Welcome to the Secret Diary of Ben Wainless, Day 20

Day 20 pre-amble

Lo! The Flat Hills… Of My Homeland. The (never finished) epic novel written by one Adrian Albert Mole, born 2 April 1967, better known as a diarist and most famous creation of the sadly missed Sue Townsend.  Following Day 18, this is another entry which consciously acknowledges one of the quiet influences behind 50FootHead.

Adrian came along at the perfect moment for me: 12 years old, in the middle of a relationship with my first girlfriend. She was – just like Pandora – more socially confident and (in the contemporary parlance of my family) “forward” than I was. We bought each other diaries the Christmas after reading the first two Mole books. The idea was that reading each other’s innermost thoughts would bring us even closer together. As it turned out, neither that arrangement nor the relationship itself saw out the year. I carried on writing a diary though, and frankly for far too long. This may be illustrated by the time when I was directly propositioned by two desirable women and went home and wrote a diary about it instead of taking advantage of the situation. I don’t recommend that. That is the sort of regret you take to your grave.

I’ve read all of the adult Mole diaries, although nothing will ever quite live up to the teenage ones. As much as society has changed over the last 30-40 years (imagine Adrian not needing to rely on ‘Big and Bouncy’ for starters!), I expect that re-visiting the ‘Secret Diary’ and ‘Growing Pains’ would still be a hilarious and bittersweet experience. This is testament to Sue Townsend’s remarkable gift of empathy, which is discussed by various writers here. And empathy will remain the touchstone of this blog.

I suppose 50FootHead is a diary of sorts, full of dates and a story that will inevitably reflect my thoughts and preoccupations over time. Inevitably, the more introverted entries will be in the ‘Head’ section. That section literally begins with a call for empathy and appreciation of our common humanity. Thank you Sue.

Yes, very nice. Now…. about that title?

Well, I was searching for a title that conjured up today’s crossing of the Somerset Levels. Adrian’s ‘flat hills’ were the first thing that came to mind. Somerset is not my homeland, hence the ellipsis. Only after settling on ‘Lo!’ did I think it would be appropriate to pay a small tribute to the real author.

That’s reverse engineering for you.

At least it wasn’t “Longing for Wolverhampton” though. No steep cliff, pouring nimbus, obdurate cow or navigational howler is enough to make this LEJoGger wish he were in Wolverhampton. No offence to Wulfrunians – I have my reasons and they will probably crop up in one of the ‘Head’ posts.

LEJoG Day 20 (Saturday 23 June 2018)

Bridgwater to Glastonbury (16½ miles)

Cumulative: 276½ miles

Facts: Time on walk: 4 hours 45 minutes. Average speed: 3.47mph. Weather: Very warm/hot; some cloud but very little breeze until later in afternoon.


Samaritans Way South West

This was the first day of a long weekend, by the end of which I aimed to reach the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. The intended route was the Samaritans Way South West, shown on a map here. Created by the Bristol Ramblers, the SWSW is a gift for anyone trying to reach Bristol from the Levels. For any LEJoG walker, it’s ideal for linking the South West Coast Path with the Cotswold Way or Offa’s Dyke Path. Whether or not you want to extend your time in the Quantocks, a combination of the Macmillan Way West and Samaritans Way South West is your best bet for this section. Andy Robinson (The End to End Trail, Day 14, page 96) takes a more direct route between Bridgwater and Cheddar. But if you want to take in Glastonbury, the SWSW is ideal.

The first link in the preceding paragraph includes downloadable walk directions for the entire Way, in five sections, of which two (Bristol to Cheddar and Cheddar to Bridgwater) cover Days 20 to 22 inclusive of my walk. You will note that the directions are for a north to south walk. However it’s really not all that onerous to follow the route in reverse. Because there is a ready-made map and directions available, I will not include detailed route-finding in the next three posts. If and when I diverged from the main route, I will note this.

My arrangements

Trains to the South West proved expensive and inconvenient this weekend. I decided to rely on them only as far as Birmingham and then take a National Express coach from Birmingham to Bridgwater. I honestly never knew Bridgwater was a National Express stop. This was only the second time I’d set foot in Birmingham since leaving my job some years earlier. As it was on the agenda for later in the year, I didn’t do much apart from wander round the Bull Ring shopping centre before heading to Digbeth Coach Station (since renamed).

Which looks more salubrious than it did in my day. That’s not to say it’s any less soul-destroying when your coach turns up over an hour later than advertised. The journey itself was comfortable and surprisingly rapid. I think it’s fair to say this is now outdated, but what the hell, it’s still catchy and funny, so have it anyway. I was in my hotel for 8pm.

A short walk to Salmon Parade in the morning, and “we’re going where the air is free…”

The walk

Start: Salmon Parade car park, Bridgwater, 10:35am. End: Hawthorns Hotel, Glastonbury, 4:45pm.

Two things dominate my memory of the first half of this walk: heat and baggage. First things first: sun tan lotion on straight away. Second things second: I was carrying a smaller backpack along with my North Face lumbar bag (for food and water) strapped across the front. However I still felt like I needed an extra bag for a three-day weekend, so I was also carrying an Adidas gym bag by hand. Needless to say, in today’s heat this had all become a pain in the arse within a few miles.

The first motorway crossing of LEJoG (below) provides some early excitement.

M5 crossing, LEJoG Day 20

Well, you know how it is, if the whole morning consists of Dutch landscapes minus the windmills, even the M5 looks interesting. There were some shenanigans in the fields just after the crossing, as I walked the wrong side of a hedgerow and had to fight my way through some brambles in order to be able to cross the first of many ditches on the Somerset flood plain. Don’t ever try and jump the ditches, by the way. If there’s a viable footpath or public right of way there will be a footbridge. As for the brambles this was, inevitably, my first stage wearing shorts this year. So I had to suck up a few leg scratches and a minor nettling.

After the villages of Chedzoy and Partney came an even more notable crossing: the mighty King’s Sedgemoor Drain, arguably the Somerset Levels’ answer to Route 66. I doubt anyone has written a song about it or indeed got their kicks on it. But the map doesn’t lie: this looks much more like a highway than any of the surrounding link roads. It’s also where I took my first stop and applied more Piz Buin.

Still (mainly) on narrow minor roads also used by traffic, you come to Sutton Mallet and then follow a tree-lined footpath to the village of Moorlinch. This is where I stopped for water again. It was now 1pm and uncomfortably hot. I was less than halfway to Glastonbury, having clearly underestimated the distance of today’s walk. On reaching the A361 near Greinton I noted the lack of pavements and necessity of walking on grass verges. Even though it was less than a mile before the diversion into the Polden Hills, I felt unable to continue with this much weight.

Fortunately, my parents had decided to stay in Glastonbury and Cheddar with me this weekend, and could reach me within an hour. Stopped in a major layby, called them to ask if they could stop and take my packs away, and waited. Felt like a bit of a cheat, but to be honest it was a long overdue lesson. You really cannot keep overloading for short walking holidays and expect to get away with it. We were in the middle of one of the hottest, driest spells of weather in recent years. If you’re trying to complete a physical challenge in such conditions, you can’t afford to hinder yourself.

I was in the layby from 1:20 to 2:30: my parents took my backpack and Adidas bag, leaving me with the lumbar bag. And the rest of the walk was exponentially more enjoyable as a result. Even though I was in the Polden Hills, most of it remained pretty flat. A couple of short climbs after Little Huckham Farm stood out. The visible landmark of Glastonbury Tor (more of that tomorrow) can’t help but drive you on, in spite of a lot of road walking between here and Street.

One of the best sections of the walk comes just before the end. Shortly after the Westway roundabout between Street and Glastonbury, the route leaves the main road, heads into a field and climbs to a ridge (Wearyall Hill). It isn’t much of a lung-buster, but the view overlooking Glastonbury town, with Glastonbury Tor closer than ever and the distant Mendips just about visible is a minor revelation nonetheless. After that little teaser comes a gentle descent and a short road walk into Glastonbury town centre.

After the walk

I was quite hot and bothered when I met my family again near the Hawthorns (they were staying in a Premier Inn some distance away). Had to shower and change before I felt even vaguely presentable or sociable. Enjoyed some lovely Belgian beer (Grimbergen) outside the Hawthorns and had a meal with my parents in the hotel restaurant.

Spent a while wandering round Glastonbury in the evening. Glastonbury is surely one of the most evocative place names in Britain, and not just because of the festival which takes place a few miles away in Pilton. Arthurian legends, the Abbey, the Torsome even believe that Camelot itself is located a few miles south east at Cadbury Castle.

I’ve attended the festival twice, most recently in 1997. I understand there may have been one or two changes in ambience since then, though I try not to be a “better in my day” curmudgeon and I’m still envious of those who can snap up tickets for £200 a pop on a working day without knowing who’s on the bill. Certainly the TV coverage has impelled me to ensure I catch certain acts live, notably George Clinton/P-Funk and Nile Rodgers/Chic in recent years.

This was the first time I’d visited the town centre. Some things were just as expected – the bohemian and New Age type shops and stalls, and the general positive vibes of those hanging out near the Abbey. However, the High Street seemed more generic than expected: it’s a growing trend I suppose, nowhere can remain immune forever. Also there was a notable police presence even in the early evening. We witnessed the police intervene to prevent outdoor drinking. There was some swearing, an attempt to urinate near the benches outside the Abbey, and an empty threat of violence, all before 8pm. Put it this way, I wasn’t all that surprised to come across articles like this and this a few months later. So yes, my first experience of the town itself was a bit disappointing. I will quickly add that Sunday morning was a different matter entirely: see Day 21.

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure

Not much activity in this department lately. Same reasons as Day 19 I think.

Picture of the Somerset Levels, seen from Glastonbury Tor, taken from Wikipedia.

Next: Day 21 (24 June 2018)… in which Ben manfully endures a minor injury and – even more manfully – avoids any cheese-related puns.

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