8 February 2017

Avalon Sunset - the shining levels

And did those feet?

“Let's go forward into this fight in the spirit of William Blake: I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall the sword sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land.”  The words of a committed cry for Brexit?  No way.....

In 1945 Clement Attlee encouraged the voters of the United Kingdom to choose him over Winston Churchill (who mentioned the Gestapo in connection with a potential Labour leadership) not from a blind adherence to little England, but with a passionate view of a welfare state that would flourish at peace with its neighbours. 

And William Blake, who speculated on the visit of Jesus of Nazareth with his great-uncle, tin-trader Joseph of Arimathea, to Cornwall and Somerset, would not have recognised the term Euro-sceptic (a bit of a Neo Romantic, our Bill)……

...Won't you meet me down by Avalon
In the summertime in England
In the Church of St. John...
Did you ever hear about Jesus walkin'
Jesus walkin' down by Avalon?

Van Morrison - Summertime in England

St Michael's, Glastonbury Tor

Naturally, sceptics will say that the legend of holy feet on the Somerset Levels was just a ploy by Michael Eavis to hype up the Glasto fest, but, hey, anything that gets Dolly Parton on the Pyramid Stage cannot be all wrong….  Post Truth or Alternative Facts?

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

Van Morrison’s 1989 album Avalon Sunset touched, perhaps obliquely, on the links between mysticism and human love, and took in elements of pastoral beauty and personal happiness that stir deep yearnings for peace and harmony.

There's a love that's divine
And it's yours and it's mine
And it shines like the sun
At the end of the day we will give thanks and pray to the One

Van Morrison - Have I told you lately that I love you

Marsh Harrier, hunting over RSPB Ham Wall

Van celebrated birdwatching (not a recurrent theme in popular music) which relates well to my motivation to visit the Avalon Marshes…..

Coming down from Downpatrick
Stopping off at St. John's Point
Out all day birdwatching
And the craic was good

Van Morrison - Coney Island

But it goes beyond.  The imagination does not have to be fed on psychobabble to see Arthur out with a pair of bins and a bottle of mead, Excalibur peacefully scabbarded by his side.  Whoever he was, the legends distort – were the bones discovered in Glastonbury those of him and his unfaithful wife, Guinevere, as well as his lover, Lyonors

Whoever Arthur was, Sword in the Stone or Morte d'Arthur or not, the imagination thrives on stories, and this is fertile ground.....

Black-tailed Godwits, with an escort of Lapwing

Love of the simple is all that I need
I've no time for schism or lovers of greed
Go up to the mountain, go up to the glen
When silence will touch you
And heartbreak will mend.

Van Morrison - I'm Tired Joey Boy

A flock of Wigeon above RSPB Greylake

The Somerset Levels are ancient lands, with human history reaching back 10,000 years….  That's approximately 8,000 years before those feet were even mangered.... 

Yes, for sure, flooding may be a terrific hardship for those who scrape their living from the inundated soils here, but this is not new…..

These are the days of the endless summer
These are the days, the time is now
There is no past, there's only future
There's only here, there's only now

Van Morrison - These Are The Days

I have been out on the Somerset Levels, stepping slowly across the gleaming wetlands, watching the flocks of nervous Wigeon, or restless Godwits.  I’ve ascended Burrow Mump

St Michael's, Burrow Mump

To watch over the shining meadows.  I’ve toiled up Glastonbury Tor, directed by Tiger Balm scented individuals with wispy scarves tied in their hair.  And I have paddled through the wetlands of RSPB Greylake, the Avalon Marshes and Ham Wall in search of birds, common and rare.

Fill my life with gladness
Ease my troubles that's what you do
Fill my life with gladness
Take away my sadness
Ease my troubles that's what you do

Van Morrison - Have I told you lately that I love you

A pair of Canada Geese

And, as the light faded, I have watched the spectacular flight of a million Starlings as they flock down to roost amongst the reeds, spiralling, convoluting and fluttering, but never missing a wingbeat in the beautiful diamond coordination of their molecular bondings.

Every day is different, and on this occasion there are no famous murmurations,  just thousands upon thousands of birds descending from the air to sleep in the comparative safety and companionship of numbers….

And then, in the last vestiges of winter dusk, I look back towards the fifteenth century tower on top of the ancient Tor, and glimpse, for a moment, the purity of the mythical past. 

These are the days by the sparkling river
And His timely grace and the treasured find
This is the love of the one great magician
Turned the water into wine

These are the days now that we must savour
And we must enjoy as we can
These are the days that will last forever
You've got to hold them in your heart.

Van Morrison - These Are The Days

And in the deepening gloom, the spirits of Attlee, and Blake, and Jesus, and Morrison (Van, not, with the greatest respect, Ken) blend into one great murmuration of spiritual uplift…..

And then it’s dark, and there is nothing but the wind among the reeds…..

Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,
Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.

W B Yeats - Into the Twilight

Or, as another W B appended to his Jerusalem:

Would to God that all the Lords people were Prophets

Numbers XI.ch 29.v


  1. My connections to this place and Tiger Balm are rather closer. It was here, on the Somerset levels and in sight of the Tor, that I met, courted and finally broke with her. And as for Tiger Balm... she owned it.

  2. A beautiful synthesis of words, pictures and sentiments. One of your best - Simon G

  3. In 1980 I worked for safari camp services that ran the turkana buss. I was the one who built the camp site on the oasis in Longaui and the cabins bar kitchen and camp at kurungu. I was there for 9 months, I still think about it every day. Glad to here you stayed there.

    Cheers Robert Barnstone