In The Land of Pooh, The Badger, King Arthur and Beyond: The Excursionist XIII Finale

magic (n) A mysterious quality of enchantment.

 

England is a land of mystery, magic and myth.  It is a land of legends of kings and villains of all sorts.

Consider this quote:

As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty!

This line is from The Wind in the Willows by A.A. Milne.  It’s from the chapter titled “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.  To me, that chapter is one of the most beautifully written prose I’ve ever read.

[A country church in South Dorset]

Over the years I’ve walked dozens of footpaths.  At first in Thomas Hardy country in south Dorset, a place he called Wessex.  I’ve sneezed and sweated through fields of ragweed, cleaned my boots of the mud and manure, and sat in a remote hay shed to keep dry in the driving rain.  I feel as though I’ve been through the 100 Acre Wood of Pooh.  I believe I’ve seen Badger and Mole alongside a river.  I stood over the cliffs of Tintagel, Cornwall and gazed down at the cave where Merlin was born.  Watching the moonlight from the Glastonbury Tor, I sipped a bit of wine and listened for Arthur’s faint heartbeat.  I walked naked into the English Channel and nearly froze.

[St. Michael’s Tower atop the Glastonbury Tor]

I loved every moment when I was able to do these things.  Now, my back and feet are making walking painful, but the most pain is that I am unable to do what I most love about this country…walking.

And that makes me sad.  To be prevented from doing what you most love is an exquisite torture.

It’s time to begin sorting our belongings and start packing.

While we were here, since mid-February, I sat in pubs and listened to folk songs. One local pub, The Buffalo welcomed us with such warmth.  Thank you Kate, Amy, Massimo and Jenny. Whenever I would bring home a copy of The Guardian, there were bold headlines about the chaos and confusion over Brexit.  It fills the evening news on ITV.  So there was the experience of the old and traditional pub society and the quiet of the countryside contrasted with marches in London to demand another vote and to remain in the EU.

[A pub in St. Ives]

It’s a time of turmoil here…and we are leaving in the middle of it all.

We are truly are thankful for the hospitality of our hosts, Tim and Jo Ovenden.  We have shared their lives for three months and have grown even more fond of them than we were before.  Their son, Thomas is a quiet and thoughtful young man, always ready for a conversation.  Daughter Anna and her often-present friend Felicity are talented dancers (ballet).  They are bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard as I type this.  Their giggles brighten our days.

[Jo, Thomas and Tim with Anna in their arms]

[Anna, left, and Felicity]

Regrets?  Always.  I’ll never get over my deflated mood every time we drove past a Public Footpath.  So many missed opportunities.  I’ve walked many paths over the many visits to England but the sheer number of those untrodden by me would fill a lifetime of roaming pleasures.

[My own personalized OS Map]

Who has that long a lifetime?  I certainly wish I did.

But one cannot sail forever on an endless sea because no sea is really endless.  There must be a port somewhere.  Our time in this country can now be counted in days (I’m writing this on Wednesday and we leave for Southampton on Saturday).  Soon it will be a matter of mere hours.

In the end, I guess it’s time to go home.

When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.

–Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows

[All photos are mine]

 

 

 

 

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The Glastonbury Tor Blog: The Excursionist XII

[The Tor at the start of our climb. St. Michael’s Tower crowns the hill]

Glastonbury is an ancient town nestled on a broad plain near the Mendip Hills in the county of Somerset.  It comes with a reputation, like that guy that sat in the last seat of your school bus.  You can shop for anything in Glastonbury, but you probably won’t find it.  What you can find is esoteric bookstores, more than one crystal shop and places where you can purchase a Druid-style cape (purple).

I love the town.

On my first visit, back in 1984, when I was an exchange teacher in Dorset, I found myself wandering the High Street.  After climbing the stairs to the second floor of an antique shop, I saw something I really wanted.  It was the part of the jaw bone of St. Basil.  There was even a Bishop’s seal on the glass box indicating its authenticity.  Best of all, it was reasonably priced at £50.  I didn’t buy it and I regret that to this day.

Now, I’m here with Mariam on our second visit.  We dined at the George & Pilgrim Hotel which dates back to about 1452.  It has three ghosts (according to some).  I never saw anything except a fantastic Steak and Ale Pie.

[The well-worn floor of the George & Pilgrim Hotel]

But our real goal that day was to climb the famous Tor.

The Tor has a ton of lore and myth that connects it with the figure of King Arthur.  Did the man ever exist?  Some say yes and some claim he was a combination of several of war-lords in the Saxon days.

[Nearing St. Michael’s Tower]

Whatever.  I love mythology and I love the Arthurian legends.  And, it was the Tor that made it all so real and believable.  According to legend, Glastonbury was the mythical Avalon.  This is where Arthur was taken after he was wounded in his final battle against his own son.  He is said to be buried, alongside his wife (?) Guinevere.  He is awaiting the call to bring his army, once again, to save Britain.

[Mariam contemplates the landscape]

[Parliament is voting as I write this on the Brexit…is Arthur stirring in his grave?).

I stood in the doorway of St. Michael’s Tower and looked out over the countryside.  I thought of the history that is so ancient, it’s sobering.  For more than 1,000 years people who climbed the Tor, worked the fields, herded the sheep, drank the ale, sipped wine, smoked old pipes with old tobacco, kissed in the churchyard, held firm to a quartz crystal, loved someone, lost someone and eventually died were all within my field of vision.

If you are a cynic, that’s okay.  But, if you read history, study myths and let your mind travel, you won’t be the same after a visit to Glastonbury.

[Me. Thinking about ancient times and myths]

[All photos are mine]

 

 

 

 

The Enigma of Knowlton Church: The Excursionist VII

[Knowlton Church…front facade]

In the middle of Cranborne Chase, a hilly and breezy open region in north Dorset,  is the shell of a Norman church.  Nothing special really.  These churches are found in many villages and hamlets of Dorset.  What is unusual is that it is built-in the middle of a Neolithic ritual henge (a ring of ridges dating from ancient days).

The church sits alone…surrounded by earthen works built by Pagans.  The building is a shell, built with stone and flint.  It looks lonely.  There is an aura of melancholy that pervades the site.  If one sat on the henge, took the time to contemplate the view…I believe a sadness would fall upon you.

According to my google search, the Knowlton Church is one of the ten most haunted places in Dorset.  The visions that have been reported include a rider on a horse that charges through the grounds and vanishes as it enters the church.  A weeping woman, sometimes described as a nun, has been seen.  A face has been observed looking out of the upper window of the tower.  A hooded man, tall and quiet has crossed the path of a visitor in recent years.

The enigma?  Why is there a Christian church built within the walls of a pagan ritual henge?  Why is the church only an empty shell now?  And, most interesting, is why is the village of Knowlton no longer in existence?  History tells us that the town was hit hard by the Black Death…those who survived drifted to other regions.  Remains of the homes are visible on the grounds to the west of the ruins.

When Mariam and I stood on the ring earthen works, the wind blew with a force that nearly blew her glasses off.  I was wearing my L.L.Bean coat and a chill cut through me like a razor.  I wanted to stay and absorb the atmosphere , the solitude, the isolation and the loneliness, but Mariam and I could hardly stand upright in the wind.

Was the wind telling us something?

Were we on sacred ground?  Haunted ground?  Unforgiving ground?  The melancholy began to take hold of me.

But, as we drove away, I sensed something.  I need to return to this place, this lonely place and spend some time…thinking, dreaming and imagining.

[Another view of the church]

[Photos are mine]

[Historical information: Google search]

The First Full Day In Edinburgh

[The Scott Memorial being evacuated by the police.]

I waited while Mariam took her shower and washed her hair. I felt like we were being delayed. We’re travelers, we don’t need showers. Tourists take showers.

So, I snuggle deeper into the comforter and went to Spotify. She seemed to take forever to wash her hair and do whatever women do in the only bathroom in the suite, and a guy has to relieve himself.

Once I secured Spotify ( not easy in any of the hotels we’ve been staying in), I decided to get her in the mood of the city and country we were touring.

After five playings of Scotland The Brave and two readings of Coming Through The Rye, I think she got the point.

She knew we were in Scotland.

Our first job of the day was to visit a dart shop and buy my son a dart set. I won’t say more. It’s going to be a surprise. Especially when I give him the 23 gram Titanium shafts. Don’t tell him.

We walked down Ely Street. The sandstone townhouses were beautiful.

I next secured tickets to an American musical that just happens to be playing about 30 feet from our hotel door. We’re seeing Wicked. (For a fraction of what we’d pay in NYC).

We decided to walk to the Edinburgh Castle. When we got to the Scott memorial, the police began to evacuate and tape off the whole area.

[Prince Street Garden}

I’ll buy The Scotsman tomorrow and find out what we almost became a part of. Someone told me that the tower gets a lot of jumpers. That’s very sad to hear that this beautiful and historical city has people who want to take a quick exit to oblivion.

Which takes us to our post dinner activity. We booked a tour called Doomed, Dead and Buried. I couldn’t be more pleased. The tour guide was a beguiling young Scotswoman named Rachel. She wore a hooded cape. There was a brass clasp at her neck and she knew how to tell a story.

[Rachel, our ghost tour guide. Okay, what guy wouldn’t have a slight crush on her?]

If you want to hear those stories, you’ll have to come here and take the tour. I’m too exhausted to retell anything she said.

[A “close”…the name I can not remember}

This is a city that could grow on me. Dark history and a bright future.

I was here about thirty-three years ago and I remember nothing of that trip, except that I was very cold on most evenings.

Perhaps that’s why one can smell the coal smoke in the air (I’m assuming that coal is still used here, hopefully I’m wrong).

As we left a pub after the Ghost Tour, I heard bagpipes in the distance.

Someone was playing Scotland The Brave.

 

 

Real Place/Fictional Person

There are so many real existing places named for, dedicated to or all about fictional people. (How I wish Trump Plaza was in this category!). So, let’s visit one.

First of all, I don’t write travel blogs such as those where the blogger is paid by the hotel or resort to write-up all the great stuff. Nobody pays me to write what I write about. It’s only what I find curious and interesting that drives me to this keyboard on a chilly evening in Edinburgh, Scotland.

But, I’m playing catch-up here. Travel is tough and taking a zillion photos and posting them, some to friends and family, some for Facebook and some for a blog or two…we’ll it’s hard. I just make it look easy.

In my mind, at this moment, I’m back in London. It’s last night. We saw a wacky comedy called The Play That Went Wrong in Covent Garden. If you can catch it in New York City, go. It’s a real hoot.

After the play we walked back to our hotel, thankfully located just steps from Trafalgar Square. And, just across the street from our front door is the famous pub, The Sherlock Holmes. We went in and had a quick nightcap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right now my reading is mostly nordic noir mysteries. But, I appreciate Conan Doyle, even though he believed in charlatans and mediums, I totally appreciate his talent as a mystery writer (full disclosure: I’ve only read one or two of Doyle’s mysteries). But, I don’t want to talk about books right now. I want to share a tiny bit of the pub.

Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, it’s a theme pub. But, I thought it captured some of the essence of what most people think about when they think about 221B Baker Street.

There is a variety of ales, ciders lagers and stouts on draft.

The second floor is a restaurant. It’s set up to look like Sherlock’s study on Baker Street.

And, the stairway down to the WC’s (why are they all downstairs?) are decorated with movies poster and book covers.

Remember, I’m not paid by anyone to say that I rather enjoyed the place for a little while. Truth is, I paid them about £9 for the experience.

 

Joshua Tree Diary: Christmas in the Desert

[Desert view outside Joshua Tree. Photo is mine.]

This is where it all began, right?  I don’t mean California…I mean the desert.

The Nativity story is set in the desert; much like the one I see from my bedroom window.  Very much like it, except that desert, with the Star, is half a world away.

Two years ago, we celebrated this season in Fort Myers, Florida.  There, the temperatures were in the low 90’s.  I remember wearing shorts and sitting outside my favorite Java cafe, sipping an iced coffee.  I had to position myself at an outdoor table so I could catch the AC’d air rolling out of the brand name outlets.  The palm trees were wrapped in holiday lights, Bing Crosby was singing on the PA system, shoppers were hurrying into Bass, or Tommy…but the feel of the season wasn’t inside me.  Red and green lights and Bing didn’t fulfill the images on Christmas cards.

Now, this year, we are enjoying the high desert of Joshua Tree, 29 Palms, Yucca Valley and the Mojave Desert.  And, it’s chilly if not downright cold.  Yet I know there’ll be no white Christmas here this year.

It’s hard to imagine experiencing the Yule without even the probability of several inches of white powder.  That’s because I was raised in Upstate New York, where snow was mostly guaranteed.  I built snow-people, skated with my childhood friends and tobogganed the longest slopes I could find.  I studied the crystals of the flakes when I caught one on my mitten.  I believe it’s true that no two snowflakes are alike.

But deserts are alike in many ways.  Strange and exotic plants, sand, crying coyotes and the limitless sky…filled with stars and a crescent moon.

Ironically, though, it’s here, in the California desert, that I can feel the true sense of the Nativity story.  When you’re raised with religious images of Joseph and Mary traveling across the desert, it’s hard to meld that into a backyard in New York, twelve inches of snow and a snow person.  I’ve never traveled to the deserts of the Middle East so I can’t speak to the winters there, but I can’t believe that the winter in the Holy Land is much different than it is here.

True, they probably don’t have storefronts like these:

[Souvenir shop. Photo is mine.]

Or,

[Storefront lights in Joshua Tree.  Photo is mine.]

But, maybe they do.

I can imagine the solitude, the expansive star-filled sky…and the silent peace that fills those scenes we were raised with, in the pages of the Bible.

About an hour from where I write this, a raging fires is destroying hundreds of thousands of acres near Santa Barbara.  Peoples lives will be ruined.  No holiday cheer for them.

No fires will come to the desert.  There’s nothing much to burn.  It’s vacant and austere backed up by isolation and loneliness.  That’s the way deserts are.  Places to get lost and places to stand and contemplate the ways of the world and to confront the Great Empty.  That’s when you find that the Empty is not only a physical description of a desert…but also of your own mind.  The Desert Fathers of the Old Testament sought these places out.  The three great religions of the West were founded in the sands.

How different the high desert is.  There is, outside my window, all of the above (along with our rented Toyota), but there is something missing.  Beyond our sandy yard, beyond the Welcome to Joshua Tree sign, beyond the glow of Palm Springs and Los Angeles…something is dreadfully missing.

The peace.  Where is the peace and love that the whole Nativity narrative implies?

It’s just not there.

[Note to my readers: The next post is very special to me.  Please take time to read and comment on it.]

 

 

 

A Halloween Ghost Story Told To Me By My Niece.

 

[Photo source: Google source.  This is not the spirit girl described.]

My niece and I share a fascination with stories.  Many of them are odd and unusual.  Many of them are ghost stories.

I’ve shared copies of ghost story collections with her over the years, mostly M.R.James and Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany.  All were classics and I hoped she pulled the comforter to her neck as she read them in her small cabin in eastern Maine.

Mostly, she lived alone in that state of endless forests, pulp wood factories and rocky coastlines.

She had a job as a receptionist at an Inn in North Conway, NH.  I’m sure you know the kind of inn where she worked.  Nestled in the midst of the White Mountains, where the shadows of Mount Washington darkened the glens and trails and leantos…where the evening shadows came early in the valley’s New England pubs and quaint olde hotels that could be found at many cross roads.  She would tell me local ghost tales, but I never had the opportunity of staying at the Inn where she worked.  Then she told me about the little ghost girl who was a legend at the Inn.  She laughed at the idea but I, to the contrary, thought that the story was something of interest.  Spectres of children always evoke a certain melancholy in me.  I’m a skeptic when it comes to ghosts in a general sense, but I love the ‘idea’ of them.  (I’ve never encountered a spirit, restless or not…that I know of…although I’ve have had some strange feelings in many an old hotel).

So, a few months ago she emailed and, with much excitement, said “I saw the girl in white”.  She said she was looking out of the window of her office and saw a little girl in white running around the corner of the Inn.  My niece ran to the back window expecting to see the girl…but there was no one in the large backyard.

She felt she had seen the “girl ghost”.  I’ve no reason to doubt her.  After all, its New England, it’s in keeping with legend and tradition and it fits all the requirements to compel me to tell this story.

At this time of year, as the night of All Hallow’s Eve is upon us.

This story of a little lost girl who died on some unknown date many years ago.  My niece’s astute observation skills puts to rest any need or reason for embellishment.

I trust my niece and I trust you to believe this old New England ghost story.

It’s a classic.