Journal

A Magna Carta Pilgrimage

The heart of the year is a busy time for walking – especially for pilgrimages with a powerful focus.

There’s the Refugee Tales, a walk from Dover to Crawley telling the tales of modern Refugees. We’re singing for them on Tuesday 16th at Charing Church Barn.

And there’s the Road to Peace Pilgrimage Walk from London to Glastonbury, a journey in honour of the Dali Lama’s 80th birthday and his rumoured ‘final’ visit to Glastonbury Festival. This group is walking 200 miles without any money, and we (the BPT) have been advising on routes and kit.

From 13th – 15th June, Hayward and Parsons are also making a meaningful stroll. It’s a three-day Magna Carta Pilgrimage from the London Stone on Cannon Street, via Magna Carta at the British Library, to the 2000 year old Yew tree at Ankerwyke by Runnymede, where Magna Carta was probably “really” sealed. We shall arrive on the 800 year anniversary of Magna Carta.

Ankerwyke-yew

It’s a songful walk in honour of Magna Carta, telling the story of what happens when British leaders don’t keep their word.

Our pilgrimage begins on Saturday 13th at the London Stone  – a mysterious ancient lump of Limestone alleged to be a Druidic or Roman central “Palladium” for the City of London. This central governing landmark was known by Shakespeare, William Blake, Dr Dee, John Dryden and Sir Christopher Wren.

The famous saying goes: “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish”.

LondonStone

Against this stone the Lord Mayor of London would traditionally strike their staff as a symbol of authority on Lord Mayor’s Day, the second Saturday of November, before leaving the safety of the City to travel to Westminster and swear allegiance to the King.

This tradition dates back to 1215 when Magna Carta granted Londoners the right to choose their own Lord Mayor. We don’t know if Boris Johnson ever struck the London Stone with his staff of office, but it seems likely.

From here we walk to the British Library, to see two of the four surviving 1215 Magna Carta documents – and also the American Declaration of Independence (based largely on the liberties of Magna Carta).

One of four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta. This copy is one of two held at the British Library. It came from the collection of Sir Robert Cotton, who died in 1631. In 1731, a fire at Ashburnam House in Westminster, where his library was then housed, destroyed or damaged many of the rare manuscripts, which is why this copy is burnt.

We sleep by Caesar’s Camp on Wimbledon Common, where a holy well still flows.

On Day Two we visit Kingston’s eponymous “King Stone”, a tenth century coronation stone, to connect it with yesterdays’ mayoral stone.

King_Stone_021

We also visit the “King Clump” of Richmond Deer Park, a man-made hill which is either a Bronze Age long barrow – or a twentieth century conifer plantation.

Next we walk to Diana’s memorial fountain in Hampton Park, a holy venue of great significance for the modern British monarchy.

4312749850_5b4b4f7e03_z

Then we follow the River Thames to Chertsey Bridge, from where we branch out toward St Anne’s Holy Well, an ancient chapel overlooking Thorpe Park and the M3/M25 junction. We hope to find a strange and deep peace in such busy waters.

nunswellsurrey1

We then walk to the Ankwewyke Yew Tree,  a venerable giant estimated to be 2000 years old. The sacred nature of this tree and the Nunnery that once stood beside it, as well as the more practical protection afforded by the river from a surprise ambush by horse or bow, makes Ankerwyke Island a far more likely venue for Magna Carta than the traditionally mooted Eastern meadows. We guess this very Yew tree was the true venue of Magna Carta being sealed by King John and the Barons.  We hope to sleep here – what dreams of may come…

ankerwyke-yew

On the third day we complete our pilgrimage by singing at the Eastern meadows of Runnymede, where the modern memorial stands, before walking through Windsor Deer Park to St George’s Chapel, where many of Britain’s Kings and Queens are buried. We hope to arrive in time for the 3pm Garter Service.

Evensong

Like all our walks, this pilgrimage will be powered by song. As an offering of reconciliation and thanks for all who have struggled to make the peace and liberty we enjoy today – and for those who struggle on still – we’ll be singing a contemproary Magna Carta devotional song at every destination en route.

It’s a song written by the legendary English singer/songwriter Saint Godric, who ‘channelled’ his inspiration into popular songs of the late 12th century. It is entirely possible a sacred song of his was sung here 800 years ago. We have consulted manuscripts to find the perfect choice – “Sante Marie Viergene” – taught to Godric by the Virgin Mary and two angels, as a song of consolation to overcome grief and temptation. So this shall be our offering of thanks for the Liberty of Magna Carta.

 

Summer 2013: The Last Three Weeks

Summer 2013: The Last Three Weeks

From Bath, Ed’s illness lingers, and I struggle with frustration and compassion.

 

While we have time...
easier said…

We are not unprepared – with camomile tea, famous disinfectant for the stomach, and Chinese Po Chai pills – but to no avail. Movement is incredibly slow. With our busking efforts hampered by low energy, money soon gets short. We hoard pennies, and forage feverishly. Young fresh lime tree leaves offer reliable regular grazing. Chickweed is our constant cunchy snack. But the fruit on the trees is yet unripe…

chickweed, glorious chickweed
silver apples of the moon

Striking north, the dream of Liverpool guides us. From Batheaston to Box, we follow the Macmillan Way long distance path, along the beautiful By Brook. At one point this waterway is the boundary between Avon and Wiltshire, a flow which divides planning policies and funding regimes. It is a strikingly visible reminder of our social arbitrariness.

 

a quick snack...
lines drawn in nature

A roadside sign signals the change in political administration: ‘Wiltshire Welcomes You.’ This annoys me, as Wiltshire is a county, and can’t express opinions or really talk at all.

But far harder than silly signs, is the soaring sunshine. It’s a really hot summer. Streams and rivers become the only roads to follow.

Untitled
Which side are you on?
Scarlet Pimpernel in sun
Scarlet Pimpernel, open in the sunshine…

We pass a magnificent empty farm, boasting no road access, with young trees bursting through its stone walls. I ask for details from three teenagers in stripey t-shirts, but they withhold information cannily (“Well, what do you think it is…?”). Finally they admit it’s the local party spot, grinning and jangling crates.

Untitled
Empty farmstead

Soon after, we’re chased by cows over a wide field. They are youngsters, and probably boisterous rather than malicious, but we’re scared.  Three months earlier, I witnessed two brothers, in their early 70s, being trampled by a herd of cows. Both men were agricultural workers, so knew well how to behave around cattle. Seeing them fall under the heavy encircling mass, I ran into the field, and tried to shoo the herd away, but they swiftly advanced on me, and slightly quicker I retreated. Still, the two old boys had time to drag themselves out. But within an hour, one of them died from his wounds, right there on the track next to me. So I’ve learned to take aggressive cows very seriously…

We wave our sticks and shout like angry farmers, but the cows still buck and run toward us. The only way to cause them to turn back is by pretending to throw things. We surmise the monkey-magic of throwing projectiles is a very old and deeply set fear.

Anyway, through Slaughterford we go, with its field-centred church, where Alfred perhaps defeated the Danes. Not far away, we meet Ford, and take a drink. But the wealthy pub suffers a power-cut, and its impatient clientele all leap into their porsches, instantly bored. The portly landlord perspires at the door, rubbing his hands with anxiety. No-one has cash, only plastic cards, so they can’t pay him. He’s childishly grateful for our silver busking change.

We camp behind a hedge next to a noisy weir, filtering water and cooking stew on the twig-burner.

8 min cuppa on twigs
Cooking on twigs
Sun dappled ma and child
peace horse

Next day, thoroughly broke, we enter Castle Combe, where everyone is a camera-carrying tourist. This tiny village hosted the film ‘Warhorse’, so visitors eagerly photograph odd pieces of wood, taps and flakey paintwork, like the whole place is an endangered species. In the local pub, all the staff are Spanish, and they explain that “this is a very ancient village, the most beautiful in England, with a 1000 year old church.” When I mention that the church down the road in Slaughterford is Saxon, and about 500 years older, they scowl and say I’m wrong.

Hundreds of Japanese and American tourists parade about, looking vaguely dissatisfied. Castle Combe is like a village set in aspic, a 3D museum exhibit. When we sing, the Japanese don’t seem to understand busking culture, and treat us as a photo opportunity. The Americans are slightly more generous. But best of all are the local builders, who come out with notes and compliments, saying they thought someone had left the radio playing…

Financially restored, we move toward Lughbury long barrow. Sat amidst green corn and piles of rotting manure, it is not accessible like Wellow, but it feels awake and glad for pilgrims.

Amidst alien corn
The Alien Corn

Lugh is another name for Sol, the sun deity, and while exploring the keyhole stones, we are both kissed by Sol, high and strong overhead.

Lughbury keyhole
Passing staffs through Lughbury keyhole stone

Feeling very light and drifty, we ground ourselves with good bread and cheese, and bottles of cold filtered stream water.

Many colours
ground

Not far north, we pass under the grey rushing M4, and its shadowing railway. We aim for a village called Luckington, because we like the name. We briefly meet the brackish source of the Avon.

Lucking ton source of Beistol Avon
Source of Bristol Avon

Beyond this, Luckington wholly disappoints, full of new-build houses and busy roads, so we move straight for Sherston. En route, a lady walking her dog invites us in for tea. We praise her trust, but she brushes this aside, saying: “I can see you’re trustworthy, by your physiques”. We don’t really understand what she means, but then we discover she’s an aristocrat, so we stop trying.

We rest with ice-cold apple juice, grown and pressed on the farm. The kind lady’s husband boasts a ’57 Daimler, which we dutifully admire.

Sherston apple juice
Juice
57 Daimler
vroom

A little later, in Sherston village, we take an evening pint. Locals are all amiable and relaxed, until a sentry peering from the window shouts: “The farmers are coming!” Everyone seems genuinely frightened – “they normally stay in their own pub…”, but the farmers turn out to be gentle enough, if large in their opinions. After such a hot day, everyone is happy to dream quietly over cold beer. At closing time, we sleep beside the village cricket pitch, on pungent ground Ivy.

Ground Ivy, for fragrant sleep
Ground Ivy – Alehoof – for twangy sleep

Come morning, we sing for the empty streets of Sherston village, once a large marketplace, now a car-park. No-one expects buskers in this sleepy village, and they respond with stunned donations. The vintner (there are three here) brings us a bottle, a 2004 Chateau Cantemerle, which we slip into our bags as a welcome burden for future sharing.

Leaving, we briefly step onto the Fosse Way, a Roman road which today forms dusty track, public footpath and main road alike, at various stages of its emanation.

And then we’re in Malmesbury, the oldest continually inhabited town in England. It is a perfect natural fortification, surrounded by hills and river, with many natural springs.

Malmesbury appears
Malmesbury Ho!

The Abbey spire was once taller than Salisbury cathedral, but it blew down in a 15th century storm.

Malmesbury Abbey, 600 years ago
600 years ago…

The great legend of Malmesbury is Elmer, the flying monk, who built wings in the mode of Icarus, and jumped from the Abbey spire. He managed to fly a furlong, 220 metres, before crashing and breaking both legs. But this enthusiastic monk was convinced he could do better, if he only built a tail as well as wings. Unfortunately, his abbot forbade further experiments, and Elmer was grounded.

We cool our brains in the river, and look for a place to stay. The day is now long, so after a quick wander around the tiny town, we head to an opposing hillside to sleep.

Come morning, hunting a busk, we’re disconcerted by the loud cars and lorries. Malmesbury should be pedestrianised. It’s a classic hilltop town, much like Rye in Sussex, but with main road traffic, tourism cannot flourish. The beauty of the architecture and ambience is hard to appreciate, with the danger of onrushing cars.

Anyway, after a donated breakfast from an evangelical lady in a Mercedes, we sing in the market cross, designed as a viewing station for cattle and sheep buyers, when surrounded by herds for sale.

Malmesbury market square
Only venue available

The acoustic is strong, though small, and we attract a little crowd of benefactors. All goes well. Then an invitation is given to visit the Abbey house gardens, which leads to two days staying with the famed Naked Gardeners of Malmesbury. This couple took over the Abbey house gardens 10 years ago, and transformed it from nettles into one of England’s leading pleasure gardens, with a huge number of roses and other flowers.

With the Malmesbury Abbey folk
The good people of Malmesbury Abbey House Gardens
Royal battle
Interiors

It’s an overwhelmingly beautiful and fragrant place to visit, full of powerful art and sculpture. Staying there is a pleasure indeed. We try to imagine ways we could remain for years…

The face in green
Living hedges

The manor house was once a Benedictine monastery, and in the vaulted stone undercroft, people believe Athelstan is buried, grandson of Alfred. We can well believe that the conquering Normans enjoyed living above the bodies of their defeated enemy champions.

The Colour of Amber, in Malmesbury Abbey House Undercroft by A Walk Around Britain

We later sing in Malmesbury Abbey. As the stone space fills with song, so do our bodies, a physical temple dynamic that makes clear the essential purpose of such buildings.

Abbey reliwf
Abbey Relief
Theentrance
Portal

Not far from Malmesbury, we cross in Gloucestershire. Dipping back onto the Fosse Way, the weather remains dry, hot and tormenting. Ed lags increasingly, and I cannot understand where his vim has gone. Communication is poor, and worsens.

We aim for Shipton Mill, where the famous organic flour is made. It is a wise choice. The gardeners from Malmesbury sent word onward, and we’re welcomed with fresh fruit smoothies, and invitations to stay as long as we wish.

Cuckoo canon – sung by Siobhan of Shipton Mill by A Walk Around Britain

Shipton Mill
Mill House at Shipton

A fine two days are spent here: exploring the river, meeting the 1000 year old Sentinel Oak, being chased by racehorse security, and of course eating lots of great bread. We clear a dead Muntjack deer from the stream, which is smelly and heavy.

Leaving, we’re given a sourdough mother starter, to spread freely amongst those we meet. It’s a welcome quest, and flatbreads re-enter our diet. But it’s still hot, so carrying a kilo of flour is not an ideal extra. At least we are able to share our heavy French wine whilst here…

With the Shipton Mill organic flour gang
In the mill

Throughout rural Gloucestershire, in every field, the hay is cut and drying in rows. The smell is wonderful, the whole county heady with it. Farmers must be overjoyed at such a hot dry summer. It’s a different country from the past two years.

Spire of Tetbury
High Summer

Into Tetbury, Prince Charles’ home town, we hope for the busk of our lives…but we find yet another busy road, and cars, lorries and tractors utterly dominate the scene. Everyone is driving somewhere, which makes singing impossible. We lament that the Prince of Wales has not pedestrianised his local town. Perhaps we imagine his powers greater than they truly are. Most likely, we surmise, he is surrounded by such a buffer of power-hungry sycophants, he can hardly break through to reality and get stuff done…

We leave Tetbury after a cool pint in a hot pub garden.

Big brolly little brolly
Big brolly little brolly edward

Two miles out of town, beside a wood, we strike camp and record a birthday song for Sam Lee, a folk singer currently touring the world.

Then we get an email – such high tech minstrels – saying we’ve left our dog leash at the pub. Would we like to collect it, and sing for our lunch tomorrow? Yes, we say, and yes.

Tomorrow comes, but the audience stay at home, for it’s the Wimbledon final, to be eventually won by the petulant Scot. We sing quietly for those who prefer Sunday sport-free. The Priory Inn does not look special from the outside, but they practise a strict 30 mile food policy, so everything is ultra-local. We admire this greatly, and sure enough, our pizza wages are superb.

From here, we bosh up the Monarch’s Way. We’re mildly held back by Oil Seed Rape gone to seed, which blocks footpaths and clings to our legs like dreams of treacle. We persevere into ache, before noticing another ancient long-barrow is nearby. Transforming our difficulties into a prompt to change direction, we climb round fields to find Windmill Tump.

Evening is rising when we eventually climb the barrow, pitted from slipshod Victorian excavations. We sit in the antique silence, throned under Beech trees, and gorge on jewel-like wild strawberries.

Treasure on Windmill Tump long barrow
Barrow treasure
Sol-set
solset

Rodmarton is the next village we pass, which boasts the most beautiful and complete new-build housing we’ve ever seen. In ten years, they’ll look a hundred years old, and last for centuries. Well done Rodmarton.

Above Tarlton, we duck into the Tunnel Inn, hoping for a warm welcome before closing. But we could never have guessed how warm it would be – with free food, for the dog and ourselves, free beer, free camping and free hot showers. “Where are you from?” we ask the generous bar-girl, in amazement.

“Ireland” she explains, “where we know about looking after travellers”.

Next morning, heading for Cirencester along the disused Severn and Thames canal, we get somehow lost in the straight lines, and find ourselves at Thameshead, the main source of Father Thames. Today it’s bone-dry, though in winter the fields are apparently shoulder-deep.

Disused Thames and Severn canal
Disused despotic geometrics
Source of River Thames
Thameshead Dry

We’re amazed, and shocked, to see agricultural refuse – sundry tyres, barrels, and other pollutants – in the youngest stream crevices. Londoners  – you should get up here, and clean out your great river, from the source all the way down…

Entering Cirencester, we pass the Royal Agricultural College, where young farmers learn to drink, and plant things in straight lines.

Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester
farm school
Hornbeam grove
Hornbeam grove in efficient rows

In Ciren town, a lady steps up saying: “you look like minstrels.” She’s the first person to ever to call our game so quickly and accurately. We suppose since starting these journeys, the stereotype is no longer buried so deeply.

But we’re so hot and tired, and edgy with unresolved strangeness, so we don’t busk in Ciren. Instead we walk right through. Getting lost on polo grounds leads us to the Earl Bathurst’s estates. A huge local landowner, the new Earl took over 18 months ago, and is continuing the family tradition of caring very well for vast tracts of land. Responsible public access is permitted to most areas, and we reason that such private families have done a great job to maintain and protect the landscape, while public government has behaved far less responsibly – the forestry commission recently sold woodlands to the highest bidder, reneging its trust commitments to safeguard the future of British forestry. The government is selling fracking licenses to anyone with cash, drills and chemicals. In modern Britain, we ponder, are the aristocrats the safest hands for the land?

Summer in Cotswolds
Cotswold Summer Forever…
Ivy holding up stones of fallen wall
Old Ivy still holds the crumbled wall..

Here under the trees, we meet again with our girls.

Bedroom
bedroom
Inside outside
decorative interiors
Beechy
Life’s a Beech

Huge ants roam the woodland floor. Sleeping in the soft green shade of beech trees, we visit Saxon hollow ways, and find Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms, flowering valerian, Wild Lettuce and much field Scabious.

Antelope of Oakley
antelopes abound
More Valerian in flower
Flowering Valerian
Wild lettuce
wild lettuce, poor man’s opium…
Dryads Saddle fungi
Dryad’s Sadle, a fairly edible fungi
Saxon lane
The hollow lanes to nowhere…
Field Scanious full
Field Scabious

The Church of Duntisbourne is a particularly exciting place to visit. At the foot of the valley below it flows the White Lady Spring, and in the church’s crypt, accessible only from the outside of the church, are medieval mosaics just discernible on the lime plaster.

Door from crypt to churchyard
Duntisbourn Crypt
Medieval crypt fresco, Duntisbourne
Medieval fresco
St Michael among spring flora
Victorian Michael in spring flora

Hoary Plantain, the one that is neither Greater nor Ribwort, but a sort-of combination of both, grows everywhere.

Hoary Plantain flower
The Plantain inbetween

When we move on, after a good rest, a meeting with a young fellow sends us to Frampton Mansell, where we sing for three Danish old ladies, (“the Norns”), and a pub full of tequila drinking executives (“seriously lads, when are you going to commercialize?”). It’s a fun night. We sleep in the damp valley bottom.

E h w
us

From here it is an early march into Minchinhampton, via the famous Bubble Well, which in legend all travellers to Minch drink from. Locals still report it is haunted, that dogs cannot relax there.

Ed in Bubble Well, Minch
Bubbling well…

We move swiftly from quiet Minch, to busk in Nailsworth. But again, the town has no space dedicated to pedestrians, so noisy vehicles spoil our fun. We’re saved by a wonderful cafe, called the Canteen, which lets us eat and drink freely, in exchange for song on demand for its happy customers.

Passing over the commons to Stoud, we learn that this is where the lawnmower was invented, by a man named Budding. We chance a request to sing for the Prince Albert pub, Stroud’s best music venue, and are told that the current act has just cancelled, so we’re welcome to headline. It’s a fun gig, quiet again, but pleasant.

The Urban Mower – sung in Stroud by A Walk Around Britain

We sing also for the famous Stroud Saturday market, which is vibrant and buzzing, full of great food and exciting produce. It’s the high performance of our journey, crowds ring us, until the pub behind us groggily swings its doors open and tells us to shift.

At this point, Ed crashes down again, and we rest with friends for a few days. When we do leave Stroud, we only reach as far as Haresfield Beacon, where our girls come to visit again.

But this is as far as we’ll go. Ed visited a doctor in Stroud, who said he likely has a gut parasite, and prescribed strong antibiotics and rest. Though we resist the idea, we cannot avoid it. This walk will have to stop, after a mere 6 weeks. I consider walking on solo, but my enthusiasm is weak. It’s not a good ending. We part in shock, as though forces beyond our control have made the choice for us.

All around us, the Yarrow, Harebells and Meadowsweet bloom. It’s not easy to leave the walk. But we can only trust in the greater journey afoot.

Pink Yarrow for protection
Pink Yarrow protects
Harebell
Delicate Harebell rings…
Meadowsweet in bloom
Funky Meadowsweet soothes

And that’s the story of our 2013 summer stroll.

Pleasant and Delightful by A Walk Around Britain

Haresfield vista
View to Severn and Wales

Mounda
mounds

Our Thwarted Plans

Our thwarted plans…

Ed and I intended to walk for Liverpool, via Anglesey. We’ve never before reached higher than mid-Wales, so Liverpool represented a portal, through which we could leap into Northern moors, lakes and peaks.

Also, we told curious passed-bys, Liverpool is the port from which traditional British music left these shores, to spread and mutate through new worlds – so we supposed it was proper to take the old songs back there again.

ceci n’est pas Scouse

At this point, I drop the plot revealer – a spoiler, in truth – for it was not until the last few days of our ill-fated journey that we discovered this truth for ourselves:

Ed left with Giardia in his small intestine. This is a tropical parasite, very common in the ‘developing’ world, though relatively rare in South England. The symptoms include wafty headedness, lack of nutritional uptake and low-energy. These effects ‘flare’ with lowered immunity or fatigue.

With this disadvantage, we did not reach Liverpool. Our ill-fated walk lasted a mere six weeks, and barely passed Stroud in Gloucestershire. Alongside the many traditional thrills of a long singing walk, we did lots of resting and wondering why. A fuller account (without dull bits) can be read HERE.

sun sets on this journey…

We can only say sorry, to everyone we didn’t meet and sing for. Our intentions were good.

Ed is currently convalescing in Somerset. God-willing, he’ll soon be restored to full vigorous health.

Future journeys are being currently mooted. Having persisted this far, we’ll endeavour to continue, in yet fresher new forms.

When I die I'll live again
we’ll live again

And we shall keep on singing, with an epic exciting new album coming soon.

Much love to you all,

And cheerio for now,

Will and Ed.

xx

Brachipod Haresfield
history is in hand

Summer 2013: The first three weeks…

The first few weeks…

We aim our first busk for Street town. Passing through Millbank school, we see pupils learning equestrian disciplines, which drills home Britain’s ever-present class divisions. The right-of-way is named ‘Gypsy Lane’, and though many decades have passed since nomadic English Romany were killed in WW1, or forced into houses, we catch traditional guarded looks from sharp-suited staff. Only the muddy gardeners grin and wave.

Street town is famously home of Clarks shoes, where coachloads of visitors browse the factory-outlet for cheap footwear. We’re reminded of Universal Records’ name for their main music market: ‘The Passive Massive’, and we decide to wake the shoe-minded-many with some good old bangers (songs not sausages).

But barely three numbers we release, before burly security approach. Though we offer our shonky business cards, and a spruce resumé of our great aims, they grin and shift us. Onto high streets we go, amongst the Army boys waging their latest recruitment campaign, called “Step Up” – like a garage band or aerobics class. This coincides with huge redundancies from the armed forces, and we wonder if the discarded old soldiers were proving insufficiently compliant, or too loyal to regiment over government. But today’s tattooed bruisers refuse to discuss such salient points, and appear to dislike traditional songs. Luckily, their full expression is curtailed by PR disciplines, and their flung threats fall flimsy-flat, while our anti-war classics are bold and bumptious.

If you’re looking for the private, I know where he is, he’s hanging on the old barbed wire

But Street high street is a main road, and we soon fade, our voices thin against the roar of bus-engines and the buzz of phone-chat. As ever, the few deep listeners make it all worthwhile, and their gold buys us good bread and butter. We leave with our winnings for Glastonbury.

On the glass isle, bottles are filled with a pink cocktail of water from the Red and White springs. The red is incredibly iron-rich, and tastes of blood.

Ed and Holly, Glasto Tor

On Glastonbury Tor we nap and dream. With evening, in a nearby field, we cook nettle soup, and sleep tarpless in long grass, confident that skies will hold clear.

Waking dry, we soon move on. Past beautiful farm projects, full of yurts and eco-builds, we stamp heavily.

Leaf house, Paddington Farm

Backpacks in sunshine are already irksome, but short of a large cash investment, or a revolutionary new approach, involving a single sheet of tarpaulin as both cloak and tent, we can only lump it. I blame the battery packs, but with our OS maps stashed on clever-telephones, maintaining power supplies is more important than ever. We just can’t rely on pubs and churches…

Sorrows Away

We cross the Somerset levels toward Wells. Gentle bicyclists we cheer, and roaring 4x4s we dodge. Cars are clearly the main blight on our British landscape, encouraging the ‘instant destination’ mindset at the cost of every other living creature’s benefit. We hope we’re alive when they are no longer an option.

Rainfall cuts such ponderings short. Thunder approaches from the south, so we tog into wool shirts, and raise umbrellas. This journey marks the experimental debut of our “no-goretex” technique. We trust the old fabrics will prove sufficient.

We help matters by hiding in a poly-tunnel full of ripe strawberries. To avoid excessive sweet temptation, we soon leave for an empty shed. As rain softens, we stride out again, and for the next few hours deal directly with the mild downpour. Wool allows vapours to pass through it, and is exothermic, giving out heat when wet. This means that rain never penetrates our natural aura of warm wetness, and we remain comfortable, and dry off from within. It feels much better than locking ourselves in expensive sweaty plastic sacks.

We find a majestic soaring Beech copse, and dive in seeking sleep space, but find floor is over-brambled.

Park Wood, Wells

Stumbling over the slashed tent of a former long-term resident, and their mountain of bin-bags and plastic bottles, is more dampening than the rain. People of Britain, if you run away to the wood, cook on a fire, and gather water – a cattle trough was barely 50 metres away – and burn your rubbish.

Anyway, we hit Wells, and peek about. The Bishop’s palace is our first sight, an awesomely defendable construction, built not to protect the town against invaders, but to safeguard the bishop from hungry townsfolk.

Bishops Palace

The moat is vast and green, full of swans and cygnets. It’s almost possible to wear National Trust spectacles, and see this solely as a beautiful icon of heritage. But it also remains a monument to power, and to holy greed, lest we forget…

Wandering about in Wells, we find little open in way of independent organic eateries. We’re doubtfully eyeing the co-op, when along stamps a chap in multi-toned tweeds. Passing school-children whisper his name like a charm, as he comments brightly on our dog’s differently coloured eyes.

‘Like David Bowie?’ I guess.

‘Like Alexander the Great,’ he corrects me.

The official Fool of Glastonbury, he donates us a tasty trout supper and an ode to badgers, which we eat and recite on the steps of a backstreet cocktail bar.

‘When musicians come to town …’ the Fool says knowingly.

Sovay by A Walk Around Britain

Tor Hill, Wells

Next morning, after sleep and breakfast on a windswept hill, we return to Wells town, to find the market being constructed by men in even bigger boots than ours. We sing in the ‘Penniless Porch’, a stone nook built for alms-collecting by Thomas Beckynton, the town’s fifteenth-century redesigner. Soon we are rich, and so accept an invitation for lunch. We’re very glad when our benefactor promises to locate and remove the Beech grove rubbish dump.

We listen to the bell-ringing on the Cathedral green, and a friendly coach-driver explains to us how trumpet holes, and the choirboy amplification tubes, were built into the face of this awesome stone building, to make the entire Cathedral a musical instrument.

Wells Cathedral

Then we pop to the Bishop’s Palace, to sing for visitors. It’s a hot day, and we’re tempted to bathe in the well after which this small city was named. But due to lead mining in the Mendips, these out-spinning 140 gallons per second, once the main drinking supply for Wells, are now deemed undrinkable. It makes us think, if fracking happens, even the deepest of British drinking waters will become likewise poisoned.

St Andrews Well, the well of Wells

We recently set up a small charitable trust, aiming to raise awareness about drinkable natural water sources in Britain, by testing and mapping accessible wells and springs. We add to our charitable goals the accumulation of before/after evidence, to help prove the irredeemably detrimental effect caused by fracking on ancient drinking water sources. Not even the Romans managed such a deep and foolish destruction of our land’s natural wealth, we lament. We are both firm anti-frackers, and wish that the Prince of Wales would buy all fracking licenses, and compost them.

Away from such thoughts the Fool guides us, like a motley mirage, to the as-yet-unopened Garden of Contemplation, where a buried wheel is inscribed with Machado’s classic poem on walking:

Wanderer, we have no road, we make the road by walking

It’s a fine metaphysical concept, but we suppose the poet had little experience of British footpaths, where the road is made by drovers, bards and pilgrims of ten thousand years past.

Outside the garden sit three pensioners in dazzling white. Though tired, we must sing our very best, so we choose Sorrows Away, a spell of the South Downs.

Sorrows Away by A Walk Around Britain

Now time passes over more cheerful today,
Since we learned a new act to drive sorrows away …
Well I may not be rich, and I may not be poor,
But I’m as happy as those that have thousands or more …

They give their blessing, and our work in Wells is done.

Next, we cross the wild-flowered Mendip hills, through the ‘Split-Rock’ quarry of Milton Hill, and over  Arthur’s point, where midges spoil our plans to camp.

Split Rock, near Arthur's point

He head downhill for Wookey-Hole, where till recently, the sixteenth-century paper-mill produced vellum, cotton paper made from rags. This paper was used in the American civil war to make dollars, as well as many legal documents in British history. Each drying turret, we learn, was given a lady’s name by the workers. But now it’s all closed, and turned into a pirate-themed crazy golf course, with no tenable link to local history whatsoever…

Paper mill, Wookey

A kind stranger from the social club leads us to secret caves, in which evidence of early Palaeolithic human settlement has been found. A fire-pit and woodpile await us there, so following ancient traditions, we make ourselves at home.

cave holly

Cave will

Ivy curtain, secret cave

While underground, we also make up some silly songs:

Elephants at Ease by A Walk Around Britain

Above Ebbor Gorge, we meet our partners, and rest to celebrate Ed’s birthday.

Ebbor Gorge Deerleap

Lamb and ale are our nourishment..

Ed Will drinky

And a shepherd’s hut on the Mendip hillside, stood under a beautiful split Ash tree, is our hotel of choice.

Sleep shack

Split Ash

Behold the Vale

The Banks of Claudy

Through Priddy village, and her burned down hurdle shack, on the through the mineries and the fair lady well, we head toward Radstock.

The sad remnants of Priddy hurdle stall, destroyed by arson

Fair Lady Well, Priddy

Radstock, from the map, looks like a busk. But when we get there, we can’t find the centre, just a sprawling co-op. “This is it” a street cleaner explains, shrugging.

Radatock vista

We are intent on Bath, the city of waters, which we know remains thriving. We first come to the stone farming village of Wellow. Driveways of Range Rovers and a boarded-up horse trough demark the shift from agriculture to ‘professionalism’.

Kings of Wellow church

No one knows where to find the holy well of St Julian, patron saint of wandering singers, for which Wellow was once famed. Legends speak of this well’s ‘fair white maiden’, apparently keen to nourish worthy travellers.

Will and Ed on the road to Farrington Gurney

The flowing source is eventually located, hidden in dense undergrowth, and both Ed and I savour a sacred sip while keeping lookout for the maiden.

Take waters freely

The maiden remains coy, so we pass back through the village, skirting the landlord’s thunderous retirement party, to climb the clay track toward Wellow long barrow. Here, in the weighty silence of this Neolithic tomb/calendar/shelter, we sing Claudy Banks, an ancient British song of a home-bound sailor who tests his waiting lover.

Claudy Wellow by A Walk Around Britain

Wellow long barrow

As I rode out one evening, all in the month of May,
Down by the banks of Claudy I carelessly did stray,
There I beheld a fair maid, in sorrow did complain,
Lamenting of her own true love, who had crossed the raging main.

Sleeping in the barrow that night feels like lying in a fast river, and the next day we’re bleary. As we stumble for the cycle-track to Bath, a hobbling old woman with thick facial hair shouts hoarsely after us: ‘Your dog’ll get shot if you go that way.’ We do our best to smile politely, but softly scowl beneath our masks.

Alas! We forget that well-maidens often come in disguise, to test travellers’ integrity. And on this occasion, we have clearly paid insufficient respect, for reaching Bath, we experience the most violent purges of our lives. Such is our sickness, I fear we’ve returned cholera to Britain. We call our womenfolk, and recuperate, with vows to act more nobly next time…

Lizzie, seamstress of Bath, sings “Bold Grenadier” by A Walk Around Britain

Busking in Bath

Sundown Sorrel

 

 

The next 3 weeks writ-up are coming very soon…

The Parting…

The Parting, June 2013…

We were uneasy achieving leaving. A quick shove of socks and sleeping bag into backpacks, and a waxing of the good old boots, was not it. Turmoil begat reinvention, and our made-up destinations were reformed accordingly.

Will, Holly and Ed 2013

Why such turmoil? Why such reinvention? Was it not all so simple? Alas, it was not. Here is why:

Our great walking singing project was the strange fruit of youthful enthusiasms. From our accidental discovery, while walking in 2006, that we could sing folk songs together, our playing at the minstrel-game has evolved with sharp judders. Perhaps our development appeared smooth from a distance…possibly we cast this illusion for our own sanity…but close-up it’s been a progress of tumbling disintegrations, an expansion by earthquakes.

 

Much has changed since we started musical rambling. We are no longer the fresh-faced youths of seven years past, and cannot so easily laugh at hardship, our curious co-conspirator, or shake off her friendly sting with beer and harmonies.

Nor do we remain ambition-free, as carefree fools wandering with adventures fluttering on the wind. Today we see golden threads running far into the future, and share visions of helping this land and her peoples’ lot, visions we dearly wish made real. Our new appreciation of this land, her diversity culture and bounty, has led to a corresponding growth of responsibility. Britannia needs protecting, for the children we pass her to. She needs to be held more kindly, if we are not to be the cursed generation who let her rot.

And perhaps most of all, we are no longer single lads, abroad and roaming. Today we leave our women and young families at home. They understand our need to walk and sing, and trust the necessary power of such symbol-work. But love has blessed us with softer hopes, and we harbour dreams of harbours, of timber shacks, spring-water and vegetables.

To cart or not to cart...

Success in our earlier walks, or flirtation with its knife-edge, tattooed us with the algebra of manifestation. Because things happened, we believed we could make more. Confidence in the tides was currently ours. Following the project’s brief catapulting to F-grade celebrity, when we appeared in Vogue, enjoyed a Radio 4 show, featured in the Guardian, the Telegraph, on World Service Radio and BBC1, the mysteries of such realms shrunk.

Vogue Magazine - Will, Ed and Holly

But our new rise was not all smooth and easy. It invited edgier elements to our small candle, which brought us deep damage – a record contract offer from Universal Records, which misdirected us for many months. The brotherly executive nearly persuaded us to take the money, and sell them everything, all our words, photos and songs, past and future, to the biggest music corporation in the world. They made it sound so innocent and clean, we almost became a trad Robson and Jerome, funny folk puppets for the industry to dress up and string along. The mask of freedom we’d been borrowing, we nearly gave away to the great machine. This experience left us heavily distrustful of commerce as a partner to folk-song, a scar that remains bloody beneath the apparent healing. We still owe the lawyers three grand…

Yet our modern-most journey needed new-pressed intentions, and we must now pluck  mild fruit from the branches we follow. Without justifying these journeys to our families, we will not be able to continue. So our latest walk is a roll of the dice, an attempt to mature previous dreams into something more solid. We believe it possible, in theory, to not return from a journey empty-pocketed and broken, needing months of rest. But making a profit from our essentially charitable work, we still suspect is vaguely evil. Reconciling these contrary beliefs has been an interesting goal. Can we go walking for three months, and return home with gold for our womenfolk? Can we open great barred doors, using keys of song?

So far, the answer is a resounding yes and no.

Leaving Ed’s rented shack in Somerset, we were already tired out, having misled ourselves to build a ridiculous handcart, with which to transport our heaviest dreams of overpacked comfort.

The forgotten handcart...

Sheepskins, axes, leather-tools, iron pans…we attempted a nomadic set-off with sufficient support to allow families to join in.

Our new handcart....

Like the Romany, but without the encumbrance of road-bound horses, we dreamt of endless wandering comfort.

But the handcart was a mere distraction and delay, soon to be replaced by backpacks and minimal possessions. These in turn were pared down, until we’d reached a new nadir of ‘things’. Anything we’d not use daily was abolished. The confusing new element was our intent to share our journey further than ever, making daily videos and recordings. So a tripod, microphones and battery-packs became our novel burden. In truth, we had little idea how to use such equipment, but we were convinced we could swiftly learn.

So off we jumped, half heavy and half light, into the early British summer, hoping both for invisibility and great revelation.

Big Hawthorn

Down deep-rutted tracks, past cancerous cows grazing grass fertilised with unsellable milk-solids, we walked. Towering hemlock barred our way, which we respectfully parted with new-cut hazel wands. Hogweed bulbs were plentiful, and plucked for cooking in butter and salt. Nettles remained unflowering, and were grasped with mettle for tea and blood-cleansing luncheons.

Plant photo

Through the aching sunshine we soon reached Compton Dundon, where the Yew is older than Christianity. It’s the most vibrantly youthful ancient tree I have ever seen, with limbs smooth as a Grecian youth. And it is chatty, promising us a combination of safety and greatness for the journey ahead.

Yew

Yew and Ed

From here, we avoided rumbling farm-trucks, first shaking emptily, then thudding full with mown grass, and chatted but briefly with laddered thatchers mending accountants’ cottages. We even skirted the famed hillfort which swells bosomlike from the plains. Instead, we visited a terrible pub, drunk a bad beer, and felt silly for doing so.
But that was fine, we were learning, and aware of our poor decisions. We were on track, and allowed the energy of disappointment to fuel our advance.

a burdock leaf sun shade

Ascending pine planted hills, beautiful in their rare asymmetry, we tried to find our first night’s hideout in woods full of shotgun shells. But the midges sent us onward to cedar alleyways, and grateful we were, for a field overlooking Glastonbury Tor awaited us, and hares ran rings around us, and on our small fire we cooked our happy supper. Out at last, amongst the good life of Britain, we were…

 

Cedar row

Ed Tor looks

The First Three Weeks can be read here: http://awalkaroundbritain.com/journey/journal/summer-2013-the-first-three-weeks/

Helena Handcart

Our handcart dreams started with this goat-cart, bought by Ed’s partner from an antique shop.

To cart or not to cart...

 

We researched possible options for walking 1000km over rough terrain and mountains. A German man was making top-quality versions, but they were expensive, and he wouldn’t send us a review version.

So we built one ourselves, thinking of all the axes, sheepskins, woolen trousers, ventile jackets, mozzie-nets, and various luxury paraphialia we could carry with the aid of a wheel.

The forgotten handcart...

 

This is what we made:

It was great fun to build. Hazel, steel, aluminium, ply, and gold paint.

Our new handcart....

 

The angles share the weight between the frame and the wheel, so only half the load sits on the carrier, and half goes free-wheeling.

 

Our new handcart....

 

But though it is a triumphant glory, this prototype is not coming with us on the path to Liverpool. Climbing over stiles is too difficult, and the carter has very little access to the world around them.

So we’ve packed very light backpacks instead. We hope Helena Handcart (aka Green Gloria) will prove useful when family come out visiting/walking.

We leave any moment now…

Two Winter Months, 2012-13: Part One

In the cold heart of winter, we make another walk.

A pathway North of Beech and Yew

We previously suffered a splintered year of silent disarray. Talking again is like coughing up chains of psychic goo. But we admit our journey isn’t over. We’ve miles yet to tread.

Will and Ed

Old mr Tump

So back on the path we step, in November 2012:

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Two Winter Months, 2012-13: Part Two

Strolling without Ed…

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Walking to London

At the end of February 2011, we walked to London from home near Faversham. We’ve always avoided such a walk, and skirted London as widely as possible, due to the M25.  The fastest road is no pal to the slowest walkers.

will-ed-morn2

And also, perhaps, we were fearful of London’s hard greyness.

But we were invited to sing, and present ourselves and our doings, to a number of high-powered Folk Industry Executives. We are glad such people exist, for we’d like to win some support for our project and our future plans, and we need to make some good allies. And of course, folk in suits are still just folk, and deserve a good sing-song as much as the next bunch…

So this is the story of our London walk, which is the first decent jaunt we’ve made with Holly dog.

holly-pilgrim

Recordings and a little video can be found below…

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The Joys of a Welsh Springtime

Llandegly Rocks

Llandegly Rocks

We found much changed for us during the winter in Wales, but Spring was not quick in coming. Indeed, winter lingered hard, and the dreams of new leaf and soft warmth were slow to be realized.

Celendine heralds the spring

Lesser Celendine, herald of Spring

Here are some of those exciting indicators, and events, of the newly risen Springtime.

Enjoy.

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