Rob Boulter and I set off in his old car for the Mystical Isle of Athleney – just a few miles from here on the other side of Langport. Passing the site of the Civil War Battle of Langport we could look across the flooded Baltmoor to view Burrow Mump on our right with the ruined church of S Michael atop of it, and on our right we could just make out the short 200-year old, squat memorial to Alfred, Saxon King of Wessex, the 32nd great grandfather to HM Queen Elizabeth II. The Isle consists of two low hills where Alfred camped above the surrounding marshes and prepared to confront the invading Danes. It still feels like a place apart, with its wide and sometimes desolate spaces crossed by narrow causeways, rhynes and larger waterways. All around us was the willow that thrives in the wetland's low-lying withy beds and the local folk whose skills over generations have exploited this valuable natural resource. Children at the village school in nearby Stoke St Gregory, a centre of the withy business, used to be given a holiday in May so they could help their mothers strip the willow. Today, those who continue in the age-old industry skin off the greenish bark cleanly with a machine that has replaced the work done by a thumbnail in the old cottage industry, revealing the slender white wand that goes into the making of a basket. The road from Taunton to Glastonbury passes through Burrow Bridge and here beside the River Parrett there is this mound with a ruined church on top and the quaint name of Burrow Mump, (see pics). The local pub, the King Alfred, once displayed an old table found nearby as the one used by the Saxon warrior when he burned the cakes. It has now been removed.

There’s a commanding view of the surrounding wetlands from the top of the Mump. If Alfred the Great (849-901) had stood here around 878, he would have been looking at most of what remained of his kingdom, the main part of the British Isles then being occupied by the Danes. The Somerset Levels in Saxon times would have been inaccessible marshland. After his defeat at the Battle of Chippenham the marshes of Athelney were all that Alfred could call his own. However, their very remoteness worked to his advantage. Undisturbed, his forces rested and regrouped and within a few months he convincingly defeated the Danes at the Battle of Ethandun, probably near the present village of Edington in Wiltshire.

Following his victory at Ethandun, Alfred almost certainly built a monastery here – on Athleney. A monument to the King can be seen on the ridge above the road was built by the local landowner in 1801. (see pics) From here there are fantastic views over to East Lyng and Taunton beyond. It was at North Newton, about three miles to the west, that Alfred lost one of his prized possessions. The famous Alfred Jewel was found in a field here in the seventeenth century, and is exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. This beautiful and unique object has the inscription “Alfred had me made” in Anglo-Saxon. It is believed to have been a pointer for use when reading scrolls or parchments. On the domestic front – it was great to see Fr David Wylie on Monday evening back for a few days from his travels to foreign parts. He is looking well and sun tanned and, despite claiming a childhood dislike for pease pudding managed to join us for a supper of said pudding with boiled ham and carrots! No news from the medical people. I have written to the hospital outlining why I think people like myself who have to see several doctors across several disciplines and on more than one hospital site, should really have a case manager assigned who can have an over view of what’s happening; who can coordinate between the various doctors and departments and who can be a point of reference and information for both the medical practioners and the patient (me!) As far as I am aware no one person has overall charge of my case and no one person with a “whole case prospective” to whom I can turn for help, guidance or information. This seems to me to be to be a glaringly big gap in procedure and does not make for good communication. I’m still waiting for news of a further operation for the removal of what remains of my thyroid. I was told on Monday that there are no available slots at the moment so I have also written to the surgeon concerned pointing out that I am now at a standstill until this surgery can be performed. Of course one is not sure if letters such as mine – written (I must say) generously and graciously, do any good or antagonise. Don’t know! But it certainly got it off my chest!

Comments on this entry:

  1. Dear Graeme,

    I heard your name being read out during prayers at St. Ann’s, Portsmouth and was told you are not a good time of it lately. My old friend, I’m so sorry to think of you in that condition. A far cry from the splendid pints of G&T we remember so well in Gib and those many pleasant times on RFAs. Finding your whereabouts hasn’t been that easy for a computer luddite like me.

    I just wanted to pass on my heart felt best wishes and to say how some of us still remember your times on RFAs with much fondness.

    For my own news; I’m to be married to wonderful lady, Liz, this April at St. Ann’s by Rev Alistair Mansfield. I’m sure you’d very much approve of her, at last I’ve met my soulmate!

    I’m not sure if this will reach you, but fingers crossed…….

    My friend, may I wish you the very best wishes for your treatment, and our prayers are with you.

    Gordon Sykes-Little

    — Gordon Sykes-Little · Thursday 26 February, 2009 · #