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Mystical England 2004 - From Land's End to London (Part 2)

This segment follows Jeff and I through Fernworthy Forest, out to the Greywether stone circles, and to various spots in Glastonbury.

Clint Marsh
Berkeley, Calif.

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"Midnight at Noon"

Moving deeper into Fernworthy, I was struck at how little light filtered down through the pine canopy. It was the middle of the day, but it was impossible to make out the scene very far into the forest. The darkness, mixed with the thick carpet of moss, brought out more of the fairytale nature of Fernworthy and I lay on the ground for a while in an attempt to conjure up the feeling Nick Bottom had when he awoke after Shakespeare's fairies had switched his head for that of an ass.

"What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy queen?"
—Robin Goodfellow, A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Another photo of Fernworthy Forest.

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Soon we were at Fernworthy Circle, also known as Froggymead. Why it has this name, I don't know. The ground was very soggy the day we were there, perhaps the mud attracts frogs. Processional rows led into and out of the circle. Strolling the circle after walking through the incredibly mossy forest gave me a real sense of decomposition and rebirth. Froggymead didn't particularly move me, but it was interesting to note that an entire forest had been planted around it.

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"In the Footsteps of Dawn"

Jeff and I passed a pair of Dartmoor ponies as we left Froggymead on our way to the far edge of the forest. The horses were squat, shaggy, and docile, but didn't let us near enough to touch them. I was reminded of the legends of the Unicorn and also of the Phooka, the Scottish shapeshifting fairy that sometimes appears in the form of a horse which offers drunks a ride home, only to take them careening through the countryside and dumping them in a ditch, where the unfortunate riders are found the next morning by the constabulary—or in the best of the stories—their wives. The pine needles obscuring the pony's eye in this photo give the picture extra Phooka undertones.

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"Great Varracombe"

At the edge of Fernworthy Forest we found ourselves on the edge of Great Varracombe, a windy expanse of uneven tufted moorland. Jeff's map showed our next destination—the twin circles of Greywethers—as somewhat to the north of where we exited. Although we couldn't see anything that appeared to be the formation, we started walking in that general direction. Soon we found ourselves on a faint path of grass just a bit darker and bent than that in the rest of the pasture, and as we walked along I picked out the stones perched on the peak of the next hill. We reached Greywethers about half an hour later.

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Greywethers calls to mind a meeting place, and historically this is just what it was, the tribes from the north and south valleys communing here. I hope the ancients' treks there were worthwhile, because the walk to Greywethers had exhausted us modern travelers. As Jeff took photographs I fell asleep in the center of the northern circle. It was peaceful in there, but windy. A strong wind was blowing when I woke up a little while later. Jeff was asleep in the other circle, so I sat outside with my back against one of the stones, which didn't make as good a windbreak as I'd hoped. As we walked away later, Jeff said he thought he'd slept in the "girly"of the two circles.

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The next day we drove to Glastonbury, a town I really enjoyed for (or was it in spite of?) its hippy vibe. After lunch and shopping (Glastonbury is where I picked up many of the terrific pamphlets I found on the trip), we headed to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Churches in Glastonbury have wild histories—they were always under construction and demolition. The Abbey began as a small church that was expanded more and more before being hammered down by the locals during the reign of Henry VIII. That's Jeff checking out the remaining masonry.

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"The Once and Future King"

Jeff's more skeptical about this little signpost than I, sucker for myth and legend that I am. Here until 1191 AD lied Arthur and Guinevere, or if you believe Jeff, here lied the monks of Glastonbury Abbey, who stretched the truth to encourage tourism and boost the coffer. At any rate, the legend lives on, and we joined the queue to visit the Abbey and pay our respects to our once and future king. One of these days he will crawl out of the soil and lead England back to its place in the sun.

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"Down to the Well"

The oasis of the Chalice Well was a welcome stop on our way during our walk from the Abbey to Glastonbury Tor. The Well is near the place where Joseph of Artmathea buried the Holy Grail, and as such the water that issues forth from the well has magical properties. For a while you could drink from the spring and enjoy eternal youth, but apparently this drinking experience has gone the way of scrumpy and the public bar. Why?

All of Glastonbury has a New Age–mystical vibe to it, which is all right, I guess, but the bliss takes away from the gritty necessity for resting places like the Well. People need water and encouragement for the harrowing hike up the tor. We filled a liter bottle before setting out.

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"The Trek to the Tor"

Glastonbury Tor lies outside of town, and from the top you can see miles and miles of farmland and villages. A solitary, abandoned church tower remains atop the Tor now, but at one time it was part of a church that, like the Abbey, fell victim to Henry VIII.

The Tor itself has been home to Gwyn ap Nudd, the fairy Lord of the Underworld. It is also the starting point for the Overland Mallet Club's annual Glastonbury Trounce.

We sat atop the hill for awhile, taking in the view and feeling the exhilirating wind and refreshing sunshine on our faces, before beginning the long walk down. Next stop, Avebury.

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Next month: Avebury & environs.


Clint Marsh Posted by Clint Marsh
14th June 2004ce
Edited 8th February 2005ce

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