Out on the wetlands of Somerset, for a thousand years and more, the local people have drained water off the low-lying ground so that the land can be used and travel across it made possible. The important town of Glastonbury with its ancient associations of Joseph of Aramathea and the child Jesus and pilgrimage to the Glastonbury Thorn; its central places in the story of Camelot and the last resting place of Arthur and Guinevere and the fantastic Abbey…Glastonbury lies at the heart of the Levels, and people continue to make their way there. But way before the Glastonbury Festival was ever heard of, back in pre-Christian times, it seems that this settlement was built on lay-lines and was a prominent place for worship of the elemental gods of earth and sky, fire and wind and water. Today, Glastonbury is still a ‘Mecca’ for the spiritually minded – though not necessarily Christian. Christianity still figures large there – the bells of the Anglican Church ring out loud and clear every Sunday morning and give the place a majestic and traditional feel of normality in a quaint olde English town. The Catholic shrine of ‘Our Lady of Glastonbury,’ is an unprepossessing building of limited architectural interest opposite the old ruined abbey, but provides a powerful expression of just how deeply rooted the faith of Christ is here; and the glory of the abbey – still commanding and potent, even in its ruinous state- tell the tale of mediæval England and the all-pervading influence that the monastic system had for a wonderful few ante-Henrician hundreds of years.

Glastonbury is a twenty-minute drive from here at ‘Dunpreachin,’ and that’s where I like to go to mass. I’ve always had a devotion to Our Lady (and been an associate of the Holy House of Walsingham for many years), so the shrine suits me nicely - but the town itself has a wonderful pulling power of its own. Today though Glastonbury is recovering its pagan roots, and is full of shops of magic and potions, of alternative expressions of spirituality, of earth mothers, witches and warlocks. It is now the place to visit if you want astrology or runes, Wicca or any one of a hundred different expressions of the “old religions” that may perhaps in one form or another have flourished here. But how for two thousand years or more did people travel here across the watery meadows and by-ways of the wetlands? Well only because they (the wetland that is) have been drained.

Hence you will find from time-to-time in this blog, frequent mention of “drains” and “rhynes.” A rhyne (Somerset), rhine (Gloucestershire) or reen (South Wales) (from Welsh rhewyn or rhewin, meaning a ditch) is a draimage ditch, or canal, used to turn areas of wetland at around sea-level into useful pasture. Water levels are usually be controlled by a system of sluice gates and pumps, allowing the land to become wetter at times of the year when this will improve grass growth. Rhynes represent an early method of swamp or marsh drainage. Large sections of swampland were completely surrounded by trenches deep enough to drain the water from the encircled mound and leave the land relatively dry. Fascinating innit? Oh and while I’m explaining myself, one or two people have made cheeky asides about my recent obtaining of a “blue badge.” No! It’s not a Blue Peter badge – thankyou!!! It is in fact a parking permit that under certain circumstances allows me to park where lesser mortals cannot! So I am now taking great pleasure in parking on double yellow lines – but not of course where it might cause an obstruction or where there is a prohibition on loading and unloading…you see….I have read the rule book!

I now still wait for my doc’s appointment in Bristol next Tuesday afternoon – and meanwhile wish you a very enjoyable weekend.