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…

3 Responses to “Summer 2013: The first three weeks…”

  1. Martin says:

    Wonderful update, would love to be doing the same but circumstances don’t really permit so am happy to follow your travels. Let me know if you ever decide to tramp around East Anglia.

  2. kruse says:

    I’m really interested to read about your use of wool rather than Gore-tex. I’m a knitter and spinner and I believe that our English weather suits wool, linen and tweed just as well, if not better, than modern fabrics, but other folk think I’m a bit barmy for standing up for wool!

    Anyway, I hope your journey continues well and you remember your manners next time you meet a well maiden. Blessings be on you.

  3. Giles Diggle says:

    Inspirational. Refreshing. Glad I stumbled upon you in Stroud. I should have said hello, but you were mid song, so I took a photograph & left a coin.

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