Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Glastonbury: Legend, Lore and a Tree

 I didn't think we'd have time to go to Glastonbury. I should have known I'd figure it out, and that Larry, though tired with driving almost 1500 miles during our trip, would be willing to make one last side trip before we headed to our last AirBnB. But I wanted to see the home of the fabled Glastonbury Thorn.

What is it? Just an old, broken tree on the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey. But it's much more than what it appears. According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea visited Britain with 12 followers. When he laid down to rest, his staff, made from a thorn, too root and grew into a tree that bloomed at Easter and Christmas. Legends and stories about Joseph are many, and include several from Cornwall where he is said to have visited with his nephew, the child Jesus, and showed the Cornish people how to smelt tin.

Scholars argue and some refute the legend of the Glastonbury Thorn, but it persists and later generations of the original tree (local variety of hawthorn) are carefully nurtured so there is always a Glastonbury Thorn tree at the Abbey. The tree was cut down by vandals in 2010, an act I am completely unable to understand, but another tree was planted (nearer to a place where an eye can be kept on it) to continue the rich history of this iconic symbol.

The Abbey istelf is a ruins dating back to 712 AD, and was destroyed by fire in the 12th century.

Sign reads: Site of the ancient burial ground where in 1191 monks dug to find the tombs of Arthur and Guinevere.

It was rebuilt, however, and continued to be an important Christian site until the Dissolution of monestaries under Oliver Cromwell in the 1500's. The monestary was stripped of its riches, and even stones were carried away from its buildings to be used in other structures.

Abbot's kitchen is the round building in the center of this photo.
Some idea of the grandeur of the Abbey can be sensed in the Abbot's Kitchen which is still standing and was recently restored.

Four huge fireplaces dominate this circular space.

It began to rain when we ducked inside, a perfect place to wait out the shower. I couldn't resist--the acoustics in the place were so astounding that I had to sing, just a bit of the old carol Down in Yon Forest. The haunting melody bounced from the domed ceiling, just amazing.

A lady who came in to get out of the rain approached me when I stopped singing and she shared a bit of two more ballads with me. She was a local druid, on the way to meet with her group, and we had a fascinating conversation. Such interesting people we met on this journey.

Other legends abound about this place. One of the most famous is that it is supposedly the site of King Arthur's burial and also that here the Holy Grail was brought by Joseph. The mix of lore, legend, myth and history in such an idyllic place makes it a natural for pilgrimages by people of many beliefs, and the area around Glastobury abounds with witches, wiccans, pagans, and Christian religions of all kinds. While we were there a parade of Hare Krishnas passed by, yet another layer of the colorful mix of Glastonbury.

We did not have time to see nearly all of this sacred site, yet another place on our list of places we need to return to.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Land's End and Across the Moor

Many, many times our GPS looked like this: 

unnamed roads, many curves, and yep, our speed was 6 miles per hour sometimes! All of these roads led to some fascinating places and unfailingly got us where we wanted to go.

After leaving Carn Euny, we continued south to Land's End, seeking tea and coffee. The day continued gloomy and rainy, so a nice inn was what we wanted, someplace cozy and out of the weather.

We found it here: The First and Last Inn in England.

Cozy? Times ten!

And historic too--a regular smugglers den in its day, and a gruesome end for the lady innkeeper.

It was difficult to photograph this, but this is a stairwell that led under the inn to the tunnels in the cliffs where the smugglers and wreckers operated.

The inn as it looked in 1826:

We left the comfort of the inn after being thoroughly warmed, and continued to seek the end of England. But when we got there...

5 pounds? Really? Nope, not worth it to us. The attendant was really nice and let us turn around and head back out.

We took the scenic route again, driving along the coast as much as possible as we headed back towards our hotel in New Quay. The day continued dark and stormy, and perhaps that was the perfect way to see this lonely, eerie countryside. (but please pardon the raindrops on the photos).

Ruins of 19th century mining operations were everywhere in the ladscape. Here, what appears to be a row of miners' cottages stand stark by the side of the road.

An ancient cairn, perhaps a signpost of some sort?

The moors fell off steeply to the sea, whose steely color this afternoon blended in with the gray of the sky.

Under the raindrops, the remains of what was probably another engine house for the mines. These were everywhere in this part of Cornwall, reminders of the tin, coal, gold, silver and copper mines in the rich stone of lower Cornwall.

The road went through several farms like this one, narrowing to squeeze between the buildings. This farm looked deserted.

A standing stone in a field is used as a scratching post for cattle and sheep. We saw this fairly often during our trip, the ancient works serving a simple present day need.

A inn welcomes travelers and walkers with its cheery yellow paint on a blustery day that had turnd quite chilly. My bet is on this being yet another smugglers hangout in its day.

Beautifyl, lonely moors...

This huge home sits high on the cliff overlooking the sea, and once again I was reminded of Jamaica Inn.

And finally, the day darkened to evening, and it was time to get back to the hotel and to bed.

Next post: I'll be away storytelling for a few days so my next post might be a while coming, but it will be about Glastonbury Abbey, our last stop of this trip.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Carn Euny: The Holy Well and The Secret Artist

It was pouring rain. Larry wanted to go back to the car and that would have been the sensible thing to do. But the path ahead looked so intriguing, and there was supposed to be an ancient holy well a little distance away. My sweet man gave in and agreed to continue walking.

Our reward was this: a path leading into an enchanted forest, or so it seemed. Moss on branches, blue hydrangeas overhanging, the sense that there could easily be little people watching from under rocks and leaves.

 And there, to the right of the path, was St. Euny's Well.

Ribbons and strips of cloth (called clouties) hang from the trees branches. These are left as part of healing rituals performed by visitors to the well. We did not need to do a healing ritual. Just seeing this haunting place was healing enough. And I have to agree with the Cornish Witchcraft site, these additions can overwhelm the peace and otherwordliness of these places.

Wikipedia has the following quote about this well:
West of the settlement are a pair of ancient wells. One is mentioned in The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England[7] of 1893 where William Borlase[8] states (writing in the 1750s):
"I happened luckily to be at this well upon the last day of the year, on which, according to vulgar opinion, it exerts its principal and most salutary powers. Two women were here, who came from a neighbouring parish, and were busily employed in bathing a child. They both assured me that people who had a mind to receive any benefit from St. Euny's Well must come and wash upon the three first Wednesdays in May. Children suffering from mesenteric disease[9] should be dipped three times in Chapel Uny widderschynnes, and widderschynnes dragged three times round the well."
Widdershynnes, of course, means counter-clockwise, so they were dipped three times in the well, as the dipper calked counter-clockwise, and then dragged around it as well. Poor little babies. If they survived that treatment they were probably pretty hardy anyway.

There is a grate over the well now, to protect people from falling in or desecrating it. We did not look to see if this could be removed.

By now it was really raining hard. Up ahead I saw a building. "We can stand in the overhang here to get out of the rain," I said. But what was this? An OPEN sign? Way out here??

Why, yes it was. We had stumbled onto an artist's studio, accessible, apparently, only from the way we had come.

This turned out to be the studio of Hester Dennett, and it was filled was the most beautiful pieces of art.

 We walked around carefully, trying not to track up the floors. Such beautiful works, well beyond our means but what a privilege to see them in this remote, quiet place.

A nearby house seemed occupied, but no one came out to the studio/gallery while we were there. A sign asked that we "turn out the lights and pull the door to" when we left. What an amazing place.
I later learned that this is part of the Open StudioCornwall series.

By now Larry was done. He headed back and I reluctantly followed. He really is the more practical of the two of us. I meekly followed. After all he had humored me long enough. And we were both soaked where our jackets didn't cover our legs.

This is his "Are you coming?" look. Yes, wet through and cold, I was right behind him.

And back out the twisting lane we went, through farmyards and hedges, to find a place to get some hot tea and coffee.

Next post: Land's End, and beyond.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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