Thursday, August 20 Wells-Bridgwater
It was heavily overcast when we took off from our B & B in Wells. The ride was through very small villages on one lane roads or canal paths with high hedges on both sides. We have dropped down into land that was underwater until recently (English measurement of time=centuries). It was drained by the monks of Glastonbury with a series of canals. Today they also use several pumping stations to keep the water out. The result was mostly flat landscape for 25 miles. The poop to pavement ratio was a little off, but, after all, we are in cow country. Despite the terrain being flat, we managed 880 feet of elevation gain, but nothing over a 2 or 3 per cent grade. Some smaller mountains in the distance, but none we had to cross. National Bike Route #3
took us from the Cathedral in Wells to the ruined Abbey in Glastonbury and on to the village center of Bridgewater today.
Glastonbury is about a 10 mile ride from Wells. It is a very small village with a giant, ruined (thanks to the anger of Henry VIII) monastery.
It was begun in the early 1200’s and completed in the early 1300’s. It was huge, about 650 feet in length, with Romanesque arches used in the early years of construction and Gothic arches mid-way through the first section to be built. It was the Roman Catholic home to between 60 and 90 monks who were governed by an abbot that the monks elected. They also had the right to fire him.
When Henry the VIII was in the midst off his difficulties with the Pope about divorcing his first wife, Hank decided to make himself the head of the new Anglican Church and acquire all of the Roman Catholic properties for the newbies. Some churches he converted to Anglican and removed reminders of the catholic religion. Others he destroyed. Unfortunately, Glastonbury was one of the latter since the abbot would not turn the abbey over to Henry voluntarily.
The abbot told Hank that he did not own the abbey and therefore could not seed it to Hank. This annoyed Hank, as he was used to getting his own way in all he did. He had the abbot tried for treason and had him executed in a most unpleasant way. If that were not enough, as a reminder to other influential Roman Catholic prelates who might hold to the belief that the Pope was the head of the church, Henry had the abbot disemboweled while alive, his head placed on a pike for all in Glastonbury to see and 4 of the abbot’s other extremetis sent to the four corners of England as a reminder of the fate of those who messed with the king. The message made Hank’s point throughout the land and no other abbot’s suffered the same fate as the abbot of Glastonbury.
The abbey is in a beautiful setting with grass and some wild shrubs in and around the ruins. Legend has it that in the third century, Joseph of Aramathia visited the structure that stood on the ground that the abbey now occupies and brought Christianity to England together with some of Christ’s blood. So this spot became a shrine for pilgrims to visit. Afterward, it was thought that some remains found in the abbey were those of the legendary King Arthur and Queen Guenevere.
For that and other reasons, the site has acquired a mystical following that inhabit the town and nearby communities and religious sights. It bears some resemblance to Woodstock and other gatherings of not so mainstream clans. We witnessed this first hand at Glastonbury when a middle aged woman unrolled her kneeling pad and kneeled before the spot where King A & Queen G were thought to have been buried, became very pensive and began praying. It was really moving! You could almost Richard Burton in her eyes.
After having had enough of this new age stuff, we pedaled on through the land reclaimed from the swampy waters hundreds of years ago and headed for Bridgwater, a non-descript market town of no significance and only one museum. Although we arrived in Bridgwater about 2:30, we had trouble connecting with our B & B hosts. To relax and kill some time we headed for the walking street and a outdoor café. The couple at the next table began asking us questions about our travels and soon we were laughing and sharing stories. One of the bursts of laughter came when a woman in very high heels strolled by with a ferret on a leash.
Friday, Bridgwater-West Mockton
Mailed home our second package of excess clothing, guide book/maps, etc., and located the Adm. Robert Blake Museum. Rob was Bridgewater’s favorite son. A soldier all his life, his most notable achievement was during the British Civil War in the 1660’s, in which he was on the winning side. The museum, in a 17th century building, only devoted one room to Rob. The rest of the museum had the area’s history and archeology, ancient artifacts and the military history. We left Bridgwater after lunch and continued on the #3 bike route along the canal. By 3 pm we were very close to Paul and Penny’s home via GPS and called them to guide us the rest of the way (about a 1/4 of mile as it turned out.) They live in a very old (1500’s), lovely cottage in a remote area. Paul has done much DIY work to improve and modernize the interior, and Penny has created beautiful gardens that surround them with flowers
and supply their vegetables. We sat around and reminisced for quite a while and then had a wonderful dinner prepared by Penny.
Saturday, August 22
We had a great day with Penny and Paul. The weather was quite good. We had coffee along our drive up into the mountains and had awesome views of the sea.
Wales was off in the distance.
We visited a 3000 year old stone bridge, unlike any we had seen before.
We happened upon a bunch of hunters and hounds, although we did not see any of the hounds. At Paul’s insistence, and purely to humor him, we had ewe ice cream from a mobile purveyor high on the hill overlooking the sea. It was a way to connect to the surroundings which include many grazing, white and hairy creatures. We later stopped for lunch in an antique shop/inn/ restaurant in a building that was at least 250 years old.
After lunch we took a hike up from the seashore to an ancient church with original walls that were more than 1000 years old. It is tiny and reputed to be the smallest in Great Britain.
The hike took about 45 minutes, was in the forest and somewhat strenuous. It rained on our way back then the sun came out which produced rainbows.
On the way back to their home we visited a very tiny village owned by the National Trust which rented out thatched roof houses. Thatched roof houses are all over Britain, but always in very old towns. TheThe roofs last between 50 and 90 years and are very expensive to replace.
Sunday, August 23 West Monkton-Portsmouth
Rainy and cold for our drive to Dunster Castle, which is a castle/mansion that was lived in until the 1950’s.
The interior had been remodeled a number of times from the 16th century to the present with most of the present furnishings being from the 19th century.
It’s in a really beautiful setting and was a gift from King Charles II to one of the loyal followers of the monarchy during the civil war in the 17th century. We took an hour long tour of the kitchen area which was very interesting, mostly because the guide was informed and humerus. We ran short of time and were all disappointed that we had to cut the visit short in order to grab a quick lunch of cheese, biscuits and jams before Penny catch the shuttle to London. While Paul was driving Penny to the pick up point, Ed worked on our squeaky brakes and gave the bikes a bit of a cleaning. Upon Paul’s return we loaded the bikes on his car rack and took off for Portsmouth.
He works and stays in South Hampton Sun. through Thurs. each week, so it was not too far out of his way to drop us in Portsmouth. The weather turned sour just before we left West Monkton which again produced some rainbows, although not as many nor as intense as yesterday.
Monday, August 24 Portsmouth
Pouring when we got up and until about 2 p.m. We trundled off in the rain to the Portsmouth Historic Docks for the day with full rain gear and umbrellas in place. The Docks consist of a number of museums and ships that are in a functioning Royal Navy Base. The ships include one paid for and used during the rein of Hank 8. It sank in the Portsmouth harbor in 1569 with the loss of about 500 men and was found again in the 1970’s and raised about 25 years ago. Some of the 11,000+ artifacts that were found with it are on display here. A museum has been built around the ship, but to this point, the ship is being “cured” so that the moisture will not evaporate and the timbers with it.
The process is nearing its 25 year conclusion and the hermetically sealed walls that surround the hulk and the curing apparatus will be removed later this year so that the public can see it up close.
It has taken this long to substitute a chemical solution that will stabilize the structure of the timbers and prevent deterioration. It is quite a sight and has been a fantastic and very expensive project.
We also toured the HMS Victory,
Admiral Horatio Nelson’s ship which with a convoy of British fighting ships defeated the French and Spanish armada at the battle of Trafalgar in the early 1800’s and saved the free world from domination by the French and Spanish. Nelson, who had a fantastic career in the British Navy was killed by a sniper’s bullet at the battle, but lived long enough to hear that his battle plan had succeeded and that the greatest naval battle in history had been a triumph for the British.
After he died, his loyal crew preserved his remains in a barrel of brandy until they got him back to his beloved England for proper burial (part in Westminster Abbey and his heart elsewhere.) We learned that in another naval battle Nelson had lost an arm and in a third battle he had lost the sight in one eye…what a career.
We visited the HMS Warrior,
the first iron destroyer which, over the years, had served many functions and not been retired from service until 1979, all without firing a shot in war. It has been lovingly and expensively restored although accurate to its history, none of its original fittings or armaments have been found. Our tickets are good for one year so we will return tomorrow until it is time for us to board the ferry for Spain. Your could easily spend 2-3 days visiting this museum complex. It is that big, interesting and well done.
Tuesday, August 25 Portsmouth-
Another bleak day that got worse. We loaded up and rode to the Historic Docks, which was less than a mile from our hotel. It started raining as we locked the fully loaded bikes to a fence at the entrance and waded in. We took a short ferry ride to the WWII submarine exhibit and took the short guided tour.
Cramped, smelly and interesting. Then the ferry back to the docks. We did the British Navy Museum next. It is quite large and filled with memorabilia of the long history of this institution. It concentrates heavily on the great battles and great admirals in the times where the British Empire ruled the seas. It does feature and analyze great loss at Gallipoli in 1915. More than 300,000 soldiers and sailors were killed at this ill advised opening of a second front in Turkey. Still raining hard. After lunch we visited the M 33 the only surviving ship that participated at Gallipoli. It remained in service in various capacities until 1979 and was almost scrapped before it was rescued and partially refurbished and placed in the museum. The ship itself is quite ordinary except for its history. Part of the tour was a film about Gallipoli. From there we returned to the bikes and rode the short distance to the pier to catch the ferry to Spain. Loaded and found our cabin with no trouble and settled in for the 24 hour journey to Santander Spain.