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]

 

 

 

 

Barcelona To Bristol: The Excursionist IX

[On the approach to Bristol Airport]

The rain wasn’t falling anywhere near us on the morning we boarded the EasyJet plane in Barcelona.  I was stuck with a window seat (ok, I had a chance to move to the aisle but I chose to have a view).  We soared out over the Mediterranean before making a turn to the northeast.  Not fifteen minutes passed before I could see the Pyrenees, snow-capped and dazzling in the Spanish sun.  However, the moment we crossed into French airspace, there was nothing but clouds, white and endless like an enormous bowl of milk.  It was like that until we were making our approach to Bristol Airport (see above photo).

We checked into the Marriott on Lower Castle Street.  Our plan was simple: we (I) wanted to visit the Cathedral [one list on my Bucket List is to visit all the English Cathedrals…I’m a frustrated architect] but the walk was a good fifteen minutes and I was having a serious problem.

The aforementioned “problem” is that my eye fell on a pair of handsome leather boot/shoes on a visit to the Bass outlet in Lake Placid.  This was about three weeks before we were to leave on our three-month trip to England.  To be honest, I haven’t wore leather shoes in a very long time.  I remembered there was a process called “breaking the shoe in”…I did this by walking from our living room to the dining room about twenty times.  This is not the way to break a shoe in!  And, for what its worth, I have a slight deformity in my right foot.  What does this all mean?

It means I had very sore feet only five minutes into the walk.  I needed a rest.  I needed a sit-down.  I needed a beer.

And, there it was, on Corn Street.  It didn’t look like a typical British Pub.  It wasn’t the Queen’s Arms, The White Hart, The Fox and Hounds or the King’s Arms.  It was called The Commercial Rooms.

[The Commercial Rooms]

We went in and found it was a fair-sized pub and restaurant.  We ordered and sat.  I whined about my shoes.  I told Mariam I was willing to find a Nike store and buy a pair of proper walkers.  It was then that I noticed a fine-looking clock on the wall behind the bar.  Wait.  It wasn’t a clock.  There were no numbers.  Instead there were cardinal compass points.  It was a four-foot diameter compass on the wall.  I was more than curious.

[The Compass]

[A closer look]

I had to find out what this was doing on the wall so I approached the bartender.  He told me that the building was once a club of traders and merchants.  There was once a weather vane on the roof (it no longer works) that would relate the wind direction to the traders…informing them when it was the right conditions to launch their ships.

There were several plaques on the wall that listed the names of past presidents of the Commercial Rooms.  There were names like G. Marsden-Smedley and Richard A. Flowerdew.  Good and proper English names.

Pretty cool.

Then it was onto the Cathedral.  I didn’t find it as beautiful as Salisbury (and it certainly wasn’t anything like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona), but it was worth the visit.

[Mariam stands in distance…near the Altar of the Bristol Cathedral]

Before leaving, I removed the inserts from my shoes.  It made things much better.  We walked home and made plans to have dinner.

I had Hake and Mariam had Scallops.

A beautiful end to an uneven day.

 

Inside Gaudi’s Dream: The Excursionist VIII

 

You find yourself in sunny Barcelona…on the south coast of Spain.

You have massive amounts of wax so you do what you’re expected to do with massive amounts of wax.  You sculpt the facade of a cathedral.  You include all the alcoves for the saints and the angels and the biblical scenes of the Old Testament.  You include images of the New Testament because you are a God-loving person and a visionary mystic.

Then you stand and view your waxen model of the cathedral.  Standing back, you turn a hot hair dryer on the wax.  It begins to drip.  When the drops solidify you’re happy.

I agree, it’s a bit of a long lead-in to the impression I had when I stood outside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  But it’s hard to find words to describe the architectural style that made Antoni Gaudi such a visionary…breaking the rules of traditional church architectural style.  Things seemed to drip, and drip into the right place.

When I entered the Basilica, the interior was something I may have dreamt about in another lifetime.  I’ve been in dozens of English Cathedrals and Anglican churches.  I’ve been in Russian Orthodox churches and the great mosques of Istanbul.  Many hours have been spent in Notre Dame in Paris.  I don’t mention these things to boast–only to put things into some kind of perspective.  Nothing prepared me for the sights inside the Sagrada Familia.  My eye had too many places to look.  The neck had too many angles to cover.  The colors, the fluid shapes…the uneven nave, the Christ, hanging above the Altar.

I had to sit down.  I had to try to take this in— a tiny bit at a time.

It was not going to work.  I needed more than a few hours.  I needed days, weeks, months…maybe longer…to fully grasp even a bit of what Gaudi was striving for.

I left.  I looked back and imagined the melting wax.  I was deeply moved, not so much by the religious aspects, but by the mind that had such a vision…such a vision that I failed to grasp its true meaning.

Maybe only Gaudi knew.  Legend has it that he was walking backward, looking at the early stages of his creation, the Basilica , when he was hit by a tram and died in a nearby hospital…at the age of seventy-four.

Perhaps he had a new thought about how to solve a problem in the construction.  Perhaps he was lost in a vision.

Perhaps he wanted to talk to his God and get some final instructions.

[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 Fly Over: The Excursionist V

[Photo of a page of the Guardian newspaper]

I like fly overs.  The jets roar over a stadium during halftime…or more interestingly, the  Italian Air Force planes that swept over the church in Italy the moment when Pavarotti’s coffin was brought out of the church.  But deep down in my conscience, I see fly overs as a glorification of the military and by extension, a glorification of war.

So while they’re sometimes thrilling…they often send a message that I do not agree with.

Then I ran across a short article in a British newspaper yesterday.  After reading it, I felt quite moved…very moved.

The old fellow you see in the photo is eighty-two.  His name is Tony Foulds.  In 1944, he was eight years old.  He and his mates were playing in a park.  A B-17 Flying Fortress was having problems.  They needed a place to crash-land.  The pilot, an American along with nine other Yanks aboard, intended to land in the field.  The pilot spotted the children running around the field.  He purposely avoided the playing area and ended up crashing into the trees nearby. All ten Americans on the plane were killed.

Tony watched in horror.  And this horror is still with him today.  Years after the tragedy, the county council erected a memorial stone.

Every year since then, Tony has tended the memorial…planting flowers…and remembering.

A few days ago, a combined UK and US teams of pilots did a fly over.

Tony will be there.  Tony will probably cry.  Tony somehow feels responsible for the ten deaths.

He was just playing a game with his mates.

Fate is…it just is.  Isn’t it?

Looking For A Proper Lane To Ramble Along: The Excursionist IV

[Me rambling in Dorset. Deep in thought.]

Finding places to ramble (walk) in England is something even a guy like me can do.  That is unless I’m going to wear my clean hiking boots.  Who wants to track mud into our host’s home?  And, it is the mud season here.  I haven’t seen any snow since we left Rainbow Lake, sometime in late January.  (There is a God.)  Now, if I had a proper pair of Wellies, which I don’t, mud would not represent a problem.

But here I am searching for a paved lane or byway to stroll on a Sunday afternoon.  That brings up a new problem.  Avoiding the possibility of being an accident statistic.

“TWO ELDERLY YANKS FORCED INTO THORNY HEDGEROW ALONG NARROW DORSET LANE.

LOCAL HEDGEHOG FRIGHTENED!”

Let me say in my defense, there is NO shoulder along these rural lanes…or are they byways?

I found one that had a perfect tree in the perfect place with perfect hedgerows.  It was very narrow, so I only used it as a photo-op.  We didn’t walk far.  Once the photo was done, we turned back and walked along a more traveled road.  The cars rushed by and pinned us against the hedges.  Which lane to walk? They drive on the left so we walk…on the right? On the left?

But, no problem.  That’s what English rambling is all about.

When the soil begins to dry from the spring rains, we shall be taking to the off-road footpaths.

Then I will be in my blissful space.  Then I will walk along paths that others have walked for 10,000 years.

I’m not the only one who likes to ramble.