In Search of Sacred England – Part 2

IMG_6202On day two of our trip we woke late. We’d told our airbnb host that we’d like breakfast at eight but the clock read half past. She wasn’t impressed. ‘Well it’s not my fault if it’s not nice!’ She was a study in passive aggression. My suspicion after a number of fraught email exchanges is that she doesn’t really want the great unwashed in her nice house. So we ate breakfast and exchanged mildly uneasy whispers.

IMG_6181Then we strolled around Salisbury. Of any cathedral in England Salisbury is perhaps the best loved. Its graceful spire dominates the landscape. Our great churches rising above the trees and the roofs of villages, towns and cities are lighthouses guiding the weary traveller like battered ships to port.

And in a rather different way they act as wayposts still, guiding us from our past to our future. The cathedral was playing host to two different exhibitions – one a modern art insallation, a glowing bead curtain of light – the other celebrating 800 years of Magna Carta, an anniversary really worth marking.

IMG_6191From Salisbury we headed off towards Shaftesbury. We climbed Gold Hill. We had a pint. We looked around and decided it was a charming but one horse, two road town.


Gold Hill, Shaftesbury

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury

We bought pork pies and things to add to the collection of cheese I’d decided to haul around England – a bit of everything and anything I could lay my hands on including Blue Monday from Blur’s Alex James, Sister Sarah from High Weald Dairy, Cornish Yarg, a chunk of Lord of the Hundreds, and a Golden Cross goats cheese log.

Me, a basket of cheese and an over excited giant

Me, a basket of cheese and an over excited giant

Then we headed to Cerne Abbas (a tortuous trip exacerbated by Google Maps not being able to reroute us when an incident closed a road) where we shared a picnic in the shadow of the giant who, it has to be said, seemed remarkably pleased to see us.

Next we made for Camelot. I’ve been to Cadbury before. There’s nothing much there except earthworks, cows, cowpoo and a stunning view of the English landscape stretching out across the Summer Country to Avalon and the sense of walking hand in hand with myth and history. It reminds me that what we claim as ours has belonged to untold generations and that we owe it to those yet unborn to hand it on unspoiled. It is greater than us and our pettiness, our greed, our impulse to despoil for quick profit.

Cadbury across Dorsetshire

Cadbury across Dorsetshire

But Cadbury at least is untouched. There’s no attempt to monetise it, to woo Japanese or American tourists with artifice and tat. Like Glastonbury Tor, our next stop, it simply is. There’s no need to adorn, to gild the lily. Again what you get for your pains is a windswept hilltop with an orphaned church tower and a panorama laid out at your feet.

We disappeared off into Somerset Levels outside Glastonbury to eat at The Sheppey, one of the oddest venues I’ve tried. Like some trustafarian out post in the marshes the food had pretensions that it didn’t deliver on and cocktails that were, as described, pudding in a glass. I tend to like my food simple, to trade on good ingredients cooked so their quality shines through. Fussiness is generally a distraction and the kitchen at The Sheppey is too fussy and just too pedestrian at the same time.

Finally we reached our airbnb for the night; a yurt on the outskirts of Glastonbury where we lit candles and the woodburner and dissolved in the embracing warmth of our surroundings.

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