Posted in Travel on Saturday 23rd March 2013 at 9:02pm
With a long-planned trip to Scotland looming, continuing the revisiting of local landmarks seemed like a sensible plan for today. I'd also become curious about the growing network of local services provided by WebberBus. They seem to want to challenge the local monopoly in a fairly positive way - decent services, good vehicles - even, and this seems almost too good to be true - friendly drivers! Having used their service to get to Wells, we decided on a trip to Glastonbury via Bridgwater today. The services linked up nearly seamlessly at Bridgwater Bus Station - something of a relief as it was very, very cold. Winter seems to have developed a second wind after it's deep cold snap earlier in the year, and wrapping up warm we were grateful for the heating in the vehicle as it crested the Polden Hills near Puriton. Running along the causeway, the misty freezing morning provided truly wonderful views across the Somerset Levels. Our distant goal was evident from the Tor, occasionally emerging from the mist as we progressed towards the ancient town.
We emerged from the bus in the centre of town, where a farmer's market was ranged around the stone cross. We lingered awhile, finding good bread among other produce, sold by people keen to talk about their wares. The town was largely as I recalled on a school trip many years ago - even some of the more established esoteric outlets for crystals and aromatherapy oils remained. In a vegan cafe fronting a courtyard of these places, we relaxed with coffee and watched the inhabitants of the town walk by - a strange mingling of the commonplace with the truly unusual. Robed monk-like men, women with layers of knitwear and stars on their cheeks, all rubbing shoulders with seemingly unruffled white-van drivers and families. It was pleasant to watch the odd parade as we sipped coffee and deferred our return to the cold.
Eventually though, the Abbey called. Once through the modern visitor centre, and having marvelled at the tiny St. Dunstan's Chapel, we explored the grounds. It was bitterly cold, and getting colder as the day progressed and the little weak sun began to disappear. The ruins were nearly deserted and we had the opportunity to range wherever we wished, largely without interruption - though one young woman appeared to be performing yoga and summoning energy at the top of the site - the ancient span of once truly magnificent ruins before her. As we explored the simple, earthly truth of the site emerged - the ruins are here because a King wanted to divorce his wife. All the sublime beauty we'd seen at Wells a little while back could be here too, but for greed and lust.
After feeding some grateful and frozen ducks, we headed back into town. The Chalice Well could wait for another visit - food beckoned in the Lazy Gecko - a surprise find which turned out to be the perfect spot for warming, hearty fare. As we waited for the bus we talked a little about the two sides of Glastonbury - the haven for oddballs and mystics, and the deeply religious and serious history. Whatever you make of ley lines or other mystical connections, there is no doubt that something special surfaces here.
Posted in Travel on Saturday 16th March 2013 at 10:22pm
I'm pretty sure I don't need to begin another post by ruminating on change, but suffice to say my travel patterns have dramatically altered recently. It's also pretty clear that over the next few months, surviving on a single income is going to be fairly testing. Travel, for me at least, isn't a luxury. The necessity of commuting is one aspect - the other is the need to escape, to see how the world works and how it all fits together. Geography and ethnography combined - and observed now by two pairs of eyes. But in straightened times a new approach is called for. So, we've taken to the buses in an attempt to rediscover - and in some senses reclaim - Somerset. My old home county has undergone a renewal of interest, and I'm looking again...
The journey was for starters, almost idyllic. The 670 bus wound through the villages and pastures of the levels, lazily charting the course of the River Brue. With the great shoulder of the Mendip Hills flung out to our left, and the distant Blackdowns hazy in a rainy middle-distance, the occasional glimpses of Glastonbury Tor were oddly exciting. Hills, indeed any high ground is scarce enough here to be interesting and mythologised. There were sheep everywhere - something I'd taken for granted for a long time, but I didn't easily tire of having their presence excitedly pointed out. As we edged into Wells, via the former railway lands around Tucker Street, I began to recognise things from a very long-ago trip. I can't even remember how or when - but it's perhaps decades.
We made our way up the High Street, stopping here or there to enjoy the views which suddenly occurred between tiny houses. The gulleys at the sides of the street ran with clean water rising in the springs which give the city it's name. A unique, strangely enlivening feature. I urged progress - not because of any time pressure, but because I wanted to reveal the secrets I knew lay at the top of the town. Firstly, the Bishop's Palace - a fortified zone, with moat and battlements, and a sward of grass which leads into the strange little patch of land dedicated to St.Andrew and called - strangely - Scotland. Swans glided, the first we'd seen - indeed the first ever for some of us. Again I urged a move onwards - and finally we took the sharp left corner under Penniless Porch and the Cathedral was revealed in all its glorious stone beauty.
As a layman and an atheist, my appreciation of ecclesiastical architecture is perhaps surprising in some ways, but as temples to human endeavour and the power of moving ideas, these buildings are second to none. Their beauty and scale, taken in terms of their great age, is phenomenal - and perhaps no less than Wells. It's east front a riot of statuary, with disciples supporting their chosen one, and Kings of the realm holding them aloft. We made our way inside, moved immeasurably, and spent a happy few hours touring the building. The worn steps to the impressive Chapterhouse were a high point - history brought truly to life.
The day had cleared into a bright evening as we left. The slick wet cobbles of the marketplace gleamed back at us as we made our way downhill to the bus station via a fine little coffee place we made a note to revisit. Seeing the UK through the lens of a new migrant is strange, moving, often amusing but as oddly surprising as seeing some of these things were for me many years ago. I think I'm going to enjoy re-exploring my country.
Posted in London on Monday 4th March 2013 at 9:40pm
Flying has always been a solitary experience for me. Save for one ill-fated trip to Glasgow which I took in the company of a small group intent on birthday revelry, I've always been in the company of my own thoughts. Over the past few months I've spent a lot of time flying - and a lot of time thinking...anticipating strange new adventures to come, or miserably regarding a return to reality. In either case, I've rarely slept, and looked too often at the moving map telling me how many of the 4792 miles I'd covered so far. The thing was it didn't feel very far at all...the journey to Heathrow was fraught with obstacles, but once I was in the air it was a mere few footsteps. That was of course until my last jaunt with it's abortive first attempt to pressurise the cabin and a return to Heathrow.
But that seemed like a lifetime ago. This flight had been different. In company I felt calmer, the flight felt shorter, I even slept a little. The last hours dragged of course. We were eager to land - and we did so in suprisingly pleasant weather, not unlike what we'd left in Seattle. It was cold and bright - still Winter in March here. We lingered a while in Terminal 5, just enjoying being here without the pressure of a departure. Then the complicated journey began - five huge suitcases were lugged onto the Heathrow Express, trollied across Paddington and then into a taxi for the short run to Leinster Gardens. The grand but peeling stucco houses of this western corner of the city had been my first taste of London many years ago - but now they took on a new significance. We were back.
Our first excursion after washing away the inexplicable film of grime which air travel seems to leave, was eastwards. We headed out of the hotel and made leisurely progress towards Paddington. It became clear pretty soon that we weren't too far away at all - just at the end of Praed Street, in territory which I'd not walked since getting lost trying to walk from the station into Central London around twenty years ago! On that occasion I'd accidentally zig-zagged off the straight path and managed to get confused by the endless rows of plastered white buildings. It took a moment of panic and an A-Z to get me back on track - no GPS, no 'phone. Just a sense of direction and a map which would eventually become scuffed and torn from similar wanderings. But this little village around the station was more extensive than I remembered. A host of little restaurants - exhibiting a range of cuisines and degrees of dilapidation - alongside charmingly disorganised hardware stores, newsagents, hotels and almost concealed Orthodox churces with mysterious inscriptions on their gates. I remember finding myself here and thinking that the Bureau de Change and Aberdeen Angus Steak Houses were so metropolitan, that this must be London. My view has altered immeasurably over the intervening years, and our eastward bus step described this arc via St.Pancras, Clerkenwell and eventually the City.
So, if you'd been in the English Restaurant in Brushfield Street tonight you might have seen a tired but happy pair quietly reliving an earlier meal, savouring the novelty of being in the same place again, then slipping out into the chilly night to head back to the western suburbs. The entire journey to arrive here - from the Edgewater Hotel, via SeaTac and Heathrow, then the 205 bus route - felt like a single curve. Nowhere felt very far from anywhere anymore. The tiny village at the bottom of Praed Street could be anywhere.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.