I’ve been back, and have added pictures. Private signs still there!
Since I last was in that area, I’ve been saying that my spirituality is more Glastonbury than Canterbury – or Walsingham. For me, Glastonbury isn’t representing the Pagan and New Age, but the place where Christian heritage and those broad earth faiths meet. I love that the tall towered parish church shares the same high street with the woo woo shops. My own metaphorical shop sells votive candles and crystals. Aren’t candles wide and inclusive?
But would I still say that my spirituality is better represented here than the traditional and official established church and its own way of doing holy sites?
I wonder too about that other East Anglian equivalent to Glastonbury – the great lost abbey of Bury St Edmunds. It sits on the same leyline. So why have I not felt any presence yet? And did I in that Somerset market town?
Being told by a sign that you are now in the Isle of Avalon sounds romantic doesn’t it, even if the sign appears as you’re in the industrial area. I was grateful to disembark the long bus journey (there’s no trains for some miles) and went into the first shop I saw: “Chocolate Love Temple” – this must be a good start. It embodied all of Glastonbury’s character – a small independent selling vintage clothes, spiritual accoutrements, and chocolate. One piece of the latter a little larger than a 50p was £3, because of its containing a rare healing plant from India!
But I don’t think that means Glastonbury is full of overpriced charlatans. I got very angry at the English Heritage book on Glastonbury which was so rude and dismissive of the best known type of tourist and inhabitant here. I’m more keen to know why have these been excluded when it was through woo woo means that Glastonbury abbey was excavated?
I note that the latest book on Frederick Bligh Bond, the master of works who was sacked by the C of E when his method of discovery was discovered, is no longer in the abbey shop.
Not every shop in Glastonbury is a new agey one, though there are many which are – I can’t think of a another place like it. Every day really is a mind, body spirit fair here on the High Street. One area reminded me of Charles Manning’s amusements in Felixstowe, except with healing crystals and goddess images where Manning’s ice creams and crazy mirrors are.
I tried to find the Tor but instead learned what a greedy lot the abbey are/were. The abbey’s large tithe barn well outside today’s considerable precinct gathered the produce of others in a wide catchment. Today, you can only get in and out of the abbey by one small gate, presumably to ensure you pay your entrance fee. Staff seem to know little about the site, which is unusual for a museum where normally there’s competition to work lower than your skills and education because of the passion and knowledge you have. I asked about the exaggerated length of Bury St Edmunds abbey quoted by the museum’s abbey model. (I didn’t imply “you are wrong” – more I am curious as to why 505 has become 570ft). They all said they didn’t know but perhaps someone working during the week (implying that people with knowledge didn’t of course work at weekends) might know if I emailed. The museum’s not big and if you know about abbeys, this gives little specific insight. And it doesn’t explain the interesting bit about how those hippies got here and what has made Glastonbury (and not Canterbury) remain a place of spiritual pilgrimage.
I hoped to escape towards the Tor from the far end of the ruins, as any other Close I know has 3 or 4 entrances. By Church House, the Anglican retreat centre, there was barbed wire; and round its entrance, vociferous Private signs.
Glastonbury abbey’s quick to tell you that they’re not funded or part of any group – hence quite a high entrance charge – but they still want you to ask their permission for any service or commercial photographs. I think if you’ve the privilege of caring for a much loved spiritual site, you cannot be that controlling about worship here. Their idea of “rescuing the ruins” is to put irritating modern chrome and viewing platforms in. You get little real idea of the church and its outbuildings if you don’t already know about abbeys.
The roads flanking the abbey other than the high street are mostly pretty ordinary architecturally, but it did amuse me that the names of businesses and guesthouses stuck on them definitely reflect the new age of Glastonbury.
The street towards the Chalice Well had some older cottages. This well is all for world peace – at a price, judging by their entry fees. The Tor itself is further than maps suggest, although I was very tired the day I visited. I’m not sure if there’s something special or ominous about the lady shaped ridge – is it the execution of the last abbot or the alleged hidden caves of the faerie king? I definitely believe the theories that it’s deliberately shaped for spiritual purposes. I am not happy with the National Trust owning it – a secular trust which supports modern scientific practices more than the Tor’s spiritual and often esoteric significance. And how can a holy Tor ever be someone’s property?!
I wondered: could I live here, or at least, stay longer? There’s much on offer if you want to be healed or train in esoteric ways, including some rather pricey guest houses and treatments which I thought clashed with the spirit in which they are supposed to be offered. Despite the famous festival, the rest of the year there doesn’t seem to be any arts to watch – the nearest cinemas are about 5 miles away in small towns, and only one, provincial, theatre. Bristol’s nearly 30 miles away – which is the nearest city, and Bath’s not even direct by bus.
I’d like to spend unfettered time here, but I think that the spirituality of Glastonbury is not quite where I am. Hippy not hipster, and often mature years rather than younger faces (except serving in the cafes), many I saw were in festival dress and the words used for their offerings felt as alien to me as if it were another culture, as often faith seems to those not in it.
I want something in the median – perhaps my idea of Celtic Christianity, the synthesis, which is open to all that Glastonbury offers, but finds a wiggly path without the extremes and immersive cultures of either users of incense. Or womb steamers.
But I find myself researching and thinking about how spirals – often in labyrinth form – are part of Glastonbury and in the title of my novel which came out on Mary Magdalene day – someone that Glastonbury likes as much as I do.
I sense I’m not yet done with Avalon.
I’ve updated it after a revisit – and my one on COLCHESTER too – it’s always worth checking back for
The Easterner’s Cotswold fix
I think this was my first stone town – that of warm, golden beige, unmarred by the grey of age or industry, and I was enchanted; I still am. I like that even the modern housing enclave by the station is made of that light Jurassic park limestone that runs like a seatbelt from Yorkshire to the West country. The station is also made of it, but its cuteness was reversed by the following: it appears unstaffed; and trains run once an hour in each direction, in a clump, so much of the hour, there’s no action and no-one around. Not fun at night and it’s not that easy to find your way out of – one of the first signs you see is “No entry – your council at your service.”
Having escaped the housing enclave, you are greeted with meadows and the many towers of a gorgeous little town that…
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The classic view. Note where the colour is. It’s my favourite building
When one describes Edinburgh, it sounds ideal and wonderful: a city on hills with a mini mountain at its centre; blue water stretching out in the distance towards a kingdom of further such hills; a medieval city on the tail of an extinct volcano – castle at the high rocky end, palace at the other, and little vennels running off the main street. A park in between mounted by classical galleries and a large, conveniently situated railway station, a one sided shopping street that views all I’ve just said, and then the squares and curving terraces of a neat classical town – the second part of the world heritage site – and then an ancient port connected by another long straight thoroughfare about two miles away. Schools like palaces and Grecian temples throughout the suburbs; domes of banks and archives; Gothic spires. A city of vistas both natural and architectural, with a double centre of two contrasting styles unity; suburbs stretching still in a distinct style, mostly of the same coloured stone.
For me, Edinburgh is not just a pair of towns old and new but some little urban villages; I see it as a sunflower with a split centre and then several long petals. Find Broughton and Merchiston, Southside and Stockbridge to really know Edinburgh. There’s more greenery in the Meadows and connected Bruntsfield Links, there’s Morningside, the land of Miss Jean Brodie in her prime, and now trams to the airport – and of course, a zoo.
Not too big but big enough, stuffed with arts (even without August’s huge festival), and museums. I counted 30 visitor attractions, most of them along the Royal Mile, the spine of that volcano and the original Edinburgh. I used to live just off it and could imagine Mary Queen of Scots passing with her retinue as I popped out for milk. But that got tricky, especially during August.
Edinburgh is best seen and understood from its side streets, the enclaves that are not in the free tourist leaflets or most of the souvenir guides. Ascend more hills and go where the rubber of slow moving tyres run through interlinked crescents in shapes of otherworldly signs, find its many boutiques and bistros, some hiding below street level, some with smart and colourful frontages, some under marble domes and columns, and always a hill in sight (unless you’re standing on one taking in one of the several famous city vistas).
However, that is not my Edinburgh; it was only briefly. The unity is also disappointingly homogenous and its suburbs of tenements are relentless, but without the class or appeal of the well photographed bits (they’re so dark, they are difficult to photograph). The New Town only has one survivor from the century it most celebrates, at Charlotte Square. The Old Town has no medieval domestic buildings save part of John Knox House and only small bits of the castle, cathedral and palace are pre 1500. There’s several 16-17th C houses, and some in pastiche, but much of that Mile is a bland late Georgian, and there’s some dreadful new fillers, such as the former council offices that have become a hotel and yet another Pizza Express on the site of the West Bow.
Clean and unclean stone near Stockbridge, New Town
The Scots word ‘dreich’- meaning approximately what ‘mauvais’ in French does – is appropriate for describing the colour of its capital. Drear, dull and relentless browny black, often read as grey. The true colour of Edinburgh’s predominant stone is a beautiful, gold and pink flecked light beige. But it’s been slow to clean itself, despite being the World Heritage Site – and its rival to the West feels a warmer city in comparison because it has done so. My photos of neighbouring contrasts in Edinburgh show what is and what was and what might be. Bath was blackened in the 1960s – now look. Why isn’t equally proud, visited and celebrated Edinburgh also sparkling? England’s northern cities have tidied themselves, so when one wants to film a period drama set in the height of industrial blackness, at least one (North and South, 2004) chose Edinburgh to stand in.
So the colour is a big big issue. Edinburgh looks like a man in a drab suit, sometimes with a bright blue background (for sunny days) but often a sky that matches the suit.
But old Scots buildings are colourful – hurrah to the City museum which has brought some gold to the Canongate, and that deep burgundy that along with white is also popular and sets off each other and the stone. Some criticise that auld Scots pastiche Crown/SAS Radisson hotel in the High Street but it brought me gladness to view it and is what I think other gaps should be filled in with.
Welcome colour in the Old Town
Edinburgh’s also cold – the proximity of the Firth of Forth and being on hills makes you exposed to cold winds. You get extra long summer days but short winter ones.
The Royal Mile which can feel inspiringly historic felt particularly made for television on my last visit. I can think of other cities with tat shops, but not en masse, and not feeling so false. And yet much of the Mile isn’t authentically old or even pretending to be.
Edinburgh has more theatres and cinemas than other British cities except London, and I’ll review some of those on my other blog. It has enough theatres to subdivide into types – drama in one, new writing in another, knees up West End, musical and opera, ballet, and student/amateur. This is one of its strengths.
It has many places to eat and drink but I found myself returning with alacrity to very few. I commend Ecco Vino on Cockburn St in the Old Town for being the one I have consistently been able to visit over some years and be happy each time, whether I’m having a hot choc, asking advice on wine, or having a meal – alone or with friends. And well done for not feeling the need to change your logo or decor – you got it right and stuck with it, and it helps me recognise you.
Many others I knew have either closed since my last visit, or changed beyond recognition.
So Edinburgh’s best is kind of its essence – the idea of it, which conforms in part to my own ideals as much as much of its later planning does to the classical ones. But I like mix and match, and not that City Fathers (why always patriarchs?) and feudal lords control the look of a city as much as what goes on it in. The more I read on that, the less happy I am.
It’s the hills and water that I like most, and the notion of the sleeping volcano; the sense of a nation’s history.
But the city lacks water in the centre. Since the Nor’ Loch was drained, the city feels dry. I’m also used to cities of many medieval or Georgian churches, and Edinburgh’s are mostly 19th C and not in the middle and of the overbearing gothic sort, even for the evangelical non conformist churches. It also lacks a central square – Grassmarket’s in a basin with no arresting buildings on it – and a proper cathedral. St Giles was the collegiate parish church for medieval Edinburgh, only briefly a seat of a bishop in the 17th C – and thus is truly a High Kirk, and though large, is not on the scale of a cathedral as many of us would view them. And there’s no close. And the castle’s position is dramatic, but its edifice is low slung and mostly 18-20th C military buildings, some of whom you can’t visit. (I personally recommend Stirling castle over this one).
If I could change three things about Edinburgh:
-Colour: get cleaning and painting those older mansions
-Bring back Holyrood Abbey
-A few degrees warmer and with less wind
The Cowgate – under belly of the Old Town
I’d like to do a neo Patrick Geddes and rejuvenate the Old Town: less tat, more like the SAS/Crown hotel (and Glasgow’s St Mungo’s museum – same architect); more of that distinct timber, turnpike and crowstepped look that was lost through slum clearance. And less bridges which create the sense of dank tunnels and under-streets, nether and laigh in every sense.
And I’d like a go at Princes Street which is more view than being beautiful in itself, and busy, tatty Lothian Road/Toll Cross which really lets the side down. And George Square and that street that begins as South Bridge and keeps changing its name. And Leith Walk.
Sorry, not just three.
Maybe Leith is worth a Day Out of its own sometime – it does like to be thought of as independent. I need a prolonged updated visit to be able to do this.
I will be sharing my thoughts on Glasgow shortly.
I already have on the Royal Mile attraction “The Real Mary King’s Close”.
or A Hoo Ha
or Horton hears a Hoo
or Dr/Sutton Who-oo, the Tardis. Does anyone remember that song?
I refer of course to the humps across the river Deben from Woodbridge in Suffolk that you have to go 4 miles round to get to and pay nearly £9 to visit, courtesy of the National Thrust – who were not at all thrusting this time, of their gift voluntary extra admission or their membership.
Sadly, the staff were better than the attraction itself. The guidebook begins evocatively in word and picture – and I commend that, instead of the stuffy academic approach. In the long visitor survey, you are asked reasons for coming; one option was ‘food for the soul’. Yes there is certainly some of that here – or so I hoped.
But let me first go back to getting here. It is very difficult to do without driving. By train, you come nearest at Melton, just north of Woodbridge. But you’ve still a mile and a half of walking along a boring but busy and lonely, ill signed road – the station doesn’t mention a certain Hoo. There’s a brown sign, I thought, that’ll reassure I’m on the right track – but, no – it’s for a caravan park. Slippery leaves covered much of the tiny pavement and ominous shacks peered down from above. And then you’ve a long farm drive to negotiate when you finally do turn off to Sutton Hoo.
There’s no facilities at the unstaffed little station. You may want to note the pub on Wilford Bridge – it’s the only chance for refreshment you see til you reach Sutton Hoo itself.
Near this pub, I noticed a very definite sign saying “private, access only, no walkers or cyclists.” I should’ve been suspicious. What was down that tarmac path, by a little house, that would interest walkers and cyclists?
I saw a lot of ‘private’ signs on my walk back to Woodbridge along the muddy scruffy Deben. How shameful it is to be so obsessed with property. Especially when that property is a national treasure. Literally. A Saxon one, gifted to the people and the National Trust.
Yes, the tarmac with the prohibitive sign did turn out to be a considerable short cut to Sutton Hoo, through the public grounds and marked paths. Yes my return trip was very much faster and the secret private part only a short way. There was nothing to reasonably protect there. I was directed to use the path and I would like to say that if the property owners read this and object, that they ought to be ashamed of barring access to something rightly gifted to the public. I am pushing for the private signs to come down and this to be the official non vehicular access to the park. If that upsets whoever is trying to horde that little path, then I suggest that this isn’t the right home for them. They are – or should be – stewards to this treasure; day time visitors – mostly in summer – are hardly going to make a big difference to their lives. I can’t see that Sutton Hoo visitors are rowdy and dangerous. Many of the rest of us have people tramping past our doors and gates, often with sirens and fumes too. I really don’t see why that cottage thinks that it has that power, being actually part of the site – the main farm shares its drive with Hoo-ers, so why not this little path?
The long way round puts many non drivers off – I would not suggest walking here to anyone and I would only commend it to hardy cyclists. The National Trust are losing out on visitors and visitors are losing out on Sutton Hoo – or are they?
The evocative pictures and words didn’t match what I saw. I could make Stowmarket Rec look like that if I took my photo right.
I’ve been back – this really is as as good as it gets
I still don’t really understand what’s in the screened off bumps, that sheep can go on, but I can’t. There is no mock up open mound, nor even a diagram. The famous helmet was not demonstrated in the main hall – only in the short video. So what does the garb look like when it’s on? And what does it mean? And why have I paid over £8 to see this?
I wanted to see the ship and felt sure that the size of the shed built for the exhibition was to house a life size replica. I mean of the 90ft ship that mystery man, probably King of the Wuffings, was buried in, the one that left marks in the mud that Basil Brush Brown found in 1939. No. There was a temporary exhibition of a scale model, but I’d missed that; the only ship I saw was in the kid’s playground, 1/10 size.
I’d have liked a mock up trench of Basil’s work. Nope to that, just his man shed. Burial chamber? Yes, but I didn’t realise it at the time – what looked like a cabin and overturned boat surely wasn’t what had been compared to the Pyramids?
And from this exhibition, I don’t really know who this Raedwald was and why they think (but can’t say for certain) that it’s him. And is there any connection between his royal home and those aliens at nearby Rendlesham? I think that is actually a serious point. The esoteric floats wispishly around those bumps but is never given much space – not by the Trust or any archaeologist.
The exhibition felt a bit kiddie and patronising, and was quite noisy – staff greet you right next to the video and then there was a live talk too, all of which could hear each other, and you’re trying to listen to one of them or do your own reading.
Yes there’s a better priced cafe here than other NT captive audience sites, and pleasant walks – and a view of Woodbridge that made me furious. Look how near Woodbridge is – and yet how much extra have I had to come? Why not a boat from the Tide Mill? Why not that boat?
Getting here wasted so much of my day that I felt resentful and I didn’t stay long. And to those money obsessed counters, you lost out because I was walking and not buying.
I feel these bumps – and their finders – Edith Pretty, her 20 year courtship, and her spiritualist healer friends, and remarkable Basil boom boom with his rather skilled brush, all have a story which isn’t really told here. I once saw a play in a nearby garden centre called The Wuffings, by the Eastern Angles theatre group. It brought that ship alive more than the Trust does so far. I wish this site made me feel as I wished to. I hope that the new funding awarded will assist in making this place more comprehensive and exciting. And will overturn those stupid signs!
Woodbridge has its own day out on here.
I have been amassing material for new posts – naughty guides and quests on churches, a day out with moi to Lincoln and Newark, and have lots of other possibilities, but due to my novel which is about to go onto Indiegogo for crowdfunding to be able to self publish, I have not been able to update this page.
I am still here and will be back!
here is the link – please support me!