 documentary about him when I was a teenager. I found the site moving, here lay the last man ever to have fought as a soldier in the First World War, an event now so entirely consigned to the past tense that no one living from then remains.
Upon leaving Wells I chose to stay on the aptly named Glastonbury Road, I had already been stung by the Somerset off-road experience today, plus there weren't really any other viable options. The final leg of the day was a simple plod down the roads, but at least it went quickly and the looming and mystical Tor of Glastonbury drew me onward. I soon found myself in the town itself and found it to be a quite unusual place. A homeless man accosted me from across the street saying how important it was to eat your apples and oranges, and that he hadn't been getting enough of either recently. Fortunately, I had a satsuma in my pocket and threw it to him underhand, he caught the fruit, smiled and gave me a wink, and was on his merry way. Given the generosity I had received so far on my travels a satsuma seemed like a small karmic offering, but it all counts in the end I suppose.
I met up with my good friend, Duncan, in one of Glastonbury's many pubs - he would be joining me for the next two days and they were both going to be in excess of 20 miles so we took it easy that evening and enjoyed wandering the streets of Glastonbury. The Abbey was lovely, as were the pubs and streets themselves, but it was the people who really stood out - it was clear that everyone here had very much enjoyed themselves in the 1960s and they were intent on showing it. I've personally always quite liked the hippie culture, and the people of Glastonbury wear that particular badge with pride - it seemed as though every other shop that sat in the incense-infused air sold karmic charms or psychedelic rugs - it was a pleasant change from the more 'normal' towns I had been through on my travels.
Tomorrow Duncan and I would be striking out across the wetlands,where King Alfred the Great had raised his banner and fought off the invading Danish army way back in the 9th century, to eventually find Somerset's capital, Taunton - whilst I doubted Taunton had half the charm of Glastonbury it was another new place, and as I settled down to sleep I thought of all the great historical figures who had doubtless passed through this small part of the world hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.