Last week, DH and I took ourselves off to Glastonbury for a short break. We’ve been there before a couple of times, (you can read about my last visit here) but it was three years since our last trip, so we decided to go back there and forget about our worries for a few blissful days. After all, if you’re trying to escape the pressures of modern, everyday life, where else would you go? Glastonbury has it all: an ancient, mystical tor; history by the bucket load; more myth and legend than you can shake a stick (or a wand) at; the beautiful ruins of a once mighty abbey; the serene Chalice Well and Gardens; and bookshops and new age shops in abundance.
I was particularly looking forward to returning to this special town. Battling with the final couple of chapters of my latest book, I had a feeling that there was nowhere better than Glastonbury to help me iron out those last few wrinkles in the story. Deciding against taking my laptop, I did pack my notebook and pen because I was determined that, by the time I returned home, I’d have the whole thing wrapped up and ready to type.
All week, I kept hoping for something to happen. Surely, surely I would be hit by a thunderbolt and that knotty plot problem would untie itself and all would be revealed? As it turned out, no, I wouldn’t, no, it didn’t and no, it flipping well wasn’t! The more I wrestled with the problem the further away the solution seemed. I gave myself a headache. One morning, I was awake from 4 am, unable to settle. I just couldn’t work it all out.
To take my mind off my still unopened notebook, we decided to take a few trips to the local attractions. First up was Cheddar and the gorge. After parking the car in the car park we discovered that the only parking meter was broken. We spent ages trying and failing to work out how to pay. DH said there was probably no charge because it was out of season. I insisted on Googling it and said there was definitely a charge, and did he want us to be clamped or something? We were on the verge of getting divorced and I was wondering if I’d be walking back to Glastonbury when, luckily, I – with extraordinary intelligence – thought to read the small print on the parking meter and discovered that we could pay at the Tourist Information place further up the road. Meetings with divorce lawyers postponed, we set off to enjoy the scenic walk up to Cheddar Gorge.
It was a shame that some of the shops and attractions were closed, but it was early March so only to be expected. There were still some lovely places to visit and browse, and we found a bench by the water and I announced that I needed ten minutes’ peace to figure out the problem with my story. Well, I’m ever the optimist! And a bit of a fool, actually, because all I could think about was how hungry I was, and the running water made me need the loo, so to be perfectly honest, inspiration was not forthcoming. Instead we went in search of toilets and food, and I decided I had plenty of time to sort my WIP out and there was no need to worry. No need at all.
The next day we visited Dunster. We’ve been before but it’s so pretty we decided to make a return visit. We typed Dunster into the SatNav and off we jolly well went. We found the village all right and it was just as lovely as we remembered it. I’m almost sure it’s been in an episode of Poirot, although it was supposed to be in Cornwall in the story and it’s definitely not. It is, however, well worth visiting, with its 17th century Yarn Market, and the castle up on the hill. Having admired the beauty of this gorgeous little village, we decided to continue on to Porlock. That’s where things got a bit confusing. We’d lost the signal for the phone which was also our SatNav, so we decided to travel onwards from memory. My memory.
Oops. Turns out, I didn’t remember the route as well as I thought. After travelling for miles and miles we found ourselves deep in woodland and with no recollection of the surrounding area at all. Not sure where we were or which direction we were heading, we pulled over by a handy little pub and sat in the car scoffing the sandwiches we’d brought with us. Luckily, the signal returned at that point, and we discovered that we’d driven in the wrong direction and were miles away from Porlock. We ended up turning back for Glastonbury and going round in a huge loop to get back to where we’d started. Amazingly, we didn’t argue once! In fact, we had to laugh. It’s so typical of us to go the “scenic route” anywhere, although it’s unusual that we didn’t reach our destination at all.
The next day we gave it another shot, heading to Ilfracombe via Porlock. This time we made it with no problems, and even tackled the infamous Porlock Hill. It’s funny because, years ago, we found that route terrifying. I suppose years of travelling around the Yorkshire Dales and Moors have toughened us up; Porlock Hill was nowhere near as scary as we’d once found it. It is steep, mind, but we did it with no trouble. No, the hill wasn’t the problem. The flipping potholes were! Oh my word, we were dodging them all the way to Ilfracombe, but one sneaked up on us. It was full of rainwater and we didn’t spot it until it was too late. The water hid how deep it actually was. Boy, did we get a shock. There was a big clunking noise and a jarring sensation. Our brave little car carried on undeterred, but the air was blue. On DH’s side, obviously. I would never say such things …
Anyway, Ilfracombe was as lovely as we remembered. We found a parking space near the harbour and went to a nearby cafe, where DH had a bacon sandwich and I decided to sample a real Devonshire tea. Except – oops again! I put the jam on first and then dolloped the cream on top. The Cornish way! I tried very hard to be discreet about it, but it didn’t help when DH kept saying very loudly, “Why are you eating it like that? We’re in Devon!” What a swine! Anyway, if the staff noticed they didn’t take it personally. They were very lovely and the cream tea was absolutely delish.
We walked to the end of the harbour and DH wandered off to look at the boats while I sat on a bench and stared hard at the water as I tried to conjure up some inspiration. Nothing. Come on, I thought. You’re looking at the sea! It’s inspirational! Be inspired! Zilch. I closed my eyes and tried to visualise my characters. What are you up to? What are you going to do next? I jumped a mile as, somewhere to the left of me, the sound of a drill blasted through me. So much for that then.
We headed back to the hotel and, depressingly, I was also back to Square One.
Right, said I. No more messing about. I’m bringing out the big guns. I’m off to Glastonbury. I’m going to look in all the new age shops and soak up the history and the spirituality, and I’m going to wander around the abbey and be inspired.
It would, I thought, be amazing if I wasn’t inspired. We had lunch at The George Hotel and Pilgrims’ Inn. Built in 1475 on the site of an even older public house, apparently, it really does creak with age and history.
We sat opposite the bar and had sandwiches and stared at the beams and the thick walls and realised that, unbelievably, this had been a pub when Henry the Eighth destroyed Glastonbury Abbey, when the Great Plague was sweeping England, the Great Fire of London raged, and England briefly became a republic after executing the monarch. It was an awe-inspiring thought. So, surely, it would help me sort out my book? Nope.
On to Glastonbury Abbey in a last ditch attempt to drag some sort of sense from my frazzled brain. In that beautiful and serene space, I had every confidence that my problems would be solved. Walking around the grounds, we admired the daffodils, and pointed out the four squirrels we spotted, who seemed to be having a good old gossip under a tree. We read the plaques that told us what the various parts of the ruins had once been, and stopped to admire “King Arthur’s Tomb”, where I thought, this has to be the place the solution comes to me! Think again …
I even, at one point, touched the stones, hoping to absorb something from them. I joked to DH about the programme, Charmed, where the youngest sister, Phoebe, has the gift of premonition. She touches things and gets a vision of something that’s going to happen. I said, maybe if I touched these old Glastonbury stones, I’d get a vision of how my book should end! No such luck. All I got was cold hands.
I found a bench and closed my eyes and tried to think. There was nothing. No sudden flash of magic that would make everything clear to me. Just the sound of the wind howling around me and the feel of – rain! How had that happened? It had been glorious a moment ago. We’d just been saying how lovely and sunny it was, with a beautiful blue sky above us. Thoroughly fed up, I gave up my efforts and DH and I sought shelter in the little church, St Patrick’s Chapel, in the grounds. We sat and admired the paintings on the walls of St Patrick with an Irish Wolfhound, and The Exorcism of Mary Magdalene (I’m saying nothing!) and studied the glorious stained glass windows. I thought, maybe it’s not that important after all. Not in the scheme of things.
The rain stopped. DH was ready to go back outside. My phone beeped. A text message. It was from a friend who had been battling terrible health problems, and it was good news. The best news. I couldn’t stop smiling and had to text her back to tell her how wonderful it was. I hadn’t even noticed that two women had come into the church and sat down. DH had. Too busy texting, I barely acknowledged him when he whispered to me that he was going to wait outside. It was only when I heard something completely unexpected that I put away my phone, looked up and realised he’d gone, and instead two ladies were sitting, eyes closed, on a pew opposite me. And one of them was singing.
It’s not something you hear every day, is it? It seemed really random to me, and I wondered if I should get up and leave them to it, but I daren’t move in case I disturbed them. Besides, I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to leave. I don’t know what she was singing, or what language she was singing in. The only word I understood was Yahweh. She had a clear, strong and beautiful voice, and it echoed around that tiny church, filling every available space, and filling my heart, too. I sat there in silence, listening to her sing, and all my worries and niggles about a lack of inspiration just flew away. When they’d finally finished the song, they both stood, smiled at me, and left the church.
Honestly, I have no way to describe it. I just felt like I’d witnessed something – miraculous. It felt like a real privilege to hear that song, and to witness that display of faith. Combined with the welcome news I’d just had about my friend, I suddenly burst into tears. I couldn’t stop them. And all I could hear in my head were the words, “Thank you”. Yeah, I know. I’m weird. Getting soppy in my old age. But that’s truthfully how I felt, and suddenly it seemed ridiculous to me that I’d spent those precious days away and sleepless nights worrying about a couple of chapters of a book. There were far more important things. And it occurred to me that I was being told to relax, forget about it all, and be absolutely assured that the words would come. Eventually.
We went back to the hotel, ate a lovely meal, headed up to our room, packed our cases and settled down for our final evening. The next morning we headed to the Tor to say goodbye to Glastonbury, then set off on our five hour journey home. Five hours of grim motorways, traffic queues, and utter boredom …
And you know what? By the time we were halfway home, I’d figured out why I’d been stuck on my book, where I’d been going wrong, and knew exactly what to do about it. It just shows you, doesn’t it?
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that brief time at Glastonbury Abbey, nor the beautiful, heart-rending song that lady sang. And I hope I don’t ever forget how it made me feel, or how such a simple thing gave me such peace and a feeling of serenity and gratitude. I always knew I’d find the answers in that quirky little town, but they came in the most unexpected and roundabout way. That’s Glastonbury for you!
I’ll be back tomorrow with some news about the A-Z Blogging Challenge for 2020. Yes, it’s Theme Reveal Day!
Until then, have a great day!