Porlock Weir

Another bank holiday. With Easter being so late this year, the May Bank Holiday has followed fast on it’s heels. I’m not complaining though. This weekend we ventured out of Wales across the border to Somerset, right on the border of the Exmoor National Park. The caravan set up we went exploring along the narrow roads of the park. The weather though is cold, cloudy and dark.

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After tea and scones at Porlock near the North Devon coast we eventually found ourselves at the end of the road at Porlock Weir. This is a small port hugging the coast underneath the Exmoor Hills on the north Devon coast. There are not many places along this coast that is safe for shipping, and so Porlock Weir has played an important part in the life of eastern Exmoor. The sea route was by far the easiest way to and from the area and the harbour was once used by coasters carrying timber to South Wales in exchange for coal and limestone for making lime in local kilns. Though looking at it now, it’s difficult to appreciate how anything larger than the leisure craft now in the harbour could be piloted in and out of the port.

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Porlock weir is no different from any other port along this stretch of the coast in that it is only accessible at high tide. And this is clear here. The tide was out when we visited and access to the port is impossible. The poles act as navigation aids into the port, and the extent of the tidal range here. See if you can spot Aunty!

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The lock gates are left open most of the time, but are now used to flush pebbles from the labour entrance.

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There is only one road in and out of the small village, and its easy to imagine how easy it is to become a forgotten place. But even here events in the wider world can be felt. There are pill boxes along the beach protecting the harbour from the potential risk invasion during the Second World War. But his is all forgotten now, and the small cottages backing directly onto the beach give it a unique feel. We both want to come back again when the weather is better.

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Glastonbury without the festival

We are staying just outside Bath for a few days, but the caravan has an extra resident. Number 1 daughter has muscled in on the act this time and sudden,y everything is so much more expensive than usual! We’ve never been to Glastonbury, well except for Number 1 whose been to the festival so I’m not sure if that counts. It has an unusual atmosphere, almost every shop has a mythical edge selling gems, new age clothes (is it still new age after all this time?), witches brews and spell books, mystical books an know how, meditation and mindfulness courses. Lots of people seeking something, but never quite finding it.

 

But the sun was shining and we had a look around Glastonbury Abbey, which became the second richest religious setting before being ‘done over’ by Henry VIII as he seized the churches assets. And he did a pretty good job of it as well. In 1536, during the 27th year of the reign of Henry VIII, there were over 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries in Britain. By 1541, there were none. More than 10,000 monks and nuns had been dispersed and the buildings had been seized by the Crown to be sold off or leased to new lay occupiers. 

 

St Patrick’s Chapel. a very old legend that St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, came back to Britain in his old age, collected together some hermits he found near Glastonbury and became their first Abbot there. While there is no sound evidence, documentary or archaeological, that the Apostle of Ireland either lived or died at Glastonbury.
      

There’s been a church here for a long time, but it was never a very rich site. Originally set up by the local Saxin King in the 7th century it began to accumulate wealth and property, and following the Norman invasion in 1066 is was further developed.

  
 Then in 1184 the abbey church was destroyed by fire. Seeking the huge funds required to rebuild it was a surprise to everyone when the monks found a deep grave in the cemetery to the south side of the Lady Chapel. They then claimed that this was the grave of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, and attracted a large number of pilgrims, who also left a lot of money to the Abbey. That was very convenient! These bones were reburied, much later, in 1278 within the Abbey Church, in a black marble tomb, in the presence of King Edward I. He then used this as propaganda to support his attacks on Wales. Just like the English Rugby team he failed against the Welsh more often than he succeeded.

  
The legend of the Holy Thorn tells that it came here as the staff carried by Joseph of Arimathea. It is said that Joseph was a trader in metal, so came to this area for lead from the Mendips, and when his boat arrived at Wearyall Hill he disembarked, planting his staff into the ground whilst he rested. In the morning he noticed his staff had taken root, thus becoming the Holy Thorn. The Thorn in the abbey grounds is said to be a descendant of the original tree. It flowers twice each year, around Easter and at Christmas.  

From there we went onto to Glastonbury Tor. This lone limestone knoll stands out above the Someerset Levels and is visible from all directions as you approach Glastonbury. Before the levels were drained it must have stood out like a beacon among the marshes and flooded levels.

  
 The archeology shows that man has used the hill from the Neolithic period, with evidence of buildings through the Saxon period but the main focus is now on the ruined tower of St Michael’s Church survived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 when, except for the tower, it was demolished The Tor was the place of execution where Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, was hanged, drawn and quartered along with two of his monks, John Thorne and Roger James. Not a nice way to end, and quite possibly they didn’t agree with Henry’s new order.

  
 But now the views from the top are fantastic. This is looking towards the Mendips, where Chedar Gorge can be found.