Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Day Thirteen: Exmoor

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Glastonbury Abbey
Cheddar Gorge

We plan to set out at 9:00 a.m. this day. Our day will be devoted in large part to unique scenic features as we make our way to Bath.

Leaving Lynmouth, we will drive through the moorland of Exmoor. The moorland of Exmoor is different from the moorland of Dartmoor. Exmoor is coastal moorland, with much more greenery and plant life than Dartmoor, since Exmoor receives significant amounts of rainfall (in addition, Exmoor receives, on average, only 1600 hours of sunlight each year). Part of our drive through the moorland of Exmoor will be right on the coast, on high cliffs overlooking the sea. This is a beautiful drive.

Leaving Exmoor, our first stop will be Glastonbury Abbey, one of Britain’s greatest historic attractions and one of the oldest Christian sites anywhere.

Glastonbury Abbey’s origins may date as far back as 37 A.D., when Christians in Rome, six years before the Roman invasion of Britain, chose Britain as a chief locus for the propagation of Christianity. A community of monks was centered in Glastonbury for hundreds of years before the first stone church was erected in 712. The foundations of the 712 church survive, serving as the West end of the nave of the great church that was erected in the Tenth Century.

By the time of The Norman Conquest, Glastonbury was the wealthiest and most important abbey in Britain, a distinction it was to maintain until The Dissolution Of The Monasteries five centuries later.

A fire late in the Twelfth Century destroyed many of the buildings at the Abbey. The Abbey was rebuilt on an even grander scale after the fire, and it is the remnants of these 12th-Century buildings that may be viewed today.

The Abbey buildings occupy thirty-six acres. In addition to the great church, there are remnants of a parish church, several chapels, a bell tower, cloisters, monks’ quarters, priests’ quarters, a chapter house, a refectory, an infirmary, a brewery, stables, The Abbott’s House, and the great kitchen, the only building that has survived intact. The great kitchen is a giant square building with a peaked roof supporting an unusual cupola, inside of which are four giant roasting pits for cooking meat, four giant ovens for baking bread and four giant cauldrons for boiling soup, all in working condition.

All of these buildings are set amidst a giant park, filled with giant trees dating back hundreds of years, gardens, irrigation canals, stone paths and fruit orchards. Glastonbury Abbey is one of the most beautiful and most spiritual sites to visit in Britain.

The great church was probably the largest building in Britain during much of its useful life. It was well over 100 yards long, with upper and lower chapels, and the surviving portions are several stories high at their peaks. It must have been one of the great wonders of its day.

Joseph of Arimathea is believed to have been instrumental in the founding of Glastonbury’s earliest Christian community. It is believed by some that Joseph brought the Holy Grail to Britain shortly after Christ’s death, and buried it on Glastonbury grounds. The thorn tree that adorns the visitor entrance to the Abbey is an offshoot of a tree planted by Joseph. The actual thorn tree planted by Joseph flourished for over 1600 years until destroyed by Cromwell’s forces during The Civil War. A branch of the original thorn tree was planted nearby shortly thereafter, and the second thorn tree lasted for another 350 years. The second thorn tree died in 1991, but a branch of that thorn tree soon grew into the thorn tree that may be seen today. The Glastonbury thorn tree, oddly, blooms twice a year: in May, and again at Christmas. For hundreds of years, a sprig from the Glastonbury thorn tree has been sent to The Sovereign at Christmas, one of the greatest and longest-lasting traditions of the English Monarchy.

We plan to spend two or three hours exploring this great Abbey and its grounds. Glastonbury Abbey is much larger, much more beautiful and in much better condition than the ruins of Saint Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, and there is much more to see and explore in Glastonbury.

Once we have completed our visit to the Abbey, we will visit the small museum on site, which presents a detailed history of the Abbey, complete with a model of the entire complex as it was during its heyday, as well as artifacts that have been unearthed during excavations.

It should be the middle of the afternoon by the time we are ready to leave the Abbey. We plan to have a light lunch in the town of Glastonbury, a town that, other than its famous Abbey, is little more than a dump.

From Glastonbury, we will drive toward Bath, routing ourselves through Cheddar Gorge.

Cheddar Gorge is Britain’s largest gorge, set among the Mendip Hills. Cheddar Gorge derives its name from the nearby town of Cheddar.

A roadway winds through the valleys of Cheddar Gorge, allowing visitors to traverse the entire gorge by a meandering automobile drive. Most of the cliffs are only 200 or 300 feet high, although the highest of the Cheddar Gorge cliffs is almost 400 feet high. The area covered by the Gorge is not large, and one may drive through the entire Gorge in about thirty minutes.

Many visitors stop and hike through the Gorge, but we will not attempt to do so. We may stop once or twice at a road pull-off for a closer look, but we intend to drive through Cheddar Gorge simply because Cheddar Gorge is the most interesting path for us to take as we make our way to Bath. If it were in the United States, Cheddar Gorge would hardly be entitled to a second glance by anyone who has seen the great cliffs of the Upper Mississippi.

We should arrive in Bath no later than late afternoon. We will first check into our hotel, and afterward spend the following couple of hours strolling through the center of this beautiful city.

Bath is a great walking city. Filled with old stone buildings, bridges crossing The River Avon and lovely riverside parks, it is one of the most beautiful and charming cities for walking in Britain. We no doubt will make an early stop on our walk at Sally Lunn’s, and pick up Sally Lunn Buns to eat while we walk. We can hardly make a visit to Bath without each of us eating at least one Sally Lunn Bun!

After we have seen the essence of the center of Bath, we will find a suitable place for dinner.

1 comment:

  1. Drew, this whole thing sounds awfully boring, I must say. You would be better off spending your vacation in London, if I may so suggest. Some of the things on your list are supremely dull: Glastonbury Abbey, the Stratford things, Stow-On-The-Wold, Bristol, Broadway, Exmoor, Cheddar Gorge. I would not want to do these things on my holidays.