Welcome again to Philip’s blog. While he’s away I’m looking after things here. So here is another post from a guest blogger, this time author and OBOD member from Glastonbury, Liz Williams.
As someone who works in Glastonbury, I quite often open esoteric publications and find accounts of the town – of the Tor, of the Chalice Well, of the leylines. All of this is well and good (no pun intended), and it would be wrong to suggest that the inhabitants of this strange, small Somerset town do not visit such places themselves. We quite often go to the Chalice Well and sit in contemplation by its deep, murmuring waters (although thankfully, I’ve never had the experience of a friend of mine who stayed at the retreat centre: early one morning, with the mist rising up off the sides of the Tor, she went alone to sit by the Well head and there, in the silent dawn, realised that she could hear precisely nothing coming from beneath the Vesica Piscis. Moments later, there was a disturbance in the well and a bloke in a Barbour jacket appeared out of it, like an apparition. “Sorry, love,” he remarked. “Got to clean it sometime.”)
However, there are other places, less fixed in the public mind, perhaps, but no less liminal – and sometimes more. We live out towards Wedmore, in the middle of the district known as Sedgemoor. It’s apple country, the orchards with their old grey trees tucked away behind more modern housing. Our own orchard is a hundred years old and an episode with a metal detector revealed shot from the battle of Sedgemoor, a bullet flattened with the imprint of cloth, and less violently, an old spoon and fork from Wassailing, buried upright around an apple tree.
It’s a sedgy, reedy, rushy landscape, based on peat, which shifts and moves overnight, like a series of small tectonic plates. It’s alternatively lush and bleak, sombre and welcoming. Now, at Imbolc, everything’s stripped down to the bone, even the colours of the land: fawn, black, grey, a livid white. We have a dog missing from home at present and I went out to search for her last week, on the advice of the local dogwarden: there was a dead dog out on the Levels, he said, but did not know what breed. I drove out across the bridge over the Brue and into the back lands – a strange, lost place, not at all beautiful. I found odd things – a huge tin house the colour of fresh blood, encampments of old vehicles. All the roads were pocked like the surface of the moon and had grass growing down their centres.
I finally found the body of the dog on a small island, no more than 10 foot or so across, linked to the road by a foot-wide causeway. It was a whippet, white as bone, dead for some days. I stood looking at the body of the dog, with the Tor rising low in the background, and thought of Gwyn’s white red-eared hounds, death dogs, running through the cold pale land.
But this is winter. Once the pussy willow and the blackthorn comes out, it changes, starts swinging down towards summer. We have long, gentle grey-blue days, prolonged twilights, clear stars. Swans haunt the water meadows like flocks of aerial sheep. We go walking at the bird reserves at Westhay and Shapwick and find them filled with waterfowl. We live perhaps three fields from the sites of the ancient settlements, the causeway villages, four thousand years old or so, and I wonder how they found it, this suddenly rich country.
On summer evenings, we head outwards to Brean Down and Berrow Flats: all striated mud and rippling water. There’s very rarely anyone else out on the beaches, apart from a few dog walkers. On Brean Down itself, the location of Dion Fortune’s novel The Sea Priestess, it’s really liminal space: the close cropped herb-strewn grass around the earthworks of the Roman-British temple smelling of the Mediterranean, of Crete, and beyond there is nothing but sky and the huge silver sweep of the estuary. At the end of the headland there are sometimes immense white cattle grazing, ponderous, Zeus in disguise.
Coming back over the Levels, there are the half-hidden places, the places you can rarely find again. Little low stone-floored pubs where they still serve cider out of the barrel; farmyards filled with half-rusted machinery. Squat grey churches and the straight arrows of the rhynes, lined with contorted willows.
So if you love Glastonbury, and you come here, don’t forget to get out of town, as well.
More information about Liz Williams can be found here.