This walk was splendid, one of our best yet. We caught the 376 to Chewton Mendip (site of an earlier not so great walk before I knew you should never go anywhere without an OS map or you will get lost and miss all the things), stopped at the Mendip Pantry to pick up some incredible pies, scotch eggs, lush baked goods of all sorts. Highly recommended. We ate our first pie alongside the church, which is so unexpectedly grand. It has Saxon origins, was rebuilt in the 12th century, most of what you can see was built in the 1400s by Carthusians and patched and rebuilt again across the centuries and into the 1800s (but look at the door, I mean just look at it)
Be still my heart. The tower is from the 15th century.
From here we wandered across and down…we crossed over the Monarch’s Way without turning to take it. Once again I found myself wondering if it is cause or correlation that alternative public rights of way and footpaths near these larger routes seem to be too often lost or at best poorly marked. Our route crossed stiles that had all but rotted or fallen away, we forged anew paths across clover or around large fields of wheat, and one footpath and necessary gaps in the brambles were gone altogether. Luckily patience and good humour are our virtues. Most of the time.
Then we saw the tumuli on the skyline.
They are splendid and only visible in this way from this direction really. The Priddy Circles much less so, though they do appear to some extent due to the vegetation growing on them. These bronze age henges are so extraordinary, but difficult to really get a sense of them as there is no access, and instead you must stare at them from the precarious verge of a very busy A road. This was rather unpleasant to walk down, I must confess, but the view worth it. We walked it after a very decent very fairly priced pub luch at the Castle of Comfort, a place that approaches my ideal old country pub and sits at the crossing of the old Roman road between Charterhouse and Old Sarum and the very busy Bristol Road.
But the henges — probably built before Stonehenge, massive, unique in that they have external ditches (much more on them here). The landowner recently tried to bulldoze one, was stopped and fined. This is just one of them, what you can see from the road: There is no high place to overlook them.
But obviously the aerial view is so much better, both for a sense of scale and what is there, or was there before it was bulldozed by Roger Penny. Vandal.
I wish I were an archaeologist let loose on them, but ah well. We continued up to the tumuli we saw on the skyline, these you can walk right up to. And from them you can look to a second skyline of tumuli, these are the Nine Priddy Barrows.
As you approach them those you have just left behind you begin to disappear.
A deer bounded away as we walked alongside them, and then continued alongside fields rosy with red shank. No signs seemed to remain of the last tumuli marked on our map along this route. Since we walked the Ridgeway near Avebury I have been thinking about the meaning of these shapes and the approaches required to experience them powerfully against the sky, the lines of sight from them, what this means for how people lived and died ad lived with death itself, and how they traveled this landscape. The question, possibly not a fair one I know, of why these barrows do not sit just a little further along where the world suddenly drops away and you can see all the way to Glastonbury Tor and even to the estuary.
Perhaps something was here once, but it seems the great sacred landscape around the village of Priddy, which still has much for us to explore, was chosen for other reasons.
We walked down to Wookey Hole and then to Wells to catch that same 376 bus back to Bristol. Other sights? Fair Lady Well. An enormous and most wonderful emperor moth caterpillar suddenly on my shoelaces after we stepped off the path to let some dogwalkers get by. Fields of wheat. A giant bat. The Miners Rest, a memory of a once industrial landscape of coal and lead mining stretching to the Romans and even further back. Ancient trees. Fairy rings. Last but not least, a new blue plaque celebrating Edgar Wright at his old school in Wells. High five.