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The Glastonbury Experience ✙ imagination> transformation> inspiration

 

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I was so excited about heading South West, anyone that knows me well knows my love of the West Country, both Devon and Cornwall have a wealth of historic landmarks which have been pulling at my heartstrings for many years. I have distinctive memories of walking through crumbled ruins, exploring, climbing up, squeezing through, sneaking off-limits, re-imagining what might’ve been. It was about time I shared my love of two of my favourite spots in England, Cheddar and Glastonbury.

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Cheddar Gorge & Caves holds many fascinating secrets about our prehistoric ancestors, and is an international centre for caving and rock climbing. Earlier this year in fact, DNA Scientists put a face to Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete skeleton found in Gough’s cave from 10000 years ago. Visitors have been coming to Cheddar for centuries to view the magnificent limestone Gorge, reaching 500 feet in places. The ravine boasts the highest inland cliffs in the country that can be viewed from the public road running through the gorge or from footpaths along the top of the cliffs.

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As well as offering two beautiful caves ,Cheddar is of course home to Cheddar Cheese. It seemed only fitting that on this beautifully sunny day we climb the 274 steps up Jacob’s Ladder to tuck into some of the cave aged cheese on a romantic cliff top walk. The previous October I had taken the same trip with friend Luke on a cold misty afternoon- we managed to get some eerily atmospheric shots from the same location (see Blog post Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig).

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We’d booked ourselves into a refurbished milk shed in cute little Mudeford, but first we were getting a little thirsty. No trip to Cheddar was complete without a trip to Roger Wilkins cider farm. Think thick Somerset farmer accents, old gits sitting around talking shite with massive grins on their faces, welcoming anybody that came in to experience this little known time capsule. Roger became quite curious whilst chatting to Hendrik, and his ‘out of place’ accent attracted a few local blokes to ask about his background. Funnily enough one of the farmers who was partaking in a tipple or two, spends 6 months of the year farming in Christchurch NZ. It’s the sort of place that offers you cider until you can’t stand and if you look closely you can see it ‘s affect on the concreted floor below (how is Roger still alive?!) it’s tastes bloody lovely though. That evening we treated ourselves to a lush curry and a good amount of booze, later taking a very dark peaceful walk home to our barn for the night gazing at the stars.

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DSC_0499Glastonbury is a town in southwest England. It’s known for its ancient and medieval sites, many rich in myth, as well as hosting the famously awesome music festival. Whilst soaking up the eccentric atmosphere of Glastonbury there are a few sites definitely worth packing into your day, so our day two was devoted to this wonderfully unique place.

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Arriving early, the happy feels of familiarity kicked in parking up in the centre of town –it was another gorgeously sunny day. Driving from Cheddar the iconic Glastonbury Tor silhouette became closer on the horizon, this trip was becoming more exciting by the minute, largely because I was in the best company with someone I cared for so much and always hoped one day I’d find the right person to share my favourites places with.

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Glastonbury Tor is a tower-topped hill linked to Arthurian legend, overlooking the marshy Somerset Levels. Once said to be King Arthur’s burial place. It was whilst planning our trips away from the comfort of the caravan that the story of King Arthur dominated many of my favourite sites, we’d seen the round table at Winchester, the sword Excalibur beautifully recreated in the cheddar landscape, Glastonbury Abbey – believed to be the final resting place of Arthur and his Lady Guinevere. In preparation for our trip everything seemed to slot into place, as it always does, and we found a shared love of the King Arthur legend and particularly it’s retelling in the Sam Neill televised film Merlin (it’s old, and still brilliant, do watch it – not to be confused with the watered down BBC series Merlin) anyway, I’m going off point a little…
Glastonbury Abbey is a beautiful ruined monastery dating to the 7th century, and it seemed the perfect starting point as it was peaceful early morning and we had much of it to ourselves. Hendrik found interest in the hugely old Holy Thorn trees (deeply rich in Christian symbolism) and the charismatic yew trees we so enjoyed finding in our travels.
There are a host of mostly pagan/artistic shops lining the streets offering crystals, herbs, witchcraft items, King Arthur related and sacred symbolic gifts in all shapes and forms. A favourite shop provides an ancient apothecary for plants and herbs for health and wellbeing, selling the best smelling oils you could hope to find, needless to say I treated myself to some.

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After the decent hike up to the Tor and a peaceful lay down in the grass we walked through sheep filled fields towards Chalice Well. Chalice Well is one of Britain’s most ancient wells, nestling in the Vale of Avalon between the famous Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Hill. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and orchards it is a living sanctuary in which the visitor can experience the quiet healing of this sacred place. For over two thousand years this has been a place where people have gathered to drink the waters and find solace, peace and inspiration. The Vesica Pisces as seen on the well lid are two overlapping, intersecting spheres, which are an ancient symbol used in Pagan culture, Christian symbolism and sacred geometry, as well as various other belief systems. A spear or a sword bisects these two circles, a possible reference to Excalibur, the sword of the legendary King Arthur, believed by some to be buried at the nearby Glastonbury Abbey.

P1010373Archaeological evidence suggests that the well has been in almost constant use for at least two thousand years. Water issues from the spring at a rate of 250,000 gallons per day and has never failed, even during drought. Iron oxide deposits give water a reddish hue, the water is reputed to possess healing qualities. There is certainly an energy to the place.

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We took our time here, we paused in the warm sunlight, bathed our feet, feeling completely content in the moment, in the space, together.

Soundtrack: The Unthanks – Mount The Air

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Historic Ruins ♖ Local Haunts

DSC_0297It wasn’t long before we were planning road trips. English Heritage book in hand and referencing a Pinterest board of favourite places, I had many in mind for us. I asked Hendrik the main sites he wanted to see, it soon became clear the planning side of it was mostly left in my hands – which I was more than happy to do.
‘I want to see those white cliffs’ – Dover first popped into my head but then I remembered, the south coast has some stunning views of white cliffs, particularly the Jurassic coastline, a road trip was beginning to form and an excuse to revisit some of my favourite places in the Isle of Purbeck.

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Corfe Castle was a local haunt as a kid, spending short holidays down in Swanage and the surrounding areas with my cousins, staying in a family home in the area. Heading west after a few days for the jetlag to work itself off, we made a trip in the Knobster (my car’s affectionate nickname). Approaching Corfe Castle is one of those sites you do not forget as a child, first off knowing you’re going to a castle but then when it hits you as you take the corner into Corfe, staring up at it dominating the skyline. We’d chosen a beautiful day for it, the sun was super shiney and we made hay nice and early, missing the influx of excitable half-term energised kids. The village is full of historical character and has barely changed, the stone has a grey rugged quality that sits perfectly alongside the castle as it’s backdrop. It holds all the things you’d expect from a cute little English town, a good olde sweet shop, a lovely church and a nice selection of pubs and café’s, a particular favourite is one alongside the steam railway that takes you to and from Swanage if you so wish.

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Being the old fart that I am I usually relish in the idea of peace and quiet and would think twice about heading out ‘touristing’ when the kids are off school, however at the castle they had laid on some activities especially for the kids (and big kids) such as long bow archery, which looked fitting next to the castle – Hendrik picked this up straight away. It gave me such pleasure to be back climbing around the castle ruins as I did as a child, and seeing Hendrik’s reaction to the beauty and atmosphere of the site made it so much better still, we were buzzing off of each other’s excitement, knowing we had many other great things planned for the day.

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A fun drive through narrow windy country roads we headed towards the coast, first off to Durdle Door. I’ve since learned it is one of the most iconic sites in Britain -everybody heads here for the perfect photo opportunity of the archway in the rock (similarly to Cathedral Cove in New Zealand, and that was just as busy!) Yep well, everyone was here! It didn’t matter, we took more of a walk on the sand away from the crowds and enjoyed the luminosity of the chalky cliffs and of course managed a selfie or two. We would often look for off the beaten track routes to take (just read any other adventure blog I’ve written). We climbed back up through the rock heading along the steep cliff edge in the glorious spring-time heat.

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Feeling a bit puffed we had a bite to eat and I suggested we head further south east to Swanage, to a town I knew well. Swanage is the epitome of a small but busy British seaside town, complete with weather beaten beach huts and out of date amusements. This time later in the day however we wanted nothing more than to play about on arcade games and eat a massive portion of fish and chips, a perfectly sweet ending to the day.

IMG_20180407_133909_971We’d take smaller trips out all the time between me working, seeing as much as we could. Bishop’s Waltham Palace is a local site on the English Heritage map that I’d not yet visited, despite my Mum working in the small farming village there. I was so impressed by the ruins I even returned today as I write this. I was particularly surprised at the scale of the site and the tallest remaining tower is almost fully overgrown resembling something out of Gormenghast, it’s stuff of fantasy and well worth a visit (it’s free!).

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Winchester is a must see city and original capital of England. Steeped in history, gorgeous architecture and the stunning cathedral, the up-market restaurants and quirky pubs are the icing on the cake.
In fact, Winchester opened up many connections between us both including our love and interest in Arthurian Legend – the knight’s round table being housed in the Great Hall in Winchester which lead me to tell him about my love for Tintagel Castle (Arthur’s supposed castle) this would later lead on to links in Glastonbury etc..that’s for another Blog I feel!
So I ‘treated’ Hendrik to a brief history of the reformation, Henry VIII, the stained glass window and basically how Winchester Cathedral became buggered.. and then not so buggered.. but felt far more comfortable explaining my interest in Antony Gormley. No visit to the Cathedral is complete without viewing the mysterious life-size sculpture (Sound II) housed in the Norman crypt. Standing there with cupped hands contemplating the water – which so often floods the entire crypt.

Sound2We took a stroll up the high street towards the Great Hall to witness the round table and after a rather damp day strolling around we were after some refreshment. At this point I’d like to add that we both share an obsessive love of good food and it took us exactly 10 minutes of arriving in Winchester before we sampled the delights of Patisserie Valerie for breakfast.
There’s a really cool pub at the lower end of town called the Black Boy which is full of collectable curiosities and I just knew the immense selection of miniatures on display were enough to tempt Hendrik into a pint there. Fuelled up, there was time for another English Heritage site Wolvesey Castle. The medieval Bishops of Winchester were rich and powerful men, the relations and advisers of kings. Wolvesey, standing a stone’s throw from Winchester Cathedral, was their main residence throughout the Middle Ages. The extensive remains date largely from the great 12th century palace of Bishop Henry of Blois, brother of King Stephen. After a good stroll, an ice-cream and a photo, our thoughts turned to Gin.

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With it’s lush statement greenhouse, home to all the botanicals used to create such a unique and yummy gin the Bombay Sapphire Distillery is certainly picturesque.
Based at Laverstoke Mill in rural North Hampshire, just 15 miles from Winchester, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery is in a conservation area with over 1000 years of history. For over 225 years, the Victorian and Georgian buildings set astride the crystal clear River Test produced bank note paper for the Bank of England and the British Empire. Now, Laverstoke Mill is a state-of-the-art sustainable distillery, which produces every drop of Bombay Sapphire gin.

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A tailor made cocktail completed this day, I was feeling grateful to have so many great places to show Hendrik not far from my England home.